Cockatiel Sneezing: What It Sounds Like & What It Means

Cockatiels are very vocal birds. These small parrots typically don’t talk up a storm like budgerigars often do, but they are whistlers and will make a wide variety of other noises while communicating.

Cockatiel sneezing is a specific sound that experienced cockatiel owners have learned to recognize. But if you are caring for a cockatiel for the first time, you might really wonder what you are hearing the first time your bird sneezes!

In this article, learn what cockatiel sneezing sounds like, what it means, and what to do about it.

Cockatiel Sneezing

Cockatiel sneezing happens when cockatiels inhale dander, dust, or other matter, which can block their nares (nostrils).

Cockatiels may also sneeze as a response to environmental toxins present in the air that are irritating to them. And cockatiels often sneeze when they are developing sinusitis.

In the following sections here, we will talk about each of these common reasons that can trigger cockatiel sneezes and how to tell the difference.

Listen to a Cockatiel Sneezing

In this short YouTube video, you can hear and see exactly what a cockatiel sneezing sounds like.

Typically when a cockatiel sneezes you will see a similar motion of the head to how humans and other animals sneeze and hear a little “tsk” sound.

What Does Cockatiel Sneezing Mean

As this Avian Avenue cockatiel owner forum thread showcases, cockatiel sneezing can have lots of possible meanings or causes.

In other words, it can be hard to know for sure without getting a medical opinion from a qualified avian veterinarian.

Types of Cockatiel Sneezing

There are two main types of cockatiel sneezing – wet and dry. Each has a different potential list of triggers or reasons.

Dry cockatiel sneezing

Dry cockatiel sneezing is the most common type of cockatiel sneeze sound.

As Bird Tricks avian trainers explain, it is called a “dry” sneeze because there is no discharge that comes out of the nostrils, or nares, when the bird sneezes.

A dry sneeze is typically caused when your bird inhales the dust, feather dander, or airborne matter that irritates the nose and respiratory passages.

Your bird will feel the irritation and quickly expel air through the respiratory passages and out the nares to try to clear out the matter. If there is a lot, you may see a little flurry of dust or keratin particles when your bird sneezes.e

Major symptoms of dry cockatiel sneezing include the following:

  • Single or repeated “tsk” sound.
  • Shaking of the head.
  • Slight scattering of dry matter upon sneezing.

Wet cockatiel sneezing

Wet cockatiel sneezing is typically a more serious matter. The reason it is called a “wet” sneeze is that there is fluid expelled from the nares along with the sneeze.

How serious a wet sneeze maybe depends on what that liquid is and why it is in the bird’s nostrils in the first place.

Major symptoms of wet cockatiel sneezing include the following:

  • Reddened, irritated looking, or swollen nares (outer nostril area).
  • Evident liquid or crusty discharge in and/or around the nostril area.
  • Staining around the nostril area (common colors include red or brown).
  • Watery eyes.
  • Other signs of illness, including listlessness, sleeping a lot, lack of interest in eating or socializing, fluffed feathers.
  • Watery or loose stool.

Preening Is a Major Cause of Dry Cockatiel Sneezing

The most common reason for dry cockatiel sneezing is preening.

When your cockatiel molts and new feathers begin to grow in, these new feathers are covered in a protective sheath made of keratin, the same material your own hair and fingernails are made from.

Your bird will preen away this protective keratin sheath to allow the feathers to unfurl. This preening will cause the keratin to break up into small white dust-like particles.

Often cockatiels inhale some of this keratin dust while preening their feathers and this then prompts dry sneezes.

Respiratory Infection Is a Major Cause of Wet Cockatiel Sneezing

Bird Health by Dr. Rob Marshall explains that cockatiels can be prone to developing sinus problems.

Wet sneezing is a common symptom of a developing sinus problem or respiratory infection.

Diagnosing the Cause for Cockatiel Sneezing

Cockatiels, like all prey species, will try their best to hide any symptoms of illness or weakness. But it is hard to hide wet sneezing, which is a good thing for you, the owner since this will tell you all is not well with your bird.

Just like with people, cockatiels can be vulnerable to a host of different bacteria and fungi that can develop into the sinus and respiratory problems.

It is vital to take your bird to a qualified avian veterinarian right away if you see or even suspect wet sneezing.

Your veterinarian can culture the discharge from your cockatiel’s nares to identify the strain of bacteria or fungi or any other possible issue causing the symptoms.

Your veterinarian may want to run multiple tests on your bird’s nasal discharge or stool to identify the culprit.

One very common diagnostic test is to take saliva samples from the choana, an area on the roof of your cockatiel’s mouth.

Another common diagnostic test is to do a fecal gram stain, which involves getting a fresh stool sample from your bird.

Injury Can Also Cause Cockatiel Sneezing

Parrot Forum Parrot Owner’s Community points out another slightly less common cause for cockatiel sneezing and that is an injury to the nares area.

Cockatiels often allopreening each other, which means to preen one another’s feathers. This is especially important in the head and neck area since this is a part of the body birds have a harder time preening for themselves.

But it is easy to scratch the sensitive skin around the nostrils when preening feathers in these areas.

A bird that has scratched their own skin or had their skin scratched by another bird during allopreening may then develop irritation in that area. This can in turn cause sneezing.

What To Do If Your Cockatiel Starts Sneezing

Even if you watched your cockatiel around the clock, you might still have a hard time figuring out on your own what is causing cockatiel sneezing.

Because of this, it is important not to try to diagnose your bird’s sneezing on your own. Because cockatiels are small birds and prone to hiding signs of weakness or illness, by the time you see warning signs your cockatiel may be very sick.

Veterinary generalists – veterinarians that treat common pets like dogs, cats, and small pocket pets – typically do not have the extra education and training to treat exotic species and avians.

You will need to find a qualified avian veterinarian who can run the appropriate tests to diagnose and treat your cockatiel sneezing.

Until you can take your bird to the avian veterinarian, locate the cage in a warm, draft-free room. If the air is dry, add back some humidity by running a humidifier in that room. This may help ease the sneezing as well.

Be sure your bird has fresh water and fresh food to eat. Monitor the droppings and look for any signs of a change so you can let the veterinarian know during your visit.

Cockatiels can be successfully treated for a range of issues that can cause sneezing, but it is important to notice the early warning signs and take prompt action.