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

Published by Joseph Calabrese on

Last Updated: 02/04/2023

Cockatiels are not known for their aggressive behaviour, so receiving a bite can be quite a shock.

If you’re a new cockatiel owner and just got a nasty nibble from your feathered friend, it’s important to know this:

Cockatiels will never bite without a reason.

It’s also good to know that bites aren’t personal, but a means of communication.

This article aims to help by explaining 6 reasons why a cockatiel would bite its owners.

After that, we’ll discuss how to stop your cockatiel from biting so you hopefully won’t need to deal with this behaviour again.

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Why Does My Cockatiel Bite Me? (6 Reasons)

There are 6 main reasons why cockatiels would bite their beloved owners:

  1. Territorial biting
  1. Hormonal biting
  1. Fearful bites
  1. Bites have been previously encouraged
  1. Grumpy mood
  1. You’re forcing interactions

Let’s first discuss each of these in further detail, and then we’ll discuss how to stop cockatiel bites.

1. Territorial Biting

When a cockatiel is territorial, it means they’ve claimed ownership over something.

They can feel this way with things they actually own, such as their cage, toys, or food bowls, but it can also happen to things they don’t own.

If you try to interact with something your cockatiel believes they own, they could bite.

They’re simply trying to defend “their property”

My cockatiel once got defensive over a book I was reading, preventing me from picking it up.

This cockatiel has claimed ownership over a cardboard box, which he is defending:

My suggestion is to not let your bird get attached to something that doesn’t belong to them.

If you need regular access to an item, such as your phone or a book, try not to let your bird get too comfortable around it. However, there’s nothing wrong with your cockatiel being a bit defensive over the cage, food, or perceived mates.

After all, that stuff does belong to them.

2. Hormonal Biting

Hormones can cause all sorts of strange behaviours in cockatiels, including bites.

When hormones are surging, cockatiels are focused on their reproductive desires and likely won’t want to interact with you as much.

As a result, they may attempt to bite you if you get too close. 

How to stop cockatiel from biting
Image source: Pixabay

In the wild, hormonal cockatiels don’t interact with anyone other than their mate. 

Other flock members are seen as rivals or detriments to their reproductive success.   

If your cockatiel is hormonal and doesn’t see you as the mate, they’ll act aggressively toward you.

Ignoring their aggressive signs will lead to a bite.   

Learn more about cockatiel hormones: Signs, Triggers, & How To Deal With Them

3. Fearful Cockatiel Bites

Cockatiels will bite if they’re scared and cannot escape the situation. 

A cockatiel’s natural fear response would be to fly away, but if they’re inside a cage, they’ll lash out and bite. 

The same goes for if they have clipped wings.

Approaching a scared cockatiel with your fingers will 100% lead to a bite. 

Luckily, cockatiels show plenty of fearful signs, including hissing, swaying, and backing away.

They’ll show these signs toward anything that scares them, such as new objects or your fingers.  

These behaviour precede fearful bites, so it’s important to be aware of them. 

But if you ignore the signs of fear, as many new owners do, you’ll receive a bite.   

If your cockatiel is not yet comfortable with your hands, approach with caution.

why is my cockatiel biting me
My cockatiel doesn’t like to be filmed

4. Bites Have Been Previously Encouraged

Cockatiels that have been rewarded for biting in the past will continue to bite.

It’s very easy to accidentally encourage biting as even the smallest gestures can be seen as a reward. 

For example, cockatiels love attention and praise. 

If you speak to them or give them any attention after a bite, it could reinforce the bad behaviour. 

Obviously, giving treats after a bite also reinforces the behaviour.

When a cockatiel has learned that biting earns them rewards, they’ll continue to bite in hopes of being rewarded again.

how to stop a cockatiel from biting
(Image Credit: Pexels)

In other words, they will bite in hopes of controlling your behaviour.

Yes, they’re trying to train YOU (in their own way).

Not only should you avoid giving your cockatiel treats after they bite, but you must also deprive them of your attention, which is something they value just as much as treats.  

5. Grouchy Or Grumpy Mood

Sometimes, cockatiels just get into grumpy moods.

Whenever my cockatiel is feeling grouchy, he’ll show signs of anger even when I’m nowhere near him.

Simply walking past the cage is enough to make a cranky cockatiel even crankier.  

If you approach a cranky cockatiel, they’ll probably charge at you, threatening to bite.

If you ignore their signs of anger, the bite will be painful.

Cockatiels normally get grumpy at the end of a long day interacting with you and being outside the cage.

Not getting enough sleep the night before will also cause grumpiness throughout the day.

Maybe we aren’t so different from our feathered friends. 😂

How to stop a cockatiel from biting
What your fingers see before pain

6. You’re Forcing Interactions

Forcing any type of interaction is pretty much asking to get bit. 

For example, if your cockatiel is pulling away and you’re still trying to pet them, you’re going to receive a bite.

That’s their way of saying “I don’t want any scratches!”

If you won’t listen to their body language cues, they need to communicate with you in another way.

Eventually, they’ll learn that bites are a more effective way of telling you to back off.

As mentioned, bites are a form of communication for cockatiels. 

To help avoid future bites, you must avoid forcing interactions.

How To Stop A Cockatiel From Biting

Now that you know the 6 main reasons why a cockatiel would bite, you might have a few ideas about how to prevent the behaviour.

If not, that’s totally fine.

Here are some strategies you can use to stop your cockatiel from biting:

  • Don’t get in range of their beak when they’re showing signs of aggression – If you’re not in range of their beak, you won’t get bit. Simple.
  • Understand the signs of anger – Opening the mouth, aiming the beak at you, hissing, and flattening the crest are potential signs of anger. When you see these signs, it’s best to keep your fingers clear.
  • Don’t accidentally reward bites – After a bite, don’t continue interacting with your bird. Instead, deprive them of your attention and treats.
  • Don’t attempt to handle newly adopted birds – Wait until they trust you before trying to handle them. Handling an untamed bird directly with your hands will likely lead to a bite.
  • Interact with hormonal cockatiels less – If your cockatiel is hormonal and acting aggressive, the best thing to do is interact with them less. Do a bit of target training before any interactions to get their minds off their hormones, and then see if they want to be handled. 
why your cockatiel is biting you

In general, if you have a good understanding of cockatiel body language, you should be able to prevent yourself from getting bit.

Why Cockatiels Bite When Getting Scratches

One minute they’re being affectionate and accepting scratches, the next minute they bite you.

“Why on earth does this happen?!?”

One possibility is that you hit a spikey pin feather while scratching, which is painful for birds.

Cockatiels will normally make a small screech when a pin feather gets poked, indicating that it hurt. 

Another possibility is that they’ve simply had enough scratches.

If your cockatiel bites while you’re petting them, don’t continue to give scratches.

They may perceive that as encouragement and will likely bite more in the future.

why does my cockatiel bite me when i pet him
Arthur the cockatiel nibbling my finger

Cockatiel Bite Force (PSI)

There are no solid or reliable answers to how hard a cockatiel can bite.

Cockatiels can adjust the pressure at which they bite depending on why they’re biting. If they’re trying to communicate something to their beloved human, they won’t bite with full force.

But if they believe they’re in a life-threatening situation, they’ll bite as hard as possible.

Are Cockatiel Bites Dangerous?

No, a cockatiel bite won’t lead to serious injury, but you should still aim to avoid them.

Small parrots aren’t capable of doing serious damage to humans, but larger parrots, like macaws and cockatoos, can have some very nasty bites. 

Cockatiel bites are very painful and can draw blood with full force.

Short Summary | Conclusion

Here’s a quick recap of those 6 reasons why cockatiels bite:

  1. Territorial
  2. They’re hormonal
  3. They’re scared of you
  4. Bites have been previously encouraged 
  5. Your cockatiel was simply grumpy
  6. You were forcing interactions

Each biting cause requires you to respond differently.

For example, if they’re biting you because they’re scared, you need to handle them less until they trust you more. But if they’re biting because you’ve encouraged bites in the past, you need to deprive them of rewards after they bite.

After implementing what you’ve learnt in this article, biting will hopefully stop.

Or at least be heavily reduced.

Thanks for reading!



Anthony · May 29, 2023 at 7:10 am

Very good article thank you

    Joseph Calabrese · May 30, 2023 at 2:47 am

    You’re very welcome, hope it helped reduce your cockatiel’s nippy behaviour

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