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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  1. Mohammed   July 24th, 2016

    My male cockatiel pushes the baby cockatiel out of the nest box.
    What do i do please help.

  2. casey   July 21st, 2016

    i just wondering if it is normal for a female cockatiel to cry when u stroke her back and if so why? cheers

  3. Jenny 18/7/6   July 18th, 2016

    Hi, I need some help !! I have a Cockatiel who keeps falling off her perch, (yes seriously) For a day or so after, she appears to be close to death, very listless, vacant, not eating, no chirping, very sloppy poos. Next day she’s back to climbing all over her cage like nothing’s happened. We’ve taken her to the vet twice, each time we got there she was fine again….I’ve googled everything, answers being on her last legs, too cold from a draught and even lonely…I can’t find a pattern other than she mainly falls when she’s covered with her night blanket but not all the time. Sometimes she can fall and it doesn’t bother her she just gets up but other times we get this crazy behaviour. She has never been able to fly because her wing was cut too short when she was small (in a pet shop I believe) we inherited her when she was about 3) She’s now about 6. Any thought or ideas would be most welcome 🐤

  4. Jenny 18/7/6   July 18th, 2016

    I need help !! I have a Cockatiel who keeps falling off her perch, (yes seriously) For a day or so after, she appears to be close to death, very listless, vacant, not eating, no chirping, very sloppy poos. Next day she’s back to climbing all over her cage like nothing’s happened. We’ve taken her to the vet twice, each time we got there she was fine again….I’ve googled everything, answers being on her last legs, too cold from a draught and even lonely…I can’t find a pattern other than she mainly falls when she’s covered with her night blanket but not all the time. Sometimes she can fall and it doesn’t bother her she just gets up but other times we get this crazy behaviour. She has never been able to fly because her wing was cut too short when she was small (in a pet shop I believe) we inherited her when she was about 3) She’s now about 6. Any thought or ideas would be most welcome 🐤

  5. Megan   July 12th, 2016

    hello. Kevin, my male 3 year old cockatiel, will be quiet happily sitting with me, getting head scratches but when its time for bed or if i stand up and he lands on his cage, he literally turns into a different bird. he flys at my face and scratches and bites me (hes bitten so hard a couple of times hes drawn blood). normally i clip his wings and he settles but the last few times this has not worked. what should i do, its getting terrible, he literally chases me from room to room till i can get him to his cage. Iv given him new toys, taught him all sorts of whistles and iv even moved his cage to another room.

  6. Erica   July 10th, 2016

    I’m confused. .. or my cockatiel is. Sunny is so far as we know, a girl. She acts like a girl in every way except she’s begun to rub herself back and forth on a stick, chirping happily as she does it. What’s up? Do girls do this too?

  7. Linda B   July 8th, 2016

    I have recently bought a cockatiel i think it is female but I am not sure. It appears to have developed a crush on me and insists on being with me at all times. I let it out of the cage twice a day for an hour each time and she/he rarely leaves me alone to play with toys etc. If I walk out of the room when it is in the cage i am continually called and even when i come back in the room she won’t stop calling until I am sitting on the settee next to the cage. I live in a one bedroom unit and my bird can see me nearly all of the time. As I am home most of the time, I am bewildered by this constant calling for attention. How do I get her/him to quieten down before the neighbors start complaining.

  8. Sandy B   July 7th, 2016

    Dr. C.
    About a week and half ago I got an Albino Tiel. Very sweet. Well know bird store that specializes in birds – not a chain store of any sort. They told me he/she was young. (sorry boring you:)).
    “Crisco” does the chirp thing, like a “wheeeep”, but when I hold him/her?? it does a low kind of wheep/chirp but sounds like someone who would have a scratchy throat. It is hard to describe – best I can do is say it’s like a gremlin sound. This is probably not the best description – it does not sound angry/mean or anything. Crisco is not biting so it’s not pissed off i guess.
    I just do not know what this means.
    ALSO – just tonight, I put him/her away for bead time and it just does NOT want to go in – climbs all over the door slipping and sliding on the bars – it’s breaking my heart. I dont want it to fall an not know where it is and be afraid. I do have a nightlight on very low so that reason.
    Summary: the peep/chirp that sounds like a sore scratchy throat / and not being able to put him to bed without climbing the walls and making me sad.
    Hope you can help or advise. i hope i am not doing anything wrong.
    I have all the love to give, but have to work 8 to 5 m-f/ (yes, i have loaded up with toys and all kinds of things within reason. I just don’t know.
    Looking forward to hearing from you.

  9. Dr. Cockatiel   July 6th, 2016

    He/she is most likely just stretching. Mine do that all the time and it is normal. They do look funny/cute doing it though as the movements used are sometimes odd 🙂

  10. Dr. Cockatiel   July 6th, 2016

    Hello Patty,

    When your cockatiel looks like he’s biting his foot, make sure there is no soft mushy good stuck on the perch. So often they will “regurg” food which sticks/hardens to perches, especially the rope one etc… ones. As long as your bird isn’t hanging and causing harm to itself, it’s just being unique lol.

  11. Patty   July 5th, 2016

    Thank you for all the answers to most of my questions about my three cockatiels. So very helpful and they make sense. I do though have two I have not came across and wonder if you have any idea why my one cockatiel hangs on the outside of the cage by his beak, like he is planking or something. Not sure if he is trying to get away from the other birds when he wants to be alone. I did put another perch on the outside of the cage but he prefers to hang by his beak. He also uses his toenail into his mouth/beak like there is something stuck (doesn’t appear to be cleaning his nostrils). Any ideas?

  12. Steve Joyce   July 4th, 2016

    Why does my cockatiel bow forward and extends his wings fully?

  13. Steve Joyce   July 4th, 2016

    When on the top of his cage, my cockatiel bows forward and extends his wings fully. What does this mean?

  14. Pinacoloda1   June 27th, 2016

    Why does my parent cockatiel have it’s mouth open while sitting in her nestbox along with her chick

  15. bruce   June 23rd, 2016

    i must correct my sentence about chocalate. i will not feed them chocalate.

  16. bruce   June 22nd, 2016

    i have 3 cockatiels their cages are always open so they can do whatever they want and their names are krusty, marge,and bart. bart is a brat,marge has a crush on my wife bigtime. i give krusty a bath with a spray bottle, while marge and bart do not like, but marge likes when u spit on her and bart likes it too i love these guys bigtime, i also feed them chips, bread,lettuce,crackers,etc. but i will feed them the mortal sin of chocalate. i also have a story about krusty. years ago his wings were clipped, well 1 early evening i was taking out the garbage i had him on my shoulder. i made it to the alley and when started back he took off on me,well i thouht for sure he was gone so i put the cage on the patio table in hopes he might come back. guess what the next day when i got home from work i walked around the yard whistling and sure enough he answered me. i was shocked so i kept whistling to follow his call, he was in the neighbors yard in their garden i could not believe i found him, i pick him up and brought him home. it thank the lord for it.

  17. Jess   June 22nd, 2016

    My husband and I found a bird loose in our neighborhood. It is a cockatiel. Obviously this is a domesticated bird and we have yet to find the owner. The bird is very fluffy, and puffy and I think it might be sick. But we are not sure. Is constant puffiness a sign of a sick bird?

  18. Atharva   June 20th, 2016

    I have an adult cockatiel he is bitting me a lot so help me please

  19. Holly   June 19th, 2016

    I am concerned about my male cockatiel he is about 1 1/2 years old. He has been on seeds only diet and I just switched him to pellets this morning. I am attempting the “cold turkey method” (seems to work for most people.) He tried the pellets this morning and didnt seem to like them. he would just pick them up and drop them. around noon I took the pellets out and crushed them up into smaller pieces to see if he would like that more, it appeared that HE DID! he started eating it and I thought he liked it. But now its the late afternoon and he is freaking out. He is pacing back and forth squawking and attacking his mirror and even sitting at the bottom of the cage. If we open the door of the cage he quickly runs out and flys down to the floor and runs all over and wont step up(which is NOT normal for him). I dont know if he is just throwing a temper tantrum to try and get some seeds or if he is starving and we should just give in and give him seeds. His poop still has green in it. I dont know if anyone elses cockatiel has done this or if anyone has any advice. also.. his crest is laying down but its flared out and down. Ive never seen that before. Back story (he was untamed when we got him a month ago and typically doesnt want to come out of cage but he has definately warmed up to us and coming out but it is definately not normal for him to run out of the cage on his own. I am using roudybush pellets sized for a cockatiel, he has been exposed to them for about a week or more and hasnt shown any interest in them) I am very concerned for his health and want him on a healthy diet but also dont want him to starve himself.

  20. kaye milner   June 19th, 2016

    why would my female lay one egg then wait to lay again i did how ever buy the pair after she had laid her first eggi figured because of the stress of being moved and having a new home could someone plz tell me ifim rite or wrong thank you so much

  21. Dee   June 15th, 2016

    My bird stopped making any noise this am he sneezed a few times but acts ok he just doesn’t make much of a sound when he tries to make noise

  22. SEAN   June 12th, 2016


  23. suzie   June 5th, 2016

    Please help! I have rescued a young male suplief him with all you have advised only he can not have access to my whole home as I have 2 large dogs . He has a nice Avery and a room that he s free to fly in all day long…but he is attention swarking all day long unless I am in his room with him .. I feel he is distressed but I can not give him undivided attention all day .any ideas ????

  24. mike   June 5th, 2016

    this was taken from a website that actually wrote something, I wouldn’t suggest this page because the data may have been tampered with.

  25. Anonymous   June 4th, 2016

    my cockiteil gets mad at himself alot can you tell me why

  26. Wendy   June 3rd, 2016

    I have a 7week cockatiel,white male and he loves to sit on my shoulder and will put his head into my neck or ear and makes a funny static type noise. When I hear it I usually talk to him and I rub my cheek on him and he just keeps up the noise. What does this mean? I am hand feeding him and training him as he was neither when I got him. Please advise

  27. Eliza   May 31st, 2016

    My cockatiel is still a baby ,it’s started to bite lots and I don’t know why it has started can you please help me.😔

  28. Laura   May 29th, 2016

    My cockatiel’s have done about 70% of the things mentioned here in your article. The hardest part w/my birds is that I bought them, (male & female), from some friends because they were moving. Even before we could get comfortable w/each other, she laid 4 eggs. I don’t know how she will feel about me when I start hand feeding the babies in about 3 weeks. I want to hand tame these to me & get them registered so they’ll be safe for sale. The male isn’t bothered by me in any way. I have cockatiels about 20 years ago but I have forgotten quite a bit of the training I had w/the previous ones. If you should have any suggestions for how I should do things w/these new birds, I can try it. Thank you for your info you have in your article.

  29. Candy   May 27th, 2016

    Our male cockatiel Toby joe sits on my head. What does this mean.