Cockatiels at Home 4

By Eleanor McCaffrey,
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Why is my bird hissing?
Cockatiels hiss when they are very frightened and feel threatened. This is a warning sign to leave your bird alone until it has calmed down. If you don't, you will surely get a nasty bite. If you are doing something in particular that you know will cause your bird to hiss, stop doing it.
My Bird is Screaming. Help! What Should I do?
Many of the things that cause biting can also cause screaming. CLICK HERE. Screaming can be caused by a loud, noisy, hectic environment, a change in your bird's environment or routine, a bird being afraid of something, a call for your attention and fear of being abandoned by a human flock member.  Cockatiels that are overly excited, cranky, not feeling well, not getting enough sleep at night (10-12 hours of quiet, undisturbed sleep) and grieving birds who have lost a cage mate may also scream. Some types of screaming are considered normal flocking behavior and are just part of owning a bird. Types of screaming that are considered normal include vocalization to alert you when there is a perceived danger or an intruder nearby, flock calling to locate you if you're not in the same room and screaming after losing a mate. Very loud singing, chirping, screaming in the early morning and evening as  birds greet and end the day are also normal types of vocalization. Listen to the wild birds outside. This is when they are the most vocal too.  Some experts say to ignore the screaming, others say to go over to your bird and talk to him for a few minutes, trying to calm him. In many cases, establishing a flocking or contact call with your bird may help. Choose a special word or whistle, to only use to communicate with your bird when  he screams. This may be enough to provide your bird with the reassurance or attention he/she needs.
Another method is to ignore the screaming and only give your bird attention when he is quiet. Withhold treats for a week then whenever your. bird is quiet, walk past the cage and drop a treat in his food dish, praising him for being a good bird. Lowering your energy level may also help stop screaming. If you are prone to talking or moving around quickly and you show excitement in your voice, try using a more quiet, slower and calmer voice tone when you are around your bird. Try moving your bird's cage away from doors and put it up against a wall near a corner. This may help him to feel more secure and less threatened. Covering the back part of the cage may give you bird a place to retreat when he needs to feel safer. Sometimes when all methods fail, covering the cage completely may help to calm  a bird that has been over stimulated by young children, barking dogs or outside noise. Take the cover. off when your bird gets quiet. Always consult your avian vet if your bird has a change in behavior. There may be a medical basis for it. 
My bird is making a grinding sound with its beak. What does that mean?
It means that your bird is content. Birds usually make this sound right before they go to sleep.
My bird's feet get really warm sometimes, what does that mean?
This is sign that your bird is healthy, happy and content. Cold feet mean that it is frightened upset or that it may be getting sick..
My bird keeps backing up into a corner. Why is it doing this?
When a cockatiel feels threatened it will often back itself up into a corner. Leave your bird alone until it comes back up onto a perch. If you attempt to play with, or handle a cornered bird, you will most likely get bitten.
Why does my bird fluff up its feathers and then shake its body?
This is one of the ways a cockatiel relaxes and lets out tension. They will often do this  after a fright and after preening. If your bird is fluffed up all the time and looks sleepy, it's a sign of illness. A bird with a puffy or fluffed out appearance is cold. This helps to retain body heat. 
Why does my cockatiel lift one foot up into the air?
Cockatiels, especially males, will do this when they feel threatened. It's a sign of aggression and means that they are upset and possibly getting ready to defend their themselves by biting.
My cockatiel hangs upside down like a bat. Is this normal?
Yes. This  means that they are content, feeling playful and just enjoying life. It's also a way for birds to exercise their wings while inside of the cage. Sometimes cockatiels will block the entrance to their cage by hanging upside down. This is associated with their instinct to protect their cage and the nest. This is also normal. 
Sometimes my cockatiel shakes its head when I talk to it. Why?
There are 2 theories for this. One is that the bird enjoys the sound it hears. The other theory is that it dislikes the sound it hears.  If your bird is constantly shaking its head or stretching its neck, it may be starting to develop a respiratory or other type of infection. 

My cockatiel sleeps on one foot with its head tucked under its wing. Is this normal?
Yes, this is exactly how all healthy, happy and content birds sleep. The reason they do it is to conserve body heat. It's perfectly normal.
Why does my cockatiel pick at its feet?
Cockatiels like to keep their feet well groomed. They will pick off pieces of food that are stuck and flakes of old, dead skin. Check your bird's feet if it's constantly picking at them. There may be a bruise, lesion or something that's irritating the foot. Don't ever use abrasive perches that claim to trim nails. They don't work and they will cause sores and lesions on your bird's feet.
My cockatiel stretches out its leg and a wing at the same time. Why?
Your bird is just exercising by stretching out a bit or displaying its wings for you. Birds will display their wings like this to  gain your attention and to show off their wings for their mate.
Did you ever hear of a cockatiel wagging its tail?
Yes, it's normal behavior for a  cockatiel. It means they are at peace with themselves and they are enjoying life. Birds also show that they have a pleasant interest in something or someone by briskly wagging their tails from side to side. 
Sometimes my cockatiel starts slamming his toys against the cage bars. Why?
Cockatiels bang their toys around when they are upset. They may want you to leave them alone or they want your immediate attention. You will have to observe  other actions to determine which mood is causing your bird to trash toys. Whatever the reason, it's normal.
Why is my bird tapping on the cage bars?
This is something that a male will do when he is courting a mate to get her attention. However, both males and females can do this to get your attention as well. Sometimes a cockatiel will do this to imitate your behavior, like typing on the computer keys or tapping on the table with a pencil.
Can you tell me why my cockatiel moves its crest up and down?
This is normal body language for cockatiels. Cockatiels can express their feelings outwardly by moving their crest feathers up and down. You can tell what type of mood your bird is in by looking at the position of the crest feathers. A full crest resting completely flat on a bird's head is a sign of hostility and aggression.  This is a good indicator that you may get bitten. Very frightened birds will raise their entire crest straight up vertically and constrict their bodies so they looks very thin. When the crest is straight up, your  bird needs comforting and reassurance from you that he/she is safe. . Content birds will have the front of their crest ("forehead") relaxed, flat and the back of the crest will be slightly raised, looking like it has been curled. Body feathers will also be relaxed so a bird's body will look normal in size. Alert, curious and birds that are interested in something, will raise their entire crest about halfway up. Feathers on the body may appear to be a slightly puffed out. 
Is it normal for a cockatiel to sneeze?
Yes, as long as there isn't any redness, swelling or discharge coming around the nares  (nostrils) or eyes. Birds sneeze for the same reason that humans do. It clears their nasal passage of dust and other foreign materials. If you bird is sneezing all day long, then your bird may be getting a respiratory infection and should be seen by an avian vet.
Why is my bird sitting inside of the food or water dish?
Very young birds recently out of the nest will do this. It gives them a sense of security and to them it feels like returning to the nestbox. Older birds will do this when they get hormonal. In the absence of a nestbox, birds that want to breed may use a food/water dish instead.

What is a bird's body temperature? According to Dr. Gary Gallerstein, DVM,  a bird's body temperature  is between 104F to 112F. The reason birds have higher temperatures than humans is because of their incredibly high energy requirements and fast metabolism. "Birds consume upward of 20% of their body weight daily. This would be like a 150 pound human eating 30 pounds of food a day." The result of so much food being converted into energy is heat. 
Why is my cockatiel yawning and stretching his neck? Bird sometimes stretch their necks and esophagus to clear out their crops. The crop holds food until it moves further down into the digestive tract. Birds may also stretch their necks when you are petting them. This may mean that your bird is trying to regurgitate on you. That's how mates feed each other and it's the ultimate compliment a bird can give to you. Excessive yawning and neck stretching can also be symptoms of a respiratory disorder. Watch your bird carefully for other symptoms of illness such as a change in droppings or voice tone,  loss of appetite, excessive sleeping, wheezing, a nasal or eye discharge, red/pink nares. If your bird has any of these symptoms, please take him/her to an avian vet immediately. Click Here to Find an Avian Vet. Sometimes symptoms of a respiratory infection can only be detected upon examination by an avian vet. Birds have a tiny ridge like slit, (choanal slit) inside the top of their mouth. If the ridges do not look like sharp little peaks and there is a discharge coming from the slit, a respiratory infection will be suspected.
How can I tell how old my bird is?? According to my avian vet, it is very difficult to tell the age of a bird visually. He said, "We can't use a lot of the clues we use in mammals. "The best we can do is give a broad range age, Juvenile, Adult, or Geriatric."
Can my bird get sick if I have a cold or the flu? Pet birds can not catch a human cold, which is caused by a virus. However, according to my own avian vet and several others veterinarians whose patients have visited CC,  YES birds can get sick if you develop a secondary bacterial infection right after having a cold. A virus will weaken the body's immune system, making it less resistant and more susceptible to getting bacterial infections. The sore throat, bronchial or nasal congestion that you have may really be a secondary bacterial infections that developed immediately after a virus like a cold or the flu  If you have a cold, the flu, a sore throat, a nasal or bronchial congestion, keep contact with your bird minimal. Don't cough or sneeze near him/her. Have another family member take care of your bird until you are better. If you must handle your cockatiel, wash your hands with hot soapy water for 30 seconds and use a hand sanitizer. Wearing a white mask is also advisable. Don't ever let your bird eat from your mouth. The mouth contains harmful bacteria that can make your bird sick even when you do not have a cold or the flu.
What is molting? My bird is losing so many feathers. Molting is the normal shedding (replacement) of old feathers with the simultaneous growth of new ones. Cockatiels will have a normal, heavy molt 2-3 times each year. The entire process from loss of feathers to replacement of a fully grown feathers can take up to 10 weeks or longer depending on an individual bird. A cockatiel's first normal molt occurs between 6-12 months of age. When your bird is molting you will find an abundance of small feathers on the bottom of the cage floor. You will also find little transparent flakes that resemble dandruff being shed as well. The flakes are part of the keratin sheath that protects new, growing feathers. New feathers that are growing in are called Blood Feathers or pin feathers. New, growing feathers look like sharp little pins and they are most noticeable on the top of your bird's head and around the neck area. Pin feathers  are very uncomfortable for your bird and they are painful if moved the wrong way. Molting is a stressful and uncomfortable time for your bird. He/she will be less active, a bit more cranky and have a greater need for calcium and protein.  Supplement your cockatiel's diet with dark green leafy vegetables and scrambled eggs, cooked chicken, fish and lean meats. Your bird will also appreciate bathing or water misting baths to help soften and loosen the hard keratin coating on new feathers. More information about molting can be found below.
Molting Part 2 Although not really noticeable, birds are actually in a continuous state of molt, which scientists at the University of California have based on the loss of specific wing feathers throughout the year. Birds do not lose all of their feathers at the same time. If they did lose all 2000-3000 feathers on their bodies at the same time they would be cold, their skin would be unprotected and they would not be able to fly.  Wing and tail feathers are replaced gradually at various times of the year and heavier molting takes place when the weather is warmer, Spring and Autumn.  Additional heavy molts are considered abnormal and can be caused by stress, poor nutrition or illness.  If your bird is having an abnormal molt, please consult an avian vet. Other abnormal conditions include heavy molting all year long  bare or sparsely feathered areas that you can see through to the skin. Failure to molt at least once a year is also abnormal and this has a medical basis. If your bird has any abnormal condition, please consult an avian vet.
What are those tiny flakes on my bird's feathers? Those little transparent flakes that resemble dandruff are part of the keratin sheath which protect all new, growing pin or blood feathers. New feathers need protection because they contain an active blood vessel. Blood feathers or pin feathers will bleed profusely if broken.  As the blood within a feather shaft recedes, the protective keratin coating will shed, flake off and expose the new feather barbs.  Finding flakes on the bottom of the cage and on your cloths all year long is normal.  Birds have between 2000--3000 feathers on their bodies and when they preen, pieces of keratin are removed from feathers.  Birds will appreciate a few extra water misting baths to help soften the keratin. They will also appreciate some gentle scratches from you on their heads, necks and crests because they are unable to reach these areas to preen.
Why is my bird covered with powder? Birds have several different types of feathers, each one with a different function. Powder Down Feathers are small light, fluffy feathers that trap heat and help insulate birds for warmth. Powder Down Feathers grow continuously. They also disintegrate when a bird preens to form a white powder which  conditions and waterproofs a bird's feathers. Cockatiels and cockatoos in particular are known to be dusty birds because they have an excessive amount of powder down compared to other species. You'll find white powder all over the cage, on objects near the cage and on your cloths. Watch you bird shake out his/her feathers after preening and you may see a small cloud of white dust. If you pet your bird with your chin or cheek, you may even have a coating of white powder on your skin.  Excessive powder down from birds can aggravate a person's allergies or asthma. Frequent bathing or misting baths will help to remove some of the excess powder that is on your bird. 
How long does it take for a new feather to grow back in? It take about 7 to 10 weeks for a cockatiel to grow a replacement feather after one is lost, plucked, molted out or pulled out. It takes 7 to 10 days for the new blood feather (pinfeather) to begin emerging then an additional 6 to 8 weeks is needed for a blood feather to grow in completely. 
What is preening Birds have 2000-3000 feathers on their bodies. Preening is how they keep these feathers clean, waterproof and conditioned for skin protection, warmth and flight.  By wiping their beaks with secretions from the uropygial gland (preening gland which is located near the base of the tail), birds are able to groom  individual feathers daily. Healthy birds will preen throughout the day. Preening is not the same as chewing on feathers or plucking them out. Birds with this type of behavior are called feather pluckers and they should be evaluated by an avian vet for disease, nutritional deficiencies, allergies, psychological disorders and other causes of feather destruction. Feather destruction is a form of self-mutilation.
Why is my bird rubbing his/her tail back and forth on a perch, toy, food dish etc? This is a behavior caused by hormones. Your bird is masturbating, a form of sexual, self-stimulation, in the absence of another bird to mate with. This is a normal, adult bird activity for both males and females.  Pet birds living in captivity  have the same hormonal needs as wild birds. If they were living in the wild, they would be mating, breeding and raising families. Although this is one of the ways birds living in captivity try to  compensate for an aspect of their  life that isn't normal, my avian vet said to  discourage it. There is a possibility that birds can pick up an infection from rubbing an open vent on a surface that contains bacteria and other environmental contaminants.
Why won't my bird play with toys? Playing with "toys" is not an instinctive behavior for parrots. It's a behavior that stems from a parrot's natural curiosity, and their need for beak activity and their need for mental stimulation. Some birds will be terrified of anything new that is put inside of their cage. To familiarize your bird with new toys, hang them on the outside of the cage for a few days before putting them inside. Some birds will play with toys on their own and others have to be taught how to play with them. Birds can learn by watching you enjoy handling and playing with toys first. Hold the toys in your hands, put them near you cheek and cuddle them, kiss them, move pieces around, toss a toy from hand to hand, laugh, show enthusiasm and act very possessive of them.  Parrot's "Rule Number 1"  is "If you have it and you're enjoying it, it must be good so it's mine!"  Try a variety of different toys including those that can be moved, picked up, or can be shredded. Toys made out of natural fibers are particularly appealing to birds. Some suggested toys that are usually hits include: rolls of white adding machine paper, Shredders and Bird Kabobs. Rotate toys on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to prevent boredom. Browse through this site for an assortment of toys to keep your bird busy. Busy Beakss  

How can I travel safely by car or plane with my bird? Planning ahead will make traveling with your bird more enjoyable, safer and less stressful. Birds can be transported in a small travel cage or inside of their regular cage with a few safety modifications. If you're going to transport your bird in a smaller travel cage, let your bird see the cage a few weeks ahead of time.  Put some millet seed and toys inside and let him play near, on top of and inside of the carrier so the environment is not a total shock to him the day you leave.  If traveling by car, one week before leaving, take him for a few short drives around the block in his smaller carrier. This will make the long trip less stressful too. When driving, don't place the cage directly in front of an air-conditioner vent or in the line of wind from an open car window. Other tips when traveling with birds are to get wings trimmed in case of an accidental escape. Take a substantial amount  of food, treats and bottled water and keep them inside of the car, not the trunk, for fast and easy access.  Having pre-cut  newspaper liners that already fit the carrier or cage will make changing papers easier. Purchase or make an avian first aid kit in case of broken blood feathers or other accidents.  Lock the cage door with a few quick links to prevent it from opening. Wrap one or 2 bungee-cord type fasteners around the entire small travel cage to tightly secure top, bottom and door. If your taking your bird in his regular cage, either remove hanging toys, swings or anything else that can move and hit your bird during a bumpy ride or secure them with plastic, handcuff type grippers. (Not Twist Ties that come with plastic bags which contain zinc and are toxic.) 

Contact the state's Department of Wildlife, Fish and Game or the Embassy of the country you will be entering, to see if there are any restrictions on the species of birds you have. If you are traveling overseas, you may want to consider getting your bird banded by an avian vet. Call hotels and motels well in advance to make sure they allow pet birds in rooms. If traveling by air, check with individual airlines well in advance, to see if and how they allow small birds to be transported and if there are any restrictions. Some airlines treat birds as cargo and put them in with the luggage and other pets while other airlines allow you to hold a bird in a small travel cage on your lap like a "carry on".  Keeping birds in with cargo, luggage and other pets is not the ideal situation, making the trip stressful, frightening and environmentally unsuitable for birds. Breathing air in cargo is not the best quality and temperatures  can be extremely hot or cold. Also, birds should never be put through airport ex-ray machines. The amount of radiation is lethal to birds and other small pets. Birds should be carried by the owner, thru the walk thru metal detectors or magnetometers . However, you may be asked to take your bird out of the travel carrier so the carrier itself can be put through the ex-ray machine. For a list of airlines that allow birds to travel in the cabin with passengers, Click Here. For more information on airport security and pets, Click Here.

It's always a good idea for your bird to have a check up by an avian vet a few days before traveling, but when crossing state lines or traveling to a different country, it's a necessity. Some states and most countries require proof of health before allowing a pet bird to enter. Health certificates are only available through your avian vet. Also talk to your avian vet about nutritional supplements, such as a slice of fresh ginger in your bird's drinking water, to help counteract motion sickness and the effects of stress in birds.  When birds are under stress their immune system becomes impaired.

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