Cockatiels are popular worldwide as pet birds. One of the main reasons for this is because cockatiels have a reputation as the “lovebirds of the parrot world.”
Cockatiels that are bonded to their humans will behave very much like they would with a cockatiel mate. Baby cockatiels are capable of imprinting on humans, which means they see their humans as part of their flock.
However, not all cockatiels are cuddly. This is a learned behavior and some cockatiels actually learn just the opposite from inappropriate human handling, neglect, or abuse.
In this article, we will discuss what factors can influence how cuddly a particular cockatiel may be and how to foster that behavior in your bird.
Are Cockatiels Cuddly
Cockatiels can be cuddly. They can also be shy, wary, or independent. How cuddly (or not) a cockatiel is often depended on its prior history with humans.
There are some things you can try to help your bird learn to trust you and be more open to handling, which is what many bird owners mean when they use the word “cuddly.”
Watch a Cuddly Cockatiel
In this precious YouTube video, you can see classic cuddly cockatiel behaviors.
Cockatiels love to have their neck and head feathers petted. However, before you will be able to do this with your cockatiel, you will have to develop your bond and establish trust.
What Makes a Cockatiel Cuddly
As Avian Avenue Parrot Forum explains, it is a mistake to purchase or rescue a cockatiel because you assume the bird will be cuddly by nature.
Some cockatiels love to be handled and have their feathers petted and be near or on their humans. Other cockatiels, however, may actively resist handling of any kind.
There are some factors that can encourage your cockatiel to allow active handling or even display cuddly behaviors.
In the same way, as Talk Cockatiels Forum describes, there are factors that can actively discourage your cockatiel from seeking out or accepting handling, cuddling, or a human touch.
Signs Your Cockatiel Does Not Want To Be Cuddled
Cockatiel Cottage highlights certain telltale signs and behaviors that a cockatiel does not want to be handled, touched, or cuddled.
When a cockatiel resists behind handled, it is often because past experiences with people have left a negative impression.
Cockatiels are small, sensitive, relatively fragile parrots and can be easily mishandled or even injured with rough handling.
A cockatiel that does not want to be handled may exhibit any or all of the following behaviors:
- Backing away.
- Raising their crest and flattening their feathers.
- Swaying their body from side to side.
- Pinning their eyes (narrowing the pupils).
- Puffing out their feathers.
- Lunging towards you with a warning hiss or open beak.
- Flapping their wings.
- Trying to move to the farthest area away from the handler.
- Raising their wings to try to look bigger or ward off handling.
These are all signs that your cockatiel is scared of handling. This may be because of a lack of training, past mishandling, unfamiliarity with human interaction, illness or injury, or all of the above.
Common mistakes that can lead to a cockatiel losing trust in humans include toweling (wrapping the bird in a towel to restrain them for handling), shoving a hand or a perch into their cage or into their body, wobbling the hand or arm to make them lose their balance, shouting at them and similar negative reinforcement methods.
All of these types of interactions will create fear and resistance in a cockatiel.
Signs Your Cockatiel Wants To Be Cuddled
In the same way, cockatiels that want to be cuddled will give off certain telltale signs to their humans.
Cockatiels that have had positive experiences and social interactions with people will learn to invite handling or at least to not resist it.
There is no guarantee that a cockatiel will ever become as cuddly as the bird you watched in the YouTube video earlier in this article.
But with gentle, patient, kind interactions and appropriate positive training, there is a strong possibility you will foster cuddly behavior in your cockatiel.
Here are some of the most common signs that your cockatiel wants to be cuddled or to cuddle with you:
- Moving closer to you.
- Making cute chirping sounds.
- Dipping their head.
- Butting your arm or hand with their beak.
- Flying to you.
- Choosing to sit on you when they could sit anywhere.
- Giving you kisses on your cheek or even on your mouth.
- Calling for you when you are out of sight.
- Grooming your arm hairs, neck hairs, or facial hair.
All of these types of behaviors are normal behaviors that two bonded cockatiels will exhibit with one another.
Cockatiels in a wild setting live in family groups and often engage in allopreening, which is basically grooming each other’s feathers. So when your bird starts to groom you, you can think of this as allopreening behavior.
One way that cockatiels ask other birds for allopreening is to dip their heads down.
So if your cockatiel starts dipping their head down or butting your arm or hand with their beak, this is the equivalent behavior to ask for allopreening from you, their flock mate.
Managing Your Cuddly and Hormonal Cockatiel
Sometimes a cockatiel will even choose a human as its surrogate mate. This may sound cute but can quickly become a problem.
As Feisty Feathers aviary explains, many first-time cockatiel owners do not realize they are causing their cockatiel to be hormonal by how they are handling their bird.
Cockatiels that are hormonal may start exhibiting problem behaviors such as these:
- Screaming more than usual.
- Feather plucking.
- Nesting behaviors, including nest seeking, nest building, and nest guarding.
- Lunging and biting.
- In females, egg-laying (even in the absence of a mate).
You can’t completely prevent your cockatiel from ever exhibiting any type of hormone behavior.
Wild cockatiels typically form bonded pairs and mate in the spring when the rains are over, the daylight hours are longer, the temperatures are warm and food and nesting materials are plentiful.
Cockatiels typically mate for life and participate equally in nest building and guarding, egg incubation, foraging to feed the chicks, and teaching the chicks how to fly and forage for food.
To keep a cuddly cockatiel from becoming a hormonal cockatiel, make sure you don’t touch or pet the bird’s feathers anywhere but on the head and neck.
Try to keep your cockatiel on a regular sleep/wake cycle and keep the temperature constant and steady. Limit access to any dark or enclosed areas that might look like good places to nest.
And if your cockatiel has any mirror toys or seems to be developing a fixation on a particular toy, try to limit access to that toy or remove it. If your cockatiel has a cage mate, separating the two birds may also help.
By learning to handle your bird correctly, you can absolutely enjoy the cuddly, cute behavior that cockatiels are known for without having to deal with a moody, aggressive, or hormonal cockatiel.
This is better for you and your pet cockatiel.
And if your cockatiel never learns to become truly cuddly, there is still much to enjoy about sharing your life with these sweet, smart birds.