Cockatiels Behavior (Everything You Need to Know)

Last Updated on December 28, 2023 by Ali Shahid

Cockatiels, scientifically labeled as Nymphicus hollandicus, are small parrots hailing from Australia. They stand out with their vibrant colors and distinctive head crests. Despite their petite size, these birds belong to the cockatoo family, and they’ve won hearts globally due to their friendly and affectionate demeanor, making them a favored choice among pet enthusiasts.

For those who choose to bring a cockatiel into their home, grasping their behavior becomes paramount. These clever and social creatures thrive on attention, mental stimulation, and companionship. To foster a strong connection between these birds and their human companions, it’s essential to comprehend their moods, often indicated by the position of their crests, and cater to their needs.

As responsible pet owners, we carry the duty of ensuring the well-being of these lively birds. This requires a profound understanding of their distinct traits and behaviors. Only through this understanding can we provide an environment that allows cockatiels to lead a fulfilling and healthy life.

Cockatiels Behavior

Cockatiel Behavior in the Wild

Cockatiels from Australia thrive in arid or semi-arid regions, typically staying close to water sources. Their preferred habitats include wetlands, scrublands, and bushlands. Displaying a nomadic lifestyle, they move in search of available food and water, often forming pairs or small flocks. Large gatherings of hundreds can be observed around a single water body. Here are some common behaviors observed by wildlife experts:

1. Social Behavior and Unity

Socially, cockatiels are highly interactive birds. In the wild, they engage in foraging as small family units, reinforcing both family and flock unity. Allopreening, or grooming each other, is a common behavior that solidifies their social bonds. This social nature extends to their relationship with human companions when kept as pets.

2. Foraging Habits and Alertness

Regarding sustenance, wild cockatiels are primarily ground foragers with a diet centered around grass seeds, including Acacia, wheat, sunflower, and Sorghum. Their penchant for cultivated crops can be a source of frustration for farmers, as they remain vigilant for predators and are light sleepers.

3. Defense Mechanisms and Camouflage

Equipped with a strong downward-curved bill, cockatiels employ biting as a defense mechanism, although its effectiveness is limited against larger predators. Their swift flying ability serves as an additional defense, while their grey coloration aids in blending into their natural surroundings, providing a form of camouflage.

4. Communication and Vocalizations

Communication is a distinctive aspect of cockatiel behavior, with whistle serenades directed at favored individuals, objects, or even their mirror reflection. Common vocalizations include shrill “queel” or “weero” calls, often heard during the flight in small flocks. Contact calls are used to keep track of each other’s movements, and the departure of a flock member elicits chirps from the remaining birds.

Cockatiel Behavior in Captivity

Cockatiels, inherently unique and social birds, exhibit a range of behaviors in captivity, mirroring their actions in the wild. Recognizing these behaviors is essential for creating an optimal environment for your pet cockatiel and accurately interpreting their needs.

Wild vs. Domestic Cockatiel Behavior

In the wild, these birds primarily forage on the ground for grass seeds, forming small family units that strengthen family and flock unity. Their nomadic nature revolves around food and water availability, with a preference for staying close to water sources in open areas. In captivity, cockatiels retain some of these traits, showcasing adaptability to daily routines. Notably, behaviors like beak bonking persist in domestic settings, where a male cockatiel taps his beak against perches, food cups, toys, or the ground for attention.

Ensuring a Healthy, Happy Cockatiel: Diet and Space

A well-balanced and varied diet is crucial for a cockatiel’s health. Recommended nutrition includes pelleted bird food supplemented with seeds, dark leafy greens, and fresh vegetables. Additionally, offering fruits like berries, melon, papaya, or kiwi on alternate days enhances their diet. 

Adequate space with diverse perches of varying heights and textures is essential to maintain healthy feet. Enclosure floors should feature recycled paper bedding or liners, replaced at least every other day.

Decoding Common Behaviors

Cockatiels communicate through a variety of behaviors, each conveying distinct meanings:

  • Wagging tail: Sign of happiness or excitement.
  • Fanning the tail: Defensive behavior to appear larger and intimidating.
  • Wing flapping: Exercise, showing off, or indicating excitement or agitation.
  • Dilating pupils: Indicates strong emotions such as excitement, anger, or fear.
  • Hopping: Playful behavior or a means to get around, especially in confined spaces.

The Crest’s Role in Communication

The crest is a significant communication tool for cockatiels. An upraised crest signifies happiness or excitement, a mid-position indicates contentment, and a lowered crest suggests relaxation or potential illness.

Audible Communication: The Cock’s Song

Cockatiels employ various sounds for communication. Males whistle enthusiastically to attract mates and emit high-pitched chirps when intrigued. Females, in contrast, are more inclined to chirp. Understanding your specific bird’s behaviors and needs is facilitated by spending quality time together, supplemented by regular vet visits for optimal health monitoring.

Understanding and Responding to Cockatiel Behavior

Cockatiels, just like other birds, talk to us through their actions. Knowing what these actions mean can help you build a good relationship with your pet.

1. When Your Bird is Upset

If your cockatiel is upset, you might notice growling, big eyes, or raised feathers on its neck. This means it wants some space, so it’s best to give it time alone. If it’s biting, that’s a sign it feels scared or trapped.

2. When Your Bird is Calm

A relaxed cockatiel shows its calm in specific ways. The feathers on its head fall back, it might stretch its wings, and its eyes might droop. Sometimes, it might tilt to the side, resting its head in its feathers, which means it’s probably getting ready to nap. If you hear a grinding sound, that’s just your bird getting comfy before sleep.

3. When Your Bird is Playing

Cockatiels are playful and curious. They might hit or throw objects to get your attention, mark their territory, or simply because they’re feeling a bit bored. They can turn everyday things into their own toys for fun.

4. Why Your Bird Hits or Throws Stuff

Cockatiels enjoy hitting or throwing things as a way to interact or beat boredom. Male birds might do it to show they’re in charge of their space. It’s just their way of having fun and exploring.

5. Making Your Bird Happy: Friends and Fun Spaces

To keep your cockatiel happy, give it things to do. Simple things like a paper towel roll or changing its living space a bit can keep it entertained and prevent stress. Cockatiels like company, so spending time with them is crucial. But keep an eye on how they interact, especially if one bird seems weaker, as it could be a sign of a health problem.

Training and Interaction with Cockatiels

Training your cockatiel is a key part of building a strong bond with your feathered friend. It not only helps correct unwanted behaviors but also provides a fun way to spend quality time together. Basic training involves teaching your bird to sit on your finger using a simple command like “step up.”

Teaching “Step Up”

To teach this, bring your finger close and say, “Step up.” If your bird doesn’t comply, gently touch or push your finger against its belly. However, use this sparingly to maintain trust. Repeat the process while consistently using the command. Always reward your bird after each successful attempt, expressing praise with a smile.

The Power of Patience and Positive Reinforcement

Patience is crucial in training, ensuring consistency with positive reinforcement. When your cockatiel follows a command, like stepping up, immediately reward it. Pair verbal praise like “good bird” with delivering food. This immediate reward helps your bird connect the behavior with a positive outcome, encouraging repetition.

Play and Exercise: Essential for Cockatiel Well-being

Exercise is vital for a happy, healthy, and mentally stimulated cockatiel. It aids in burning energy and preventing obesity and related health issues. Regular physical activity maintains balance, strengthens muscles, and enhances coordination. 

Exercise also combats boredom, a common cause of stress in pet birds. Create opportunities for wing flapping in the cage, set up perches for hanging upside down, and hide food for foraging. 

Teaching tricks like turning around, shaking hands, or walking on a tightrope adds mental stimulation and strengthens your bond. Regular play and exercise contribute significantly to the overall well-being of your cockatiel.


Knowing your cockatiel’s behavior is super important when you have one as a pet. It affects how happy and healthy they are. Whether it’s how they act with other birds in the wild or the funny things they do at home, all of it tells you what they need and how they feel.

Understanding when your cockatiel is upset, calm, or playing around, and figuring out why they might hit or throw things helps you connect with your pet and makes them feel good.

Ensuring they eat right, have enough space, friends to hang out with, and interesting things to do is a big deal for keeping your cockatiel healthy and happy. Teaching them things, being patient, and giving them treats when they do something good also makes your bond stronger. And don’t forget, playing and moving around a lot keeps them physically and mentally healthy.

So, the more you know about your cockatiel’s actions, the better you can make their home awesome. Each cockatiel is special, so spend time watching and playing with yours to really get what they like and need. Keep enjoying your time with these cool little birds!


  • Ali Shahid

    Ali Shahid is a veterinarian by profession and an animal lover. He loves to give expert opinions about different animals. He has worked in top organization of birds like Bigbird Feed and Poultry Research institute. He loves birds, especially parrots and has great experience in different parrot farms.

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