“Shake your feathers, step to the right ... step to the left ... bob your head.” This could be a cockatiel party dance song, given how your feathery friend loves to bob her little head. It’s actually body language used for several purposes, so get to know what your bird is saying.
Baby Head Bobbing
When your baby cockatiel bobs her head during feedings from her parents, it's to push the food further down her crop. As she grows older, this action will gradually fade away. When she is unweaned or very young, she may also be communicating that she is hungry -- “Feed me, Mommy!”
Head Bobbing in Males
Your full-grown male cockatiel bobs his head as a courtship behavior -- “Hey, pretty lady, I’m over here! Let’s get together for some food.” While he’s bobbing, he may whistle and hold his wings slightly open. If you don’t have a female cockatiel for him to attract, he’ll try to court you -- it’s completely normal, so cancel that bird behaviorist appointment. It’s instinctive to all cockatiels to bob and attract others, because they’re just so dang cute!
Your bird will develop his own stylin’ head bob, so look for an open mouth or upraised head crest. Beware of his “gifts” -- it’s tradition for cockatiel guys and gals to exchange food by regurgitating food they have just eaten. This is not a pleasant thought, so you may want to distract your birdie before he deposits on your shoulder.
Equal Opportunity Head Bobbing
Head bobbing isn’t limited to the male half of the cockatiel population. No, the females want in on this action as well. It’s a part of the courtship process for both females and males to regurgitate and exchange the food with each other -- oh, yuck!
If you love to pet your little bird during your “together time,” she may interpret this as a courtship behavior and you could end up wearing a gift. Consider yourself warned.
Food or Attention
It’s not hard to divide up the intended communication for babies and adults. Head bobbing in a baby cockatiel usually communicates hunger. In an adult cockatiel, the intended communication is “Gimme attention now, Mom!” Of course, she could be so pleased with her appearance, she’s just showing off her fine, feathered appearance.
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images