Cockatiel Body Language: Crest Position Meanings

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

Having a crest is a rare feature in parrots.

Although many bird species have crests, not too many parrot species have crests. In fact, the only parrots that have crests are part of the cockatoo family, of which cockatiels are the smallest members.

cockatiel crest
(Image Credit: Pixbay)

A cockatiel’s crest can be lowered, raised, or relaxed when desired.

Looking at the crest is a great way to read your cockatiel’s body language, as they move it based on their emotions.

But what crest positions mean what emotions?

And how can we tell the difference between each crest position?

The answer to both of those great questions and more coming up now!

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How Do You Read A Cockatiels Crest?

A cockatiels crest can help you identify how they’re currently feeling.

To have a good and educated understanding of how your cockatiel is feeling, you need to know:

  • What caused your cockatiels crest and body language to suddenly change
  • What their body language indicates
  • What each crest position indicates

To read your cockatiel accurately, you’ll need to know what your cockatiel has reacted to and how that would naturally make them feel.

For example…

If there was a sudden loud noise, your cockatiel’s body language and crest position would change almost instantly.

The crest feathers would shoot all the way out and their body feathers might smoothen.

Most people would correctly assume that the cockatiel got startled by the loud noise and is now displaying fearful body language.

What Emotions Can A Cockatiel Crest Indicate?

Cockatiels are very emotionally intelligent.

If you’ve had cockatiels as pets for a while, you would definitely know this.

Although cockatiels can experience complex emotions, they can only show basic emotions through their crests position.

Basic emotions include:

  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Anger
  • Relaxation
  • Contentment
  • Curiosity

It’s important for us cockatiel owners to understand when they’re feeling these emotions so we can interact with them appropriately.

You wouldn’t want to offer scratches to a clearly angry cockatiel as that’ll likely lead to a bite.

Related: 6 Reasons Why Cockatiels Bite You (& How To Stop It)

cockatiel crest meaning

Let’s discuss each of those listed emotions and how we can identify them using crest position and body language…

Happiness – Crest Position Meaning

When a cockatiel is happy, they’ll be more accepting of your affection.

Cockatiels show their happiness through their vocalisation, body language and crest position.

The crest will be flat down while they’re singing a happy tune or presenting heart wings.

Here’s a video of a happy, singing cockatiel:

This cockatiel’s crest is flat and folded back on its head.

As well as the head bobbing, singing, and adorable mimicking, the folded-back crest is a sign of happiness!

If your cockatiel acts like this often, you’re doing a great job keeping them happy.

Anger – Crest Position Meaning

At some point, all owners will feel the wrath of their angry cockatiel if they haven’t already.

You can help prevent bites and aggressive behaviour by simply understanding when your cockatiel is angry.

Cockatiels express anger through their body language, vocalisation, and crest position.

Once you know how they look when they’re angry, you’ll know to keep your fingers clear.

Here’s a good example video of a cockatiel getting angry:

This cockatiel displayed all the signs of anger even before pecking the camera.

You could see that the cockatiel was lowering its crest and turning its head in response to the moving camera.

It turned its head toward the camera as a way to threaten it with a peck.

As soon as the camera got close, the bird opened its mouth, indicating that it was about to bite.

And finally, as the camera got too close, the cockatiel thrusts a forward attack while hissing.

This cockatiel was clearly angry at the camera moving close toward them.

Here’s another bird getting angry at the camera, showing very similar signs:

Once again, the crest lowered, the mouth opened, and then the bird attacked!

When they’re angry, the mouth will open slightly while the crest goes down simultaneously.

You might also hear a hissing sound as the crest goes down, which is them saying “back off”.

I believe this is the easiest way to sum up angry cockatiel signs:

Flat crest + Open mouth + Hiss = Angry cockatiel.

Contentment (Calm, Comfortable) – Crest Position Meaning

As good cockatiel owners, we do our best to ensure they’re comfortable in our homes.

To show contentment, a cockatiel will relax its crest and body, they might even puff up and start beak grinding.

These are all relaxing behaviours.

A relaxed crest won’t be all the way up or down, it’ll sit loosely in the middle of the head and look fluffier than usual.

cockatiel crest position meaning

When your cockatiel looks like this, they’re calm and comfortable.

Feel free to scratch gently 🙂

Fear/Startled – Crest Position Meaning

When a cockatiel gets scared of something, they’ll make it pretty obvious with their crest position and general body language.

There are lots of things that can scare a sensitive cockatiel, so you may see their fearful signs often.

A scared cockatiel’s crest will be stiff and pointing directly upwards.

They can easily go from relaxed to frightened instantly, which is when they’ll stiffen up their body and crest. You’ll notice that their bodies will appear skinnier as they aren’t comfortable enough to puff their feathers.

Fearful cockatiels may also pace back and forth on a perch, hiss, or fly extremely fast

Here’s an image of a fearful cockatiel:

fearful cockatiel
(Image Credit: Pixabay)

You can see the stiffened crest position and generally scared body language in this photo.

As they start to calm down, the crest will gradually go down.

Quick Note: If the cockatiel is recently adopted, they might be in a constant state of alert/fear in which case the crest will be up most of the time.

Curiosity – Crest Position Meaning

You’ll notice a change in your cockatiel’s crest position and body language when presented with something new.

This change is often an expression of curiosity.

The crest of a curious cockatiel will shoot upwards, similar to an expression of fear.

Usually, the distinction between a curious and fearful crest position is that the curious position will be a little more relaxed and the cheek feathers will be fanned, covering the bottom beak.

cockatiel crest
(Curious crest position)

You’ll likely find your cockatiel showing this crest position when foraging or investigating new toys.


The crest of a cockatiel can indicate a whole range of emotions that include:

  • Happiness
  • Curiosity
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Contentment

It’s important for us to understand what each crest position means so that we can treat our cockatiels according to their mood.

You wouldn’t try to scratch a cockatiel while they’re scared or angry.

Knowing how they look when feeling like this will help prevent bites, aggression, and unnecessary stress.

These mistakes are easier to make with birds without a crest, such as budgies.

Luckily for us, cockatiels are one of the easiest birds to accurately read emotions from due to their highly expressive crests.

This article was written based on various sources and my own experience with cockatiels.

Hopefully, you’ve learned something new about the cockatiel’s crest positions and can now read your bird’s emotions more accurately.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Read next:

Cockatiel Care 101: How To Take Care Of A Cockatiel For Beginners



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