Ask Lafeber

Question:

April 3, 2020

Possessive cockatiel


My cockatiel thinks I’m his girlfriend. He wants to be with me 24/7. I can’t even leave the room without him continuously calling. He also wants to sit on my head all of the time. Is this a play for dominance? What should I do for him to be less needy?


Answer:

Hi Anne,

Cockatiels are wonderful pets, aren’t they! But just like the larger parrots, they can have behavior problems. Like all parrots, cockatiels only have one mate unless something happens to it. When they are in a flock, flock members may engage in some mutual preening, but this will be limited to the head area. A flock member would ever be allowed to groom another flock member on the body unless it is their mate. We have learned that the same should go for our pet birds. When we pet a bird on its body – front, back or around the tail – we are triggering hormones and sending the message that we are the mate. This results in mating behavior from the bird which we can’t reciprocate. This causes frustration and behavior issues. If you normally pet your cockatiel all over, it’s time to limit the contact to his head and avoid petting him on his body.

The calling he is doing is a contact call for his mate. If you return to the room, even to tell him to stop, this reinforces the behavior and he will continue to do this when you leave the room. It’s best to ignore this calling and only return to him when he is quiet. Then you can praise him for being quiet and give him a head scratch.

I would stop allowing him on your head. This can be a form of dominance but it can also double as a nest for him. Or worse, he is going to start trying to mate you on your head. Keep him at or below eye level – each time he flies or climbs to your shoulder or head, move him back to a playstand or his cage. Be consistent and he will get the message.

If he has free reign, this can also be a problem. He needs to be in his cage unless he is being supervised. Make sure he has plenty of toys, but not anything he can shred or use as a nest. You might try getting him a mirror or two – while it isn’t ideal if he gets obsessed with himself, it is better than being obsessed with you because you can’t be with him all the time.

Make his cage a happy place. Even when placing him there because he is getting on your head or being too obsessed or for whatever reason, never treat the cage like a punishment. Give him some treats or his favorite food, have toys he can play with and as I mentioned, a mirror. He needs to learn to entertain himself when you don’t have time for him.

Do not get him another bird to have as a “friend” in the same cage. Birds have flockmates until they find a mate. You are a flockmate. But if you put another bird in the same cage with him, he will eventually end up bonding with that bird and is not likely to remain tame with you. If you decide he needs another bird around, then make sure that bird has its own cage so you don’t lose both birds as pets.

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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