Cockatiels at Home 4
By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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Why is my bird hissing?
My cockatiel sleeps on one foot with its head tucked
under its wing. Is this normal?
Cockatiels hiss when they are very frightened and feel threatened. This is a warning sign to
leave your bird alone until it has calmed down. If you don't, you will surely
get a nasty bite. If you are doing something in particular that you know
will cause your bird to hiss, stop doing it.
My Bird is Screaming. Help! What Should I do?
Many of the things that cause biting can also cause screaming.
CLICK HERE. Screaming can be caused by a loud, noisy, hectic environment, a
change in your bird's environment or routine, a bird being afraid of something, a call for
your attention and fear of being
abandoned by a human flock member. Cockatiels that are overly excited, cranky, not
feeling well, not getting enough sleep at
night (10-12 hours of quiet, undisturbed sleep) and grieving birds who have
lost a cage mate may also scream. Some
types of screaming are considered normal flocking behavior and are just part of
owning a bird. Types of screaming that are considered normal include
vocalization to alert you when there is a perceived danger or an intruder nearby,
flock calling to locate you if you're not in
the same room and screaming after losing a mate. Very loud singing, chirping,
screaming in the early morning and evening as birds greet and end the day are also normal types of vocalization.
Listen to the wild birds outside. This is when they are the most vocal
too. Some experts say
to ignore the screaming, others say to go over to your bird and talk to him for a few minutes,
trying to calm him. In many cases, establishing a flocking or contact call with
your bird may help. Choose a special word or whistle,
to only use to communicate with your bird when he screams. This may be
enough to provide your bird with the reassurance or attention he/she needs.
Another method is to ignore the screaming and only give your bird attention when
he is quiet.
Withhold treats for a week then whenever your. bird is quiet, walk past the cage and drop a treat in
his food dish, praising him for being a good bird. Lowering your energy level
may also help stop screaming.
If you are prone to talking or moving around quickly and you show excitement in your voice,
try using a more quiet, slower and
calmer voice tone when you are around your bird. Try moving your bird's cage
away from doors and put it up against a wall near a corner. This may help him to
feel more secure and less threatened. Covering the back part of the cage may
give you bird a place to retreat when he needs to feel safer. Sometimes when all methods fail, covering the
cage completely may help to calm a bird that has been over stimulated by
barking dogs or outside noise. Take the cover. off when your bird
gets quiet. Always consult your avian vet if your bird has a change in
behavior. There may be a medical basis for it.
My bird is making a grinding sound with its beak. What does that mean?
It means that your bird is content. Birds usually make this sound right
before they go to sleep.
My bird's feet get really warm sometimes, what does that mean?
This is sign that your bird is healthy, happy and content. Cold feet
mean that it is frightened upset or that it may be getting sick..
My bird keeps backing up into a corner. Why is it doing this?
When a cockatiel feels threatened it will often back itself up into a corner.
Leave your bird alone until it comes back up onto a perch. If you attempt
to play with, or handle a cornered bird, you will most likely get bitten.
Why does my bird fluff up its feathers and then shake its body?
This is one of the ways a cockatiel relaxes and lets out tension. They will often
do this after a fright and after preening. If your bird is
fluffed up all the time and looks sleepy, it's a sign of illness. A bird with a
puffy or fluffed out appearance is cold. This helps to retain body
Why does my cockatiel lift one foot up into the air?
Cockatiels, especially males, will do this when they feel threatened. It's a sign
of aggression and means that they are upset and possibly getting ready to defend their
My cockatiel hangs upside down like a bat. Is this normal?
Yes. This means that they are content, feeling playful and just enjoying life.
It's also a way for birds to exercise their wings while inside of the cage. Sometimes
cockatiels will block the entrance to their cage by hanging upside down. This is
associated with their instinct to protect their cage and the nest. This is also normal.
Sometimes my cockatiel shakes its head when I talk to it.
There are 2 theories for this. One is that the bird enjoys the sound it hears. The
other theory is that it dislikes the sound it hears. If your bird is
constantly shaking its head or stretching its neck, it may be starting to
develop a respiratory or other type of infection.
Yes, this is exactly how all healthy, happy and content birds sleep. The reason
they do it is to conserve body heat. It's perfectly normal.
Why does my cockatiel pick at its feet?
Cockatiels like to keep their feet well groomed. They will pick off pieces of
food that are stuck and flakes of old, dead skin. Check your bird's feet if it's
constantly picking at them. There may be a bruise, lesion or something that's
irritating the foot. Don't ever use abrasive perches that claim to trim nails.
They don't work and they will cause sores and lesions on your bird's feet.
My cockatiel stretches out its leg and a wing at the same
Your bird is just exercising by stretching out a bit or displaying its wings for
you. Birds will display their wings like this to gain your
attention and to show off their wings for their mate.
Did you ever hear of a cockatiel wagging its tail?
Yes, it's normal behavior for a cockatiel. It means they are at peace with
themselves and they are enjoying life. Birds also show that they have a pleasant
interest in something or someone by briskly wagging their tails
from side to side.
Sometimes my cockatiel starts slamming his toys against
the cage bars. Why?
Cockatiels bang their toys around when they are upset. They may want you to leave them
alone or they want your
immediate attention. You will have to observe other actions to determine
which mood is causing your bird to trash toys. Whatever the reason, it's normal.
Why is my bird tapping on the cage bars?
This is something that a male will do when he is courting a mate to get her attention.
However, both males and females can do this to get your attention as well.
Sometimes a cockatiel will do this to imitate your behavior, like typing on the
computer keys or tapping on the table with a pencil.
Can you tell me why my cockatiel moves its crest up and down?
This is normal body language for cockatiels. Cockatiels can express their
feelings outwardly by moving their crest feathers up and down. You can tell what type of mood your
bird is in by looking at the position of the crest feathers. A full crest
resting completely flat on a bird's head is a sign of hostility and aggression.
This is a good indicator
that you may get bitten. Very
frightened birds will raise their entire crest straight
up vertically and constrict their bodies so they looks very thin. When the crest
is straight up, your bird needs comforting and reassurance from you
that he/she is safe. . Content birds will
have the front of their crest ("forehead") relaxed, flat and the back of the crest will be slightly raised, looking like it has been curled. Body
feathers will also be relaxed so a bird's body will look normal in size. Alert,
curious and birds that are interested in something, will raise their entire
crest about halfway up. Feathers on the body may
appear to be a slightly puffed out.
Is it normal for a cockatiel to sneeze?
Yes, as long as there isn't any redness, swelling or discharge coming around the
(nostrils) or eyes. Birds
sneeze for the same reason that humans do. It clears their nasal passage of dust and
other foreign materials. If you bird is sneezing all day long, then your bird
may be getting a respiratory infection and should be seen by an avian vet.
Why is my bird sitting inside of the food or water dish?
Very young birds recently out of the nest will do this. It gives them a sense of security
and to them it feels like returning to the nestbox.
Older birds will do this when they get hormonal. In the absence of a nestbox, birds that
want to breed may use a food/water dish instead.
What is a bird's body temperature?
According to Dr. Gary Gallerstein, DVM, a bird's body temperature is between
104F to 112F. The reason birds have higher temperatures than humans is because of their
incredibly high energy requirements and fast metabolism. "Birds consume upward of 20%
of their body weight daily. This would be like a 150 pound human
eating 30 pounds of food a day." The result of so much food
being converted into energy is heat.
Why is my cockatiel yawning and stretching his neck?
Bird sometimes stretch their necks and esophagus to clear out their
crops. The crop holds food until it moves further down into the digestive tract.
Birds may also stretch their necks when you are petting them. This may mean that
your bird is trying to regurgitate on you. That's how mates feed each other and
it's the ultimate compliment a bird can give to you. Excessive
yawning and neck stretching can also be symptoms of a respiratory
disorder. Watch your bird carefully for other symptoms of illness such as a change
in droppings or voice tone, loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, wheezing, a nasal or eye discharge,
red/pink nares. If your bird has any of
these symptoms, please take him/her to an avian vet immediately.
Here to Find an Avian Vet. Sometimes symptoms
of a respiratory infection can only be detected upon examination by an avian vet. Birds have a
tiny ridge like slit, (choanal slit) inside the top of their mouth. If the ridges do not look
like sharp little peaks and there is a discharge coming from the slit, a respiratory infection will be
How can I tell how old my bird is??
According to my avian vet, it is very difficult to tell the age of a bird visually.
He said, "We can't use a lot of the clues we use in mammals.
"The best we can do is give a broad range age, Juvenile, Adult, or Geriatric."
Can my bird get sick if I have a cold or the flu?
Pet birds can not catch a human cold, which is caused by a virus. However,
according to my own avian vet and several others veterinarians whose
patients have visited CC, YES birds can get sick if you develop a
secondary bacterial infection right after having a cold. A virus will weaken the
body's immune system, making it less resistant and more susceptible to getting bacterial
infections. The sore throat, bronchial or nasal congestion that you have may
really be a secondary bacterial infections that developed immediately after a
virus like a cold or the flu If you have a cold, the flu, a sore throat, a
nasal or bronchial congestion, keep contact with your bird minimal. Don't cough or sneeze near him/her.
Have another family member take care of your bird until
you are better. If you must handle your cockatiel, wash your hands with hot soapy water
for 30 seconds and use a
hand sanitizer. Wearing a white mask is also advisable. Don't ever let your bird
eat from your mouth. The mouth contains harmful bacteria that can make your bird
sick even when you do not have a cold or the flu.
What is molting? My bird is losing so many feathers.
Molting is the normal shedding (replacement) of old feathers with the simultaneous growth of new ones.
Cockatiels will have a normal, heavy molt 2-3 times each year. The entire process
from loss of feathers to replacement of a fully grown feathers can take up
to 10 weeks or longer depending on an
individual bird. A cockatiel's first normal molt occurs between 6-12 months of age.
When your bird is molting you will find an abundance of
small feathers on the bottom of the cage floor. You will also find little
that resemble dandruff being shed as well. The flakes are part of the keratin
sheath that protects new, growing feathers. New feathers that
are growing in are called Blood Feathers or pin
feathers. New, growing
feathers look like sharp little pins and they are most noticeable on the top of your
bird's head and around the neck area. Pin feathers are very uncomfortable for your bird and they are painful if
moved the wrong way. Molting is a stressful and uncomfortable time for your bird.
be less active, a bit more cranky and have a greater need for calcium and
protein. Supplement your cockatiel's diet with dark green leafy vegetables and
scrambled eggs, cooked chicken, fish and lean meats. Your bird will also
appreciate bathing or water misting baths to help soften and loosen the hard
keratin coating on new feathers. More information about
molting can be found below.
Molting Part 2
Although not really noticeable, birds are actually in a continuous state of
molt, which scientists
at the University of California have based
on the loss of specific wing feathers throughout the year. Birds
do not lose all of their feathers at the same time. If they did lose all 2000-3000 feathers
on their bodies at the same time they would be cold, their skin would be
unprotected and they would not be able to fly. Wing and tail feathers are replaced gradually
at various times of the year and heavier molting takes place when the weather is
warmer, Spring and Autumn. Additional heavy molts are considered
abnormal and can be caused by stress, poor nutrition or illness. If your bird is having an abnormal molt, please consult an avian vet.
Other abnormal conditions include heavy molting all year long bare or
sparsely feathered areas
that you can see through to the skin. Failure to molt at least once a
year is also abnormal and this has a medical basis. If your bird has any abnormal condition, please consult an avian
What are those tiny flakes on my bird's feathers?
Those little transparent flakes
that resemble dandruff are part of the keratin sheath which protect all new,
growing pin or blood feathers. New feathers need protection because they contain
an active blood vessel. Blood feathers or pin feathers will bleed profusely if
broken. As the blood within a feather shaft recedes, the protective keratin coating
will shed, flake off and expose the new feather barbs. Finding flakes on the bottom of the
cage and on your cloths all year long is normal. Birds have between 2000--3000 feathers
on their bodies and when they preen, pieces of keratin are removed from feathers.
Birds will appreciate a few extra water misting baths to help soften the keratin. They will also appreciate
some gentle scratches from you on their heads, necks and crests because they
are unable to reach these areas to preen.
Why is my bird covered with powder?
Birds have several different types of feathers, each one with a different function.
Powder Down Feathers are small light, fluffy feathers that trap heat and help
insulate birds for warmth. Powder Down Feathers grow continuously. They also
disintegrate when a bird preens to form a white powder which conditions
and waterproofs a bird's feathers. Cockatiels and cockatoos in particular are
known to be dusty birds because they have an excessive amount of powder down
compared to other species. You'll find white powder all over the cage, on
objects near the cage and on your cloths. Watch you bird shake out his/her
feathers after preening and you may see a small cloud of white dust. If you pet
your bird with your chin or cheek, you may even have a coating of white powder
on your skin. Excessive powder down from birds can aggravate a person's
allergies or asthma. Frequent bathing or misting baths will help to remove some
of the excess powder that is on your bird.
How long does it take for a new feather to grow back in?
It take about 7 to 10 weeks for a cockatiel to grow a replacement feather after
one is lost, plucked, molted out or pulled out. It takes 7 to 10
days for the new blood feather (pinfeather) to begin emerging then an additional 6 to 8
weeks is needed for a blood feather to grow in completely.
What is preening Birds have 2000-3000 feathers on
their bodies. Preening is how they keep these feathers clean, waterproof and conditioned for skin protection, warmth and flight. By wiping their beaks
with secretions from the
uropygial gland (preening gland which is located near the base of the tail),
birds are able to groom individual feathers daily. Healthy
birds will preen throughout the day. Preening is not the same as chewing on
feathers or plucking them out. Birds with this type of behavior are called
feather pluckers and they should be evaluated by an avian vet for disease,
nutritional deficiencies, allergies, psychological disorders and other causes of feather destruction.
Feather destruction is a form of self-mutilation.
Why is my bird rubbing his/her tail back and forth on a perch, toy, food dish etc?
This is a behavior caused by hormones. Your bird is masturbating, a form of sexual,
in the absence of another bird to mate with. This is a normal, adult bird
activity for both males and females. Pet birds living in captivity have
the same hormonal needs as wild birds. If they were living in the wild, they
would be mating, breeding and raising families. Although this is one of the ways
birds living in captivity try to compensate for an aspect of their life that isn't normal, my avian vet said to
discourage it. There is a possibility that birds can pick up an infection from rubbing an open vent on a surface that contains
bacteria and other environmental contaminants.
Why won't my bird play with toys?
Playing with "toys" is not an instinctive behavior for parrots. It's a behavior that
stems from a parrot's natural curiosity, and their need for beak activity and
their need for mental stimulation. Some birds will be terrified of anything new that is put inside of their cage. To familiarize your bird with
new toys, hang them on the outside of the cage for a few days before putting
them inside. Some birds will play with toys on their own and others have to be taught how to play with them.
Birds can learn by watching you enjoy handling and playing
with toys first. Hold the toys in your hands, put them near you cheek and cuddle
them, kiss them, move pieces around, toss a toy from hand to hand, laugh, show
enthusiasm and act very possessive of them. Parrot's "Rule Number
1" is "If you have it and you're enjoying it, it must be good so it's mine!"
Try a variety of different toys
including those that can be moved, picked up, or can be shredded.
Toys made out of natural fibers are particularly appealing to birds.
Some suggested toys that are usually hits include: rolls of white adding machine
paper, Shredders and Bird Kabobs. Rotate toys on
a weekly or bi-weekly basis to prevent boredom. Browse through
this site for an assortment of toys to keep your bird busy.
How can I travel safely by car or plane with my bird?
Planning ahead will make traveling with your bird more enjoyable, safer and less stressful.
Birds can be transported in a small travel cage or inside of their regular cage
with a few safety
modifications. If you're going to transport your bird in a
smaller travel cage, let your bird see the cage a few weeks ahead of
time. Put some millet seed and toys inside and let him play near, on top of
and inside of the carrier so the environment is not a total shock to him the
day you leave. If traveling by car, one week before leaving, take him for
a few short drives around the block in his smaller carrier. This will make the long trip less
stressful too. When driving, don't place the cage directly in front of an
air-conditioner vent or in the line of wind from an open car window. Other tips when traveling with birds are to get wings trimmed in
case of an accidental escape. Take a substantial amount of food, treats
and bottled water and keep them inside of the car, not the trunk, for fast and
easy access. Having pre-cut newspaper liners that already fit the
carrier or cage will make changing papers easier. Purchase or make an avian
first aid kit in case of broken blood feathers or other accidents. Lock the cage door with a
few quick links to prevent it from opening. Wrap one or 2 bungee-cord type
fasteners around the entire small travel cage to tightly secure top, bottom and
door. If your taking your bird in his regular cage, either remove hanging toys,
swings or anything else that can move and hit your bird during a bumpy ride or
secure them with plastic, handcuff type grippers. (Not Twist Ties that come with
plastic bags which contain zinc and are toxic.)
Contact the state's Department of Wildlife, Fish and Game or the Embassy of the
country you will be entering, to
see if there are any restrictions on the species of birds you have. If you are
traveling overseas, you may want to consider getting your bird banded by an
avian vet. Call hotels and motels well in
advance to make sure they allow pet birds in rooms. If traveling by air, check with
individual airlines well in advance, to see if and how they allow small birds to be
transported and if there are any restrictions.
Some airlines treat birds as cargo and put
them in with the luggage and other pets while other airlines allow you to hold a
bird in a small travel cage on your lap like a "carry on". Keeping birds
in with cargo, luggage
and other pets is not the ideal situation, making the trip stressful, frightening and environmentally unsuitable for birds. Breathing air in cargo is
not the best quality and temperatures can be extremely hot or cold. Also,
birds should never be put through airport ex-ray machines. The amount of
radiation is lethal to birds and other small pets. Birds should be carried by
the owner, thru the walk thru metal detectors or magnetometers . However, you may be
asked to take your bird out of the travel carrier so the carrier itself can be
put through the ex-ray machine. For a
list of airlines that allow birds to travel in the cabin with passengers,
Here. For more information on airport security and pets, Click
It's always a good idea for your
bird to have a check up by an avian vet a few days before traveling, but when crossing state
lines or traveling to a different country, it's a necessity. Some states and
most countries require proof of health before allowing a pet bird to enter.
Health certificates are only available through your avian vet. Also
talk to your avian vet about nutritional supplements, such as a slice of fresh
ginger in your bird's drinking water, to help counteract motion sickness and the
effects of stress in birds. When birds are under stress
their immune system becomes impaired.
Do you have more questions?
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