Cockatiel Body Language
An Illustrated Guide

This article will explain some of the basics of cockatiel body language, with the use of images and video.

We'll start with the language of the cockatiel crest. Cockatiels are unique in that, unlike other small parrots, they have a crest that can give us clear insight into what's going on inside the bird's head. The positions of the crest vary from laying flat on the head to sticking straight up in the air.

Basic crest positions

1. A flat, angry crest. When a cockatiel's crest lays flat on the head, it is usually a sign of hostility. Of course, even sweet, tame cockatiels like Ebo have moments where the crest will flatten and the inner demon will emerge -- it's totally natural!

2. A relaxed crest at "half mast." This is a regular crest position for the usual content cockatiel.

3. A relaxed, yet alert crest position. This is a common position for an inquisitive cockatiel.

4. A completely raised crest. Red alert! This is a common position for when a cockatiel is startled or otherwise on guard. This often happens when a cockatiel hears a "bump in the night," or when he hears the voice of another cockatiel that he can't see. It's an all-purpose "alert" crest.

More examples of cockatiel body language:

The "Rapidfire Bite" Technique
If your cockatiel gets little bunchy eyebrows or a flat crest and then starts quickly biting your finger (or as I like to say, playing your finger like a harmonica), he might be a tad miffed at you. Don't take it personally. It happens with even the best birds. The rapidfire bite is featured in the video "Bad Ebo."
Skinny Bird
If your bird suddenly gets very small and "skinny," it could mean that he has been startled or is scared. It often looks like the bird's crop is sucked in, and all the feathers lie flat on the body. This is often accompanied by a "red alert" crest.
The Head Bob
A bird who is bobbing his head may be saying a variety of things. In a young or unweaned bird, it is often a sign of hunger. Your bird may be begging for food. In an older bird, it could be a way of showing off or trying to get some attention. The head bob is featured in the videos "Baby Ebo and the Mirror", and "Ebo and the Foot."
Heart-shaped Wings
Also known as "the big chest." This is when a bird holds his wings slightly away from his sides with his chest sticking out. From the back, the shape of the wings resembles a heart. This is a male cockatiel behavior and is a part of courtship and a way of showing off. A big chest is a great tool when flirting. The big chest is featured in the video "Loser."
The Bowed Head
If your bird lowers his head and leaves it there, it is most likely an ivitation for you to pet his head. This is very cute! A more demanding bird (a.k.a. Ebo) might beak bang a few times before leaving his head stationary if you don't respond to his demands in a timely fashion.
Ready for Take-Off
Often times, a bird will stoop down low and hold his wings out, still folded, at his sides while fidgeting or moving back and forth. It may look like he is about to take off flying. If your bird's wings are clipped, then it may mean that he wants to fly somewhere (often towards you) but isn't confident enough to take off. A flighted bird may also choose to do this if he thinks that you will come and pick him up; it saves him the trouble of actually flying over to you.
Bat Bird
When given a new cage or playgym, when sitting on a tall object, or when near a nesting site, a cockatiel may hold his wings out all the way, often swishing slightly back and forth. Sometimes, a bird may adopt the same wing position while leaning far forwards, sometimes even upside down. This is a sign of "property ownership." Your bird is saying "This is mine!"
A cockatiel may often hammer his beak on a hard object, or on you. It almost looks like a pecking motion. This is beak-banging, and it is a common behavior for male cockatiels. Like the bat bird, it is a gesture of property ownership. Your bird may be saying "Whatever I'm hammering on is mine!" However, while the Bat Bird is seen in both male and female cockatiels, beak banging is a predominantly male behavior.
The "Back and Forth" Bird
Also known as "pacing." Sometimes, especially when your cockatiel is in his cage, you may see him eagerly walking back and forth very quickly, taking only one or two steps to each side while always facing forward. Sometimes he may chirp repeatedly while doing this. Your bird is begging (rather, nagging!) to be let out of his cage. The speed of back-and-forth motion often increases exponentially when people are eating in his field of vision.
Beak-Assisted Climbing
When your cockatiel is climbing onto your finger, he may first grab on with his beak before stepping all the way on. This is normal. He is testing the stability of your finger. This is also often used by cockatiels as a balancing aid.
Beak Grinding
Usually it is the sound of this motion and not the visual that first attracts our attention. Your cockatiel may grind his upper and lower mandible together, producing a scratchy or "zippy" noise. Your bird is probably content and relaxed, and he might be getting ready for a nap.
In Your Face
If your bird jumps onto your chest, runs up to your face, and maybe even sticks his beak against your face, he is inviting you to join him in a cuddling session! Take advantage of the opportunity! This move is demonstrated in the video "In Your Face."
The Head Tilt
If your bird turns his head sideways and then tilts it up or down, he may be looking at something either above or below him. Because of the positioning of a bird's eyes, this is the easiest way for them to view certain areas. If you can't tell what your bird is looking at, it's possible that he's staring at his own fluff floating in the air. This head motion may also be done when your bird is listening intently to a sound.
Tail Wagging
Ever petted your female bird on the back or by the tail and had her "wag her tail" in response? Well, stop it, because you're turning her on, and she might start to lay eggs!
The Happy Tiel Dance
If your bird gets on top of an object (or backs into an object) and starts rubbing his/her butt back and forth on it, often chirping at the same time, be polite and avert your eyes. Congratulations: your bird is masturbating. Many birds chirp while doing this; Ebo, on the other hand, says "Good Ebo."
Backwards Head
If your tiel turns his head backwards, closes his eyes, and buries his beak in between his feathers, he is all ready to go to sleep. You can also expect him to stand balanced on one foot while doing this.
One Eye Closed, One Eye Opened
Sometimes, when cuddling with your cockatiel, you might find that he has one eye closed and one eye opened. Most often, it will be the eye facing you that is closed, and the eye facing the rest of the room that is opened. Your bird is relaxed and content, but still alert enough to want to keep a look out.
Your cockatiel may occasionally puff out all his feathers, often accompanied by a brief dog-like shake. Your bird is just fixing up his feathers. This is often done during preening. However, if your bird remains puffed for long periods of time (and might also sit at the bottom of the cage), he might very well be sick, and he should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Repeated Yawning
Often after preening, a cockatiel may yawn over and over again. It could be that he's readjusting his crop or that he's gotten a bit of down stuck in his throat. Either way, it's normal.
The Head Shake
You may occasionally see your cockatiel rapidly shaking his head for a moment. if done while eating, it could mean that the food has a surprising taste, temperature, or moisture level. If done when listening to a sound, it could mean that it's a tad too loud or sharp or high-pitched, or just that it's an interesting sound.
Rolly Head
While preening, you may see your cockatiel wiping or rolling his head on his lower back, or occasionally inside his wing. If you feel the lower back area, you will find that it is very powdery. A bird performing the Rolly Head is simply distributing all these oils and powders to the feathers on his head.
Bathroom Time
If your bird stoops down low and gets slightly puffy, it could mean that he is about to go to the bathroom. Hurry and get a napkin! Once you recognize this sign, it will become much easier to prevent accidents on yourself and on the floor.
Bathtime Puffiness
While taking a shower or bath, or while getting misted, a cockatiel might become extremely puffy, raise both his wings up away from his side, lean forwards, and sway all around. This means that he is enjoying his bath!
Showertime Trance
When in the shower, your cockatiel might close his eyes and zone out for awhile, as if he is sleeping. Again, this is a sign that he is enjoying his shower.
Nose Picker
Occasionally, your bird might stick his toenail up his nose and then sneeze. What an undignified bird! Nah, he's just attempting to clear out his nasal passages. It's perfectly normal. (For tiels, not for humans!)
Puffy Face
While listening to a sound, your bird's face and/or cheek patches may become slightly puffy. This is often a sign that he likes what he's hearing, or that he is interested in the sound. Ebo often gets puffy cheeks while listening to sounds that he later ends up repeating.
If your bird raises both his wings above his back, usually leaving them folded, he is stretching.
Superman Ice Skater
Your bird may extend one foot and one wing behind him, often while fanning his tail. This is another way for your bird to stretch.

Congratulations! You have completed your crash course on cockatiel body language. I hope you enjoyed it!

Disclaimer: The information on this site has not been read or approved by a veterinarian. It is simply advice from a fellow pet owner and does not replace books or vet visits. While I try my best to give sound advice, I am not an expert, and I cannot be held responsible for any adverse effects on any one else's pets. When in doubt, always consult a veterinarian.

(c) 2002-2005 by Pho. Please do not reproduce any part of this site without permission.