Cockatiels are small, social, flocking birds that are native to Australia. In a wild setting, cockatiels live in small family groups and sometimes travel in larger flocks numbering into the hundreds.
Calling, vocalizing, and screaming are very important for flock communications. Because of this, cockatiels are known to be very vocal birds.
Even experienced cockatiel owners will readily state they learn new things every day about how their cockatiel vocalizes and what each sound means.
In this article, we talk specifically about the sound characteristics and general meaning of a cockatiel scream.
A cockatiel scream is a specific type of communication – one of many different communications cockatiels will make.
As the respected resource site Cockatiel Cottage explains, cockatiel scream sounds are not random. They are meant to convey a message to you, the owner.
We will cover the meaning and message of a cockatiel scream in detail in this article.
Listen to a Cockatiel Scream and Other Cockatiel Sounds
This short YouTube video features a variety of cockatiel sounds from screams to hisses to beak grinding, along with owner interpretations about the meanings of each.
What is important to remember here is that different cockatiels can have different voices – just like people’s voices sound different.
Just because your cockatiel’s scream sound doesn’t sound exactly like the sound this owner describes as “screaming” doesn’t mean your bird isn’t screaming. We will talk about this more in the rest of this article.
What Does a Cockatiel Scream Mean
If you are reading this right now and are not sure if what you are hearing from your cockatiel is a true scream, not to worry.
Over time, you will quite naturally get better at distinguishing between the different sounds your cockatiel makes every day.
Many cockatiel owners will talk about how they have developed their own system of different calls to let the owner know what the bird wants or needs. This is pretty neat to be a part of!
In the beginning, however, every sound your cockatiel makes might sound like a scream to your unfamiliar ears.
So here are some questions to ask yourself to figure out if the sound your bird is making might be a cockatiel scream.
Is the sound loud?
As the popular Avian Avenue owner forum explains, the first and most important characteristic of a cockatiel scream is that the sound is LOUD.
Of course, loud is a relative term. So the comparison you want to make is between the volume of the screaming sound and your bird’s other sounds. Is it louder? It may be a scream.
Is the sound strident?
Cockatiels don’t have to be upset or afraid or lonely to be loud. A happy cockatiel whistling their favorite combination of notes can be very loud too.
But if the sound you are hearing is strident or screechy – to the point where you might even call it “ear piercing,” it is more likely to be a true cockatiel scream.
Does the sound happen at certain times?
The more time you and your bird spend together, the more you will notice how certain sounds happen rather reliably at certain times.
For example, when you appear, your cockatiel might make a certain sound. When you leave, your bird may make a certain sound.
When there is a loud noise, your cockatiel will make even another kind of sound. When your bird is all alone in a room, you will hear a different sound.
Because of how humans define the word “scream” as a noise of distress if your bird is in a situation where they might be feeling fear, anger, or loneliness, the sound you are hearing is much more likely to be a true cockatiel scream.
Does your bird want something you don’t want to give?
There is another important point to make here, and that is that cockatiels, like all parrot species, are quite smart.
In fact, as New Scientist points out, parrot brains and people brains are actually quite a bit alike!
Cockatiels are quite capable of “training” their owners (rather than the other way around) using certain sounds as motivators.
For example, if your bird discovers that making a certain sound very reliably gets your attention, your cockatiel may make that sound more frequently.
If your cockatiel wants something – whether the snack you are holding, your time and attention, neck feather pats, to come out of their cage – and screaming helps them get it, you can be sure you will hear more screaming!
When Is Cockatiel Screaming a Problem
New bird owners and the bird-unfamiliar might assume that because the pet species is avian rather than canine or feline the situation is harder to deal with.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
As VCA Animal Hospital explains, if the behavior occurs over and over and goes unaddressed, it will not fix itself.
Live Science reports on research with African Grey parrots, which has revealed that many parrot species can exhibit similar reasoning abilities to a human toddler.
What happens with a human child if you don’t give them what they want? They scream or cry or throw a tantrum, right?
Parrots will absolutely do the same thing and it is up to the owner to find an appropriate, safe and sustainable way to address the situation when it arises.
This doesn’t mean simply ignore the behavior or locking the bird in a room alone or re-home the cockatiel.
It means you need to start really paying attention and follow these steps.
Step 1: Figure out what is causing your cockatiel to scream
Cockatiels scream for a wide variety of reasons that extend beyond emotional or even behavioral issues.
Cockatiels may scream when they are afraid. They may scream when they feel they are in danger (which includes being left alone – for a wild cockatiel, this means near-certain death).
A cockatiel might scream when the bird is in pain or ill or injured.
Cockatiels may scream to attract a mate or call a missing mate or to you, their owner.
So your very first step is to figure out what is causing your cockatiel to scream.
Step 2: Take your cockatiel to the avian veterinarian
Cockatiels, like all prey species (and even most predators), will try to hide signs of injury or illness.
By the time you see signs, your bird may need emergency care. So just to be safe, take your cockatiel to the avian veterinarian if the screaming continues.
Step 3: Consider working with an avian behaviorist
As avian veterinary science and research advances, we learn more and more about how to create a safe, healthy, happy home for our companion birds.
An avian behaviorist can become an essential partner in training your cockatiel about what is appropriate behavior and what is not allowed.
And if your cockatiel has trained you through the use of screaming, an avian behaviorist can also help you achieve a gentle course-correct so you and your bird have a better relationship.
Cockatiels are smart, sensitive avians and need a lot of time and attention from their human carers to stay healthy and happy.
If you don’t have at least several hours each day to spend with your cockatiel, consider getting a second bird or choosing a different species of companion animal.