Cockatiel Advice and First Aid 101

Parrot Behaviour

All about your parrot's behaviour

Cockatiels

A WEAKER BIRD BEING PICKED ON BY A MATE

Beware! You may find that one bird in particularly is being picked on by the other birds in an aviary, or by a cage mate. Bird squabbles are of course not unusual, but there maybe a good reason why they picking at that one bird!

Survival of the fittest; birds will often pick at a mate, or attack them when they know they sick or weak! In the wild, they would do this to either kill the bird, or at least bully them enough to leave the flock. Weak birds bring attention to the flock, they make predators aware that they there! So, they quicker they get rid of the weak and sick the better.

If you have one bird that is being picked on continually, don’t automatically assume it’s just a bar fight , examine the bird for signs of illness, or if in doubt see your vet !

If you have a poorly bird, make sure you quarantine them from the rest of the flock , not only to stop the spread of illness, but to protect the poorly bird! Lovebirds in particular, will kill a sick bird if they get the chance. 

BEAK GRINDING

Many people often wonder why their parrot is making a grinding sound with their beak, this is called beak grinding. It is a normal behaviour that parrots do mostly before they fall asleep and it is a sign of contentment.

BITING BEHAVIOUR

Parrots are not domesticated, and even though they are bred in captivity, they arrive in your home as a wild bird and do not trust you. In the wild, parrots are not observed biting. They may warn a flock member of danger with a nip, but not a blood producing bite. So, why do we see this in pet birds? What can be the causes? How can we prevent it happening? And how can we address it, if it is already an established pattern?

WHY BITING MAY OCCUR: feeling threatened; body language/signals have been missed/ignored; present or past humans have inadvertently trained the parrot to bite to get what they do or don’t want; illness; ignorance of hormones/moulting altering attitude; territorial aggression (fingers in her cage); startling quick movements; reactions to a change in your appearance/the room; jealousy or perceived threat to their human; over tired; sudden loud noise; and bird calls on TV or similar.

PREVENTING BITING: Avoid shoulder perching. She can be forgotten in this position and you suddenly do something she hates. More importantly, body language cannot be observed. Learn her body language, specific to her breed. Skinny, backed into a corner, eyes pinned, flattened crest...She is screaming BACK OFF. Make sure she gets equal treatment in comparison to rest of flock and individual time with you. Make sure she has at least 12 hours undisturbed rest and opportunities for naps during the day. Training sessions should be short, sweet and frequent. Teach her that human hands mean good things: fun, human company and treats. Make returning to cage fun, and not connected with you going out. A fun treat or new toy in the cage/ human hand when returning to cage will help to avoid being bitten as her way to stop being put in cage. Avoid parrot/ bird calling videos which may be distress calls/mating calls and get her agitated. Move slowly around her and vocalise calmly and gently what you are doing. Try to have a fairly set routine, and she will soon know what is expected and when.

RETRAINING A RESCUE BITER: Firstly she needs an avian vet check to rule out any underlying illness. Extra patience and lower expectations are needed. She is wild, not domesticated, and has been taught humans are not good. She needs to unlearn this as well as learn to trust humans. No matter what she is capable of doing when she arrives, go right back to basics, and work with her by the side of her cage and by offering hand with treats in cage, but not cornering her. Allow her to observe how other flock members are treated and how they trust you. This is part of her learning. Only approach for interaction when you are calm. If she knows you are stressed and anxious, she will be on high alert at the start. Observe when she bites. Is it an outfit/time of day/when you approach her home perch? Find her trigger to be able to address it specifically. Never punish biting by isolation, throwing her to the floor or smacking. All this will do is underline that humans and their hands are not to be trusted. She will not connect the 'punishment' to the crime. Try not to react if bitten. Parrots are drama queens and will love a squealing, swearing human. It encourages her to bite again. If it occurs as a result of preening/ cuddles/scritching that became too enthusiastic, calmly voice words such as no biting, gently, are nice, give loves (words of your choice) and continue for a minute the cuddling/ kisses or activity that was taking place. Stopping immediately will underline for her that biting controls her human and what is happening.

GENERAL: Remember that all parrots, even of the same species, are individuals. Not all are cuddle bugs or want to spend each moment on our hand, some can be very timid, but once we learn to speak their language, understand what frightens them and their character, show them love and love them for who they are, biting can become more and rarer.

COCKATIEL BEREAVEMENT

Knowledgeable owners know that you NEVER separate a bonded pair. It is not only cruel but the stress of the separation can bring on illness and many unwanted behaviours such screaming and feather plucking.

So what can an owner do for their parrot if their mate dies? The first thing the owner should do is allow the bird to see its dead partner, this may seem very morbid but it helps tremendously in their grieving process. If a cockatiel does not get to see the body and it is removed straight away, they will think that their mate has flown away or is lost. They will then call for several days often weeks at a time. The cockatiel will be under an enormous amount of anxiety and many have been known to starve themselves. Being allowed to see the body and given the opportunity to grieve with the body, will help them to understand that their mate has passed and they will be able to start grieving straight away.

An owner should give the parrot a lot of attention at this time, but a new mate should not be introduced straight away. A new bird can be introduced only after several weeks to allow the cockatiel to morn for a good period of time. A mate introduced too early may not be received well, bonding may not take place and many problems can arise.

If the mate died of an illness the remaining bird should of course be vet checked to see if they have been infected with the same illness. The cage, all toys, bowls and furnishings should be washed thoroughly, disinfected or replaced entirely.

 

 

 

COCKATIEL HEAD SHAKING

When a cockatiel shakes it's head it can mean a few things, it can mean that the bird is reacting to a loud noise, it can mean that the bird has just tasted something it doesn’t like, it can mean that they have water in their ears if they just had a bath. It can also mean that the bird may be developing a respiratory infection , ear infection or another type of infection if done often.

COCKATIEL HISSING

Cockatiels hiss when they are frightened and want to be left alone it is a sign of aggression. If this warning is not listened to be ready for a very nasty bite, cockatiels will give lots of warning signs before they bite, but it is up to the owner to read their body language. If owners fail to read their body language not only will it cause unwanted behaviour but it will break trust.

 

COCKATIEL NIGHT FRIGHTS

Cockatiels in particular are one species of parrot that are prone to having night frights (with that said any parrot can have them.) Cockatiels are virtually night blind. Any movement, or loud noise, and they will try and escape. Therefore, they will thrash violently around the cage, many injuring themselves very badly in the process. This is one reason why it is important to have correct bar spacing; they can get their heads and wings trapped in the cage bars durning a night fright.

To help prevent night frights, it’s recommended that the owner leaves a night light on for their birds. If the owner covers the cages at night; only three sides should be covered, leaving one side uncovered for the light to be visible. Do not place new toys that your bird is not familiar with in the cage before bed time. A parrot needs time to get used to new things, and a new toy can cause anxiety at night. Always introduce new toys, or a new cage in the morning; this gives the bird ample time to explore them before they roost for the night. Don’t position the bird’s cage in an unfamiliar area of the home before bed time.

Position the cage away from windows, car head lights/security lights, etc can startle the bird. Lock other pets away at night as they can cause night frights.

If a parrot lives in a part of the home where they cannot be heard at night, then a baby monitor should be used. It is very important that a main light is tuned on straight away in the event of a night fright; as this stops the panic almost instantly. The owner needs to examine the parrot all over for injury, or bleeding. Please ONLY handle the bird if first aid is needed. If first aid is not needed, DO NOT handle the bird when suffering from one of these attacks, doing so can cause further anxiety. Allow the parrot to completely come out of their state of panic, and resume normal activities before the bird goes back to bed. (Turn off the main light)

COVERING A BIRD TO STOP IT SCREAMING

Covering cages to make parrots quiet is a myth, and a very cruel practice! It may quieten some parrots to a degree, while others, it makes them even noisier than before!

Covering cages should only be done at night to teach parrots that it means bed time, and to get them into a good night routine. One side of the cage should remain uncovered to let in light, especially for cockatiels.

Covering cages just to keep parrots quiet is not only cruel, it can cause major behaviour and psychological issues, such as:  

  • Fear
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Feather plucking
  • Self-harming
  • Biting feet
  • Lethargy
  • Poor quality of life
  • Biting
  • Hormonal behaviour  
  • Abnormal breeding behaviour

CRUELTY TO BIRDS 

When you mention the term “cruelty” people’s minds automatically invasion an animal being beaten, tortured and starved to death.The truth is there are hundreds of examples of cruelty that people don’t consider to be "cruel", just because their actions don’t fall under the category’s above.

Here are a few examples of cruel behaviour towards parrots that many people unfortunately don’t regard as cruelty, either it’s due to ignorance, lack of knowledge, or actually not caring enough about the bird:

  • Parrots being put in small cages that they are not able to move freely stretch wings, play or forage.
  • Parrots cages being covered though-out the day because they scream or make noise, this causes a great amount of stress and fear which actually enforces the behaviour issue.
  • Parrots being given unsuitable diets for their species. Being given junk food and soft drinks which leads them to having health concerns and illnesses!
  • Parrots being mishandled, by owner and children making the parrot feel fear and stress.
  • Parrots being left to live in filthy cages, dirty water, inappropriate perches which lead to illness.
  • Bare cages which leads parrots to feel fearful and exposed!
  • Butchering wings, inexperienced people that have no idea how to professionally clip wings, leaving birds to have horrific accidents! ( If you decide to clip please let a professional avian vet do this procedure)
  • Parrots being screamed at and things thrown at cage.
  • Parrots being exposed to other pets that can cause stress and fear as they are prey animals.
  • Parrots never being given the opportunity to come out their cages.
  • Parrots being allowed to feel intimidated or fearful of larger birds ,  (unsuitable cage mates )
  • Parrots being subjected to incorrect training procedures so are made to feel fear and stress.
  • Parrots never being allowed to have a mate of their own species.
  • Parrots being separated from their mate this is highly stressful and very cruel indeed!
  • Parrots being left sick and not taken immediately for vet care , often only given some over the counter supplements (often vets refer to these as witches brews, and are never recommended in replace of medical care)
  • Parrots never being given the opportunity to bathe.
  • Parrots being left alone for hours on end by their owners.
  • Parrots being rehomed because owners have lost interest, this causes a lot of stress and fear!
  • Cages and Avery being over crowned.
  • Parrots not given appropriate toys to play with or correct enriched environment, so are left bored and often start behaviours like feather plucking.
  • Parrots not being given an opportunity to have adequate sleep and quiet periods.

AUTHORS NOTE: The list is endless; just because one isn’t beating a parrot half to death, does not mean there aren’t things done daily to these birds that are not cruel! When dealing with parrots, or any animal, it’s to think first about how your actions will affect them. Will it make them happier and healthier, or are we doing it for OUR benefit, not theirs? Take clipping wings for an example, if we were to ask the bird “Can I please clip your wings and remove your ability to fly”? I highly doubt the parrot will give his consent, so this is for our benefit not theirs.

FINDING A MATE FOR YOUR BIRD

Unfortunately, some owners house different species of parrot together in the same cage without a clue of the behaviour, or personality of that species of parrot. Then they may wonder why their new birds have been attacked, prevented from eating, or even killed.

There are a few species of parrot that get along great together. However, some will fight to the death. When mixing any species of parrots, even those that are ok to live together, space is a VERY important factor due to territorial aggression.

Budgies for example, can live happily with cockatiels, but given a too-small cage budgies will pick terribly on cockatiels, biting their feet and pulling out their feathers.

Below is a list of parrot species that when provided enough space can live happily together.  The second list is of species may fight to the death:

Parrots that are likely to get along in the correct environment:

  • Cockatiels
  • Budgies
  • Hanging parrots
  • Conures

Parrots that can fight to the death in the wrong situation:

  • Cockatoo
  • Caiques
  • Lovebirds
  • Some macaws
  • Loires

NOTE: Compare beak sizes, if parrots aren’t of similar beak size and body size DON’T house them together. Out of cage time always needs to be supervised!

I WORK ALL DAY, SHOULD I BUY A BIRD?

Parrots are very social birds and love being part of a flock. If you have a single bird he will most likely bond with his owner and make them a mate. It’s unfair to leave these beautiful intelligent bird’s home alone for hours at a time with only the company of a TV or radio , this can lead to stress , anxiety, depression and other behaviours such as screaming , biting and often feather plucking !

So if you work all day long it’s then advisable to get your bird a mate, it doesn’t have to be opposite sex for them to form a bond it can be a mate of the same sex. Make sure if you do work or out for many hours you leave your bird’s in a very exciting rich cage environment where they can play, swing, climb and forage.Please remember that there is no guarantee that your birds will be compatible this is down to the individual birds.

IS YOUR BIRD ACTIVE OR JUST FRUSTRATED?

When a bird is moving from one toy to the other without stopping to play, pacing around the cage, climbing endlessly from one side to the other, going up and down ladders so quickly you can't see it's feet move and doing all sorts of acrobatic moves, the owner may think; "Well, he obviously loves his cage, he's always busy and active, he must be happy"!?

NO, your parrot is probably extremely frustrated, and this is the only way to get out his tension. A happy parrot is active of course, but not to the point that they are constantly moving around the cage, this is not normal behaviour. A happy parrot will climb and STOP to play, preen itself, eat a little, nap, swing, but all at a good even pace!

Frustration often comes from living in a too-small cage, and not actually having a lot to do. Many poor birds are only supplied with a few toys they not interested in to keep them occupied, not having enough out of cage time, feeling hungry, fearful of the environment, fearful of other pets, or something near the cage that is making them afraid, being hormonal, or it can be a sign of illness. So, please watch how your parrot plays, and don't assume that because it's constantly moving it's a happy parrot.

PARROTS NEED A MATE

Parrots are highly sociable creatures and they need company, and should NEVER be kept alone. NO amount of attention an owner gives a bird can ever replace a bird partner. Many owners are happy that their bird sees them as their mate. This is very sad indeed! A bird that sees their owner as their mate is constantly frustrated. The stress from this can cause MANY psychological disorders and physical ailments.

Many owners make the mistake of buying their single parrot a mate of a completely different species. (First ask yourself, am I doing this for MY benefit, in order to own a different type of bird or for my birds benefit?) Doing this is equivalent to buying a pitbull a chihuahua as a mate.They often are not able to bond as they would do with a mate of their own kind.

A lot of research would have to be done too before buying a parrot a mate of a different species. This is because many parrots do not get on at all. Some can fight to the death and can NEVER be housed together.

The best thing to do is to buy/ rescue a mate of the SAME species and preferably of the opposite sex. The sight of bonded birds allopreening and playing together is truly spectacular.

PARROTS USING MIRRORS

Many owners put mirrors in parrot cages when first bring their new bird home. Unfortunately this can actually hinder the bird bonding to its owner and can start many behavioural issues. Mirrors can make parrots very hormonal, as they display to their reflection thinking it is a mate, but they receive no courtship display back in return, causing unwanted hormonal and often aggressive behaviour.

Getting a parrot a mate of its own species is kinder for the bird, than allowing it to spend its life trying to bond with its own reflection!

SEPERATING BONDED BIRDS

Never separate bonded birds, it is highly stressful to them not only physically but psychologically. The separated birds may start having behaviour issues such as feather plucking, depression, screaming and becoming cage bound. Separation should not be taken lightly and only done if 100% necessary for the health of the mate. For example the mate is being physically hurt by the other, even in this situation cages should then be placed together to reduce stress, and mates brought together again after sometime with supervision.

THE 'COMMON' COCKATIEL

Next to the lovebird in the USA and the budgie in Europe, the cockatiel is the most common pet parrot. They are considered an easy hardy pet bird. Here are some facts about this often misunderstood pet.

·ORIGINS/FACTS: Originally from Australia, where they are observed in large wild flocks, they are grey, with white wing flashes, yellow heads and orange spots over their ears. The females head is greyer, making the identical orange spots appear duller. Yellowy bars under the tail remain in the female but disappear at maturity on the male. They are more than 50 mutations developed in captivity, many of which are difficult to sex. The smallest of the cockatoo genus, they have very expressive crests, measure 30-33cm or 12-13 inches long, with an unusually long tail for their size. Weighing in between 88-178 grams with the female tending to be heavier, they are sexually mature between 18-24 months and live upwards of 25 years in captivity.

·SPECIES SPECIFICS: Highly sociable, they can become depressed if left alone for long periods. Males love to learn whistles, which they would use to attract females in the wild. They can also learn speech. Males will display heart wings, by lifting their shoulders slightly and holding their wings out slightly above the elbow, creating a heart shape from behind. Due to their light weight in comparison to their size, their respiratory system is extremely sensitive. They are not overtly aggressive, so can be overwhelmed by lovebirds and budgies, which are commonly chosen as flock mates for captive cockatiels. Considered highly strung, they are easily startled, can be afraid of specific colours and be alarmed by their human's new hair style. They are also very much effected by the mood of their human family member. Drafts, such as those from air conditioning vents, can be fatal to these delicate parrots. They produce a dust spread through their feathers when preening. Powder down feathers close to the skin crumble on the ends during preening and create this dust. This dust can cause respiratory problems in some humans and other captive parrots. Macaws are particularly susceptible to the dust producers (cockatiels and African Greys). Cockatiels make wonderful dads. They are 'beaks on' for dual parenting, are known to raise the chicks after their female has died.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN BUYING A NEW BIRD

  • Are the birds active and happy?
  • Are the birds in over- crowded cages?
  • Look at the condition of the Avery or cages, are they clean and hygienic?
  • Are the birds being feed good healthy food or are they just being fed on cheap seed?
  • Look at the floor, are droppings healthy?
  • Are the bird’s feathers in good condition, healthy birds HAVE A HEALTHY PLUMAGE!
  • Are there any signs of rat droppings?
  • Are they being active at the right time of day? For example during the mornings the birds should be active.
  • Have the baby bird’s wings been clipped? Bad breeders clip wings too young which does not allow the young birds pectoral muscles to grow as they should.
  • Check that there is no nasal discharge
  • Check for beak deformities
  • Look for evidence of feather plucking
  • Look at the eyes, they should be bright and alert, there should be no cloudiness, inflammation or discharge.
  • Has the birds been vet checked? If not , a good breeder would have no trouble signing a contract that states if the bird is vet examined and sick they will pay for the medical bill or you can return the sick bird and get your money back .
A cockatiel

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