Avian Expert Articles

Cockatiel Behavior: Brilliantly Baffling

cockatiel perched on fingerI’ve shared my home and life with two cockatiel companions — Elvis, a normal gray that I got when I was 9 years old after saving up my penny collection; and my current ’tiel friend, Gracie. Elvis was my first bird, and the only thing I had to compare him to were my two dogs. My dogs were pretty standard canines; they ate just about anything, loved to jump on me to be petted, chased tennis balls, and hated taking baths. Elvis, on the other hand, was nothing like them. When I brought him home via the standard cardboard “critter carrier” box, he was very shy and timid. He did not run to jump up on me; instead he hissed and nipped when I took him out of the box. It took a bit of trial and error — and massive amounts of my 9-year-old patience — for me to begin to figure Elvis out.

Cockatiel Lessons From Elvis

I discovered that he liked to chew up paper after he got ahold of my letter from a Pen Pal (remember those?!). One day I set Elvis down on the bathroom counter to brush my teeth and learned that he loved seeing his reflection. Soon thereafter, I discovered that he not only loved looking at himself, but he also loved to whistle to his reflection. After he spent an increasing amount of time hanging out in front of the bathroom mirror, I discovered that he also liked the steam generated when I showered. Soon I began to notice that he did things I thought made him certifiably crazy. He’d bang his beak hard against the mirror, the countertop and any other reflective surface, such as my mom’s lacquered vase. I thought for sure he was going to break his beak and was convinced that the bits of flake on his beak were a result of his head banging and not because of natural beak growth. He’d whistle, hop, bang his beak, and whistle some more.

I had to show my two best friends — who only had cat and dog companions — my strange little pet. I hosted a sleepover for my birthday and after we settled into our pajamas, giggling — no doubt fueled by Sweet Tarts and licorice from an earlier movie theater outing — I went to take Elvis out of his cage. I was promptly greeted with a nip and hiss. I managed to get him out of his cage despite his protests, but Elvis was having none of it — he did not want to be the life of this little sleepover party. My friends were, not surprisingly, unimpressed, while I was a little disheartened; I wanted them to see how wonderful Elvis was, and instead they saw a very cranky cockatiel. Another lesson learned; my little ’tiel enjoyed his downtime, especially at bedtime. Fortunately, I had a full 21 years to thoroughly learn Elvis’s likes and dislikes, and he was a very good teacher.

Cockatiel Lessons From Gracie

By the time I welcomed Gracie into my home — during Elvis’s golden years — I had many years of Livin’ La Vida Loca cockatiel-style but nonetheless was amazed all over again by all his little cockatiel quirks. Gracie is a “he” and he is all male cockatiel — like Elvis, a head-banger, a whistler, a hopper and, yes, an occasional hissy-fitter if I dared interrupt his “me time.” Gracie added a few cockatiel tricks of his own, like hanging upside-down in the cage and flapping his wings just as I’m heading over to change out the cage liner — sending his birdie debris all about. My friend has a female cockatiel that I’ve pet sat enough to notice that she is more of a chirper than a whistle-serenader, and she is more apt to be content snuggling up on a shoulder than hopping in front of a mirror. One thing both sexes seem to have in common is their fluffed-up, relaxed cheek feathers and soft but audible beak grinding when content and, of course, that high-pitched chirp when something catches their attention — ’tiel talk for “Did you hear that?!”

Common Cockatiel Behavior

“Normal” can be a relative term when talking about cockatiels but here are some of their more common behaviors:

Beak bonking: A male cockatiel might bang his beak hard against his perch, food cup, toy, or the ground beneath him to get the attention of the object of his affection, which can be another bird, you, a toy, or his own reflection. And if he’s really laying on the affection he will lean in close and whistle enthusiastically.

Hopping: Hopping is often paired with a cockatiel’s beak bonking … he’s really upping his game.

Hanging upside-down: Some avian enthusiasts report their cockatiels hang upside-down and stretch out their wings as a territorial stance or to be protective of their area. They might also hang upside-down and flap their wings as a way to “stretch them out.”

Hissing: Most cockatiels will warn you to back off via a “hiss” and maybe a beak lunge as well. They’d much prefer you get their point than having to resort to nipping you.

One thought on “Cockatiel Behavior: Brilliantly Baffling

  1. I have a pair of ‘tiels, but even with them being so they both like their time with the humans in the house as well as the dogs, who all of my birds have learned if they feed them they will take them anywhere they want to go in the house.
    My male ‘tiel Skii has even taken on the idea that he should be able to do all of the things that my 2 conures can do, such as holding things in his foot while he is eating it. He is the first of my ‘tiels to ever try to mimic this kind of behavior but I do not find it strange at all, as they try to mimic many things that they find of interest.
    I find my feathered friends to be great companions as they teach those in the house to have patience and to try to learn their way of communication when they want something.

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