Cockatiel Behaviour – And What It All Means

Understanding cockatiel behaviour is an important part of getting to know your new cockatiel.

As most new cockatiel owners have high hopes of developing a close bond with their new pet cockatiel, it is sometimes easy to forget that a bird kept in captivity is not in his natural habitat, and thus he can’t always live up to your expectations. It is best to equip yourself with knowledge and understanding, as well as respect for your pets behavior, and in this way you will be well on your way to nurturing a happy and trusting relationship between you and your cockatiel.

There is certain cockatiel behaviour that is common in most cockatiels.

Here is a list of some of the most common ones.

Common Cockatiel Behaviour Patternscockatiel behaviour

Attention getting behaviour:

As your cockatiel gets settled in your home, you will notice when you get up in the morning, you will hear him fluffing himself up to let you know he is also awake. He may also get your attention with his voice, or playing loudly with his toys.

Grinding his beak:

Beak grinding is a common cockatiel behaviour and is like a cat purring. It is a sign of contentment, and if often heard as the bird falls asleep at night.

Wiping his beak on the perch:

This is how your cockatiel keeps his mouth clean, just as we use serviettes. Cockatiels like to be clean and you will very rarely see a dirty cockatiel.

Cat Naps:

Cockatiels often take naps in the day, and unless he looks sick and fluffed up, there is no need for concern.

Aerobics:

Birds, especially parrots like to suddenly start doing stretching exercises, like grabbing the cage with their beaks and stretching his wings and legs. He may also raise both his wings to look like an eagle. Sometimes they like to hold onto the side of the cage and flap their wings wildly too.

Fluffing:

Fluffing is a prelude to preening, and can also be used to release tension. If he stays fluffed up all the time, then it could be a sign that he is sick, and you need to contact your avian vet.

Hissing:

This happens when your bird is frightened, and he is trying to scare off whatever has frightened him.

Mutual preening:

This is a sign of affection reserved for best friends or mates. Consider it an honor if your bird tries to preen your hair or eyelashes, or even your arms and hands.

Possessiveness:

Cockatiels often become attached to one person, especially if that person is responsible for their care. He may hiss at other family members if he feels they are getting to close to his person. The best way to prevent this is to get different members of your family to spend time with your cockatiel and tend to his basic needs.

Plucking Its Feathers:

This is destructive cockatiel behaviour and normally means that the cockatiel is bored or frustrated. Once a bird starts to pull out its feathers it is a very difficult habit to break.

Pacing Back and Forth:

This is another way of your cockatiel showing you that he is bored or frustrated.

Regurgitating:

If your cockatiel starts bobbing his head and pumping his neck and crop muscles, he is about to regurgitate some of his food for you. This is normally done between mates during breeding season, and is a mark of great affection, so try not to be too disgusted if he does this to you.

I have a budgie who regurgitates its food and feeds it to the cockatiel. These two have a very close relationship.

Resting on one foot:

This is normal. What is not normal is if your cockatiel never rests on one foot. If this is the case contact your vet, as this can indicate a health problem.

Screaming:

Well cared for birds will normally be quiet. Screaming normally happens with neglected cockatiels and they are looking for attention. Once your bird becomes a screamer, it is a difficult habit to break, as he will know he gets attention, even if it is negative.

If you give your bird at least 30 minutes of attention per day, keep him entertained with toys and an interesting environment, and leave the TV or radio playing when you are out, and he shouldn’t become a screamer.

Sneezing:

A cockatiel normally sneezes to clear its nares (nostrils). If he starts sneezing continuously and there is a discharge from his nares, consult your vet.

Tasting and testing with his beak:

Cockatiels will use their beaks to explore and taste different things. He may experiment with your hand before stepping onto it for the first time. He isn’t being mean, merely satisfying his curiosity, and making sure that his new perch (your finger) is strong enough to hold him.

Thrashing:

This is most common among the Lutino variety of cockatiel. It usually happens because the cockatiel is frightened by something. If your cockatiel is prone to thrashing at  night, a small night light might help.  Also try to remove any harmful toys or objects in the cage that could potentially injure him during his flappings.

Chatty:

Another common cockatiel behavior pattern is that they are normally very vocal in the mornings and early evenings.  If he calls to you when you are out of the room, he could be feeling insecure, or something may be wrong.

Happy Cockatiels:

These are what happy cockatiels are normally doing:

  • Singing
  • Flapping their wings
  • Shaking their tails
  • Chirping
  • Dancing
  • Bobbing their heads
  • Grinding their beaks
  • Whistling or chirping

Angry Cockatiels:

Angry or aggressive cockatiel behaviour normally manifests itself in the following ways:

  • Raising its wings
  • Hissing
  • Clicking its beak sharp and consistently
  • Chasing other birds around the cage
  • Fanning its tail
  • Head marching
  • Picking at another bird’s head or feathers
  • Biting its feet
  • Biting another bird’s feet
  • Stopping other birds from eating or drinking.

Trusting that this helped to put your mind at ease regarding your cockatiel behaviour patterns.

19 Comments

  1. Thank you for the really interesting post on Cockatiel Behaviour. I’m not a cockatiel owner, but find these birds facinating. I have a friend who has several and she says that they all have such unique personalities.

    Now when I see them, I’ll have a good idea of what they are trying to convey.

    Your website gives a really attracttive, direct approach to a really interesting topic.

  2. Interesting bird, the Cockatiel. Your post, “Cockatiel Behaviour – And What It All Means” is well matched with your website. The post itself is nice but slightly distracting with all the tags displayed on it. Could you possibly change the color used for the tags to something that is less … loud? Over all, it looks acceptable, nice fit for the website, and great topic the works well with the rest of the website.

  3. I did not know that Cockatiel behaviour was something that was so extensively researched on. It is a very nice bird, but I thought they were a larger bird.

    Can the Cockatiel Behaviour pattern be applied to other birds species, or are they specific to the Cockatiel?

  4. Wow, I had no idea that cockatiel’s were so expressive. I found your post very intriguing to read and it made me reminisce over a friend’s cockatiel that I gotten to know back in college.

    It was a friendly bird and seemed more partial to women, but it always loved to back on a gold necklace that I wore back in the day.

    Great post, thanks.

  5. Hey there. Great post. Very informative.

    Cockatiels are lovely birds. My Mum used to have one called Jojo when she was a little girl. I unfortunately never got a chance to meet the lovely little fella but I’ve seen photos.

    They sound like such intelligent and interesting birds to keep. So many different behaviours. Some of them sound so human!

    I love the bird in the picture, so cute! I love his mohican!

  6. My cockatiel is sitting in the bottom of her cage today. She acted normal this morning but instead of napping on her perch is sitting in the bottom of her cage. She is very friendly but does not want me to bother her right now.
    Thought I had read that this behavior may be a sign of illness.

  7. I have a gray male cockatiel and he has been in a large cage with a yellow female. She has been laying eggs off and on and during this time she beats up the male. I removed him from the cage and put him in a smaller cage for his safety. He has become aggressive and charges the cage if you come close. Did I make a mistake by taking him out of his original cage?? He doesn’t want to come out as he did before. Please advise.

    1. I haven’t had this experience before, but I do notice the breeding pairs are definitely more aggressive, even if they were once tame.I would try to join the pair together even if just for a short while each day, as they do say that cockatiels mate for life.

      Otherwise seek advice from your vet, as he may know what to do, especially if the male is being badly hurt.

  8. A friend got me a 7 month old Cockatiel after I lost a Parrolet to egg binding. Broke my heart. But person who had the cockatiel first had throw him in a pool of water, complaining that he had bitten him. Friend who gave him to me was trying to rescue him! I have had a few Parakeets and the Parrolet was a rescue from the life it was confined to with the wrong food and water and cage. I have just gotten “Sweetie” to where I can scratch his head through the cage and he calls to me if I leave the room. He sits in his cage right beside me and my computer and TV so he has a lot of stimulation. I have not let him out yet because I have so many things in this small apt and am at an age where I can’t “chase” him or get under furniture! At what age, or behavior, should I let him out to explore? He does all of the stretching things you mention and he has balls, a ladder and swings and bells to play with now and a big 18x23x23 cage. I fear his running into the patio doors or running into a wall. His wings were clipped when I got him. His new tail feathers are coming in. He has a sweet nature now but had a lot of fear when I got him. He sings ALL the time!

    1. You are right to be cautious, as cockatiels are such inquisitive birds and if not watched they can injure themselves if they get caught up in something or if you have a lot of clutter.
      I wouldn’t let him out until he can climb onto your finger in the cage, and with a bit of patience, it does come right. After scratching his head in the cage you can gently nudge him to climb onto your finger. He won’t at first but will eventually do this, then at least once outside the cage you just let him climb on your finger to return him to his cage.

  9. The Cockatiel bird is a gifted whistling and serenading bird. It’s my favorite kind of bird. I have the gray cockatiel bird and I am amazed how it’s so directed towards his favorite person or to his mirror reflection. Sometimes, I feel, it’s given life to our house with its croons. 

    I like this blog, its simple and easy to read. I appreciate the modesty in presenting cockatiel behaviors. Somehow, I thought birds shares similar behaviors with other types of birds? Maybe you can share with us your opinion about that.

    Thank you again for this.

    1. Birds all share general characteristics but each species differs, as some talk and others are untrainable. The ones we keep as pers normally have the hooked beaks. 

  10. Amazing ! This is a well-researched information about such a beautiful bird, the cockatiel! I did not know all the things mentioned in this blog until I went through it in detail!

    I grew up having all different types of birds from parrots, to lovebirds, cockatiels, doves. Now looking back, I realized why they do what they do.

    Impressive research. Thank you so much for sharing this wealth of information about such a beautiful creature.

  11. It is a common practice for most of us to take birds out of their natural environment and expect them to survive in ours. As you rightly said, if you must keep birds or any other creature, you must understand their natural environment. All creatures have emotions. They can be happy or sad. It all depends on how you keep them and show them, love. Thank you for pointing out both when the beautiful cockatiel is happy or sad.

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