Cockatiel Behavior Explained

If cockatiel behavior is a mystery to you, you’ve come to the right place.

Interacting with their Environment

It pays to be aware of your surroundings, and no-one likes to do something that feels like a chore, so cockatiels have developed an insatiable curiosity about their environment. Apart from making them adorable and fun pets, this curiosity helps cockatiels learn about their world.

Like people, cockatiels often resist change at first. When a new object gets introduced, or something else changes, cockatiels will often be suspicious, stand-offish, or downright scared. After a little time getting used to the situation, when the cockatiel sees that the new things doesn’t appear dangerous, they’ll become more relaxed and interested in finding out about it.

The usual cockatiel behavior is to explore new objects with their mouths - they use their tongue first, and then their beak. Often they become so absorbed in exploring the new object that they seem oblivious to everything else. Because of how cockatiels find out about their world, it’s really important to remove anything dangerous from a room before you let your cockatiel loose in there.

Even though cockatiels are mostly visual, they also use sound to interact with the world around them. They have a variety of different calls for different situations: warnings, locating a missing flock member, contentment etc. And they will often mimic sounds they hear around them.

Fearful Cockatiel Behavior

Cockatiels who are a little scared might flatten their body feathers and hiss at the offender, as a warning. Whether they hiss or not, they’ll fix their full attention on the perceived danger, and it’s common for them to put their back against a wall, or other solid surface, so they don’t have to worry about watching their back.

Other times when they spot a potential danger, they let out a loud warning call to let everyone else know about the threat. And more fear and agitation can lead to screaming. Finally, when cockatiels are scared out of their wits, they may well face a wall or corner, and refuse to look at the danger, if that’s the closest they can get to hiding.

So, what should you do when your cockatiel is frightened? First off, you should never try to pet them, if you put your hand near them, chances are you’ll get bitten – it’s not personal, they’re just scared. Stay calm, and talk to them softly, because it’s reassuring, and they’ll see that you’re not scared.

Aggressive Cockatiel Behavior

There are many potential reasons for aggressive cockatiel behavior. We’ve already seen that fear can lead to biting, which is natural since you have to defend yourself sometimes, and sometimes that tension just has be get released.

Another reason for your cockatiel to become aggressive is the mating drive, as birds grow up they can become territorial of certain areas, which they think of as their nesting areas – defending a nesting cavity is one of the few times a cockatiel will choose to fight.

When cockatiels see a human or a toy as their mate, that can also lead to aggression. If you don’t respond like a proper mate should, your little buddy is likely to get frustrated and angry, and you’ll be on the receiving end of the beak as they let you know how upset they are.

Lastly, your cockatiel might just be a jerk. Seriously. If your cockatiel has been abused, or hasn’t been properly socialized, it shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t like people, and chooses to let them know about it. If this is the case, you can help her change, but you’ll have to be patient.

In general though, cockatiel behavior is sweet tempered, which is why we love them so much.

Cockatiel Grooming Behaviors

It’s really important for cockatiels to keep their feathers in good condition. Dirty, ruffled feathers make it difficult, or impossible, to fly, and they need to fly to escape from predators. Because of this, you’ll notice your cockatiel grooming itself throughout the day.

Your cockatiel grooms its feathers by running them through its beak, removing all the dust and dirt, and coating them with an oily substance that makes them waterproof. Unless your cockatiel starts pulling its feathers out, this is perfectly normal.

Obviously, your cockatiel can’t reach everywhere with its beak, so it will use its foot, or the cage bars, to scratch its head, and anywhere else it can’t get at. As long as its not constantly scratching in the same place, this behavior is healthy and normal behavior.

As your bird shakes its feathers out throughout the day, you’ll probably hear a rustling sound. Your cockatiel is shaking its feathers into their proper position, and getting out any stray pieces of dirt.

Lastly, you’ve probably seen your cockatiel rubbing the sides of its beak on a perch, or some other surface. After eating, this is done to remove and stray bits of food. At other times, this cockatiel behavior is usually a sign of affection that they’re giving you.

Mimicking Sounds

Perhaps the behavior cockatiels are most famous for is mimicking sounds. In the wild, male cockatiels mimic sounds they hear as part of their mating display. In your home, a cockatiel will mimic sounds that it hears often: words you say a lot, background music from computer games, theme music from TV shows, jingling car keys etc.

You can also teach your cockatiel to mimic something specific by repeating it to them over and over. A nice treat of millet when they copy you won’t go amiss either.

You should know though, that cockatiels speak in a whistling sound, so don’t expect crisp speech and other sounds.

Other Common Behaviors

You’ve probably seen your cockatiel yawning from time to time. Cockatiels yawn for much the same reasons humans do, perhaps they’re low on oxygen, or they want to release some tension. Yawning usually happens at night or before a nap. If your cockatiel yawns often in the daytime, it could be a sign that there isn’t enough air flowing into the room, so open a window for a while.

Just like you might stretch when you get up in the morning, or get out of a chair, your cockatiel likes to stretch too, because it helps them loosen up. After they’ve finished with an activity, you’ll often see your cockatiel stretch out one leg and one wing at the same time. This is a good time to interact with them, because they’ve finished what they’re doing, and they’re ready to move onto the next thing.

If you see your cockatiel stretching out both wings, it could be a sign that they’re hot, and they’re exposing as much of their body to the air as possible, so they can cool down. On the other hand, when a bird is too cold, you’ll see them ruffle up their feather, and turn into a big fluffy ball, so they can trap lots of heat.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to cockatiel behavior, and that you feel you understand your bird a little better for reading it.

Further Reading

  • Cockatiel Behavior Problems
    Has your cockatiel developed some naughty or unhealthy behaviors? Find out what the cause is, and discover how to solve the problem.
  • Cockatiel Night Frights
    Are you scared of the dark? One thing's for sure, it can be pretty scary for cockatiels, since they're completely blind when it's dark. That could be why they're so prone to night frights.
  • Cockatiel Attacking Its Toys?
    Find out why your cockatiel is attacking its toys, what you can do to stop it, and why you should.