Do Cockatiels Bite? And Does it Hurt?

Yes, cockatiels do bite, nibble, and peck depending on the situation. Sometimes these birds are just playing as they would with another bird and it’s all natural behavior while other times it can be due to the bird being uncomfortable or in pain.

Knowing your pet cockatiel well enough to tell the difference is an important part of caring for your bird and will come in time.

Until then, here’s a guide to why cockatiels do bite, some ways of getting them to stop biting, and when to know if their bites are dangerous.

Does a Cockatiel’s Bite Hurt?

This totally depends on why the cockatiel is biting you. If the bird is angry enough to really bite hard, yes, a cockatiel can break the skin and bite hard enough to cause pain.

They also have sharp claws that can scratch, and although a rare occurrence, their bites, and scratches can do real physical harm.

Other times your pet is just trying to play as it would with any other “friend”, it’s just you don’t have feathers and aren’t aware of what counts as playful activity to a cockatiel.

Why Do Cockatiels Bite?

If your cockatiel is biting you, or even nibbling, it’s trying to tell you something.

First and foremost, know that in wild birds, the idea of “kissing” with beaks is natural, and your pet doesn’t immediately understand you have soft fleshy lips instead of a beak.

So it may just be trying to greet you or play, or simply get your attention the way it would in its natural environment. The point is your pet is trying to communicate something to you. And you need to start listening.

If you’re not prepared, even a nibble can be a bit startling. But when this happens, look closely at what is going on with your pet, yourself and your surroundings.

  • Did it really hurt?
  • Did your pet cry out as well?
  • Was it one quick bite and that’s it?
  • Or was he coming at you with anger in his eyes?

Notice what is going on around you and your pet to see what is the real cause of the behavior.

  • Is your pet hungry?
  • Does it have fresh water?
  • Does he want to be a pet?
  • Are you teasing it in any way?
  • Are you playing loud music when it’s tired?

Your pet cockatiel is a living creature with feelings and emotions just like any animal. It doesn’t just do things for no reason.

Oftentimes a cockatiel will bite you to tell you to pet it or scratch its head. Then it’ll bite again because he’s had enough. Then other birds don’t want you to touch them at all and will bite anytime you try to touch them. Each bird is different.

Pet birds also require more sleep than birds in the wild. And other times they can become cranky just like a toddler when they are tired. Try noticing if your pet seems tired and obviously wants some peace and quiet to rest.

Try covering their cage and peek in after 10 minutes, if the cockatiel is still awake, then it’s probably not all that tired. But if its taking a nap, then you might start noticing that he’s biting because he’s tired. So let him be and let him “cat nap”.

Another reason cockatiels bite is because they love you and are actually trying to be protective.

In this situation, they are warning you of impending danger perhaps from someone new to your home or an animal that has wandered nearby. They bite to alert you to the situation and see how you react.

If your reaction is calm, the bird will usually settle down and that will be the end of it. But if your stress levels rise, the cockatiel will pick up on this and may begin to bite more or create a lot of noise and commotion.

So if you are bitten, try to remain completely calm. It’ll help both of you settle down.

The last reason your pet cockatiel may be biting is it simply feels pain or discomfort. If you are unsure why they are biting, make sure you are looking closely at their bodies, are there any cuts, bruises, or wounds?

Is your bird going to the bathroom as it usually does? Or has there been a serious change in their diet? Are you feeding your cockatiel milk or other dairy products?

These can all be reasons for biting even though you don’t pick up on the cause because it’s internal.

If all of the above reasons for cockatiel biting are looked at and rectified, yet your pet continues to bite, it may be time to take them to an avian veterinarian who specializes in birds.

Oftentimes these specialists can pick up or observe patterns that you won’t see due to their experience and expertise.

Are Cockatiel Bites Dangerous?

Cockatiel bites can be dangerous on very rare occasions. Just like any bird, there is a chance your pet has contracted pathogens or other bacteria that can cause the bite to become infected.

It is important to clean any wound inflicted by an animal where the skin is pierced, no matter how minuscule you believe the wound to be.

Captive birds can carry the same diseases as wild birds, and it’s important to wash your hands after handling any bird. You can learn more about each individual disease and their symptoms here.

How to Stop Your Cockatiel from Biting?

The first thing is to be sure you are not rewarding your pet for biting or nibbling you.

Oftentimes pet birds will try to grab our attention by biting or nibbling at us. This is the time you walk away letting them know that this behavior is unacceptable.

You may find the playfulness of the nibbles cute at first, but over time as the bond between you and your pet bird strengthens, when you don’t act in accordance to his expectations when he nibbles, he can start actually biting to make sure he is getting your attention.

That’s why it is very important to never reward a pet bird of any species when they bite, no matter how softly they do it. This behavior can easily escalate and become a serious problem if you don’t show restraint and walk always as soon as the bird nips.

Say the word “no” sternly but don’t shout or make a fuss. If the cockatiel can feel your anger it will stress out and want to bite even more, usually out of fear or anger. So stay cool!

It’s best to simply walk away after you’ve said the word no and leave the cockatiel alone. In this way the bird will come to understand when it bites, it will not get the attention that it craves.

The “alone time” can also give a tired bird a chance to nap so that it doesn’t feel as cranky. And it is possible the bird simply felt your stress or anger about something completely different from your pet and simply reacted to the emotion.

The alone time can de-stress your pet and give it time to rest as well as a signal from you that biting will not be permitted.

But don’t expect your pet cockatiel to magically change after one or two incidents. It takes a while for a bird to unlearn a behavior, or understand what reward or non-reward system you are adapting.

So just like a child, you must be consistent. If you follow these steps it shouldn’t take longer than a few weeks for your pet to understand what actions are acceptable and which are not.

In Closing

Cockatiels do bite, but they bite for a lot of different reasons and not always to be mean or spiteful.

Getting to know your pet bird well enough to understand why they are acting out will make your pet’s and your own life more harmonious.

It can take some time to change a cockatiel’s behavioral patterns, but it can be done with time and by following the guide we’ve provided above.

Keeping a cockatiel is a long-term commitment that requires some work on your part, so do the work and you’ll both enjoy your life together a lot more.

Other Cockatiel Resources

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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