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How to Read Cockatoo Body Language

Nicole Cosgrove

It’s fascinating the extent to which your cockatoo goes to read and understand your facial expressions and body language. This bird learns to communicate with you through actions, behavior, and sounds. However, not many of us care to learn about their body language and understand what they are trying to tell us.

We all understand how communication is essential in human relationships. It is no different with your cockatoo. If you learn to read your birds’ body language, you can tell when they are happy, sick, hungry, or frightened. You will also get to know how to train, tame, and even provide care when needed.

While the actions of one cockatoo may not necessarily mimic the message of all other cockatoos, we have found some similarities in meaning for various behaviors. If your feathered friend exhibits any of these behaviors, try to deduce the meaning and respond accordingly.

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Eyes Dilating Pupils/ Flashing

Flashing can be a sign of excitement, pleasure, nervousness, or aggression. If you observe this, pay close attention to any other behavior accompanying to help identify the message correctly. For example, if your bird friend exhibits flashing accompanied by aggressive behavior like tail fanning, he is telling you to “Back off!”

At this point, if you go ahead and attempt to touch him, he may bite you. He may also act this way in response to an animal, another bird, or a human he dislikes.

Beak Clicking

Cockatoo with beak open
Image Credit: vmdj2002, Pixabay

Your cockatoo may produce a sharp, consistent click sound if he feels threatened or when protecting a space or an object. Sometimes this behavior is accompanied by foot raising and neck stretching. It is a sign that your feathered friend is trying to defend a possession or a territory against an intruder. If you continue to touch his object or intrude further, you may get a nasty bite.

Beak Grinding

This sound is similar to that of a child grinding teeth when sleeping, and it comes from scraping the upper mandible against the lower mandible. It usually indicates that your cockatoo is feeling content and secure. You will often notice the sound when your bird gets ready to sleep or sometimes during sleep.

Beak Wiping

There are several different reasons for this activity. For instance, if your bird does this in the presence of another bird, it is usually a way of communicating to the bird that it is encroaching on personal space. If the bird does it when alone, it indicates one or two things.

Either that the bird is trying to remove something stuck on his beak or it is displacement aggression behavior. Displacement aggression happens when the bird is unable to perform an activity, and he gets aggravated.

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Health-Related Behavior

Panting

Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo Bird
Image Credit: hartono subagio, Pixabay

When your bird is panting, it means that he is uncomfortable, overexerted, or overheated. If your cockatoo is not used to flying or it has just regrown flight feathers, he will often do this when flying for the first time. If you notice your bird panting yet he has been flying, ensure that his cage is not in direct sunlight. Also, ensure that he has plenty of fresh drinking water.

Regurgitating

When your bird does this to you, it means that he has chosen you as his mate and is trying to feed you. Birds also perform this in the presence of a favorite object or toy. To another bird, it means that the two are bonding and showing affection by feeding each other.

Regurgitating involves bobbing the head up and down to pick food and place it into the other bird’s mouth. It is similar to how parent birds feed their chicks.

Sneezing

Pink Cockatoo
Image Credit: Tammy Lee, Pixabay

Your cockatoo sneezes for similar reasons as you: Small bug, dust, or irritation from feathers that go up the nasal cavity. Sometimes he may sneeze when you positively reinforce the behavior. However, if he produces a nasal discharge after sneezing, he is sick, and you should take him to an avian vet.

Head Snaking

You may notice this behavior when your bird moves his head from side to side in a fluid movement or some sort of “snaking.” It may indicate a need for attention or excitement. It may also be a sign the bird is about to vomit, and he is trying to shake off food from his mouth.

Tail Bobbing

When your bird bobs his tail, it does not necessarily mean that he is sick. Some cockatoo may do this when singing or talking. However, if your bird does this only when he is inhaling/exhaling, he could be sick.

Wing Drooping

This behavior is common in younger birds that are yet to learn how to hold and tuck in their wings. It is also normal for birds to drop their wings as they dry after being bathed. If both situations are not the case, your bird is trying to cool himself due to overheating. If your bird drops wings and sits down at the bottom of the cage, it could indicate sickness.

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Expressing Moods

Crouch Stance

When a cockatoo crouches his head down, flares his tail feathers, dilates his pupil, and ruffles his body feathers, he is one angry bird! Refrain from approaching him. He is simply telling you that he is big, mad, and mean, and if you touch him, you will be bitten.

Craning the Neck

Citron-Crested Cockatoo
Image Credit: Alan Tunnicliffe, Shutterstock

This behavior occurs when your bird is trying to see the activity happening around him. When this happens, the bird holds his body very still, and the eyes widen.

Beak Fencing/ Jousting

Some bird’s beak fences and joust due to sexuality, while others do the same as a form of play. When playing, the birds pretend to attack one another by grabbing each other’s beaks.

It is usually a form of play and an excellent exercise for birds. When your cockatoos are at it, they appear to have a great deal of fun, and it often ends with mutual preening with no injuries.

Marching

Galah Coackatoo marching
Image Credit: MrsKirk72, Pixabay

When your cockatoo marches towards you or towards another bird with his head down, it is a sign of aggressive behavior. The bird is trying to frighten you or the other bird. When he marches with his head up, it denotes pleasure in your presence or that of another bird. You can take it as a sign of invitation towards preen, pet, or play.

Tail Wagging

Cockatoos
Image Credit: pen_ash, Pixabay

The behavior consists of quickly wagging the tail. Generally, this indicates happiness and contentment, especially at the sight of a favorite person or during an enjoyable activity.

“Display” Behavior Or “Show off’

The behavior happens when your cockatoo ruffles his head feathers, extends his wings, fans his tail, and walks in a very distinct strutting manner. Sometimes the behavior is accompanied by loud vocalization, head bobbing, and pupil dilation. Your cockatoo may also throw his chest feathers up in a show-off display.

The behavior indicates that your bird is trying to attract a mate or showing his territory. At this point, do not try to handle him, or else he bites you.

Wing Drumming

Wing Drumming is a form of exercise. It mostly happens when you release the bird from the cage after a long time, particularly in the morning. After you take him out, he stands on top of it and drums his wings together.

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Conclusion

As with all animals, there is a lot that is going on with your bird. Some are simple to understand, while others are complex to figure out. However, if you take time and learn these signs, you will make life easier for you and your bird friend.


Featured Image Credit: Steven Giles, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.