Cockatiels may be small in size, but they are known to be a particularly vocal and expressive parrot species.
Cockatiels make great companions to people because they are capable of remaining closely bonded with their humans even if they also have another cockatiel companion or mate.
This is one of the reasons why it is particularly important to learn about all the ways your cockatiel may choose to communicate their needs. Shaking is one lesser-known cockatiel behavior with many possible meanings.
Read on to learn all about why your cockatiel is shaking and what you need to do.
Why Is My Cockatiel Shaking
As Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue explains, a cockatiel that is shaking or quivering is likely to be experiencing distrust or fearfulness.
Another explanation is a territorial display which is most common when a cockatiel pair is nesting. There are also other explanations – read on to learn more about those.
Learn About the Most Common Cockatiel Behaviors
In this helpful short YouTube video, you can learn about a variety of common cockatiel behaviors.
Shaking is sometimes also described as puffing, fluffing, trembling, quivering, or shivering. However, there are actually many different types of cockatiel shaking and different reasons for each type.
We will discuss these different types of cockatiel shaking and their meanings in the rest of this article.
Why Cockatiels Start to Shake
If you are a first-time cockatiel owner, you may feel like every sound and movement your cockatiel makes is new and different. It feels like learning a new language – and in a way that is exactly what you are doing!
Over time, you will start to associate certain sounds and movements with different meanings. But it is also important to learn about meanings that may be less well known in the cockatiel community.
Shaking is a behavior with many possible meanings and reasons. These are the main reasons why a cockatiel might shake.
Your cockatiel shakes because they are cold
In the popular Parrot Forum for cockatiel owners, experienced owners share that cockatiels can be sensitive to temperature changes and sudden drafts.
Birds may start to shake or shiver when they feel a draft or there is a drop in temperature.
Your cockatiel shakes because they are scared
In the wild, cockatiels are a target for many larger, stronger predator species, including other birds.
Cockatiels can easily become scared because of loud noises, sudden movements, the play of light and shadows, and even unfamiliar objects or foods.
An otherwise healthy cockatiel that is shaking in the aftermath of one of these scary experiences is most likely feeling fearful.
Once the fear passes, you may also see your cockatiel do a kind of puff-shake movement.
Avian Avenue Parrot Forum explains this is a common movement many wild animals do to literally shake off nervousness and the extra energy it can cause.
Your cockatiel shakes because they are sick, in pain, or hurt
As Cockatiel Cottage outlines, cockatiels can be susceptible to a variety of avian illnesses ranging from infection to gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses.
Cockatiels can also injure themselves easily while flying, playing, or arguing with flock mates over who gets neck scratches next or the best sleeping perch, or any number of other things.
Shaking, shivering, trembling, and quivering are all signs there may be something causing your bird to feel unwell.
Because cockatiels, like most animals, try their best to hide signs of illness or weakness, you really don’t want to wait to have your bird seen by your avian veterinarian.
Your cockatiel shakes because they are sleepy
Tailfeathers Network for parrot owners explains that a healthy adult cockatiel will require between 10 and 12 hours of sleep each night.
This is in addition to the shorter naps the bird may take during the day.
A sleepy bird often puffs up their feathers to stay warm while napping. If there is any kind of draft, the slight movement of their fluffed-up feathers can easily make it appear your bird is shaking.
Why Is My Cockatiel Shaking Their Head
Thus far, we have primarily been discussing reasons why your cockatiel might be shaking or shivering in their body.
But many cockatiel owners notice their birds shaking their heads repeatedly.
This is a different movement that has an additional range of possible reasons and meanings. Some are emotional while others may be behavioral or physical.
Your cockatiel is curious
Shaking or cocking the head is a common way that cockatiels indicate they are curious. Maybe you are holding something that looks interesting or tasty.
Or perhaps you have something that is shiny or makes crinkly noises. It is only natural for your cockatiel to shake their head to get a better look.
Your cockatiel is flinging matter off its beak
Cockatiels can easily get seed hulls, pellet fragments, fruit bits, and other matter caught in or on their beaks.
A cockatiel that is shaking its head might be trying to dislodge stuck matter.
Your cockatiel is feeling aggressive, fearful, or territorial
Cockatiels that are feeling hormonal or are nesting may shake their head as a sign of warning to stay away.
Often this type of headshake will be accompanied by other motions and a hissing or striking (biting) behavior.
Your cockatiel is greeting you or a flock mate
Cockatiels easily learn to recognize their human carers and will eagerly greet beloved humans with a head shake or head tilting behavior.
Often you will also hear a certain specific chirping sequence that becomes a common greeting, just like birds will greet each other with certain specific sounds in the wild.
Your cockatiel has a respiratory illness or infection
As VCA Animal Hospital explains, cockatiels can be prone to developing respiratory illness and infection.
Sometimes these are caused by toxins in the air or environment and other times they can be caused by bacteria, fungi, or improper nutrition.
Head shaking may be a sign of discomfort in these cases. You should always take your cockatiel to the avian veterinarian if you suspect respiratory issues.
Your cockatiel has something caught in their throat or is vomiting
Cockatiels can experience a variety of issues related to their crops. The crop is a type of avian esophageal pouch where food can be temporarily stored.
Baby and young juvenile cockatiels, in particular, can have trouble clearing their crop and may bob or shake their head and neck region in an attempt to do so.
As veterinarian Dr. Rick Axelson explains, the sour crop is a common issue for young cockatiels that are still being parent-fed or formula-fed.
There are also other crop issues that can also lead to infection and then regurgitation or crop impaction.
Crop issues can quickly become fatal if left unaddressed. If you suspect your cockatiel is having trouble with their crop, take them to the avian emergency room immediately.
More Help With Cockatiel Shaking Behaviors Decoded
While this article represents a list of the best-known reasons why cockatiels might be shaking, it certainly is not exhaustive. There is new information being discovered every day in the field of cockatiel care and medicine.
Consult your avian veterinarian if your cockatiel keeps shaking its head and you can’t figure out why.
Working with an avian behaviorist may also help sort out any behavior or training issues.