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normal cockatiel nostrils

A Complete Guide To Cockatiel Nostril Care

(Last Updated On: March 3, 2023)

Depending on the cause, nostril issues in cockatiels can be uncomfortable. Cockatiels are more prone to sneezing than other birds, indicating an infection, inflammation, or a lodged foreign object.

A healthy cockatiel’s nostrils should be dry with clean feathers in the surrounding area. The ceres should be smooth and soft (almost wax-like) with no noticeable protrusions, crusting, or clogging.

If a cockatiel’s nostrils are swollen, blocked, congested, stained, or wet, then a foreign object, mites, or bacterial or fungal infection is likely responsible, meaning treatment is essential.

Most cockatiels keep their nostrils clean by sneezing and using their feet to remove dirt and debris. Cockatiels also benefit from bathing opportunities and being sprayed with lukewarm water.

What Do Normal Cockatiel Nostrils Look Like?

As described by Avian Respiratory Medicine (Proceedings), the avian nasal cavity comprises:

  • Nostrils (external nares).
  • Opercula.
  • Nasal conchae (rostral, middle, and caudal).
  • Choana.
  • Cere (a fleshy covering above the beak).

In healthy cockatiels, the cere should be soft and wax-like. Similarly, the nostrils within the cere should have smooth edges. You can see into the cere when a cockatiel is healthy.

Cockatiels should have dry, clean feathers above the nostrils. There will be no scab-like secretions or foreign bodies inside the nostrils, and you should be able to see the tiny nasal cavities.

cockatiel nose discharge

What Causes Cockatiel Nostril Problems?

The following are the most common reasons for nostril problems in pet birds:

Bacterial Infections

Poor husbandry is often responsible for bacterial respiratory infections, so providing a clean, well-aerated living space can reduce the risk of spreading pathogens.

Parrots are susceptible to various bacterial infections, including:

  • Psittacosis (avian chlamydiosis) is caused by Chlamydia psittaci.
  • Bordetellosis is caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica.
  • Mycoplasmosis: is caused by Mycoplasma bacteria.

If a cockatiel has sinusitis, flushing the nasal passage with antibiotics can be effective. However, sometimes medication requires oral ingestion or injection.

If a cockatiel has breathing difficulties, lethargy, and inappetence, it’ll be hospitalized.

Fungal Infections

Aspergillosis is caused by the Aspergillus fungus, which occurs naturally in the environment, growing on organic material like food, bedding, and bodily excretions.

Parrots can become infected with Aspergillosis by inhaling the fungal spores, leading to wheezing, coughing, and breathing issues. The infection can also spread and become life-threatening.

The symptoms include loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and behavioral changes.

Treatment for Aspergillosis involves antifungal medication, like itraconazole, clotrimazole, or terbinafine, and ongoing care, like fluid therapy and supplementation.

Vitamin A Deficiency

Hypovitaminosis A affects a cockatiel’s breathing because the mucous membranes become dry and inflamed. This makes breathing far more difficult, sometimes leading to respiratory infections.

Also, being deficient in vitamin A can cause alterations to the epithelial cells, leading to mucus buildup and the eventual obstruction of the airways.

If a vitamin A deficiency (hypovitaminosis A) is responsible, the cockatiel’s diet must be improved. For example, vitamin A deficiencies are common among birds fed all-seed diets.

Foods high in vitamin A (retinol) include carrots, red peppers, and sweet potatoes. Also, under veterinary advisement, you can supplement the cockatiel’s diet with nutritional supplements.


Debris, such as food particles, feathers, and foreign objects, can get stuck in a cockatiel’s nostrils.

Cockatiels can sneeze, which typically ejects most items lodged in the nostrils. If they can’t do so, the objects remain lodged, causing infection and general discomfort.

Here are the different methods avian vets use to remove debris from the nose:

  • Saline solution: A vet may flush out the debris with a syringe.
  • Tweezers: Forceps or tweezers may be required to grasp and remove the object.
  • Suction: In severe cases, a small suction device may be required.

Although trying yourself is tempting, only experienced avian vets should perform these procedures.


Sometimes, cockatiels get external parasites (ectoparasites).

Most commonly, scaly-face mites (knemidokoptes pilae) congregate around the head and burrow into the face, causing crusty sores around the corners of the beak.

At first, the plaque starts as a bright white deposit that gets thicker as the mites burrow deeper. This makes the nose look sore. There are ways to remove scaly face mites, including:

  • Direct application, such as Ivermectin, between the bird’s shoulders.
  • Oral medication, such as moxidectin.
  • Vitamin A supplements (if caused by a deficiency).

Applying baby or olive oil can soften the area, expediting recovery. Most cockatiels will fully recover from scaly-face mites in 2-3 weeks.

Spraying the cage and everything inside with a miticide is extremely important.

Humidity Levels

Cockatiels are native to Australia, so being in a heated or air-conditioned room is unnatural. They can sometimes experience respiratory problems when the air becomes too dry.

Providing a humidifier can add moisture to the air, but beware of electronic humidifiers because they build up dust and mineral deposits over time, which a cockatiel could inhale.

However, if the humidity level is elevated or there’s poor overall ventilation, it can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, leading to various respiratory conditions.

A hygrometer is an effective way to measure the humidity levels in the cockatiel’s living environment.

Airborne Toxins

Parrots have highly efficient respiratory systems, meaning they can extract more oxygen with each breath. Unfortunately, this means they can become ill when exposed to irritants and pollutants in the air.

Household cleaning products, candles, paints, glues, tobacco products, and colognes will adversely affect a cockatiel’s respiratory system, causing breathing problems.

Common Nostril Problem Symptoms

Many uncomfortable symptoms can arise when a cockatiel has nostril problems, including:

Bleeding Nose

Trauma to the head or face can cause a cockatiel to bleed from the nostrils. Also, lodged foreign objects can cause the nasal passages to bleed.

Psittacosis (avian chlamydiosis) is a bacterial infection caused by Chlamydia psittaci, which can cause nostril bleeding, nasal discharge, and sneezing in parrots.

cockatiels nostrils blocked

Wet And Runny Nostrils

If a cockatiel’s nasal cavity produces excessive mucus or discharge, it can cause a wet nose. A wet nose can signify a respiratory problem (like a cold) or infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal).

Other causes of a wet nose include high humidity and condensation in the cockatiel’s environment.

Stained Nostrils

If the area above the nostrils is stained, it’s likely due to long-term illness, like the following:

  • Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.
  • Vitamin A deficiencies (dry, rough, and thickened mucus membrane).
  • Crusty lesions from scaly-face mites.
  • Hormonal changes can alter the color of the cere.
  • Trauma to the beak leads to bleeding and dried blood.

Consuming foods with dyes or pigments, like beetroot and blueberries, can stain the nostrils or cere.

Clogged or Blocked Nose

Mucus and other secretions can accumulate inside a cockatiel’s nasal passages, especially if the bird isn’t drinking enough water or lives in an environment that lacks humidity.

Clogged nostrils can cause various problems for cockatiels, including difficulty breathing, low energy levels, and loss of appetite. Sometimes, a clogged nostril can become infected.

If boogers are inside the nasal cavity, it’s almost certainly congested.

Swollen Nostrils

A cockatiel with swelling of the cere or nostrils likely has a respiratory infection, sinusitis, or an allergy, especially if the condition also affects the face and around the eyes.

How To Clean Cockatiel Nostrils

Most cockatiels keep their nostrils clear by using their nails. They also sneeze a clear liquid, which removes any debris and particles trapped inside.

However, there are times when you must assist. Whatever approach you take, avoid pushing anything too far into the cockatiel’s nose because it’s likely to make matters worse.

Learn how to clean the cockatiel’s nose by following these steps:

Nasal Flush

Giving a cockatiel a nasal flush with a syringe can remove trapped dirt and debris.

This process can be carried out by following these simple steps:

  1. Fill a syringe with saline water.
  2. Hold the cockatiel so that its head is positioned lower than its body.
  3. Position the filled syringe in the nostrils and perform a flushing motion.
  4. Repeat step 3 for the remaining nostril.

If you’re new to ownership or are uncomfortable with the process, an avian vet can do it for you.


To prevent nasal issues, take the cockatiel into the shower with you. The shower’s warm steam will free the nostrils from congestion, allowing the cockatiel to breathe more easily.

If the cockatiel begins to pant or get too hot, open the bathroom door to release heat and steam.

Spray Bottle

Mist a cockatiel with a spray bottle to emulate natural conditions and provide moisture.

Tissue Paper

To clean a cockatiel’s nostrils, cut a piece of tissue paper into small pieces and twist the corners to make a pointy end. Place them into the cockatiel’s nostril so the tissue can soak up the mucus.

Use each piece of tissue once and discard it. If you need to wipe a cockatiel’s eyes, use clean tissue.

It’s common for cockatiels to develop nostril issues. Don’t be alarmed about sneezing, as this is how it removes irritants. However, take it to a vet if it develops crusting, redness, swelling, or discharge.