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Abnormal Cockatiel Behavior

If you see your bird excessively panting, sleeping, yawning, sneezing or picking at its feathers, your cockatiel may be ill.

Linda S. Rubin


If you observe your cockatiel , you are better prepared to gauge your cockatiel’s immediate needs, wants — and most importantly — any warning signs that can help you head off trouble and respond effectively.and its behavior closely and often, you can learn how to interpret its basic emotions, disposition, health and welfare. Once you decipher normal behavior and abnormal behavior you are better prepared to gauge your cockatiel’s immediate needs, wants — and most importantly — any warning signs that can help you head off trouble and respond effectively.

Cockatiels giving an occasional yawn is ok; however, excessive yawning, especially when accompanied by head shaking or twisting and stretching the neck, may indicate an ear, sinus or respiratory problem and bears careful watching. A cockatiel may yawn to "pop” its ear, as a reaction to a scratchy throat.

An occasional sneeze from dust or dander is usually nothing to be alarmed about. However, excessive or continual sneezing can indicate a respiratory problem. Because cockatiels are susceptible to upper respiratory infections, which can lead to pneumonia, be careful not to place a bird in an area with frequent temperature fluctuations.

Feather Picking
Picking feathers from other birds may be an act of aggression or an attempt to claim a mate. Cockatiels that pull their own feathers should be evaluated for medical issues, such as illness, nutritional deficiencies or parasite infestation. Once these are ruled out, environmental and behavioral problems should be considered.

Boredom from lack of toys or loss of human or avian companionship, and changes in environment (a change in cage location, a new diet, increased noise level, prolonged sleep deprivation, stress from adults, children or other pets) should be remedied. If left unresolved, feather picking can continue until bare patches of skin are revealed, and new feathers are picked out as they grow. Seek an avian veterinarian and/or bird behaviorist to prevent feather picking from becoming a new habit.

Tail Pumping Or Open Beaks
If a cockatiel is sitting quietly and pumping its tail, it may indicate labored breathing or an advanced respiratory condition. Closed eyes, plugged nostrils and gasping or an open beak may involve the respiratory system and other problems, and immediate attention should be sought.

Excessive Sleeping
Napping is fine, but if a bird appears to be sleeping most of the time, it may indicate illness. Cockatiels that are too weak to tuck their beak into the feathers on their back are already lacking in physical strength and energy.

If any of these signs do not clear up within 24 hours, contact your avian veterinarian, or locate one at the Association of Avian Veterinarians website. Birds are prey animals and attempt to hide their symptoms in order to survive. Cockatiels have rapid metabolisms and can go downhill quickly. By the time you notice signs of illness, a cockatiel can be quite ill.

If a cockatiel is fluffed up in appearance, and/or has depressed appetite, abnormal droppings, respiratory symptoms, is depressed, lethargic, hunched over or sits on the bottom of the cage, contact a veterinarian immediately. Acting quickly has often saved a life.

Want to learn more about cockatiel behavior? Check out these articles:

Cockatiel Night Frights
Can Cockatiels Sense Earthquakes?

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Posted: September 20, 2013, 12:30 p.m. PDT

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