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The Meaning of a Cockatiel's Crest Position (Head Feathers)

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.

How to Understand the Signs of Your Cockatiel's Crest

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!

7 Emotions Cockatiels Show With Their Feathers

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.

Several napping cockatiels.

Several napping cockatiels.

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.

With its crest upright but curved, this cockatiel may be feeling a little cautious.

With its crest upright but curved, this cockatiel may be feeling 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!

With its calm attitude and its crest standing straight up, this cockatiel appears contented.

With its calm attitude and its crest standing straight up, this cockatiel appears contented.

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. His crest is raised but a little more relaxed.

Normal male cockatiel, excited to come out of his cage. His crest is raised but a little more relaxed.

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.

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Comments

Seb on September 01, 2020:

That was so helpful

Sarah on August 16, 2020:

That was really helpful

Kate -- Owner of Sugar (Albino Cockatiel) on July 23, 2020:

Thank you! This is extremely helpful.

augh on January 21, 2020:

thanks

Jow on January 04, 2020:

Thanks

Cockatiel lover on September 12, 2019:

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

Zahra on August 03, 2019:

I have a bird

This type

Ace on June 20, 2019:

That was helpful.

Mittu on April 06, 2019:

Why cocktail are getting angry

Liky on March 17, 2019:

That was helpful to understand what my cockatiel is thinking

Ashton on December 21, 2018:

Really helpfull

rockey on December 13, 2018:

very helpful thanks! :)

Maggie on October 26, 2018:

Thanks :)

HMC on August 11, 2018:

Cool

Oacha on May 07, 2017:

nice

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