How To Pet Your Cockatiel Without Getting Bit

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

Tired of getting bit when attempting to pet your cockatiel?

Well, don’t worry because this article will provide you with a mini guide on how to pet your cockatiel properly and without getting bit. We’ll also cover what NOT to do when scratching your cockatiel so they don’t even feel like biting. 

Later on, we’ll also cover how to build trust with a cockatiel so that you can pet them.

Alright, let’s start.

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How To Properly Pet a Cockatiel

If your cockatiel loves and trusts you, they will enjoy a pet from you.

Wild cockatiels will groom and scratch each other around the head, which is exactly how you should be petting them too.

Look at how I scratch Arthur, my cockatiel:

Did you see what I did there?

I pretty much asked for “permission” to pet him.

I did this by approaching his head slowly with my finger and keeping it there until he bowed his head, asking for scratches.

This is exactly what you should do!

It’s much better for your bird compared to just forcing your hand onto them.

Once they’ve given you permission to pet them, you can rub your fingers all over their heads.

Your cockatiel will probably toss and turn its head position while you’re scratching them, but don’t worry, that just means they’re enjoying it!

Make Sure To Scratch Those Pin Feathers!

If you want your cockatiel to love you, make sure to scratch their pin feathers.

In case you don’t know, pin feathers look like little spikes emerging from your cockatiel’s head, which are developing feathers.

Here’s one poking out near my cockatiel’s crest:

Cockatiels very much appreciate getting their pin feathers scratched.

Having them scratched offers a sense of relief from the uncomfortable feeling of the pin feather.

However, it’s important to know that you should only scratch pin feathers that are emerging from the plumage. Pin feathers that are still hidden inside the plumage are not ready to be scratched and touching them will be painful.

Be sure to only scratch pin feathers that are ready to be scratched.

Your cockatiel will love you for it!

Do Cockatiels Actually Like Being Pet By Humans?

To cockatiels, petting is a sign of love and affection.

A pair of friendly, but not mating, cockatiels will often groom each other’s heads as a show of friendliness.

In most cases, they’re helping each other out with their pin feathers.

After all, a cockatiel cannot reach the pin feathers on its head.

So, if you pet your cockatiel and scratch their pin feathers, they’ll see you as a flock member.

They’ll also try to do the same to you as they preen your hair, nails, and clothing.

Not only do cockatiels love being pet around the head, but it also deepens the bond you share with your bird.

how to pet your cockatiel

3 Things To Avoid When Petting a Cockatiel ⚠️

You were likely intrigued by this article because your cockatiel is not responding well to your petting attempts.

They might be biting or simply won’t allow you to scratch.

If this is the case, you might be doing one of these 3 things:

  • Forcing scratches onto your cockatiel
  • Petting along their body and not the head
  • Continuing to scratch after getting bit

To make things clearer, I’ll cover each of these in further detail.

1. You’re Forcing Unwanted Scratches Onto Your Cockatiel

I’ll be brutally honest here:

You deserve to get bit if you’re forcing scratches onto your bird.

As mentioned earlier, you should be scratching your cockatiel based on their permission, not whenever you feel like it. If they aren’t bowing their heads to your finger and are instead aiming their beak towards it, they don’t want a scratch.

how to pet a cockatiel

They’re aiming their beak at your finger because they’re going to bite it if you get closer.

When your cockatiel says “back off”, it’s best to listen.

They say this through their body language and sometimes vocalisation.

If you don’t pick up on that, you may accidentally force an interaction they didn’t want.

That’s a great way to lose their trust, so try to avoid it.

2. You’re Petting Your Cockatiel Along The Body, Not The Head

This is an easy mistake to make, especially for those who don’t understand cockatiels.

For cockatiels, touching the body below the head is sexual contact, which is only permitted for the bird’s sexual partner. In other words, cockatiels don’t just let anybody touch their body, only their mating partners.

Attempting to break this rule will lead to a bite.

But it’s even worse if they actually allow you to touch their body.

Now they see you as their mate, which causes all sorts of bad behaviours, like biting and aggression.

Cockatiels, especially males, get angry at their partners if they aren’t doing their “job”, which is to mate with them.

Avoid petting your cockatiel’s body and stick to head scratches only.

3. Continuing To Scratch After Getting Bit


If cockatiels enjoy getting scratched, then it’s a reward, so you don’t want to reward a bitey bird.

Doing so will teach your cockatiel that biting is not only acceptable, but actually rewarded.

This leads to more bites in the future.

If your cockatiel bites while you’re petting them, don’t continue to scratch, instead just walk away and deprive them of your attention.

Building Trust With Your Cockatiel (So You Can Pet Them)

This section is primarily for those who don’t have a strong bond with their cockatiel and can’t pet them at all. Below I’ll give some tips on how to build trust with a cockatiel so they can be a loving companion that you can pet.

Here are some basic guidelines for building trust:

  • Don’t force interactions your cockatiel is clearly uncomfortable with
  • Establish yourself as a positive carer (Replacing their food, offering treats, whistling to them)
  • Show them that you’re a non-threat (Sit near them often, no sudden movements, don’t tower over them, and don’t do anything that may be perceived as predatory)
  • Be patient

That final point is the most important.

Cockatiels, being prey animals, are naturally sceptical of the intentions of larger creatures that could easily eat them.

They need time to realise you’re actually a friend and not a predator.

Once they realise that, they’ll soon see you as a flock member and allow you to pet them.

How to pet a cockatiel
My cockatiel perching on my knee because he trusts me

I’ve got a full post on building trust with a cockatiel if you want to learn more:

12 Ways To Quickly Bond With A Newly Adopted Cockatiel

Give it a read if you want your cockatiel to love you.


So, how do you pet a cockatiel without getting bit?

Well, you follow this simple process:

  • Build trust with them
  • Don’t force scratches onto them
  • Learn how to ask for their permission
  • Scratch gently on their heads

One key thing to note is that cockatiels are not obligated to accept your affection.

While you may desperately want to scratch their cute heads (understandable), your cockatiel might not want you to. If they don’t see you as a flock member, they’ll typically refuse your affection and will continue to do their normal bird stuff.

Understanding what it looks like for a cockatiel to refuse a scratch is also important.

Related: How To Understand Cockatiel Body Language & Read Their Crest

Keep all interactions, including scratches, permission-based and not forceful and you’ll have a great relationship with your feathered friend.

Hope you learnt something here, thank you for reading.


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