Cockatiels are odd little creatures at times, and it isn’t always easy to understand their behaviors.
We form deep bonds with our birds over time, and their behavior ultimately shows us just how deep those bonds run.
The image of a parrot sitting on the shoulder of a person is one that is centuries old—but why exactly do cockatiels like doing this?
Parrots in general form a bond with your face in particular. There are some theories for the precise reason they sit on your shoulder, but it’s believed they get the sense of sitting with you as they would on a branch. They almost territorialize your body. It also just allows them close to your face.
So, the simple answer is we don’t know for certain.
However, it seems like a good bet that it is to do with how they bond to our faces, and how they end up seeing your body as somewhere that belongs to them.
Let’s find out more.
Do cockatiels like being on your shoulder?
Yes, they do.
While you of course should never try and force such interaction or put your cockatiel on your shoulder, if they seem to want to do so of their own accord, then this is obviously something they like.
Many parrots enjoy riding on their owner’s shoulders, for a variety of reasons that I will get into.
The important point to make here is not to try and manufacture behaviors that you want to see.
Not all cockatiels will enjoy being on your shoulder, and they will not all be predisposed to get on your shoulder.
If they don’t seem to want to, then don’t try and put them there.
That said, for the most part, this kind of physical interaction is a good thing and shows that your cockatiel has formed a deep bond with you.
It may take them a while to want to do so, but when they do, you know you’re doing something right!
Why, then, do they like doing this?
Why does my bird want to be on my shoulder?
There are a few potential reasons your cockatiel likes being on your shoulder.
The first is about how it feels about you.
As I mentioned, one theory posits that cockatiels, when they sit on your shoulder, feel as though they are sitting on a branch with you, as they would with other birds.
The other important point is how they bond to your face.
Most animals recognize faces in some sense or another.
Birds in particular rely heavily on sight to remember things, and your face is by far the most unique thing about you.
So, being on your shoulder allows them to feel close to your face, which is the part of you they are bonded to.
There are more general reasons why cockatiels like to sit on your shoulder, though.
For one thing, it provides a great vantage point, reminiscent of the trees and high places they would occupy in the wild.
In that sense, the reason cockatiels like to sit on your shoulders is the same reason they like to perch on anything.
It provides a comfortable vantage point from which they feel safer.
So, there’s nothing to worry about with this behavior.
It’s totally normal and in fact seeing it shows that your bird is happy to roam around and explore and, more importantly, feels deeply bonded with you.
It will most likely prefer your shoulders, but particularly confident cockatiels may enjoy perching on the shoulders of many people.
Different cockatiels will do it for different reasons, and whether it perches on everyone is probably your best indicator.
But are there any potential issues with this behavior?
Should you let your cockatiel sit on your shoulder?
Overall, yes, there’s really no issue with allowing your cockatiel to sit on your shoulder.
As I’ve said, it’s a positive behavior that indicates it is deeply bonded with you, and it feels comfortable in its home.
There’s nothing wrong with allowing it to sit on your shoulder, and you should encourage it.
Just be prepared to deal with the odd droppings on your back.
However, there are a couple of caveats to keep in mind with this.
While it is a behavior you want to encourage and reinforce, it’s also something you want to be able to draw boundaries for.
You need your cockatiel to understand that you control the interaction and that it is up to you when it ends.
It may be that you need to get your cockatiel off your shoulder, and you need it to cooperate immediately.
If your cockatiel gets used to spending all the time it wants on your shoulder and never being told no, it could become nippy or even start hissing when you try to take it off.
You need to train it to step off your shoulder when you ask it to.
Cockatiels are highly intelligent birds, and this can lead to behavioral problems if they aren’t properly trained.
Make sure you set boundaries as soon as your cockatiel starts perching on your shoulder.
Do cockatiels recognize your face?
Yes, they certainly do.
As I mentioned, cockatiels and parrots in general have remarkably good vision, and this is the main means by which they remember things and people.
Your face contains the majority of your unique identifying features, and so your cockatiel will remember it to bond with you.
Recognizing your face is also the best way to get your attention.
They instinctively know to look at your face to get your attention, whether they want food, stimulation, or anything else.
They will look you in the eyes to get your attention.
But yes, they will also recognize your face and remember you as distinct from other people.
They may also remember a handful of other faces, depending on how well-socialized they are.
Cockatiels are highly intelligent with excellent memory recall.
Does this make them protective of their owners?
Are cockatiels protective of their owners?
Yes, they certainly are protective of their owners, and this is in part shown by the behavior of sitting on your shoulder.
This way, they can keep an eye on you, stay close to you, and mark your body as their territory.
This is another way in which the behavior could become somewhat problematic.
If you allow them to become overly protective, they could become nippy and bite other people around you.
They could also become aggressive towards other birds if you have them living with other cockatiels or other parrots.
Again, this is another important reason why it is essential to set boundaries for this behavior.
You need to be able to end the interaction when your cockatiel is acting up, and this includes when it is acting up towards other individuals.
But in general, cockatiels are protective of their owners to a healthy degree.
It just shows that they are deeply bonded to you, and worry about you a lot.
This is normal and in fact a good thing.
Just don’t let them get carried away, and if you notice excessively aggressive behavior, you need to think about discouraging it—even if that means reducing the amount of time they sit on your shoulders.
Why does my cockatiel follow me everywhere?
Following on from that, another thing you are likely to notice commonly is that they are following you around a lot.
The simplest answer to why it does this is because it is just very happy in your company and wants to be with you as much as it can.
Assuming all of its other needs are satisfied, then it is following you just because it likes being around you.
However, it could also indicate it is trying to get your attention for a specific reason.
It may be hungry or bored, or just in need of attention.
Try to give it a snack or a pet or something to see if that satisfies its needs.
Otherwise, there could be something more serious going on.
If you think there’s a possibility your cockatiel is following you because it is ill, then my advice is to take it to the vet.
They will be able to identify the problem, if there is one.
Ultimately, then, your cockatiel wanting to be on your shoulder is a good sign.
It shows that they are deeply bonded to you and want to be close to your face, as well as wanting to feel as though they are perched with you.
While it’s important that you set boundaries for this behavior, there’s no harm in encouraging it, and it will help your cockatiels feel closer to you over time.