If you’ve just added a new cockatiel to your family and it turns out it isn’t quite as hand-tame as you thought, it can be easy to think your bird hates you. Or what if it’s mostly fine, but lashes out from time to time? Or if you’ve spent many happy months or years together, but now your cockatiel has suddenly turned into a feathered devil?
If you’re stuck thinking ‘help, my cockatiel hates me!’, keep reading. We’ll go into a few different scenarios, their explanations and how you can work on taming a “hateful” cockatiel.
What does an angry cockatiel look like?
If you’re new to owning parrots, their behaviors can be difficult to identify. Birds are completely different from other animals! Still, there are some good indicators that will help you figure out how your cockatiel feels.
If you’re not sure whether your cockatiel is annoyed or scared (the former is usually caused by the latter), look out for the following:
- Crest: flat against the head (angry) or pointing straight upwards (scared/apprehensive)
- Sound: hissing, screeching
- Posture: flattened, head sticking out and beak open, possibly wings opened
- Actions: lunging, biting, flying away, cowering
On the contrary, a relaxed cockatiel will be fluffed up, with its crest at an angle. It might grind its beak and bow its head for you to scratch its neck if you approach.
If your cockatiel is doing the things listed above, don’t panic. Below, let’s clarify what’s going on, what causes it, and – most importantly – how you can fix it. Your bird is not a lost cause!
My cockatiel hates me – or not?
Let’s make one thing very clear before we go into what causes an angry cockatiel and what can you do. Even if your parrot is lashing out, biting, going straight for you – it doesn’t hate you. It is scared (of you, of humans in general, or of something you do), territorial about a cage or mate, or hormonal.
The trick is in figuring out which it is. Identifying the problem will help you figure out what to do to make your cockatiel less scared or hormonal. It will also reveal what you should be doing to avoid making your bird feel uncomfortable.
Birds are different from dogs and cats, so it’s possible you need to change the way you approach yours. They don’t like roughhousing, and it can take a while to get used to the calm and non-threatening way in which they should be approached to avoid scaring them.
Before you start, if you haven’t already, you should check out a full cockatiel care guide. Understanding what these parrots need and what makes them tick is crucial for a happy bird.
What do cockatiels hate?
Okay, so we’ve established your cockatiel doesn’t hate you, but is likely scared of you. I’d like to invite you to have a look at the article about things that cockatiels hate. This way, you may be able to identify what it is that has set off your bird and is causing it to lash out. Identifying the problem is the first step in solving it!
Remember, it may not have been you who has caused your cockatiel’s current behavior. Sometimes you’re stuck with a bird traumatized by a previous owner. If you do regularly do any of the things discussed in the article with your cockatiel, stop.
Read up further on how to work with a parrot and head to the section on taming a cockatiel below to begin re-gaining your bird’s trust.
Tip: Learn to read your cockatiel’s body language and don’t ignore it. The crest says a lot, and you actually tend to get good warning before a lunge or bite.
My cockatiel is afraid of hands
As described above, cockatiels hate being grabbed or forced to do anything, and it can make them seriously weary. If your new cockatiel hates hands in particular, that’s probably because it associates them with being made to feel threatened.
It’s really frustrating, I know: I rescued a cockatiel myself who would lash out severely if he saw your hands, but would let you pet him with your nose or any other body part.
Head to the section below on taming a cockatiel. The guidelines for getting a parrot used to hands are pretty much the same as those for general taming. In the meantime, you could try to see if it will step up on a stick if you need to move it around.
Tip: If you had to grab your cockatiel (like to put it in a travel cage to go to the vet) and are now worried it hates you, give your bird some time. Their memories are short, so unless this happens repeatedly, offering it some millet from your hand should be enough to get you guys back on track.
Cockatiel gets angry sometimes
Anyone who’s had a bit of experience with these parrots knows that they’re a little prone to mood swings, but what if your cockatiel regularly does a total 180 from sweet to aggressive? You may have set it off, or it may just be a case of a cockatiel being a cockatiel.
First off, have you checked that you’re not doing anything that may make your cockatiel feel threatened or hurt it? This may include:
- Approaching with your hands if it’s scared of them
- Approaching from above
- Wearing items or clothes that are unknown and therefore frightening
- Approaching your cockatiel at night (mine lash out if they’re disturbed during their beauty sleep!)
- Something silly, like accidentally touching a pinfeather while giving head scratches (oh, the audacity!)
A cockatiel may even bite you out of fear if it sees something scary flying by through the window.
If you’re a new cockatiel owner, don’t worry too much. Just do your best to identify what set your bird off and adjust your behavior accordingly. You’ll get a better feel for how they work as you and your new feathered friend get used to each other.
Cockatiel changed all of a sudden: hormonal bird
Has your previously beloved family pet turned into a biting, hissing demon? If you’re sure it wasn’t anyone’s behavior that frightened it, it may be a case of ‘spring fever’.
Your first encounter with a hormonal parrot can come as a shock. They can become territorial and aggressive seemingly out of nowhere.
Signs of a hormonal cockatiel
- Nesting behavior in both males and females, ie. finding holes and cavities and becoming protective of them.
- Sexual posturing and masturbation by both males and females, ie. lifting their tail and peeping or rubbing on objects. Pairs will mate.
- Females laying and sitting on eggs.
- Obsession with a person or object. May be combined with lashing out due to frustration.
- More screaming and vocalization than usual.
- It’s springtime or you haven’t been letting the bird get 12 hours of sleep nightly.
If this sounds familiar to you, start implementing the measures below to tone things down. In most cases, after a while, the bird will eventually return to its mellow old self.
Solutions for a hormonal cockatiel
- If it doesn’t want to hang out, just leave your cockatiel alone for today.
- Don’t pet anywhere but the head or neck.
- Give your cockatiel 12 hours or more of sleep a night.
- Introduce some new toys and other distractions.
- Take away any objects of obsession, or put your cockatiel in its cage if it becomes too “friendly” with you.
- Remove any possible nesting sites. Your cockatiel doesn’t need a nest box unless you want to breed it, and that’s not something for beginners.
- Feed a healthy and varied diet, making sure hens get enough calcium.
Taming a cockatiel
Whatever is bothering your cockatiel and causing it to act out, the solution is the same. Remove the trigger, whether hormones or otherwise, if you haven’t already. Be honest about your own behavior and adjust it if need be. Then, begin taking baby steps to re-tame your bird.
Taming a parrot is all about positive reinforcement and leveraging food in order to gain their trust. It’s an exercise in patience, and with severely traumatized birds it can take a long time to make any progress.
Don’t give up: even if your bird never becomes as social as you’d like it to, you almost always improve the situation. Being able to sit and hang out together is much better than your cockatiel cowering in the corner of its cage all day.
So how do you start? I’ve got a full article that should get you on the right track. You can find everything you need to know about taming a cockatiel in the full guide to taming a parrot.
Frequently asked questions
If your cockatiel hisses at you, that doesn’t mean it hates you. It’s scared of something you’re doing. Remember, many cockatiels are scared of people’s hands without proper desensitization, especially if they’ve had bad experiences in the past.
If you have any more questions about angry cockatiels or if you want to share your own experiences with these crested Australian parrots, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.