Cockatiel Aggressive Behavior

Cockatiels by their very nature normally are a gentle, friendly docile bird.  They are more prone to trying to escape a situation than getting into attack mode.  That being said you will run across a cockatiel that displays aggressive behavior but as a rule there is a reason behind the aggression.  Unlike a dog there is no dominant 

Binkie and bear
Binkie and bear

behavior in the cockatiel.  No one cockatiel is trying to be the pack leader like you find in the dog world.  So if your cockatiel is not trying to be the boss what causes the aggressive behavior?





Reasons For Your Cockatiel’s Aggressive Behavior

In the cockatiel’s world aggression is associated with fear or a threat.  The reason for the fear or what is irritating him may not be obvious but there is something and as a cockatiel owner you need to find out what it is.

Whatever it is could have happened years ago before you even got your cockatiel so this may take some time to unravel.

Some of the causes of aggression can be the following:

  • Breeding Hormones
  • Cage too small
  • Learned aggression

Breeding Hormones

Let’s take a look at these.  First we will look at how being in the breeding mood causes hormonal changes.  These hormonal changes are helping the cockatiel have success in breeding.  Once the female lays her eggs then there is a nest that needs protecting.  Males will get quite aggressive if they feel that their nest is in danger from predators.  Now you may be thinking that this only applies to wild cockatiels but with a pet cockatiel it may be even a bit more tricky.

nesting cockatiel
nesting cockatiel

You see your pet cockatiel will build a nest in the craziest places.  If they have freedom in the house the nest may not be in the cage.  They can find the weirdest places for a nest.  Wherever they can find some space that could be a potential nest.  Places like a shelf, space behind or between some books, some laundry laying on the floor or even an empty box of some kind.  Just let your imagination go with it.  Now if you come near one of these nesting places your normally friendly cockatiel is going to see you as a threat and will become aggressive.  Your cockatiel will be especially aggressive if there are eggs or little ones in the nest.

Cage Too Small

small cockatiel cage
small cockatiel cage

Next let’s look at how a small cage can cause aggressive behavior in your cockatiel.  Your cockatiel needs toys and other accessories to make him happy.  Toys help your cockatiel to overcome boredom when he is in his cage.  So if he is spending a lot of time in the cage then he needs to have a cage that has a suitable environment for him.  If his environment is not suitable he can become aggressive when you approach or he could start feather plucking.

The other scenario is having too many birds in one cage.  Although it is nice to have some mates, too many can cause issues when there is not enough room.  

You will usually have two types when there are too many in the cage.  Type one is the cockatiel who is out to defend what space he has so he will attack.  The other type is the one who, having nowhere to run will submit to the attack.

Once the cockatiels are given enough space to call their own, the submissive birds are able to get out of the way of the aggressive bird.  Once the aggressive bird realizes he has enough space he will become less aggressive.  Of course this does not happen overnight it does take some time.

Learned Aggression

The last reason for your cockatiel’s aggressive behavior is that the aggression was somehow learned.  Before a cockatiel bites he will give several warnings.  Now if you are a first time cockatiel owner or any bird for that matter you may not pick up on the warning signals.  You need to be aware of these warning signs.  One of these signs would be your cockatiel leans away from you when you approach with your hand to get him to step up.  He may also open his beak when you get to close.  If he is really warning you he will hiss and finally he will bite if you haven’t got the message.

Some of these signals are subtle so you do need to learn your cockatiel’s body language or you risk being bitten.

If the cockatiel’s space has been invaded by someone on a continuous basis then he may not back away or hiss he may just go to the bite.

aggressive cockatiel
aggressive cockatiel

It is really sad to think that someone has made him like this.  It may take a lot of work and retraining to get your cockatiel to trust you again.

You need to be able to see what is upsetting your little buddy and start to approach him in a totally different way.  No sudden movements when you are around him and give your bird lots of space.  When you do approach do it slowly and if you notice any signs that he is upset then back off, but again,and do it slowly.  This could take a long time and you have to remember that you may never gain his full trust.
While you  try and gain back your cockatiel’s trust make sure his cage is a pleasant environment where he will feel safe and secure and have plenty of room to move around and make sure he has some great interactive toys to keep that little brain of his stimulated.

Be sure to check out my page of Cages and Toys.  A great cage is the start to keeping your cockatiel a happy little guy or gal.

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    • Jack Taylor
    • April 13, 2017

    My brother has a cockatiel, It’s the nastiest bird in the world. He bites anyone who tries to touch him, except for my brother. His wife wants to get rid of the bird. I emailed him your link to this article. I’m sure his wife will appreciate it. Thanks for the great info on this bird.

    Thanks again!


      • Maureen
      • April 16, 2017

      Hi Jack I am sorry to hear your brother has such as nasty cockatiel. Normally they are a very loving bird. They normally give a warning before they bite so if they see that then they should just back off and give him his space.

    • Peg
    • April 13, 2017

    Beautiful birds and so bright!
    How small is too small a cage for one cockatiel?
    And on average how much space does each one need if I put more than one in a cage?
    Also, temperature-wise what is a safe, healthy living range for these birds?
    Your information is helpful and succinct. It’s a good site.

      • Maureen
      • April 16, 2017

      Any cage smaller than 24″ long by 18″ wide by 24″ tall is not suitable for a cockatiel. Also the other thing that is really really important is the bar spacing. For a cockatiel the space between the bars should be 1/2″ to 5/8″. Anything larger and the bird could get his head stuck and die. If you have more than one cockatiel you will need a bigger cage For two cockatiels minimum space should be 30″x18″x30″. Even though this is a larger cage make sure the bar spacing is 1/2″ to 5/8″.
      As far as temperature for your cockatiel the ideal is between 65F to 80. They can actual stand a wide range of temperature as long as it is not sudden, so keep them away from drafts.

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