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Is Beak Grinding in Cockatiels Bad? Bird Behavior Explained

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

close up of a lutino cockatiel bird

Birds have some strange behaviors that might have you scratching your head. The cockatiel is no exception. How do you explain a pet tapping its beak against a mirror? Or singing a song like it knew what the lyrics meant? On the list of habits that may baffle you is beak grinding. It sounds painful, but is something wrong?

The short answer is no. It doesn’t hurt your cockatiel. Instead, it’s a sign of contentment. It’s actually something you want to hear.

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Reasons for Beak Grinding

Scientists aren’t sure why cockatiels grind their beaks. However, several factors point to it being a benign behavior. It’s a ritual for many birds, occurring like clockwork before they go to sleep at night. Some cockatiels also do it before napping. The pattern suggests a routine to settle down and prepare for rest. Their body language also supports this hypothesis.

Usually, pet birds are on their roost. They aren’t showing signs of stress or squawking. By all appearances, they seem at ease. You may notice other signs that your cockatiel feels relaxed, such as preening, wing stretching, and standing on one foot. You may even see its eyes starting to close while still carrying on with the beak grinding. It comes from rubbing their upper and lower jaws together.

Beak grinding is usually a soft sound. The only time it might raise a red flag is if your pet does it continuously. That’s especially true if you notice any changes in its behavior, vocalization, or appetite.

albino cockatiel eating vegetables
Image Credit: Ladanifer, Shutterstock

What Beak Grinding Isn’t

Grinding is a misnomer since it has nothing to do with the behavior. It isn’t a bird trying to wear down its beak. Toys or a cuttlebone will take care of that task. It’s not painful, as we mentioned earlier. A cockatiel wouldn’t do it if it hurts. Some people may equate this action with teeth grinding, a sleep-related movement disorder in humans that may have psychological or physical causes.

A cockatiel that engages in beak grinding is not stressed. Birds deal with that emotion in very different ways.

Signs that a pet is stressed include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in vocalization patterns
  • Pacing
  • Feather plucking
  • Self-mutilation
Image Credit: Didgeman, Pixabay

Other Beak-Related Sounds

Grinding isn’t the only sound that cockatiels make with their beaks. Other things you may hear your bird do include clicking when it opens and closes its beak rapidly. This one differs from grinding since it’s most often associated with playfulness or excitement. However, there’s a fine line, with the latter between something positive and a threat. Therefore, context is essential.

A cockatiel may also bang its beak on objects. It’s evidently a sign it wants attention, which could make it a part of courtship behavior. Related behaviors include foot stomping, straight-up crest, and strutting. Another beak-related behavior is snapping. It is a sign of aggression in a highly agitated bird. Take it for the warning that it is.

Other indications of an upset cockatiel include the following:

  • Hissing
  • Flat crest
  • Flight stance
  • Fanned tail
  • Dilated pupils
Cockatiel parrot sits with colored rags with an open beak
Image Credit: Jolanta Beinarovica, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Cockatiels, like many birds, are creatures of habit. They often feed at specific times of the day. They also call and sing, usually in the morning and again during the late afternoon or early evening. These rituals are undoubtedly comforting to them, not unlike beak grinding. It’s part of their nighttime routine to get ready for sleep and usually not a cause for concern.

Featured Image Credit: Miss Nachcha Chayapan, Shutterstock

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