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Why is my cockatiel so clumsy when landing? His wing feathers are not trimmed, so he is fully flighted.

Cockatiels, just like all birds, must learn how to fly. Although the instinct is to take off and flap the wings, cockatiels must practice these skill sets in order to learn how to control speed, velocity and landing. This requires practice and is usually learned while a bird is very young. If parent-raised, most baby birds learn directly from their parents; if a baby is hand-fed it may require more practice time if left to learn on its own.

You did not mention the age of your cockatiel or whether you just obtained your bird. If your cockatiel is still young or only a baby, it may still be perfecting its landings and will eventually become more adept with practice. In general, cockatiels are one of the strongest flyers in the parrot family, and care must be taken to prevent accidents until they are confident in navigating a room. For example, fully flighted birds that are new to flying can slam into walls or mirrors; always cover mirrors and bird-proof a room until a cockatiel is comfortable with flying in that area.

Very young cockatiels, cockatiels new to flight and those that may not have been permitted the opportunity to fly for a period of time may need to exercise muscles and learn about a new environment in order to practice precise landings. Elderly or sick cockatiels may also have physical problems affecting flight, so an exam by an avian veterinarian will be helpful in learning whether your cockatiel falls into this latter category.

Although it may appear that a cockatiel has not had its wing feathers trimmed, you would have to extend its wings to see if all feathers were fully re-grown, and similarly inspect the tail. The tail acts as a rudder in landing and missing tail feathers could also lead to some problems in navigating smooth arrivals.

If, however, symptoms persist, and your bird is beyond its baby molt and you believe all its feathers are fully present, it would be advisable to have your avian veterinarian rule out other medical reasons that could present these physical problems.

How do I tell the difference between males and female cockatiels in regard to behavior?

Although most color mutations in cockatiels are sexually dimorphic, where adult males acquire a yellow face mask by adulthood, there are color mutations, such as Lutinos, Pieds, Whiteface Lutinos (i.e., Albinos) and others, where we can only determine a cockatiel's gender by visual cues. At times, it may also be necessary to know the sex of a bird from a very young age before full adult plumage can be observed.

Young males are easier to sex by observing their actions and vocalizations. Young males often begin to exhibit male behaviors early on, including practicing courtship display, such as hopping, strutting, bowing, opening the shoulders wide at the wing joint while singing, and tapping shiny or wooden objects rapidly with their beaks. The real give-a-way, however, is that young males begin to sing a series of call notes, whistles and a lengthy warbling song usually by a few months of age, some as early as the baby molt. Adult males in full breeding condition can become much more aggressive and are known for giving a sharp nip as hormone levels rise and mating becomes their focus.

Female cockatiels are much quieter and sedate compared to males. Their "song" consists of a two-syllable call note "eek, eek." In the majority of color mutations, females are more drab when compared to the male; even their face acquires much less color in the normal gray variety.

Behaviorally, female cockatiels are a little less bold or inquisitive in comparison to males. As females mature, they usually become broody, showing interest in nesting activities and searching out a suitable place to lay eggs. They may begin tearing up paper at the bottom of the cage in preparation to lay a clutch of eggs or seek out unlikely areas outside the cage where they feel their "nest" may be safe, such as in a bookcase, on top of a bureau or under a bed.

Nesting females become intensely broody and sometimes defend their nests even from their owners. Mating behaviors include squatting down low on a perch or flat surface with trembling wings, while keeping the tail raised high in the air and emitting a piteous "crying" sound. These actions are designed to invite a male to breed with her, although this may also be directed at owners who are considered their mates.

Often times, a female cockatiel is observed standing at the bottom of the cage, backed into a corner with her tail raised up high, presenting "sobbing" sounds. This is a definite indication that she is ready to breed. And, of course, the arrival of eggs clinch it; congratulations, it's a girl!

What does it mean when my cockatiel lifts its crest feathers?

Your cockatiel repositions its crest feathers in order to communicate its current mood to you. Lifting the crest feathers can indicate different emotions, depending upon the circumstances, which you will learn to interpret. Sometime, a raised crest can indicate interest or alertness, while a quick, sudden raise often signals anxiety or surprise.

Some cockatiels enjoy lifting their crest feathers while their head is bent downward, to offer your finger the opportunity to participate in a good "head-scratching" session. Watch your cockatiel and its surroundings in order to determine what its body language is telling you; if you pay close attention, you will learn to understand your cockatiel's nonverbal language over time.

When he's out of it, he seems happy. Cockatiels can be very territorial and possessive about their cage in the same way that you might be about your living space. A cage can represent safety and protection from the outside world, as well as a place to rest and eat in peace. Your cockatiel regards his cage as his home, which is natural. When your bird chooses to leave the cage for exercise, there is no reason for your cockatiel to be unhappy.

One point to consider with cockatiels defending the cage is whether or not they are coming into breeding condition. If males turn aggressive, they may act nippy and bite, become more vocal as hormone levels rise and become even more territorial. Females getting ready to lay eggs can become preoccupied with the bottom of the cage, as if planning to make a nest, and may start to wimper, fret and worry more. If your cockatiel's behavior suddenly changes and you believe hormones are flaring, give your bird some extra space until this passes. Check out the Bird Breeder section and read more about cockatiels getting ready to breed and how to cope.


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