Why Do Cockatiels Have Mohawks? How a Cockatiel’s Crest is a Barometer of its Emotions

The unique crest on your cockatiel’s head is not just a cute oddity. These crests often speak louder than words! We look at why cockatiels have mohawks in the article below.

The crest atop a cockatiel’s head is one of its key identifying features. However, giving the birds a distinguished appearance isn’t the only purpose of the mohawks. 

They also serve an important functional role – conveying a cockatiel’s emotions.

That’s right! Cockatiels are extremely intelligent and social birds that love interacting with others. 

Just like facial expressions in humans, they change the position of the crest feathers to express their feelings.

Why Do Cockatiels Have Mohawks

What Cockatiel Crests Might Mean in Different Positions

To build a strong bond with your pet, you first need to understand it. 

Bird owners often misinterpret their pets’ behavior, which prevents them from catering to their needs properly. 

This is one of the reasons why cockatiels make good starter birds – you can easily understand your cockatiel’s mood by looking at its crest.

They are curious

If you find a cockatiel’s mohawk standing up as straight as possible, this usually means that the bird is curious about something. 

It could be a person, an object, or even an activity that draw’s the bird’s interest.

Being smart creatures, these beautiful birds are always trying to learn from their environment.

Curious cockatiels also tend to outstretch their necks alongside raising the crests. This behavior isn’t something to worry about since the curiosity is positive. 

However, be careful if you suspect negative curiosity.

If your bird’s mohawk is raised straight up, it might be curious about something

They feel angry

While cockatiels are friendly birds, they can get quite aggressive when they’re angry. 

A completely flat crest is usually a sign of aggression. Just like a cat that lays its ears flat backward when angry, an upset cockatiel would press its crest flat along its head.

An angry cockatiel would usually have its beak open and tend to lunge forward at anything that gets close. 

Other, more obvious behavior like squawking and biting might accompany these signs too. If the anger stems from boredom, visit a pet shop and buy your avian chum some toys.

Apart from anger, a flat crest might also indicate fear. Either way, it’s a bad sign if your cockatiel’s crest is flat all the time

It implies there might be something wrong with the bird’s living conditions – something that bothers it all the time.

A flat crest might be a sign of anger

Your cockatiel is happy

A cockatiel’s mohawk is also flattened along the back of its head when it’s happy. 

While this might seem easy to confuse with the flat crest of an angry cockatiel, that’s not quite the case.

Firstly, you’ll know a happy bird when you see one. They display cheerful and friendly behavior, often chirping or singing away happily. 

Also, the curled tip of the crest remains curled upward in a happy cockatiel. When they flatten their crests because they are upset, even this tip grows straight.

Your cockatiel is full

Keep an eye on your cockatiel’s crest while feeding it. If the bird is full and content, it will convey this by making the mohawk stand as straight as it can

Bird owners often mistake it as a sign of alarm, but this actually means your avian chum is in a good mood.

Now, I know this sounds a little too similar to the straight crest of a curious cockatiel. 

You’ll have to check for other behavioral signs to differentiate. Instead of a curious attitude with an outstretched neck, a content cockatiel would have a calm demeanor.

Straight mohawks can be a sign that your bird is full and contented

It is approaching someone new

When approaching someone new, the position of the crest may change depending on how the cockatiel feels. 

The bird would usually be cautious, which will result in the mohawk being pointed upward in a curved fashion

Note that this is different from the straight crest shape found in curious and content cockatiels.

The cautiousness may also be accompanied by other emotions, especially fear and curiosity. 

Wild cockatiels are prey bird species hunted by larger birds in their native regions. This has led to an instinct for fear. 

It’s this instinct that keeps them alive by helping them react quickly in the face of a threat.

Curved but pointed upward mohawks mean your bird is being cautious

Cockatiel sleepy

The crest of a cockatiel enters a relaxed position when the bird is sleepy and tired. It stays up midway, with the crest curled upward

You might notice this while your pet bird takes a nap or grooms its feathers before going to sleep. 

The crest won’t usually be noticeable when the bird sleeps at night because it’ll likely keep its head tucked under a wing.

Cockatiel Excited

Lastly, it’s good to know when your feathered friend is excited. Cockatiels keep their crest in a raised but relaxed position when they experience any excitement. 

This is generally accompanied by other related behavior, such as raising the wings, flying around, singing, and dancing.

New bird owners will find it easier to notice the excitement in a cockatiel through the other actions I mentioned, as the crest position is easy to confuse with other emotions.

Apart from these, many cockatiels also keep their crest at a half-mast position most of the time. 

This is nothing to worry about – a cockatiel with a half-mast crest is alert and cautious but also content. 

As mentioned earlier, their cautiousness stems from their natural survival instinct.  

Raised but relaxed crest may signal excitement

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean if a cockatiels mohawk is up?

Don’t worry if your pet cockatiel raises its mohawk. A cockatiel with a raised mohawk is usually content or curious cockatiel. 
They also raise their mohawks when they are in a playful mood and want some head scratches. 
This would be especially common in the case of a female cockatiel, as the females are more affectionate and cuddly.

What does it mean when a cockatiel’s crest is in the middle?

If a cockatiel rests its crest in a relaxed position raised to the middle with the crest curled upward, it’s probably sleepy and needs some rest. 
Your cockatiel might also leave its crest in a half-raised position consistently – this is perfectly normal and means that your pet is content but is staying on alert.

Why do cockatiels raise their hair?

The position of a cockatiel’s crest depends on its mood and emotional state. A raised crest could mean several things, depending on the exact appearance. 
A fully raised crest indicates curiosity, excitement, or contentedness. A cockatiel with a halfway-raised crest might be sleepy or cautious.

What does it mean when a cockatiel fluffs its feathers?

Cockatiels fluff up their feathers for a variety of reasons. Some of these are nothing to worry about, such as helping the feathers aerate or creating air pockets to keep themselves warm. 
However, fluffed feathers may also indicate an illness or defensiveness.

Wrapping up

As you can see, the crest feathers play a distinct role of their own, just like flight feathers and wing feathers. 

This species of bird is quite clear about expressing how they feel. It’s their expressiveness and high emotional intelligence that makes them such amazing domestic birds. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope you can now understand your feathered friend much better.

Photo of author

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Beautyofbirds.com's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

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