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Is My Cockatiel Normal?

Find out if your cockatiel's quirks are actually normal 'tiel behavior.

Linda S. Rubin


Cockatiel behavior can be a mystery at first. But if you observe your ’tiel’s behavior closely and often, you can learn how to interpret its basic emotions, disposition, health and welfare. Once you decipher normal 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.

Check out normal cockatiel behavior:

Cockatiels and cockatoos differ from other members of the parrot family by the fact that they have a natural powder down, which can escalate dust in your home.

Cockatiels keep their plumage in top condition by coating individual feathers with oil they gather from the preen gland, or uropygial gland, located at the base of their tail feathers. The secretion wicks out of the wick feather, which is then collected on the beak and spread on the feathers. Cockatiels preen their body feathers for long periods of time to keep their plumage healthy.

Wing Spreading
In the wild, arid interiors of Australia, wild cockatiels enjoy taking dust baths to help control insect infestation and to help protect their plumage. When rainstorms come, they open their wings fully to catch every drop of water they can.

Companion cockatiels can be trained to enjoy light spray mistings from a clean atomizer (used only for this purpose) containing warm water. Birds enjoying or soliciting bath time often fully unfold their wings and may even hang upside down in an effort to bathe completely.

Cockatiels are sentinel birds, warning members of their own flock, and often other species, of impending danger. A high-pitched, shrill warning call announces immediate trouble. Loud calls may also be sent to one another as a means of communication. Listening experience and eventual familiarity teaches you to differentiate the intended message of your cockatiel’s vocalization.

Female cockatiels have a double-note "eek-eek” call, while male cockatiels are usually much more vocal. They typically sing a longer song, and enjoy whistling when taught. Males may also enjoy "chatting” expressively to their mirror image. Both males and females can learn to mimic human speech, especially while young.

Some cockatiels hiss (like a snake) if they are suddenly startled. Young cockatiels, or cockatiels not yet tame, might hiss at people until they learn to trust them.

Most animals enjoy a nap, and cockatiels are no different. A nap during the late afternoon is not unusual. Flocks of cockatiels frequently nap together. Provided your cockatiel is not continually napping for long periods most of the day, short naps to re-energize are normal and expected.

Keeping cockatiels up at late hours beyond bedtime, playing loud music, continuous TV, or exposing them to lots of noise, young children, other birds or pets can be stressful. Try to provide your cockatiel with enough privacy and "down time,” so that frequent napping is not necessary or, worse, leads to illness.

Beak Grinding
Oftentimes, a cockatiel at rest, napping or preparing for bed, can be heard grinding its beak. This can sound quite loud, and many owners wonder what the purpose may be to this beak-grinding activity. Because the beak continues to grow and layers build up on both the rhinotheca and gnathotheca, it has lead to the speculation that the activity may be a natural way to eliminate mounting layers and prevent excessive beak overgrowth.

Cockatiels quite naturally use their beak as a third "arm” to reach out to grasp your finger when learning to "Step up.” Withdrawing suddenly from a "lunging beak” that is merely the bird’s attempt to steady itself, can communicate mistrust and the message that you can’t be depended upon.

 "Flamingo Feet”
A flamingo stance, or standing on one foot, is a common activity in a normal, healthy cockatiel that is resting or napping. Healthy cockatiels have the energy reserves to stand on one foot and may even sleep that way.

There is an automatic perching reflex in your cockatiel’s legs and feet that permit it to grasp the perch without falling off.

Want to learn more about cockatiels? Check out these articles:

Abnormal Cockatiel Behavior

Top 10 Cockatiel Questions Answered

Top 10 Pet Cockatiel Vet Questions & Answers

Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, April 2011 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.

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Posted: September 18, 2013, 4:00 p.m. PDT

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Is My Cockatiel Normal?

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Reader Comments
pretty good article thought it doesnt mention how beak grinding can be a sign of contentment...
stephanie, north smithfield, RI
Posted: 9/20/2013 5:30:46 AM
Aww, i miss having 'tiels...
Gabby, San Diego, CA
Posted: 9/19/2013 9:55:34 PM
great article
n, n, TN
Posted: 9/19/2013 11:19:43 AM
I was going to order the bean mixture, until I saw the shipping was as much as the bean mixture. That is outrageous.
Barbara, Columbus, WI
Posted: 9/19/2013 7:34:12 AM
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