My son was playing with our cockatiels the other day, and he’s been getting more and more curious about birds as he gets older.
One thing he was wondering about was their hearing and their ears, and I have to admit it’s something I’ve wondered about a lot myself.
Most birds don’t actually seem to have any visible ears, and it’s obvious that most birds hunt and otherwise make sense of the world via their sight.
So, do cockatiels actually have ears?
Let’s find out.
Yes, cockatiels have ears, although they are just holes—they do not have earlobes in the same way we do. We are equipped with an inner, middle and outer ear—cockatiels also have this, but their ears are entirely covered by feathers, so they can only be seen by moving the feathers.
So, though they might look nothing like our own, cockatiels certainly do have ears.
They have no earlobes in the same way we do, and no visible outer ear that acts like a dish collecting sound reverberations.
Let’s look further into this question.
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Where are the ears on a cockatiel?
In normal circumstances, you won’t be able to see the ears on a cockatiel—or indeed on most birds.
That’s because they are covered by the cockatiel’s feathers, but they’re exactly where you’d think they would be—on the sides of the head.
If you move a cockatiel’s feathers around the sides of its head, you will find two small holes on each side.
These are its ears.
Again, there are no defined lobes, or really anything that we would recognise as an ear shape.
But that is definitely where they are.
Whatever evolutionary ancestor of ours first developed ears on the side of its head like this lived long ago, as you can see this adaptation in almost all vertebrates across the world.
For a bird, having ears on the side of its head is essential for good balance in flight and on perches.
Indeed, there are very few animals that don’t have their auditory processing apparatus on the sides of their heads.
Getting the signals directly to the brain is the most important thing, otherwise there would be a significant delay between a noise being made and it being processed by the animal.
So, though they aren’t their most important sensory organ, ears are absolutely essential to a cockatiel’s daily existence.
Do cockatiels have ear holes?
Yes, they do as I said.
Almost all birds do have ear holes, rather than any kind of earlobe like what we might possess.
Being aerodynamic is the reason for this.
Birds, obviously more than almost any other creature, need a very high level of aero dynamism.
We may think of their ability to fly as just flapping their wings until they’re in the sky.
It’s a much, much more complicated process of riding the air, though, in reality.
If birds had ears sticking out the sides of their heads, rather than simple earholes, this would massively increase drag and reduce airflow over their bodies while flying.
This is the simple reason, among many other more complex evolutionary reasons, that cockatiels and birds, in general, have ear holes rather than lobes.
How do cockatiels perceive the world?
This is an interesting and complex question, and in a few short words I can only scratch the surface of the work that has been done on this very question.
Try and think about how you perceive the world, and which of your senses are most dominant.
We look at the world with our highly complex eyes, and we touch things.
These are our most dominant senses.
For cockatiels, it’s different.
They, like most birds, have highly sensitive eyes—this is really important for being able to identify things on the ground from the sky.
So, a huge part of their picture of the world comes from vision, like us.
However, they do not have hands, and thus their sense of touch is far less sensitive than ours.
They don’t have a great sense of smell, then. their overall perception of the world is largely built on sights and sounds.
Obviously, the answer, in reality, is a lot more complex than this—this is a basic breakdown.
How sensitive are cockatiel’s ears?
For a bird, reasonably sensitive.
Cockatiels need to be sensitive to lots of different sounds that other cockatiels use to communicate certain things.
Territory, attracting a mate—these will require sensitivity to very subtle differences in singing sound.
Their ears are sensitive to sounds in the frequencies of 250-8,000hz, roughly.
Our own ears, for comparison, are sensitive up to 20,000hz.
So, they’re not as sensitive as other animals—but for their size, they are adequately sensitive.
So, yes, cockatiels definitely have ears and the jury is not out on that one.
Indeed, virtually all birds categorically have ears and have reasonably sensitive hearing to boot.
Our ears are certainly a great deal more sensitive, at least more so than a cockatiel’s.
Nonetheless, though, cockatiels do have ears, they are just covered by feathers and only manifest as an ear hole, rather than a large, visible lobe like we would have.
They definitely are there if you know where to look.