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!”

Beak-Banging:
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.

Puffy!:
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.

Mating:
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!).

Crushes:
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.

Hissing:
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.

Regurgitating:
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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702 Comments:

  1. 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.

  2. Candy   May 27th, 2016

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