How to Understand a Cockatiel by His Crest

Updated on July 15, 2019
Taylor Peca profile image

I have tons of pets at home, and I have a special passion for birds. I love researching and finding good articles about parrot care.

My excuse to show you Rocky, my youngest cockatiel.
My excuse to show you Rocky, my youngest cockatiel.

The 7 Main Emotions

There are seven different things (for the most part) that cockatiels do with their crests to tell us how they are feeling and perhaps even what they want. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell what they mean when they move their crests back and forth, but this simple and easy guide will make sure your and your bird-friend have the best possible relationship! The seven main emotions/feelings are:

  • Curiosity
  • Anger
  • Sleepiness
  • Cautiousness
  • Happiness
  • Contentedness
  • Excitement

Pearl Pied Whitefaced Cockatiel trying to figure out what the heck that thing is on the floor.
Pearl Pied Whitefaced Cockatiel trying to figure out what the heck that thing is on the floor.

1. Curiosity

When a bird is curious about something or someone (or maybe even just feels like exploring), the crest will go up as straight as possible, and usually there is an outstretched neck that follows this behavior. Though usually curiosity is positive, this is not always the case, and it can sometimes be confused with cautiousness.

A Normal male cockatiel and a male Whiteface cockatiel who are quite upset with each other.
A Normal male cockatiel and a male Whiteface cockatiel who are quite upset with each other.

2. Anger

When a bird is angry, usually the tell-tale sign is the lunging or open beak that goes along with the crest. When upset, the crest goes as flat against the head as possible, and even the curly point at the end (that not all cockatiels have) is as straight as possible. In this case, you or another pet are really making the bird upset, and it's best to back off before you get bit. A bird who is always upset like this is probably not living the best possible life it could be.

A napping male Pearl cockatiel.
A napping male Pearl cockatiel.

3. Sleepiness

When a cockatiel is tired, the crest goes midway up in a relaxed position. The end of the crest will usually be curled upward. The bird might be grooming before bed or having a little shut-eye during the day. When it is night-time, the bird should have its head tucked under its wing.

Normal male cockatiel who's a little cautious.
Normal male cockatiel who's a little cautious.

4. Cautiousness

A cautious bird's crest is up all the way, but not tensed. Usually, the crest is curved upward and not exactly straight. A cautious bird might be frightened, but this is not necessarily the case. It could just be that it sees something outside or is meeting a larger bird/animal for the first time.

A cute little birdy singing for his owner.
A cute little birdy singing for his owner.

5. Happiness

When a cockatiel is happy, they are always the cutest. Their crest is flat on the back of their heads, but relaxed and strongly curled upward. Happy birds tend to sing or chirp with a calm, content demeanor. Happiness is probably the easiest emotion to identify, because they're in such a darn happy little mood!

A normal male cockatiel (left) and a pearl male cockatiel (right).
A normal male cockatiel (left) and a pearl male cockatiel (right).

6. Contentedness

When a bird is content, you might be fooled. Not to be confused with a frightened or hissing bird, a content cockatiel will have their crest straight up—as straight as it can be. Usually, this emotion is identifiable by the calm attitude the bird has (rather than hissing or biting like an upset bird might).

Normal male cockatiel, excited to come out of his cage.
Normal male cockatiel, excited to come out of his cage.

7. Excitement

Excitement, in this case, is a positive attitude. Along with a raised but relaxed crest, an excited bird may fly around, raise their wings, chirp (or sing), and dance. This emotion may easily be confused with curiosity or cautiousness, but indeed it is very different. Usually, in a beginner's eye, it is easier to detect excitement by other movements, such as the ones mentioned earlier.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image


        3 days ago


      • profile image


        2 weeks ago


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        Cockatiel lover 

        4 months ago

        MY sister and I have cockatiels , Lutino female & a normal or maybe a pearl female BTW thanks for the info!

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        5 months ago

        I have a bird

        This type

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        7 months ago

        That was helpful.

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        9 months ago

        Why cocktail are getting angry

      • profile image


        10 months ago

        That was helpful to understand what my cockatiel is thinking

      • profile image


        13 months ago

        Really helpfull

      • profile image


        13 months ago

        very helpful thanks! :)

      • profile image


        15 months ago

        Thanks :)

      • profile image


        17 months ago


      • profile image


        2 years ago



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