Also known as mohawks due to their resemblance to the distinctive hairstyle, the crest of a cockatiel is a grouping of semiplume feathers on the top of the head.
A cockatoo’s crest is described as ‘mildly recursive’ because it’s found toward the rear of the head, and the feathers are comparatively short.
A cockatiel can move its crest feathers at will, making them a reliable mood barometer, especially when paired with certain body language and verbalizations.
A crest will usually be flat, half-raised, or fully raised, with each position – and associated curls – carrying an entirely different meaning.
If the crest is flat and the cockatiel seems agitated, it’ll likely bite if approached. A flat crest curled upward denotes happiness, which will be reflected in singing, chirping, and other positive actions.
A cockatiel is usually calm and content if its crest points directly upward. If the crest curls forward while upright, something has captured its attention, meaning it’s feeling cautious or curious.
It’s uncommon to see a cockatiel’s crest half-raised unless it’s feeling extremely tired. This is the crest position of a physically exhausted cockatiel preparing to sleep.
Why Do Cockatiels Have Crests?
Crests are primarily used for communication, especially among wild birds.
When another bird approaches a cockatiel in its natural habitat, the crest may rise and puff up. This is to make a cockatiel look larger and more intimidating to adversaries.
In captivity, the crest becomes a key communication tool between a cockatiel and its owner.
While assessing a cockatiel’s emotional state based entirely on the position of its mohawk isn’t always accurate, it’s an essential part of the bird’s body language.
What Does the Position of My Cockatiel’s Crest Mean?
Common crest positions in cockatiels can have more than one meaning.
As you bond with a cockatiel and spend more time together, you’ll understand the meaning of its body language. The position of the cockatiel’s mohawk plays a significant role in determining its mood.
This table details the most common emotions a pet cockatiel experiences and the body language accompanying these moods, including its crest position.
|Emotion||Crest Position||Other Body Language|
|Anger:||Flat against the head.||Pinning eyes, spreading wings, crouching, and hissing.|
|Calm:||Straight up.||Eyes half-closed, and limited movement.|
|Cautious:||Fully raised and curved.||Pinning eyes and watching carefully.|
|Curiosity:||Fully raised and curved.||Craning neck and pinning eyes.|
|Happiness:||Flat and curved.||Hopping, tail wagging, chirping, and singing.|
|Tired:||Half-raised and curved.||Preening and tucking the head under a wing.|
While cockatiel crest language isn’t sufficient to understand what the bird tries to communicate, it’s an effective first step in mood assessment.
Here’s a guide to the meaning of different crest positions:
Crest Standing Upright
If a cockatiel’s crest points straight up, it usually denotes calm and contentment.
As positive as a raised crest is, the mohawk shouldn’t always be up. The crest should sometimes drop to a ‘half mast.’ If this isn’t happening, it may be unable to coordinate its circadian rhythms and rest.
The same applies if the cockatiel is sleeping with its crest up. Like all birds, cockatiels have a third eyelid, the nictitating membrane, which enables them to sleep with their open eyes to flee danger.
If a cockatiel is lifting its crest, it likely feels secure in its environment. If a cockatiel doesn’t feel confident enough to close its eyes and drop its crest while sleeping, it may lack sufficient sleep.
Fully Raised and Curved Crest
While a fully raised crest suggests a cockatiel is calm and content, a curl denotes curiosity. Alternatively, it may be displaying some early signs of caution.
You’ll notice this crest position when something unfamiliar enters a cockatiel’s line of sight. Cockatiels are suspicious and uncertain of new objects or people, so they’ll watch closely.
A cockatiel is also likely to curve its crest forward if it notices humans eating snacks or if another pet is in the room. The bird wonders if it’ll be treated to food and if this new animal is a threat.
The crest of a cockatiel should relax before too long once its curiosity has been sated. If it appears cautious, reassure them that all is well so it doesn’t become panicked and aggressive.
Half Raised and Curved Crest
As the day advances and the cockatiel approaches sunset, expect to find the crest dropping to a half-mast state and curving forward. This is a sign it’s growing tired and is ready for sleep.
You shouldn’t see a half-raised crest often during the day because cockatiels rarely nap during daylight unless senior or unwell. You’re likely to observe this while the bird preens in the evening.
If you observe the crest adopting this position in the evening, especially in the winter, consider serving the cockatiel’s evening meal and covering its cage.
Flat and Lowered Crest
Of all positions of the cockatiel crest, flat against the head sends the strongest message. The cockatiel is annoyed, which should be considered a warning not to approach.
As this crest position is similar to happiness in cockatiels, it’ll be accompanied by other body language and behaviors. If the cockatiel is agitated and resentful, note these warning signs:
- Fluffed feathers.
- Staring at you while pinning the eyes.
- Hissing or growling.
- Opening and closing the beak.
These are warning signs the cockatiel may attack if you approach.
The cockatiel’s temper may be attributable to hormones. If the bird’s crest is constantly flat, consider optimizing its living environment because something is unsettling it.
Flat and Curved Crest
If the cockatiel is in a good mood, its crest may be flat against the head but curved at the top.
A bird will make no secret of the joy in its heart, singing and chirping contentedly. You may also find the cockatiel hopping from foot to foot, shaking its tail feathers, and flapping its wings on the spot.
If you’re confident the cockatiel is happy based on its crest, there’s no better time for petting.
How Do Cockatiels Move Their Crest?
Cockatiel crests are plumulaceous feathers, so they’re flexible, and their position can be adjusted at will. They change the position of their crest by contracting muscles.
Based on unfolding events, you’ll likely find the cockatiel adjusts its crest position throughout the day.
Why Has My Cockatiel Lost Crest Feathers?
Cockatiels experience a molt of their feathers once or twice a year. This will involve the loss of crest feathers, which come away from the cockatiel’s head.
The purpose of a molt is to replace worn and damaged feathers that are no longer fit for purpose.
Due to their function in communication, a cockatiel’s feathers are regularly used. This means they’ll be subjected to significant wear and tear and must be replaced.
Cockatiels molt around the onset of spring, preparing to shed thicker winter feathers that’ll no longer be needed and grow strong, vibrant replacements in time for the breeding season.
Something else may be afoot if a cockatiel loses feathers in the fall or winter. However, some cockatiels molt twice annually.
Check the cockatiel is sleeping through the night because they’re prone to night frights, the stress of which – coupled with a lack of sleep – can lead to a cockatiel losing feathers.
If this doesn’t apply, check the top of the cockatiel’s head and the rest of the body for signs of skin concerns. This could be parasites, ringworm, or inflammation.
A vet must assess the skin complaint leading to bald patches on the body. The bird will likely require prescription medication to resolve the complaint as oral antibiotics or a topical antifungal ointment.
Cockatiels can be prone to plucking feathers in times of stress or ill health, but they can’t reach their crest. If 2 cockatiels share a cage, 1 bird may have picked the other’s feathers.
Do Cockatiel Crest Feathers Grow Back?
Usually, crest feathers regrow following a molt, but the process takes about 2 months to complete.
If a cockatiel has lost crest feathers in a fight, damage may have been done to the follicles, preventing regrowth. Alternatively, there could be a medical explanation for the lack of feather regrowth.