What you need to know

Understanding Cockatiel Behavior

Anaëlle Laurent
By Anaëlle Laurent. May 13, 2020
Understanding Cockatiel Behavior

Cockatiels are undoubtedly one of the most loved and popular domestic birds. These birds are excellent pets for many reasons. Perhaps it's their affectionate character, elegance and intelligence that win our hearts over.

When adopting a cockatiel, we must know how to care for them and understand their behavior. It's important to know what certain behaviors mean as we express ourselves differently to birds. In this AnimalWised article we are going to help you understand your cockatiel's behavior and expressions.

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  1. Characteristics of cockatail birds
  2. Cockatiel's character
  3. How cockatiels communicate
  4. Cockatiel sound communication
  5. Daily cockatiel behavior
  6. Signs of stress in cockatiels
  7. Mating behavior in cockatiels
  8. Abnormal cockatiel behavior

Characteristics of cockatail birds

The cockatiel, also called weiro bird, is from the cockatoo family. Cockatiels are native to Australia, favouring the Australian wetlands, scrublands, and bushlands. However, nowadays they are one of the most popular domestic birds in the world.

Cockatiel birds measure at 12 - 13 inches, making them the smallest of the cockatoo family in comparison to larger cockatoo birds that measure between 12-24 inches. Their plumage is usually yellow and gray with orange cheeks. The face of the male is yellow or white, while the face of the female is primarily grey or light gray. The cockatiel's distinctive erectile crest expresses their emotional state. These animals are also very vocally expressive.

Cockatiel's character

These birds can become the most affectionate pets if they are well cared for and when all of their needs are met. Cockatiels are very sociable and intelligent animals, for this reason, they need a lot of attention and need to feel accompanied. They are definitely not made to be sad, alone, and locked in a cage all day.

It's recommended to adopt these birds in pairs as they are very social and having another bird companion will provide them with a higher quality of life. Cockatiels are known to have a strong bond with their human companions. They are very affectionate and will follow you around the house. This bond will also help them in moments of distress. If there's a strong noise that scares them, they are likely to calm down in your company.

Lastly, cockatiels are very curious about their surroundings. They are also very playful and love to interact with all kinds of elements and toys. This is what makes them such enjoyable animals to have at home.

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Understanding Cockatiel Behavior - Cockatiel's character

How cockatiels communicate

To understand our cockatiels and be able to best provide them with their needs we must understand what they're trying to communicate. Here is a how your cockatiel will express their emotions and mood:

  • Joy: when a cockatiel is happy, they keep their crest high. They might also flap their wings to show their happiness and cling to a bar, waving wildly as they prepare to take off. This behavior is also done as part of the male courtship ritual.
  • Anger:your cockatiel may nibble you to comunicate they are upset and don't want to be touched. It's best to leave them alone for a while, not as punishment, simply so they can calm down and remember that everything is ok.
  • Tranquility: when they are relaxed, you will see how their crest has falls backwards. They may also stretch their wings and even drop their eyelids. If they also tilt to the side and relax their head into their feathers, they are probably falling sleep.
  • Attentive: when your cockatiel is attentive, due to a particular sound or when you offer them a treat, they will keep their eyes wide open and raise their crest.
  • Scared: when a cockatiel feels threatened or scared, they begin to flutter trying to run away and starts screaming. If they are cornered they will defend themselves by quick attacks, such as biting. A cockatail won't bite unless they feel threatened and cornered. Their first option is always to fly away from the danger.
  • Asking for affection: it is common to see how cockatiels that have been raised from a young age with their human companion ask for affection. They usually do this by lowering and resting their head on the hand of their human companion. Cockatiels quickly learn that petting and kisses are signs of love from their human companion and will ask for them when they want affection.
  • Hungry: if your cockatiel is still young and wants to ask you for food, they will start to rock his head up and down, while making a long sound.

Cockatiel sound communication

Cockatiels, as other birds, base much of their communication on sounds. These sounds have multiple purposes and are largely a product of learning how others around them communicate through sound. Therefore, the sounds they make will depend on the situation, whether it is to call their caregiver, ask for food, because they feel threatened, etc. There is a wide range of sounds that these birds can make, such as:

  • Screams
  • Whistles
  • Whines
  • Clicks
  • Trills

It is also known that cockatiels imitate words or sounds we make, so it shouldn't be a surprise if they scream when they are happy or whistle when they hear music. You will learn to distinguish your bird's form of communication through the time you spend with them.

Daily cockatiel behavior

If you have a cockatiel, you will likely see these kinds of behavior in their everyday life:

  • Grooming: hygiene is a very important habit for many birds, for this reason you will see how your cockatiel will clean themselves and often comb their feathers with their beak. In addition, grooming is also a social behavior, in which these birds clean each other in areas where they do not reach on their own, such as under the beak or behind their head. Therefore, you will not only see your bird groom themselves but also their bird companion.
  • Hitting objects: When your cockatiel wants you to listen to them, they try to get your attention by hitting objects with their beak. Additionally, some males tend to perform this behavior with the intention of demonstrating it is their territory.
  • Throwing Objects: Often, if your cockatiel is frustrated and bored from being locked in their cage, they will start picking up and throwing objects.
  • Hanging upside down: This surprising behavior, in which your cockatiel hangs upside down from the bar, is commonly performed by males with the intention of defending their territory.
  • Play: As we have mentioned, nymphs are birds that love to interact and browse with all kinds of elements. For this reason they love to play with the toys that you offer them or even with water. You can't expect your cockatiel to just sit around and not do anything, they're playful animals and that's what we love about them.
  • Raise a leg: Normally you will see that your nymph lifts a leg and hides it in the plumage while staying elevated on top of a single leg. This behavior is completely natural. They do this to maintain body heat.

Signs of stress in cockatiels

It's important we can tell when our cockatiel is feeling stress. This abnormal discomfort can lead them towards experiencing serious health issues. It's best if we can recognize these signs in our cockatiel bird, so we can act as soon as possible into helping them feel relaxed, safe and joyful once again. Some examples of this behavior include:

  • Biting
  • Screams
  • Wandering aimlessly
  • Plucking off their own feathers

If you see that your bird is behaving like this, you need to determine what can be making them feel like this. Perhaps your cockatiel doesn't have another cockatiel companion, so they are feeling very lonely. Or maybe, they need more environmental enrichment. Make sure they are getting enough time to roam around outside of their cage and that they have enough toys to play with.

Make sure all of their needs are met, if they continue to have these abnormal behavior, it's best to consult with a veterinarian.

Learn more in our article about detecting stress in your bird.

Mating behavior in cockatiels

Differentiating male and female cockatiels is easy to do thanks to the color difference in their plumage. However, we can also tell them apart from their habitual character. Males tend to emit sounds such as whistling or singing more often than females. They also perform certain behaviors to defend their territory, as we've mentioned before.

When it comes to courtship in heat season, the mating ritual is usually initiated by males. They try to show themselves effusively so that the female notices him. This usually starts by them showing their chest and their striking plumage. Then he dances to impress her, opening their wings and the plumage in their tail.

He'll also stretch his neck and jump. To top all of that off, the male also emits melodious songs to impress the female he is courting. After all of his efforts, if she believes that is enough she will show her interest in him. Lastly, if he is accepted by the female, he will prepare the nest and make sure it's comfortable for mating. Once that is finished, he will call the female for mating.

Understanding Cockatiel Behavior - Mating behavior in cockatiels

Abnormal cockatiel behavior

When we say abnormal behavior we refer to certain behavior that reflect stress and pain that shouldn't be common in their daily life. Meaning that they are not receiving the proper care they need or that they are ill and should be taken the the veterinarian as soon as possible. Read more on our article about detecting whether your bird is sick.

Sometimes we observe an abrupt change in our cockatiel's behavior, such as inactivity, loss of appetite, they've stopped grooming, etc. It's common for us to worry as these are clear signs that something is wrong. In these cases we must also take them to the veterinarian for a check up. This way the veterinarian will be able to examine and properly diagnose your parrot. Quickly finding the correct treatment so your bird is back on their journey of health and happiness.

If you want to read similar articles to Understanding Cockatiel Behavior, we recommend you visit our What you need to know category.

  • Assis, V., Carvalho, T., Pereira, V., Freitas, R., Saad, C., Costa, A., & Silva, A. (2016). Environmental enrichment on the behavior and welfare of cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) . Brazilian Archive of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Husbandry, 68 (3), 562-570. https://doi.org/10.1590/1678-4162-8747
  • Kelly, D., Rae, J., Menzel, K. (2007). The true nature of parrots . Avian Elfare Coalition (AWC). Link retrieved (04/30/2020): http://avianwelfare.org/issues/articles/truenature.htm
  • Engebreston, M. (2006). The Welfare and suitability of parrots as companion animals: a review . Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, 15, 263-276. ISSN 0962-7286. Link retrieved (04/30/2020): www.bornfreeusa.org/downloads/pdf/WelfareAndSuitabilityOfExoticBirds.pdf
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Two of my tiels live together happily but the younger one begs food from the older one constantly which means the older one looses weight What should I do?
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Understanding Cockatiel Behavior