Communication & Social Behavior in Cockatiels

Communication & Social Behavior in Cockatiels

Introduction and Overview
Copyright 1989 by Elizabeth V. Vaughan
(All Rights Reserved)

In the past five years, as I have continued to increase my knowledge about birds, and have become enriched by my contacts with other aviculturists, I have become fascinated with a subject which has rarely been addressed in the literature. That subject concerns how and why birds behave the way they do, and the ways in which they communicate. This interest has led me to spend more time with my birds – not just in my normal everyday interactions with them, but as a silent observer of their unique ways.

I would like to write a series of articles concerning the things my cockatiels have taught me about themselves — as individuals, in small groups, in community and as a species. These writings will be based on my own observations of, and interactions with the community of twelve cockatiels with whom I live. I do not presume that these observations are true for all communities, for as complex as they are, it is possible that each community has its own set of rules. Therefore it might be difficult to separate species characteristics from those of the community. Neither do I dare presume to possess the knowledge to present a complete picture. No one person could ever hope to attain this knowledge in a lifetime. Besides, each time a new individual or pair is added to the community, further changes take place which might alter or embellish conclusions already drawn. My conclusions are therefore admittedly open-ended and continually evolving.

Although I am very much a part of the community of birds about which I write, I will try to be as objective as possible. It may appear at times that I am anthropomorphizing. This is far from the case, however, as I am reluctant to insult my birds by assigning human qualities to them.

For any of this information to be useful, the following facts should be known about the environment in which my birds live.

1. I do not hand-feed my babies, but prefer to allow parents the pleasure of rearing and teaching their own young. I handle chicks often, and help parents whenever necessary. As a result, babies learn to know me as part of the community. I have not as yet sold a youngster who was not as tame as any hand-fed chick I have seen. Those babies that I choose to keep maintain a close relationship with me, but at the same time, fit right into the social order with no confusion as to who they are.
2. My birds are currently housed in an aviary on the second level. There are three large windows with perches, play-gyms, ladders and toys throughout the fairly large room which is also equipped with Vita-lites. About eighty percent of the time they are out free. The rest of the time they are housed in very large cages in which, during non breeding time, they are separated by friendship/family groups, rather than by sex.
3. Birds are free to choose their own friends and mates with a little help from me as a matchmaker. If there are rivals for the same mate, they are allowed to work things out naturally. When it has been determined who wants to be with whom, I separate pairs into cages with nest boxes and leave them there until they’ve started working the box, nesting behavior, etc. Then the cage doors are opened and birds come and go as they please. This eliminates fighting over nest boxes. I guess this could be considered a modified form of colony breeding.
4. I never break up members of a bonded pair unless it is their own choice to do so.
5. Birds are given a varied diet of fortified cockatiel mix, conditioning food, millet spray, fresh greens daily and vitamin and mineral supplements. Other foods are also offered, such as brown rice and corn, sprouts, boiled eggs and whole wheat toast, eggs scrambled with cheese and wheat germ, etc.
6. Each of my birds has a name and maintains a personal relationship with me. I hope to add a few more birds and begin working with a new species soon. However, I will always strive to keep the size of the community down for both my and the birds’ benefit.

The following are some of the topics I hope to address:

* Communication between:
o members of a bonded pair
o one pair and another
o parents and offspring
o rivals for the same mate
o friends and friendship groups
o members of the same clutch who remain in community
o new bird and assigned buddy (“the buddy system”)
o birds and myself
* The cock’s song and “The Meistersinger”
* Community drumming (tapping)
* Warning signals and the community watchman
* The pecking order
* The main clique – membership and excommunication
* Other cliques or sub-groups
* Breaking into the community
* Teaching the young – what is and what is not tolerated
* Father/daughter and mother/son relationships

I hope that these articles will serve as a catalyst for further observations and discussions among fellow aviculturists and other interested persons, so that together we may continue to advance in this ever challenging field of aviculture.

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