Complete Cockatiel Bird Language And Behavior Guide

Cockatiel language and behavior can be very complex but with knowledge of some general cockatiel traits and what they mean, you will be able to learn more about your pet birds. We’ll start with the language of the cockatiel crest.

Cockatiels are unique in that, unlike other small birds, they have a crest that can give us clear insight into what’s going on inside their head. The positions of the crest vary from laying flat on the head to sticking straight up in the air.

1. A flat, angry crest. When your cockatiel crest lays flat on the head, it is usually a sign of hostility and often most often when you get to close to your birds cockatiel cage while eating. Of course, even sweet, tame cockatiels like my baby cockatiel Toby (male cockatiel, a little over 6 months old) has moments where the crest will flatten and the inner demon will emerge | it’s totally natural for babies and adults!
2. A relaxed crest at “half mast.” This is a regular crest position for the usual content cockatiel.
3. A relaxed, yet alert crest position. This is a common position for an inquisitive cockatiel.
4. A completely raised crest. Bright red alert! This is a common position for when a cockatiel is startled or otherwise on guard. This often happens when a cockatiel hears a “bump in the night,” or when he hears the voice of another cockatiel that he can’t see. It’s an all-purpose “alert” crest.

The “Rapidfire Bite” Technique:
If your your cockatiel gets little bunchy eyebrows or a flat crest and then starts quickly biting your finger (or as I like to say, playing your finger like a harmonica), he might be a tad miffed at you. Don’t take it personally. It happens with even the best cockatiels.

Skinny Cockatiel:
If your cockatiel suddenly gets very small and “skinny,” it could mean that he has been startled or is scared. It often looks like the cockatiel crops sucked in, and all the feathers lie flat on the body. This is often accompanied by a “red alert” crest.

The Head Bob:
A cockatiel who is bobbing his head often while in it’s bird cage might be trying to tell you a variety of things. In a young or unweaned bird… it is often a sign of hunger. Your cockatiel may be begging for food. In an older cockatiel, it could be a way of showing off or trying to get some attention.

Heart-Shaped Wings:
Also known as “the big chest.” This is when a cockatiel holds his wings slightly away from his sides with his chest sticking out. From the back, the shape of the wings resembles a heart. This is a male cockatiel behavior 90% of the time and is just your cockatiels body language showing off because he likes you. A big chest is a great tool when flirting with cockatiels as a big ripped chest is a great tool with humans and ladies. You should understand how smart your bird is and how much they pick up daily from you, their owner so do not neglect these signs.

The Bowed Head:
If your cockatiel lowers his head and leaves it there, it is most likely an invitation for you to pet his head. This is very cute! A more demanding cockatiel might beak bang a few times before leaving his head stationary if you don’t respond to his demands in a timely fashion.

Ready for Take-Off:

Often, a cockatiel will stoop down low and hold his wings out, still folded, at his sides while fidgeting or moving back and forth. It may look like he is about to take off flying. If your cockatiel’s wings are clipped, then it may mean that he would like to fly somewhere (often toward you) but isn’t confident enough to take off. A flighted cockatiel may also choose to do this if he thinks that you will come and pick him up; it saves him the trouble of actually flying over to you if possible.

Bat Cockatiel:
When given a new cockatiel cage or play gym, when sitting on a tall object, or when near a nesting site, a cockatiel may hold his wings out all the way, often swishing slightly backward and forward. Sometimes, a cockatiel may adopt the same wing position while leaning far forward, sometimes even upside down. This is a sign of “property ownership.” Your cockatiel is saying “This is mine!”

A cockatiel and most birds may often hammer his beak on a hard object, or on you. It almost looks like a pecking motion. This is beak-banging, and it’s a common behavior for male cockatiels. Like other make cockatiel body language, it is a gesture of property ownership. Your cockatiel may be saying “Whatever I’m hammering on is mine!” However, while the Bat Cockatiel is seen in both male and female cockatiel birds, beak banging on your own birds cockatiel cages is a predominantly male behavior once again but females can do it also. There is no known traits that only a male or female can do or shows besides females laying eggs. A male bird or cockatiel can lay eggs but that’s a whole other story and topic lol.

The “Back and Forth” Cockatiel:
Also known as “pacing.” Sometimes, especially when in bird cages, you may see him or her eagerly walking back and forth very quickly, taking only one or two steps to each side while always facing forward. Sometimes he may chirp repeatedly while doing this. Your cockatiels behavior is begging (rather, nagging, begging – whatever you would like to call it) to be let out of his bird cage. The speed of back-and-forth motion often increases exponentially when people are eating in his field of vision.

Beak-Assisted Climbing:
When your cockatiel is climbing onto your finger, he may first grab on with his beak before stepping all the way on. This is normal. He is testing the stability of your finger. This is also often used by cockatiels as a balancing aid.

Beak Grinding:
Usually it is the sound of this motion and not the visual that first attracts our attention. Your cockatiel may grind his upper and lower mandible together, producing a scratchy or “zippy” noise. Your cockatiel is probably content and relaxed, and he might be getting ready for a nap.

In Your Face:
If your cockatiel jumps onto your chest, runs up to your face, and maybe even sticks his beak against your face, he is inviting you to join him in a cuddling session! Take advantage of the opportunity! This move is demonstrated in the video “In Your Face.”

The Head Tilt:
If your cockatiel turns his head sideways and then tilts it up or down, he may be looking at something either above or below him. Because of the positioning of a cockatiel’s eyes, this is the easiest way for them to view certain areas. If you can’t tell what your cockatiel is looking at, it’s possible that he’s staring at his own fluff floating in the air. This head motion may also be done when your cockatiel is listening intently to a sound.

Tail Wagging:
Ever petted your female cockatiel on the back or by the tail and had her “wag her tail” in response? Well, stop it, because you’re turning her on, and she might start to lay eggs!

The Happy Cockatiel Dance:
If your cockatiel gets on top of an object (or backs into an object) and starts rubbing his/her butt back and forth on it, often chirping at the same time, be polite and avert your eyes. Congratulations! Your cockatiel is masturbating hehe. Many cockatiels chirp while doing this.

Backward Head:
If your cockatiel turns his head backward, closes his eyes, and buries his beak in between his feathers, he is all ready to go to sleep. You can also expect him to stand balanced on one foot while doing this.

One Eye Closed, One Eye Opened:
Sometimes, when cuddling with your feathery friend, you might find that he has one eye closed and one eye opened. Most often, it will be the eye facing you that is closed, and the eye facing the rest of the room that is opened. Your cockatiel is relaxed and content, but still alert enough to want to keep a look out.

Your cockatiel may occasionally puff out all his feathers, often accompanied by a brief dog-like shake. Your cockatiel is just fixing up his feathers. This is often done during preening. However, if your cockatiel remains puffed for long periods of time (and might also sit at the bottom of the cage), he might very well be sick, and he should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Repeated Yawning:
Often after preening, a cockatiel may yawn over and over again. It could be that he’s readjusting his crop or that he’s gotten a bit of down stuck in his throat. Either way, it’s normal. They also yawn when they are tired or after waking up from a nap.

The Head Shake:
You may occasionally see your cockatiel rapidly shaking his head for a moment. if done while eating, it could mean that the food has a surprising taste, temperature, or moisture level. If done when listening to a sound, it could mean that it’s a tad too loud or sharp or high-pitched, or just that it’s an interesting sound.

The “Roll Head Magic Trick”:
While preening, you may see your cockatiel wiping or rolling his head on his lower back, or occasionally inside his wing. If you own or owned a cockatiel, I’m sure you even saw the 180-degree head twist which looks like a trick right out of the old magic book. You’ll If you feel the lower back area, you will find that it is very powdery. A cockatiel performing the “Roll Head” is simply distributing all these oils and powders to the feathers on his head… almost like human hair conditioner.

THE FAMOUS COCKATIEL Bathroom Time Stance:
If your cockatiel stoops down low and gets slightly puffy, it could mean that he is about to go to the bathroom. Hurry and get a napkin because BOMBS AWAY! Once you recognize this famous poop stance, it will become much easier to prevent accidents on yourself, the floor and even train your cockatiel to go to the bathroom on command or in certain areas only (such as his cage or playstand only).

Bath Time Puffiness:
While taking a shower or bath, or while getting misted, a cockatiel might become extremely puffy, raise both his wings up away from his side, lean forward, and sway all around. This means that he is enjoying his bath!

Shower Time Trance:
When in the shower, your cockatiel might close his eyes and zone out for awhile, as if he is sleeping. Again, this is a sign that he is enjoying his shower.

Nose Picker:
Occasionally, your cockatiel might stick his toenail up his nose and then sneeze. What an undignified cockatiel! Nah, he’s just attempting to clear out his nasal passages. It’s perfectly normal so don’t be alarmed.

Puffy Face:
While listening to a sound, your cockatiel’s face and/or cheek patches may become slightly puffy. This is often a sign that he likes what he’s hearing, or that he is interested in the sound. Toby often gets puffy cheeks while listening to sounds that he later ends up repeating.

Strrreeeetcchhh (haha I like to emphasize the term stretch):
If your cockatiel raises both his wings above his back, usually leaving them folded, he is stretching.

Superman Ice Skater:
Your cockatiel may extend one foot and one wing behind him, often while fanning his tail. This is another way for your cockatiel to stretch.

If you have multiple cockatiels, it is possible that you will observe mating. If you have a male and female, this could of course lead to breeding which is not appropriate for everyone. It is also possible to observe mounting if you have a same sex pair since it is far from uncommon for cockatiels to bond to one another regardless of sex. Mating will not always lead to eggs (young females, older females might have a harder time to conceive an egg and obviously a same sex male pair won’t have eggs – ever!).

It is quite frequent for cockatiels to develop crushes on other animals (i.e another cockatiel) or even on other people. Usually, you’ll notice that your cockatiel is acting hormonal around that person (ie protective, displaying, singing etc.). The cockatiel might even try to mate with the chosen object of desire. The male will rub his vent on the object whereas the female will lift her tail and kind of arch her head back and make faint whistling sounds. Crushes might go away or persist, it usually won’t persist if the object of desire is removed. If your cockatiel develops a crush on someone else than you, even if you are the primary care taker, don’t take it as a sign that your cockatiel doesn’t love you… he just doesn’t love you “that” way!

Flock Calling:
In the wild, most cockatiels live in large groups called a flock. In captivity, you and your family are your cockatiels flock, which is why it is important to frequently interact with your cockatiels as you are his social group. In the wild, cockatiels of a same group are not always within sight of each other so they will call to each other to keep track of each others positions. Think of it as a way to verify that all your family is safe and sound. The bird calling usually consist in a high pitched whistle repeated until the caller is satisfied that all of his flock has answered. You can answer your cockatiel by whistling back so he knows that you are there, safe and by extension so is he. If you have multiple cockatiels, they will call to each other in the morning to verify that everyone got through the night alright, they will also call to each other if they are in separated rooms. Be careful, however, as there is a difference between flock bird calling and a behavioral screaming for attention problem. A cockatiel whose flock answers will stop calling after a few whistles, faster if you answer the cockatiel | An attention screamer will just go on screaming for ever until you show up in the room and care for them.

Think of a cat hiss when it’s scared or unhappy, the same applies to cockatiels. If your cockatiel doesn’t want to come out of the cage, doesn’t want to be petted, doesn’t want anything to do with that new $15 toy you put in his cage chances are he’ll let you know by either hissing at you or at the object that is causing him to be scared or mad. If you have multiple cockatiels, they can also keep each other at bay by hissing at one another – this is a simple “don’t get in my personal space!” message to other birds. It’s a mean of intimidation for the cockatiels and they usually fluff up their feathers, open their wings in order to pretend to be bigger and stronger than they really are to scare the potential threat away.

This is not to be confused with vomiting which is actually a sign of illness. Regurgitating is the act where the cockatiel empties the food from his crop onto someone, another cockatiel or a toy which they are bonded with. Parents also regurgitate food into their babies crop in order to feed them. If your cockatiel regurgitate on you it is a sign that he is very much bonded to you and he’s trying to feed you. Sadly, cockatiels do not comprehend that we might not want to eat their gift.

Acting out Fear and Aggressions:
Cockatiels who have been abused in the past, either by a mate or an owner can act out fear and aggressions on their toys or new feathery friends. This rarely happens in baby cockatiels gotten from breeders or reputable stores, but if you got your cockatiel from a rescue or from someone out of the classifieds it’s possible to observe this behavior. Keep in mind that not all rescue and classified cockatiels were abused, but there’s more chances of a shady past. If you notice that your cockatiel is aggressive toward other cockatiels it will be important to cage him/her alone, it will help reduce the stress for all your cockatiels and yourself. Time, patience and love will be required to work through this and eventually your cockatiel will feel more confident and safe around you and will settle down.

Congratulations on making it to the end and you can now say you’ve completed the cockatiel bird crash course on body language and behavior, hehe. I hope you all enjoyed it and that it was able to answer any questions you may of had about your loving pet! Please comment or send me any stories or information on your cockatiel if you have anything else to add. I enjoy pictures and am always interested in story’s that are bird related.

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Share Your Thoughts »


  1. Vicky   April 19th, 2017

    At what age a C ockatiel respond by whistling?

  2. Vicky   April 19th, 2017

    At what age the cocktail starts responding in whistling?

  3. sharon   April 14th, 2017

    Similar to night frights, sometimes when out or sitting on my shoulder my male cockatiel will all of a sudden start flapping his wings like crazy! Why is that? He also just out of the blue freaks out sometimes for no reason. He gets really jumpy and moving his head and body quickly. Not sure why.

  4. Sarah   April 11th, 2017

    My cockatiel flies on my plate of food when i am eating. Why does he/she do this?. He/she is free to leave the cage when he/she wants because i feel he/she is much happier having freedom of our home. I have had him/her for 7 months from a pet shop. He/she is very clingy to me and won’t get off me when i am trying to clean the house

  5. Emily   April 6th, 2017

    My tiel absolutely loves socks. He/she will sing and whistle to them. She follows them around the house too. Pip also bangs her beak continuously on her food dish. She/he is very funny and entertaining though

  6. mrs lynn poston   March 31st, 2017

    my cockatiel keeps going to the bottom of his cage and ripping the the sand paper up could you tell me why he is showing this behaviour.

  7. Anonymous   March 21st, 2017

    My male cockatiel keeps regurgitating on eggs in nest box. Any idea why? Or what I should do to discourage it?

  8. Anonymous   March 15th, 2017

    When my cockatiel is eating it let goes to goes to my finger and when it’s not eating andisorders I try the samerican it runs away what should I do?

  9. Laure B.   March 15th, 2017

    I’m a first time bird person. My, almost, 6 mo old female cockatiel will occasionally fly at the bars of the cage bashing her body against them. Is this from fright, or is she wanting out in order to fly?

    Pretee, as she is called, was given to me by my husband as a Christmas gift, but we also have two big dogs, who show an interest in her, and two cats, one of whom will sit beside her cage. I have taken steps to keep the other animals out of her space (her cage sits high up on a curio cabinet and can’t be reached by the dogs, but I can’t keep one of the cats away from her. He jumps up beside the cage and rubs his face against it. He will also put his declawed foot up between the bars; the bird doesn’t seem frightened and doesn’t bite. The cage is in our great room.

    My problem is that the only other place I have for the bird would be isolated in the guest room.

    If anyone can help I would greatly appreciate any advice. Thank you.

  10. gerry davis   March 13th, 2017

    how do I get my Cockatiel on my hand when he is out of the cage. He is only 4 months old

  11. Brendon Smith   March 12th, 2017

    My cockatiel female would seem normal and then all of the sudden spread it’s wings and hiss rapidly at thin air, what does this mean, she does it a lot

  12. Theresa   March 4th, 2017

    Why would my cockatiel do ” the happy dance ” while sitting on my hand/finger?

  13. Cathy   February 28th, 2017

    My delboy is 3yrs old, he comes out his cage and goes back in when he’s ready, I found your article useful and so very true, I’ve learnt a lot, mating was interesting as he likes collar on my fleecey dressing gown lol

  14. Anonymous   February 24th, 2017

    My cockatiel is making awfull screaching noice non stop.he did eat.still loud schreatshing

  15. Salma   February 22nd, 2017

    My cockateil is almost 5 years old, he was never locked in a cage he was very tame when we got him and he is still tame sometimes the thing is he considers the guestroom and bathroom his own and whenever we enter the room when he is not in the mood he attacks visiously targeting ears and nose and fingers, he is a very special male cockateil he actually says afew words and whisles reapeating what we say, we had a new baby at home and we have been distracted from him but attacking started before the lack of attention, I dont want to let him go but my dad is very serious about it because of his attacks what should I do can anyone advice? Should I lock him in his cage ? What will he do he already yells when he want out of his room and we tried to mate him twice he doesnt like them !!

  16. Anonymous   February 20th, 2017

    My Cocktail, Pablo is about 1 and a few months old. I also have two Parrakeets they are older then him. My Parrakeets, blue wants to mate with him when I am cleaning their cage out she rubs her body on him. She has had 5 eggs. I have a big cage for all of them but he gets mad and wantsee to bite her. So I’ve keep the them separate but he get depressed. I try to play with him and have him sit on my shoulder while I watch TV. Is this okay?

  17. Anonymous   February 20th, 2017

    My female cockatiel keeps fluffing up. Laying down and rocking back and forth? I’ve seen that but she does it often and I can’t find any answers as to why she does that? Does
    anyone know why?

  18. Rose   February 19th, 2017

    Very informative. I have had my cockatiel 3 days now. We think it is a girl but not sure. reading this had made me understand a little bit better what she is trying to tell me. so thanks you

  19. Sandra   February 17th, 2017

    My cockatiel is 24 one eye is cloudy. Recently at night he will go crazy on his perch looking up and moving back and forth on his perch. I can’t calm him down. He does eventually but this has become a nightly thing.

  20. Val   February 16th, 2017

    Gerald is 25 years old, for a while now he has chosen to stay within his cage.
    Last night unusually he was sat on the bottom of his cage and still there this morning.When I went to him he tried to climb up the cage but was not able to I have put the food and water on the base which he is taking
    Any advice would be very very much appreciated I’m scared if I take him to the vets it would be too frightening at his age

  21. Lucy   February 14th, 2017

    I have a male cockatiel, he’s 6 months old. Very tame, very attached to me. Last night he bit my husband, hard, for the first time. This morning instead of singing and being lovable when he came out of his cage he has been screeching angry sounds at me and acting very different. he’s almost got a split personality today, going between lovable to angry in a flash. He will just sit and screech as if he’s being teased by something. I’m wondering if he’s not feeling well, or could it be a puberty thing? He looks normal.

  22. Kristen   February 11th, 2017

    Worried sick about my 16 year old male I came home to find him strange and acting blind or dazed and puffed and scared

  23. annie   February 1st, 2017

    my male & female (siblings i think) have been fighting since day 1. sometimes it’s playful. lately he chases her around the cage (large cage) until he gets her. he has pecked her crest off, but i’ve seen her put her head down to him. recently there was a scab. today was awful. i heard screaming from both and saw blood all over. after i sprayed with mist, i can see where his foot is torn. idk what to do.

  24. Anonymous   January 30th, 2017

    Hi there , I’ve had my tiel for 2 years now and decided to get him a friend . It’s not the same but a budgie. My tiel is not agressive towards it and Infact become agressive towards me . I don’t keep the cage closed ever so he can run and do as he pleases but now he runs to attack and bite my feet and if I pick him up or try he only bites . Is it because he just loves his friend too much ? How do I correct this ?

  25. debra stratoti   January 27th, 2017

    our bird is cage free he/she it is still being debated by vet and breeder has the run of the house
    lately he goes along the couch and acts like he is nesting by hunkering down all fluffed up and if you come near he comes out hissing trying to bite the fee worried i will step on him he is about 7 years old fairly new behaviour any thoughts?

  26. worried owner   January 25th, 2017

    hi can u please help me i have a 4 month old cockatiel hes eats and makes noises and plays with his toys he seems happy but how will i get him to not be scared of me anymore ? at the moment he stays in the cage and will exept treats from my hand from outside of cage but will hiss and attack if i try to touch him what can i do to ease this tension make him trust me ?? thank you 😔

  27. sam   January 25th, 2017

    my cockatiel is 5 months old when should
    start letting him out of his cage ? he is still not
    very comfortable with me but will eat from my hand from the outside of the cagd when i reach it in to feed him thnx 😊

  28. Anonymous   January 24th, 2017

    Thank you, needed information about black banging and head shaking. Thanks again.

  29. raju   January 24th, 2017

    i want to know about female cockatail look & male cockatail look

  30. Lisa   January 23rd, 2017

    Brilliant information. Very helpful. I recognise a lot of the behaviour in my cockatiel, Jasper, but have also learned a lot too. Thank you

  31. Heidi   January 23rd, 2017

    My tiel will sit on my chest and cuddle me or play with me necklace. Out of the blue he will bite me, take a tiny little nip out of my chest or neck. I try not to react but he typically gets an ooooow out of me. Not sure if he is grooming me, love nips or is it acting out aggressively?

  32. Veronica   January 22nd, 2017

    my cockatiel loves sitting on my shoulder and loves it when i scratch his head but she likes my mum better.
    thanx for the info might help

  33. Marty   January 20th, 2017

    Great information. Thanks for posting it. I am a new cockatiel owner. My Spike loves to sit on me but he starts biting my ears. I put him back in his cage. Anything else I should do? I rather he stay on his perch beside me.

  34. Marty   January 20th, 2017

    Great information. Thanks for posting it. I am a new cockatiel owner. My Spike loves to sit on me but he starts biting my ears. I put him back in his cage. Anything else I should do? I rater he stay on his perch beside me.

  35. Kaye   January 19th, 2017

    Really good information. My cockatiel Pippa does all the affectionate things u have stated but doesnt like me touching her with my hand thou she will happily rub her head against my face and follows me everywhere. So she trusts me but not to touch her – strange

  36. Sharon beedham   January 19th, 2017

    that was interesting I’ve learned a lot

  37. Gracie   January 18th, 2017

    My bird April is a jerk. She bites and screams at you when you walk by her cage. Other than that,she is a good bird.🙄

  38. Anonymous   January 18th, 2017

    My bird April is a jerk because she hissesaid no lie and she bites and she screams at you when you walk by her cage. Other than that,she can actually be good.

  39. Cockatiel lover   January 17th, 2017

    I hate this article it taught me nothing!

  40. anonymous ll   January 17th, 2017

    wow my cockateil is very happy knowing this he says thank you now my owner understands me:)

  41. Xavier Guazmia   January 17th, 2017

    Thanks for this now I can really understand my cockatiel’s but one of my cockatiels flies backwards and always hits her self when she falls. Do you know why this happens?

  42. Anonymous   January 15th, 2017

    This is so true!!! Hahaha. I loved reading it, taught me a few rhings!

  43. Wendy   January 9th, 2017

    My cockatiel is mounting big time, his first and is unusually quiet and won’t come to me .His behavior has completely changed . He is let out of cage every day but just sits on the curtain rod

  44. Anonymous   January 8th, 2017

    I have a cocktiel and whenever it’s late at night he would wake me up by hissing while doing a head up and down. I would like to know what that is about. Thank you.

  45. janet richards   January 7th, 2017

    thank u so much for the info and i learned a lot.

  46. Debbie   January 5th, 2017

    First I would like to say what a wonderful article. I have noticed my Marlie will only stay on one side of the cage. He has other toys,food but never goes to that side. We are still trying to figure it out. I let him out and after a month he still try to bite me. And I will tell you it hurts. I blow lightly in his face like they say or wiggle my finger like he’s on a perch. He won’t let go. Now I am trying gloves. Maybe it’s the cage or I should try taking away toys. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated Thanks

  47. faisal   January 5th, 2017

    Thanks for this wonderful article . i have little humble request can i get picture of all of the above behavior you mention. for example a cocktail doing ” Head bob “. ?

  48. éan   January 3rd, 2017

    thank you for your helpful article! im babysitting a cockatiel & have never interacted with one before. hopefully this will help 🙂

  49. Notorious Norah   January 2nd, 2017

    Love this article. It is excellent and a fabulous source of info for new ‘tiel owners. I’ve experienced all of these items and your definitions, and sense of humor, are wonderful!