Cockatiels are highly intelligent little birds, and birds are nothing if not great communicators.
They are able to use vocals and body language to indicate all sorts of things, and usually we can tell pretty well what they want—if they’re hungry, thirsty, etc.
But we aren’t all bird whisperers, and their behavior is very often a lot more subtle than you might realize.
One thing I often get asked is how to tell if your cockatiel likes you—what behaviors to look for.
So, I thought I would compile a list of all the best ways to tell your cockatiel likes you.
This is one of the most universal love languages across countless species, not even just birds.
Grooming one another is one of the most fundamental ways that animals bond with one another, whether it’s cockatiels or chimpanzees.
But cockatiels don’t just groom each other.
They will also groom their human owners, and if they do, this is a big sign that they like you a lot.
This will usually manifest as chewing lightly on your hair or ears.
Biting is not a good sign, though, so be aware of the difference.
Grooming is, without doubt, one of the clearest signs that your cockatiel likes you.
Another very well-known positive behavior is preening.
It’s very often the case with many species that you can judge how comfortable they are by how they behave.
For cockatiels, preening can be a dangerous task in the wild, since they need to be on the look out for predators at all times.
Be mindful that your cockatiel isn’t over preening itself—sometimes they will do this if they have something physically wrong with them.
But if you notice it preening regularly when around you, this is a good sign that it’s comfortable and likes you.
Again, certainly a universal love language in countless species, if your cockatiel likes to cuddle with you, this is a clear sign that it likes you a lot.
When it comes to handling your cockatiel, you should let the bird initiate the interaction as much as possible.
If your cockatiel likes to cuddle a lot and be handled, then it definitely likes you.
Cockatiels are very affectionate and become deeply bonded to their owner, so you can expect a lot of cuddles the more your cockatiel likes you and gets to know you.
One of the best times to observe potential behaviors indicating that your cockatiel likes you is when you first approach it after being away, like at work for example.
They will have missed you throughout the day and be very excited to see you.
This will manifest in chirping and making happy noises as you approach.
Birds are big vocal communicators, so if your cockatiel makes a lot of noise when you see it after being away, this is a good sign not only that it likes you, but that it missed you while you were away!
Relaxed body language
This will include preening, as I mentioned earlier, but in general, look at the way your cockatiel holds itself.
It’s quite easy to tell by looking if your cockatiel is tense or on edge.
They might raise their feet to you or try to escape when you come near.
This is not relaxed behavior.
If it doesn’t exhibit any behaviors like this, but is instead very relaxed and comfortable around you, then this is a good sign it likes you and is comfortable around you.
You need to make the cockatiel comfortable before it can start to really like you and form a deep bond with you.
Resting crest feathers
One of the most striking features of cockatiels is the crest feathers at the top of their heads.
Many parrots and birds have similar plumage, and they’re pretty much purely a way to express and convey emotion.
The front of the crest should be relaxed, not completely down but not raised high either.
If it is raised very high, something is bugging your cockatiel and they are uncomfortable.
Keep an eye on how the crest feathers relax or tense up, as this is one of the strongest immediate signs of emotion.
If your cockatiel always has its crest relaxed when its around you, this is a good sign it likes you.
Flapping their wings is one of the biggest displays a cockatiel can make.
They aren’t big animals but flapping their wings can make them seem really big.
It’s also just a great way to make a statement.
So, with this one, it’s important to keep in mind that there are more than a few reasons why your cockatiel might flap its wings.
However, if it flaps its wings and stays in one place, this can be a sign that it is happy and pleased.
If it makes a point of looking at you or flapping its wings towards you, this too is a strong sign it feels good about you.
The same is essentially true of their tails.
Flapping the tail is another very common way of expressing a variety of feelings, so, again, you can’t really assume tail flapping means something positive.
However, if you observe it in tandem with other behaviors showing the bird is relaxed, then tail flapping is a good sign your cockatiel likes you.
Your cockatiel will probably spend a fair amount of time perched on you, or at least touching you with their feet.
Be mindful of the temperature of the cockatiel’s feet.
If they’re cold, there could be a health problem there.
However, if they are always nice and warm, this is a good sign not only that your cockatiel is in good health, but that it likes you and is comfortable with you.
This is largely an indication of physical health more than anything, but being stressed or uncomfortable will naturally have an impact on your cockatiel’s overall health.
Again, similar to grooming but a particular behavior to look out for is the act of straightening out its feathers.
They won’t always take this step in grooming, and certainly not if they are uncomfortable at all.
Again, it’s an issue of vulnerability. If they feel comfortable straightening their feathers in your presence.
Your cockatiel may even attempt to straighten your own hair—again, sharing the grooming is a huge thing to look out for.
Holding their head high
Another one to look out for when you’re first coming back to the cockatiel after being away for a little while is whether they hold their head high or not.
This will typically be accompanied by taking a brisk pace towards you.
If their head is held high as they approach, this is an excellent indicator of excitement.
If your cockatiel is excited to see you, then naturally it must like you.
Eyes can be among the most expressive and telling parts of our faces, and the same is true when it comes to cockatiels.
One particular behavior to look out for is excessive blinking and making a point of looking at you as it does so.
Doing this indicates your cockatiel is very comfortable around you and wants to communicate this.
If you see your cockatiel doing this, try to blin along with it, and match its pattern of blinking.
This act of reciprocation will deepen your bond as your cockatiel will see that you understand their intent.
Following on from that, eye contact is another really great sign that your cockatiel feels very relaxed and comfortable around you.
Eye contact often works very differently for a lot of species.
For most primates, for instance, eye contact is often seen as threatening or intimidating behavior.
For cockatiels, the complete opposite is the case.
Making eye contact with you shows they are interested in you and, again, want to communicate something non-verbally.
Again, be sure to reciprocate the eye contact if your cockatiel seems to be trying to catch your gaze.
The final point on the eyes is how their pupils look when they are looking at you.
Pupils, for whatever reason across many species, tend to dilate when the creature is looking at something they have a strong feeling for.
While it’s true that that can also indicate other emotions, if you can take all of its behaviors together, having dilated pupils when it looks at you is a sign it likes you.
Cockatiels’ pupils can sometimes be difficult to distinguish in their little eyes, compared with other species, but if you look closely you will be able to see a difference between dilated and contracted pupils.
Cockatiels aren’t the chattiest of parrot species, but they’re not mute either.
While this one applies much more to males than to females, if your cockatiel, mimics your voice and things you say, this is a good sign that it likes you a lot, and again is trying to create a deeper bond between the two of you.
If your cockatiel is female, they generally don’t talk or mimic with much frequency.
Males are the talkers, because in the wild, they do so to attract mates.
They will in a way come to see you as their mate, if they bond deeply enough with you.
Regurgitating food onto you
Though it might be hard to wrap your head around something so vile actually being an act of love, birds operate in a very different way to us, and if your cockatiel regurgitates its food onto your hands, this shows that they are trying to feed you—something which, in the wild, they will only do with their mate.
Again, paired cockatiels in the wild will often take turns hunting while the other looks after the young.
But the hunter doesn’t bring anything back, except what it has already eaten.
If your cockatiel regurgitates food into your hand, you could even pretend to eat the food.
In any case, this is one of the ultimate signs of love.
Bowing their head
Body movements are often deeply expressive in many forms of parrot, and particularly in cockatiels.
Bowing the head is a very commonly observed behaivor, and while it can sometimes mean a variety of things, when a cockatiel bows its head towards you, bobbing up and down repeatedly or just holding it there, this is a sign of love and affection.
You can reciprocate this behavior by touching the cockatiels head at this point and giving them a light scratch.
Reciprocating their affectionate behavior is a really good way to build your relationship—after all, your cockatiel won’t always know exactly how you feel about it, either!
Clicking and grinding its beak
Another means to use noises to express how they’re feeling, a less common but still strong indication of affection is if your cockatiel is clicking and grinding with its beak a lot.
This is more broadly an indication that your cockatiel is relaxed and comfortable, and particularly they will often do this before they go to sleep.
Excessive grinding could indicate a problem, but a lot of clicking is usually normal and is very positive.
Again, it’s an easy way for your cockatiel to express how it is feeling, and that is relaxed and comfortable.
As you can see, looking out for general behaviors that show comfort are as important as direct acts of affection towards you.
People don’t tend to think of cockatiels as big players in the same way other popular pets are, like dogs or cats.
But the fact is their complex brains means they need in fact more stimulation from play than other pets.
Often, they will simply play by themselves, or with other cockatiels.
You should provide them plenty of toys for this reason.
Playing with them from a very young age is a great way to become bonded, and the more they want to play with you as they get older, the deeper the relationship you’ve built must be.
Try to play with your cockatiel every day, if you can.
Building these relationships is not quick, so you’re going to need to be building it up every day.
Playing is something your cockatiel will want to do every day, so it’s a great way to form a deeper bond.
Separation anxiety is not unheard of with cockatiels, although they are generally much more independent than, say, a dog.
So, one thing you can look out for in your cockatiels behavior is actively calling out to you when it wants your attention.
From other rooms, even, if your cockatiel feels like playing or sharing some affection, it will often call to you.
This is a good sign it likes you.
Though this has proven hard to verify, many have claimed that their cockatiels have even learned their owner’s names and been able to call them by name.
While this is not common, your cockatiel calling in any way is a good sign it likes you a lot and wants to spend time with you.
Undoubtedly another universal love language among pets that can even become stiflingly affectionate is following you around.
If your cockatiel tends to follow you wherever you go, even to just hang out on its own but in the same room as you, it definitely loves you and wants to spend as much time with you as it can.
While you should probably do your best to curb behaviors like this where you find them, if you notice that your cockatiel is particularly protective of you, biting others or generally being interested in your welfare.
This shows it has a natural impulse to protect you as it would its mate in the wild.
So, while this behavior is something you shouldn’t encourage, it still is a strong sign that your cockatiel likes you.
Fluffing their feathers
I know more than a few parrot owners who were convinced they needed a parrot companion only because of how cute they are when they fluff up their feathers. And the great thing about this behavior is that, not only is it adorable, but it is almost always a very strong sign of affection toward you.
They will puff out their feathers, making themselves look smaller, and usually close their eyes.
This is a good sign they feel strongly about you.
Hanging upside down
This is another behavior that fits into the category of indicating overwhelming comfort and relaxation.
Hanging upside down is a very compromising position for any animal to be in—it’s also inherently playful and silly, and I don’t think it would be giving them too much credit to say that cockatiels can understand this.
Domestic cockatiels will often get used to hanging upside down for play, and it will start to bleed over into their other behaviors—like eating and even sleeping.
If your cockatiel sleeps upside down, rest assured it could not feel much more comfortable around you.
Finally, though it is once again something you may not expect to hear from a cockatiel, another noise they might make to indicate their feeling is purring.
It will be a low, light buzzing sound, seeming to emanate from the cockatiels mid-section rather than its vocal cords.
Don’t confuse this with a growl—which suggests your cockatiel needs some space.
A growl will seem to come from its head and mouth, rather than its abdomen.
Purring is another pure form of expression, a very easy way for your cockatiel to show that it is happy, relaxed and that it likes you.
Often, like with cats, purring will accompany scratches and when you are grooming or otherwise interacting with your cockatiel.
Listen out for their purring. It might be harder to hear, and again, don’t confuse it with the growl.
But listen closely and you might just hear your cockatiel purring to let you know it likes you.
Cockatiels are anything but simple creatures, then.
They have many ways of expressing themselves, and each one of them could indicate a number of different things.
As you get to know your cockatiel better and better, you will come to more instinctively understand its behaviors, and what they mean.
Your journey with your cockatiel will be a long one, and you’ll be friends for a long time.
Over the course of that friendship, you’ll come to know your cockatiel as well as any person in your life.