Help, My Cockatiel Hates Me! | What Should I Do?

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Help, My Cockatiel Hates Me! | What Should I Do?

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!

Male grey cockatiel taking threatening posture, about to bite.
Crest flat, beak open – this cockatiel is unhappy about something. A bite may be incoming. Back off!

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.

Help, my cockatiel hates me! | What should I do?

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.

Angry cockatiel (left) lashing out to young cockatiel (right). Nymphicus hollandicus, a popular pet parrot species.
Crest flat, beak open: if your bird looks like the one on the left, just leave it alone for now.

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 may end up laying 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.
Lutino (yellow) cockatiel parrot sat on wooden next box stick in aviary.
Don’t provide a nest box if you want to prevent hormonal behavior in your cockatiel.

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 an aggressive 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.

Male Nympicus hollandicus parrot sitting on human finger flapping its wings.
Teaching your cockatiel to step up on your finger is easy and very useful.

Frequently asked questions

Why does my cockatiel hiss?

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.

  • Marijke Puts

    Marijke is a full-time niche blogger and pop science writer, founder of Psittacology, and overly enthusiastic bird mom. Originally from The Netherlands but living in sunny Spain, she spends her time wrangling cockatiels, writing about parrots, cooking, diving and hiking. About me | Contact me

12 thoughts on “Help, My Cockatiel Hates Me! | What Should I Do?”

  1. My cockatiel is new in my home and she bitting me every day when i put my hant to stay.She is puffing up and she want to stay all of day inside in cage.She stay in stick and no in my hand.She like millet and seeds but no another food.Her poop is liquid and she sleeps at 10 o’clock because he is afraid and gets up like any bird at 5:30 o’clock.I cant learn it because she is so angry with me.Help!!!

    • Hello! Are there any avian vets near you? Being puffed up and liquid poops are both signs you need to take your bird for a check-up.

      As for her behavior, if she’s biting your hand, you should keep your hand away from her until she is not scared of it anymore. Have you checked out the articles suggested in this post, about things you shouldn’t do if you have a cockatiel and how to tame a parrot? You could consider the part about target and clicker training especially. Be patient and NEVER force it! Good luck 🙂

  2. Hello,
    I have two cockatiels, who love coming out of the cage and coming to me, and they always ask for a scratch. One like to climb and set up on my hand when i put my hand near it but the other one loves to demand for scratches when its in the cage but when it comes out of the cage, it does come to me and asks for scratches and climbs on my shoulder but refuses to step up or at times runs away from me. What do I do ?

    • Hello! Sorry about the late reply. It sounds like you should do some more step-up training with the one that tends to run away from you. I don’t have a specific article about stepping up on the site at this time, but my friends at Parrot Essentials do here. Check it out! With food as motivation, I’m sure you can get your parrot to be more receptive.

      Good luck 🙂

  3. I have a cockatiel that has been with me for years. He is mean, runs across the cage away from me even back and forth opposite my movements when I’m not even near him. He has made my other birds take on this scared running or flying behavior. They are out of the cages all the time, total freedom. I’m ready to get rid of him because he is negatively affecting the others. Can you help me at all? He is super frustrating me.

    • Hi! Sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your cockatiel, sounds like he’s terrified. Is he a rescue or something? If you’re not doing any of the things mentioned here, then it’s mostly a matter of slowly gaining his trust. What other birds do you have? What have you been doing in terms of taming? Maybe if you give me a little more info we can figure it out.

      I have a budgie who is similarly scared of people, but I gotta say, moving him into the living room has been helping very well with desensitization. Also food, of course, the ultimate parrot bribe.

  4. hello, we bought a cockatiel at a pet store like 3 weeks ago. When she’s outside, she’s calm and relaxed, she tries to imitate other birds and overall just sings so nicely. When she’s inside the house, she’s super quiet, she hisses at us when we walk past her cage and when we try to hand feed her, the moment we open the cage, she jumps on the bottom of a cage, raises her wings, hisses and move from side to side. We have no idea how to tame her.

    • Hey! Apologies for the late reply, I was on holiday. I hope you’ve made some progress since then!

      It can be so frustrating when it seems there is no way to even start gaining a bird’s trust. It sounds like you’ll really have to commence at Step 0 here, but it can be done. Forget about hand feeding for a second – for now, just sit by her cage, chat to her and just generally let her get used to your presence. Especially when she’s eating! If you like to read or similar, do that next to the cage from now on.

      All the other steps to my Great Parrot Taming Plan can be found in the post on taming a parrot. Also consider checking out the post on what cockatiels hate for some indication of what NOT to do.

      This is likely a matter of months, but each little milestone is so rewarding. Don’t give up!

      PS: I personally would not keep a cockatiel alone again. They’re extremely social. If you’re willing to take another one in, maybe try a shelter or rescue organization. Incidentally, some of these birds are immensely tame!

  5. Hello,

    I have two cockatiel birds one male and one female. They have a nice cage with toys with 2 bowls for both to either eat together or separately. For some reason the male bird is aggressive and the female is very friendly. The male bird is hard to have him come to you or you putting the finger for him to climb on to it instead he will hiss or try to bite. The female cockatiel comes to me once i place my finger in front of her or she would fly around the house and land right on to me but not the male bird. He instead goes on ma cabin, tv or my island bar. Only way I can have him climb on to my finger is right when he lands from flying around my house. Weirdly, once he’s on my finger he will either relax cause he’s tired from flying or he’s quick to turn around and fly again. It will be a mission just to have him climb up to my finger again and these two birds mated before by the way. I had them since November and he still has the same behavior always hissing, trying to bite and not climbing to my finger (only once he lands from flying). At times when he’s on my shoulder he would try to bite my ear and if i calmly react he gets upset and would try to bite. He be singing in the morning too so im not sure where is the aggressive behavior coming from ?

    • Hi! Sorry you’re having issues with your cockatiel. It sounds like he’s scared. He’s not tame and doesn’t realize you’re not a threat. Start working on taming by means of positive reinforcement and lots of treats; this article should help you get started! If he’s scared of your hands, which can happen due to past negative experiences, you could use a perch for stepping up training at first.

      Hope that helps. Good luck bonding with your bird! 🙂

  6. Hi there

    Hope you can help. My cockatiel has changed his behaviour for no apparent reason. He is usually loving, but lately he does not want to leave his cage. Has taken to hissing and even threatening to bite. Not biting really but going for you as though he is going to bite.
    How do I help him to be his loving self again. When he is in the cage I can scratch his head and even joins in wistling as long as he is in hos cage. We open the door but he does not even attempt to get out. He use to get out and play on his cage or walk around the house playing hide and seek
    Please help

    • Hi! Sorry you’re having trouble with your cockatiel. Could this be hormonal behavior, as discussed in the article? Alternatively, is it possible something or someone really scared or hurt him outside of the cage? I’d give him some time and check the list of things that can make them hormonal just in case. To encourage him to come out, you can hang his food bowl in the door and then slowly move it further outside. Try hand-feeding him as well to help reinforce your bond.

      Hope that helps! Good luck, I’m sure things will improve soon. 🙂


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