This is a simple guide to the various cockatiel traits and behaviour that they demonstrate. It will help you to understand what is the mood and feelings that your cockatiels are displaying.
As you spend time with your feathered friend you will begin to notice the different activities and signs, sounds, movements and reactions they have. I have compiled a list of the most common ones.
This is when the crest is neither up nor down. It is often a sign that cockatiels are in a happy content mood.
Up But Not Up;
This is a sign that something of interest has the attention of the cockatiel and the crest is up yet not fully extended.
The crest will be fully up and extended forward. This is displayed when they are anxious and scared, something may have upset them.
This is a sign that they are angry and maybe aggressive. Ready to attack…
General Behaviour signs
Displaying Heart Shaped Wings;
Mostly displayed by the male cockatiel as a sign of masculinity. A cockatiel doing this will hold his wings away from his body slightly and keep his head up forming a heart shape when viewing it from behind. This is often followed with a few hops around. Doing this exaggerates the size of his chest and impresses the female cockatiel or you as the owner.
Thin and Skinny Looking;
This should only be a quick and seldom seen trait. If your cockatiel looks thin and skinny constantly then see a vet. A normal cockatiel will make themselves thin and skinny in times when they become scared or startled. They will usually raise their crest, stand tall and tighten up all the feathers and suck them in close to the body. It is almost like they are holding their breath.
This is a pre flight maneuver. They allow the wings to slightly come away from the body and lower their body slightly whilst moving forward and backwards in a nervous kind of way. A bit like a wiggling shuffle (like a run up) before they fly. Baby cockatiels show this when wanting to fly for the first time. Some cockatiels that know you well will demonstrate this if they want you to pick them up or carry them…
This is like watching a caged tiger…they walk from side to side around the perches in the cage. This is done with great intent and often accompanied by a few loud calls. Basically the cockatiels want to be let out of the cage or desire something that you have, you may have their favourite treat and they want it.
Swaying Side to Side;
The shoulders will be raised and the head up and the crest up. Often enhanced by some hissing sounds like blowing through the nose. This means that the cockatiel is not happy with the situation, maybe you are to close or something is upsetting/scaring them.
Our female cockatiels have shown this activity when they are upset. Possibly because they want out of the cage or you haven’t given them enough attention. What it is…is basically like a bat, hanging upside down on the roof of the cage with the wings out and moving around.
This movement is poetic. Basically they move backwards slightly and push the rear end downwards and then release a dropping. They like to do this when they can drop one from on a perch, but they will do it anywhere. It is not easy to train them to go to the toilet in a certain place considering they do it about 20+ times a day. But at least by knowing what they are going to do you will be able to guide it…even catch it in some paper. Good luck.
Shaking Feathers, Fluffed Up;
Sometimes you will notice that your cockatiel has a shake and fluffs up all of its feathers and then settles them all together again. You may notice a puff or powdery dust in the air. This is often done during a grooming/preening session. It aligns all the feathers and also helps insulate them by trapping warm air. If you see your bird fluffed up at any other time then you need to seek a vets attention as you could have a very sick bird.
All cockatiels react differently to water. If by chance you notice them trying to splash the water over them you can be sure that they are wanting to get wet and shower. They try to throw water up and over their body. This is your queue to spray them with a spray bottle or even offer them a bowl of warm water and gently allow drops of water to fall over them.
This is when you’ll see them lift up the wings and allow water to totally drench them. Often best achieved with a spray bottle of warm water. A bath can last just a few seconds to a few minutes of splashing around. All the feathers become very wet. After the bath they will sit and clean for a while until dry.
Baby and young cockatiels display this activity when they are hungry and want to be fed. Often accompanied by a sort of long screaming sound. Generally older birds tend not to do this, apart from when they demonstrate to you in front of the computer as you type on the keyboard. (This is what some of ours do)
Lowers Their Head, Bowing Down;
Tame birds that allow you to handle them will at some stage hold their head forward and down in an offering or asking for you to gently rub the head. This is a sign that they trust you and would love some scratching. Oblige by rubbing their feathers gently and get to know the favourite place.
Looking Up and Down;
This is a funny one as often when they do this we can not see anything… What your cockatiel is doing is tilting it’s head to the left or right and looking either up or down. They might even be listening for something but we often find it very amusing that we see nothing.
Head Tucked in;
When the head is turned backwards and tucked into their feathers it is a sign that they are sleeping and maybe keeping warm. They don’t have to do this when sleeping, but it is a common practice.
A Shaking Head;
You may notice your cockatiel shaking its head from side to side when you speak close to it. This is a sign that the sound was too loud, or that maybe you blew at it. If they are eating and shake the head, it could have some food stuck which they are trying to release. Maybe it was too hot or different in taste. Also to note if any foods actually come out, this is being sick and a slimy clear liquid will become visible around the face.
This is when they rub their head into the bottom of their back feathers just at the base of the tail. What they are doing is gathering the preen oil from that spot to then disperse along the other feathers, this is called preening and it protects the feathers from the elements. Keeps them moist and supple. They do this often so you will certainly notice it.
Beak And Mouth Activity
For example, you might be gently rubbing the head of your cockatiel when suddenly they decide to attack your fingers at great pace without warning, just like a biting frenzy…This generally very short and doesn’t hurt…it is a way of telling you that maybe you are rubbing in the wrong place, to firm or soft etc.
Tapping or Banging the Beak;
We have had a cockatiel that would tap his beak in time with us as we tapped the table… But generally it is the male showing off that the area is his domain. It is also a demand or want for you to do something for him… if tame then possibly some cuddles or scratches.
The opening of the beak wide and taking in and letting out of air is normal and will often happen around sleeping patterns. Sometimes they will yawn for a few times in a row, they could be trying to dislodge a small fluffy feather from in the mouth and throat from preening. Sometimes when you can rub their beak and neck, they will stretch and yawn with pleasure.
This is a sign of fondness. Parent cockatiels feed their young by regurgitating food for them. They can also regurgitate their food onto their favourite cage toys and even onto you. It is their way of showing that they love you and have made a bond. Cockatiels sometimes vomit which is a similar action, except that vomit and regurgitated food is not the same. Regurgitating foods like seeds is fine, but vomit is a slimy liquid that contains some food rest. Be careful to understand the difference as a sick cockatiel needs veterinary attention fast.
Standing On One Leg;
This is a good sign as only healthy cockatiels can manage to balance on one leg. They do this when they get comfortable, also when they sleep and when it is cold. By tucking the other leg in, they keep it warm and also relieve it of pressure.
9/10 For Flexibility;
Cockatiels are very nimble and can twist and turn in many directions. They demonstrate this very well when they pull their tail feathers from one end right through to the other, this is all part of the preening process.
Cockatiels love to stretch and they do this after sitting still for a while and sleeping. They lift both wings up and sort of stretch them without opening them, it sounds strange but watch and you will understand. This is often followed by a one foot stand and the other foot with its claws curled up and push out and backwards under the wing. This is done on both sides. It is like a yoga pose.
Some female cockatiels will show signs of sexual awareness even without a male. They actually might even accept you as the male and become excited and perform the movements in front of you. If you were to scratch her back she would know doubt sing and become very excited. This is not to be recommended even though you might be very happy that this interaction with you is special. Continuous activities like this can lead to the female actually laying infertile eggs which is not good healthy cockatiel practice.
The male cockatiel might at some stage begin to rub his underside bum area on or against a perch or anything that might arouse him sexually. This is a natural occurrence and nothing to worry about, just male and puberty. He may also become quite vocal.
This is magical. Cockatiels are prolific breeders and at any time will practice the fine art of mating. If you see your cockatiels performing the ritual it doesn’t guarantee that they will lay eggs. What happens is the male will parade close to the female and might even sing. The female will become excited and show interest by arching her back and lifting her tail slightly, he will then climb onto her back and twist his tail beside and under hers. Then wiggle tightly together. The female may even let out some wonderful sounds.
Often cockatiels will play and entertain themselves for hours. On the occasion when they do not want to be pestered they will let you or any other bird know by a slight hiss. This is a sound produced by sort of blowing through their nostrils, just like us we produce a sound when we do it…that’s it, I know you just tried it. An angry bird will also flap its wings and puff out the feathers to try and scare off the intruder. They might even be upset at something in the cage so just remove it. They can be territorial especially at night time and often you will hear some hissing going on. Sometimes they will hiss and move their head forward in a head butt motion.
Cockatiels are very vocal birds and love to whistle and make noise. They have distinctive calls. Which as an owner you will get to understand. However the diference between a screamer and a call is important to get clear on. Basically at any time they can call out. It is a sounding out to make sure that all the group are fine. A sort of roll call to check that all are pressent and well. If you have a family of cockatiels this will be a regular occurrence. Usually done at morning time and if they are out of the cage and can not see each other. The calls may go on for a while until the parents can acount for each bird.
The screamer is more of a shrill call and only seeks your attention, this call can go on and on and will make you very upset. Often all it takes is for you to leave the room. The reassurance that you are fine is often all it takes to calm them down. A constantly screaming cockatiel is not happy and may need some veterinary attention.
Sneezing, Feet and Nose;
Balancing on one foot, your cockatiel can put the other foot in the air and then place a claw gently into it’s nose and sneeze out…trying to clean the air ways. Often 3 or 4 puffs of air. Also they will sneeze without putting their claws in the nostrils. The nostrils (nares) should always be clean and free from debris.
This is a sign of peacefulness and being content. Cockatiels often display this when they are getting ready for a sleep during the day or at night, even when just relaxing on your shoulder. It is a very gentle rubbing of the top and bottom beak… a bit like us grinding our teeth together, but in a good way. Often the little beard feathers are fluffed up as well.
This is a very open guide to some of the traits that the cockatiel displays. I will try and add photos as we grow this blog to enable you to see exactly what the descriptions resemble. In the mean time study your cockatiels and most of all enjoy their wonderful characters.
If you have any more that you think we can add, please comment below and let us know.
Tags: about cockatiels, caring for cockatiels, cockatiel behaviour, cockatiel traits, cockatiels as pets