Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Birds > How to Read Cockatoo Body Language: Signs & Behavior Explained

How to Read Cockatoo Body Language: Signs & Behavior Explained

blue eyed cockatoo

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.

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.


Beak and Eye Expressions

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, they are telling you to “Back off!”

At this point, if you go ahead and attempt to touch them, they may bite you. They may also act this way in response to an animal, another bird, or a human they dislike.

Beak Clicking

Cockatoo with beak open
Image Credit: vmdj2002, Pixabay

Your cockatoo may produce a sharp, consistent click sound if they feel 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 their 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 their beak or it is displacement aggression behavior. Displacement aggression happens when the bird is unable to perform an activity, and they get aggravated.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos
Image Credit: Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock


Health-Related Behavior


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

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


When your bird does this to you, it means that they have chosen you as their 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.


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

Pink Cockatoo
Image Credit: Tammy Lee, Pixabay

Head Snaking

You may notice this behavior when your bird moves their 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 they are trying to shake off food from their mouth.

Tail Bobbing

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

yellow crested cockatoo
Image Credit: Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock

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 themselves due to overheating. If your bird drops wings and sits down at the bottom of the cage, it could indicate sickness.


Expressing Moods

Crouch Stance

When a cockatoo crouches their head down, flares their tail feathers, dilates their pupil, and ruffles their body feathers, they are one angry bird! Refrain from approaching them. They are simply telling you that they are big, mad, and mean, and if you touch them, 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 them. When this happens, the bird holds their 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.


Galah Coackatoo marching
Image Credit: MrsKirk72, Pixabay

When your cockatoo marches towards you or towards another bird with their head down, it is a sign of aggressive behavior. The bird is trying to frighten you or the other bird. When they march with their 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

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 their head feathers, extends their wings, fans their 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 their chest feathers up in a show-off display.

The behavior indicates that your bird is trying to attract a mate or showing their territory. At this point, do not try to handle them, or else they may bite you.

Bare-Eyed Cockatoo
Image Credit: Bare eyed cockatoo,ian salvin,Flickr, Attribution CC 2.0

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 them out, they stand on top of it and drums their wings together.


Final Thoughts

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 by Steven Giles, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets