If you find your cockatiel bobbing head often and you are not sure why it does so, this article will help you understand the many facets of head bobbing in cockatiel birds.
Head-bobbing is a parrot behavior seen across almost all birds of this species. New owners might see a bird constantly bobbing its head as something of concern.
Well, while you should certainly check it out – it does not indicate anything so serious that it demands a visit to the vet.
It is one of the subtle signs that usually means they want attention – either from their keeper, mate, or their toys.
As long as your bird is on a balanced diet, has healthy head feathers and tail feathers, and is active, there should be little cause for concern.
But still, let’s try to understand why cockatiels bob their heads so much!
Why Do Cockatiels Bob Their Heads? Common Reasons
Head-bobbing behavior is not a cause for concern. At least, it is not a sign of illness that points towards a medical condition needing an avian veterinarian.
Usually, it is a way of communication.
The specific reason for the head bobbing behavior can often be determined by observing the bird’s body language and the context in which the behavior is occurring.
Here are some common reasons why your feathered friend might be doing it:
Head-bobbing followed by chirps and contact calls is a common way cockatiels get their owner or primary bonded person’s attention.
Hence, if you see your bird doing this toward you, it might simply be asking for attention and pets.
Once you give your bird the love it wants, it will generally stop doing this.
To Show Aggression
Head bobbing with hissing is one of the initial steps a cockatiel uses to show aggressive behavior.
You might notice this if you get into their territory or get too close to a non-bonded cockatiel.
Brooding females will also do this if you get too close and they feel that you are threatening their eggs.
After head-bobbing, you will notice them switch to a side-to-side sway followed by occasional nipping.
If you see your bird do this, it simply means you need to back off.
Give your bird space and try to build trust before approaching them closely again.
Don’t try to forcefully touch or pet a cockatiel that displays head-bobbing, side-swaying, and hissing behavior.
Looking for a Mate
Cockatiels are monogamous and mate for life. On finding a suitable partner, males will perform an elaborate dance – one step of which is head bobbing.
You will also see them step from side to side, flap their wings, and do other steps.
If your cockatiel is mature, and you see them displaying sexual behavior by directing the head bobbing towards their cage mate – it could be that your bird is trying to attract a mate.
You might also notice this you have two cockatiels kept in separate, side-by-side cages.
The male will continue the routine until the female clearly expresses disinterest and moves on.
It might be bored
Cockatiels may bob their heads as a sign of boredom. This head-bobbing will get stronger if you enter the room as they try to catch your attention.
If a cockatiel is not getting enough stimulation, it may develop behaviors that indicate that they are not content.
Head-bobbing can be one of those behaviors, especially if the bird is kept in a cage with little interaction, toys, or change of environment.
Repetitive head-bobbing can indicate that the bird is not getting enough mental or physical stimulation and may benefit from more toys, interaction, or playtime.
Additionally, providing your cockatiel with an appropriately sized cage, perches, and plenty of toys to keep them entertained will help prevent boredom.
To show happiness
Yes, cockatiels can bob their head when happy too! So, how do you distinguish whether it is a happy head-bob, sad-head-bob, or bored head-bob?
Look for other behavioral clues to determine this.
Happy head bobbing is usually accompanied by other signs of contentment, such as chirping, whistling, or puffing up their feathers.
You can also see this behavior when the bird shows signs of affection, such as being petted, talked to, given a treat, or near their favorite person or another bird.
However, if your bird does this while screaming, appearing lethargic or lonely – the cause could be boredom or loneliness.
Greeting Mates or Owner
Cockatiels can display excitement about seeing their mate or owner. Head-bobbing, followed by chirps, dances, and bowing, can be some of the typical greeting styles.
This indicates a happy and content bird. You can try to reinforce this behavior by providing treats.
Head-bobbing as a sign of begging for food is only seen in very young baby cockatiels that are still being handfed.
Adults do not display this behavior.
If you see a baby bird that is actively head-bobbing and has an empty crop – it means it’s time for another meal!
Make sure to stick to the required quantity and timing of feed for a baby of that particular age.
Regurgitation or Crop Clearing
Cockatiels may bob their heads as a precursor to initiating regurgitation.
Regurgitation behavior in adult birds is a normal behavior in which a cockatiel brings up partially digested food from its crop to feed to its mate or chicks.
This natural behavior is usually seen in birds that have formed bonds, such as a mating pair or a parent and a chick.
However, in some cases, a single cockatiel may hand bonded with its keeper and, thus, try to present regurgitated food to them instead.
The head bobbing motion signals that they are preparing to regurgitate food.
After this, you might see other signs of affection, such as preening, nuzzling, and vocalizations.
You should look at the other symptoms they display, along with head-bobbing. This will help you determine the cause and if the bird is distressed.
Female Cockatiel Head Bobbing
Head bobbing has more or less similar connotations for both male and female cockatiels.
For a young bird, it probably means they’re hungry.
Older birds could be doing it to gain your attention or show off their own happiness.
Additionally, for sexually mature cockatiels, it might simply be a part of their ritual dance to attract a mate.
Is It Normal for My Cockatiel to Bob Its Head?
Head-bobbing is normal for a cockatiel. However, you should check if it’s something your bird does continuously.
If the head bobbing stops once you play with them or pet them – it means your bird is lonely and wants more time with you.
However, if it still persists despite feeding and playing, it could be that something in the environment is disturbing them.
Do Baby Cockatiels Bob Their Heads?
Yes, baby cockatiels do bob their head. And you might see them do it a lot.
Head-bobbing in baby birds is a common way for them to get their parent’s attention to ask for food.
You might have seen baby birds bob their head actively, along with wide-open beaks. This is when the parent or keeper uses their beak or a dropper to feed them.
Baby birds that are still less than five weeks old are not very active and do not move a lot.
Hence, most of their movement is through head-bobbing, flicking, and shaking. Before feeding baby birds, ensure that their crop is empty.
Cockatiel Bobbing Head and Screaming?
If your cockatiel is screaming, it is probably discontent.
Head bobbing and screaming is a common way for a bored or mentally overwhelmed bird to get its owner’s attention.
If you see your bird do this, give them your undivided attention.
Check their environment to understand where the problem is. If they don’t have enough toys or have broken some, replace them.
Try to increase their out-of-cage and social time.
Additionally, your bird could be doing it because they’re hurt somewhere. If your bird draws your attention towards an area, try to investigate that as well.
Cockatiel Bobbing Head While Eating?
If your bird is shaking its head while eating, it could mean one of two things.
Firstly, if the movement is accompanied by stretching the neck and opening the beak, this is likely to be just your bird adjusting its crop.
They do this sometimes when something gets stuck in their throats. Try to give your bird a sip of water so that the issue gets resolved quickly.
On the other hand, if this movement is accompanied by vomiting or side-to-side head shaking, then you should probably take it to the vet immediately. It could be a sign of sickness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do birds nod their heads?
A pet bird can nod its head to get its owner’s attention. Head bobbing is generally a sign that you want your attention to something.
It could be that they are bored, happy, or want to attract a mate. Some birds, like pigeons, will bob their head for visual stabilization also.
How do I know if my bird is stressed?
A stressed cockatiel will let you know that it is stressed through its screeches and other sign of stress.
You will notice them emit high-pitched screams, flap their wings, straighten their crest feathers and not engage with toys.
Puffed-up feathers and large, darting eyes also indicate stress and anxiety.
Why do birds have weird head movements?
Most birds have eyes on either side of their head (whereas we have them on the front).
Hence, they usually nod and bob their head to get a better visual perception (depth focus and stabilization).
These movements might seem odd to us, but they are common in pigeons, owls, and magpies.
Are birds happy when they bob their heads?
Being happy is one of the reasons they could head bob. However, it can also be many other reasons.
Such as, your bird could be trying to bond with you, vying for your attention, or trying to attract you as a mate by dancing.
Head-bobbing and its many ways give birds a lot of character. It is especially common to see cockatiels do it while whistling in time to beats.
You might have an active bird on your hands that head bobs a lot or a quiet one that isn’t physical as much.
Either way, keep an eye out on these movements to gauge your cockatiel’s mood.
Unless you see notice anything serious, head-bobbing is totally okay. Thank you for reading.