Why do cockatiels puff up?

Normally cockatiels’ feathers lie flat neatly on its body. But sometimes a cockatiel will puff up his feathers so that they stick out from the body more. Instead of lying flat and close together, the feathers are now further apart and have pockets of air between each one. A cockatiel that is puffed up will appear bigger and fatter than he actually is.

What is the reason for this behavior? Why do cockatiels puff up their feathers like this? There are several reasons: The cockatiel could be feeling cold or even feeling sick. Alternatively, he could be preening his feathers, feeling relaxed or simply trying to look bigger in front of others. Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

Feeling cold

When a cockatiel is feeling cold, he will puff up its feathers to keep warm. The reason this works is because the puffing up process surrounds each feather with a layer of air and air is an excellent insulator.  Think about when you’re feeling cold. – If you put on several layers of clothing (example 2 sweaters), you will quickly warm up because the air between each sweater acts as insulation. It’s the same with puffed up feathers on a bird.

If you aren’t sure if your bird is feeling cold, look out for these other clues that he’s cold:

  • Tucking his beak in his back
  • Standing on one leg
  • Shivering
cockatiel sleeping

If your cockatiel is puffing up at night when he’s sleeping, then this is nothing to worry about. It’s their normal sleeping position and it’s more preventative than anything else. It’s similar to humans having a blanket over the sheets just in case.

However, if your bird is puffed up for long periods of the day and shivering, then that is not normal. He shouldn’t be feeling cold like that and you need to take action to warm him up with a heat lamp or maybe a heated perch or heated pad.  

You should also try to prevent him from feeling cold in the future. Make sure the temperature of the room is high enough and that the cage isn’t in a draft.

Feeling sick

A cockatiel that is feeling cold isn’t necessarily sick. However if you have taken measures to warm up your bird and he’s still puffing up his feathers during the day and looking lethargic (not moving much), then it’s likely he’s not feeling well.  Here are other signs and symptoms of general sickness in a cockatiel (in addition to puffing up):

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargic and moping around
  • Shivering
  • Eyes don’t look clear
  • Head tucked under wing
  • Sitting (not standing) on bottom of cage or perch
  • Change of color in droppings (poop)

The loss of appetite and not eating is very serious. If your cockatiel has an illness and is not eating, it will often die of starvation rather than the illness itself. Put food and water right next to his perch or wherever he is in the cage so he can access it easily. If he doesn’t feed himself, then try hand –feeding him.  After 24 hours of not eating, take him to a vet and get him checked out.


Preening is when a bird cleans his feathers. The first step of preening is to puff the feathers out in order to dislodge any dirt or debris stuck between the feathers. You’ll often see a puff of white dust in the air when he does this. He will then proceed to clean the feathers using the oil taken from the uropygial gland at the base of the tail.

When your cockatiel puffs out his feathers when preening, this is normal behavior and absolutely nothing to worry about.

Trying to look big

Cockatiels can be quite territorial. If a cockatiel feels that you or maybe another bird is invading its personal space, he will show its displeasure by puffing up his feathers to make him look bigger and stronger. He’s essentially saying “Back off, leave me alone”  This is not just males that do this, females will often do this during breeding season to stop anyone or anything going near her eggs or the nest area.

This is also common in new birds when you bring them home and put them in a new cage. They are on high alert and a bit tense. You’ll probably see them looking all around them and their crests will be up also. You should leave the bird alone for a few days. It’s also a good idea to cover three sides of the cage so that he doesn’t have to be constantly looking in all four directions for potential threats.


Sometimes, cockatiels just want to relax and relieve the tension in their bodies and puffing their feathers accomplishes that. It’s similar to when we humans stretch our arms above our heads after a busy day.  Again, this is nothing to worry about. It’s a sign that your bird is feeling calm and maybe a bit tired after perhaps a period of tension or activity.

Fluffing up of crest feathers

cockatiel alert

The crest feathers are the feathers on top of the head. They can be either flat on the head, fluffed up and vertical or anything in between!

When the crest feathers are upright, it usually means the cockatiel is on alert or feeling very curious about something. Something has his attention, possibly a new noise or he’s just spotted something and he doesn’t know what it is.

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