If you own a cockatiel, chances are you have experienced at least a few episodes of night frights with your bird. This can be scary and unsettling for you both. So is your cockatiel actually afraid of the dark?
Cockatiels do experience night frights more commonly than any other type of bird, and they are easily flustered by an unfamiliar sound in the dead of night. Cockatiel owners agree that cockatiels are indeed afraid of the dark.
If you’ve ever dealt with a panicked cockatiel in the middle of the night, you probably have some pressing questions. Let’s find out what causes your cockatiel’s night frights and what exactly you can do to help relieve them.
Scared of the Dark
To help understand the mindset of the cockatiel and why it is extra sensitive to the darkness, we first need to examine the cockatiel’s environment in the wild.
Out in nature, a low level of sound provided by other forest-dwellers continues throughout the night; this noise is a comfort to sleeping cockatiels. In addition, the soft light furnished by the moon and stars gives reassurance that all is well in their cockatiel world.
When complete silence comes over an area of the forest, however, it is often a sign of impending danger. A flock of cockatiels will immediately awaken, their senses heightened by the sudden change.
In your home, where complete darkness and silence reign at night, any disturbance, no matter how innocuous, can frighten a cockatiel. His fear is increased by the fact that in a cage, he can feel trapped in its enclosed space, making his panic all the more unpredictable.
Dangers of Night Frights
Let’s take another look at the cockatiel in the wild, and what makes them especially susceptible to nighttime injuries.
A cockatiel flock in the wild is foraging for food on the ground for a majority of their day. Because this technique can be very dangerous, cockatiels have had to develop lighting – quick reflexes and an amazing ability for immediate vertical flight.
This adaptation means that cockatiels are especially well – equipped to escape from any predators who may be searching for an easy meal.
Cockatiels that become frightened react instinctively by flying upward in an effort to get up in the air and away from the threat as quickly as possible, even if they cannot see what the threat is.
As a pet enclosed in a cage, of course, there is no escape. This is why cockatiels often go crashing into the bars at the top, along the sides, and even the bottom of their cage trying to find a way out in their frenzy.
A cockatiel cannot see very well at all in the dark, which increases the likelihood that he will hurt himself.
If a cockatiel does get injured during one of his night frights, the pain will only amplify his anxiety, and sometimes his overreaction can even prove to be fatal.
If other cockatiels are in the same cage or nearby, they may react in a similar manner; this can escalate quickly, with all of them flying erratically around their cages solely because of another’s outburst.
Stopping a Night Fright in Progress
If your bird experiences a dreaded night fright, immediately go to his room, turn on the light, and call softly to him as you approach the cage.
You may be frightened by what you initially see inside. Your bird will likely be on the bottom of his cage pacing, hissing, and breathing heavily. He may look or act as though he has been attacked; he will probably have extremely ruffled feathers and wide eyes.
A bird in this fragile state should not be touched or let out of its cage. He may injure himself further or bite you in distress. Instead, stand near his cage so he knows you are close by while he recuperates from his ordeal.
Talk softly and soothingly to him. He may also enjoy you humming and singing quietly to him. When your bird’s breathing becomes even and he goes still, it is safe for you to touch him again.
Examine him for injuries, paying special attention to his eyes, wings, and feet. If there is any blood flow that doesn’t stop quickly, it is imperative that he be taken to an avian vet immediately.
Even if your bird is uninjured, do not leave him until he is totally and completely calm. Thankfully, cockatiels seem to recover fairly quickly from their night frights and are usually ready to go back to sleep in a short amount of time.
Preventing Night Frights
1. Identify His Triggers
There are several causes of night frights in cockatiels. The first step in stopping night frights is to identify the most likely triggers. Here are a few things that may set off your beloved bird:
- suddenly opening the door to his room
- a thunderstorm
- passing headlights in a window
- insects flying around his cage
- rodents scurrying across the room
- four – legged friends moving around (If you have a cat, you should read this article)
- drafts of cool air
- sudden shadows moving across the wall
- unusual or loud noises
- strong vibrations
2. Change the Environment
- Lighting – Provide muted lighting near your bird’s cage at night. You may have to experiment a bit. Some birds only need a hint of light from a night light near their cage, while others prefer to have the soft glow of a larger lamp in the room. Still, this is only a temporary solution as birds should always sleep in the dark to have a healthy sleep – we explain why here!
- Sleeping Cage – Get a special cage for your cockatiel to move to at night. Put it in a room away from people and other animals, and make sure it is small with only one perch. Line the bottom with towels to cushion any falls or landings he may make in the night.
- Cage Placement – If you choose to forego a sleeping cage, your cockatiel’s cage needs to be placed in the corner of his room. Two solid walls — without nearby windows — helps him to feel more surrounded and secure.
- Cover Windows – Place blinds or blackout curtains over any and all windows in your bird’s room so that passing headlights from a car or shadows from trees will not bother him.
- Sound Machine – Consider investing in a good sound machine that can play white noise or soft forest sounds all throughout the night. You can also run an air purifier for a similar effect. This will also give your cockatiel relief from the total silence that can put him on edge.
- Temperature – Tropical birds do not like extreme cold or heat, and they cannot handle sudden drops in temperature. Keep the temperature in your cockatiel’s room constant, between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 27 degrees Celsius), for a well-rested bird. If your temperature is too low, we recommend getting a heated perch. We explain why they are great here!
3. Take Precautionary Steps
- Baby Monitor – Put a video or audio baby monitor in your cockatiel’s room. This will allow you to hear any noises early so that you can go and calm him before he gets too worked up and goes into a full – blown panic.
- Treats – Give your cockatiel a favorite treat shortly before bedtime at the same time every evening. This will get him excited about his nightly bedtime routine instead of leaving him fearful of what is to come in the dark hours ahead.
- Cage Cover – Instead of getting one that completely covers his cage, opt for one made of a breathable material that only covers the top and three sides. This allows the lighting you’ve provided to illuminate his cage.
- Familiarity – Don’t introduce your cockatiel to anything new just before bed. If you want to give him new toys or have him try unfamiliar foods, do it in the morning so as not to overstimulate him.
- Extra Calcium – Some bird owners find that extra calcium in their bird’s diet provided by a mineral block or cuttlebone can help to lower nighttime anxiety. In addition, minimizing spinach, which blocks calcium absorption, can help. As always, you may want to check with your vet before making any significant diet changes. Cuttlebones are great for that, too – We explain in this article why you should always offer cuttlebones to your bird!
While these changes and preventative measures are not guaranteed to stop night frights all together, they can help calm your bird down so that they occur with less frequency.
Night frights will probably still happen on occasion; the best a good bird owner can do is put as many of these measures into place as possible. That way, even if your bird never loses his fear of the dark completely, he will grow more confident each time the sun goes down.
Can cockatiels see in the dark? While night birds such as owls have excellent night vision, for birds who are active during the day, seeing well at night is a major weakness. Unfortunately, this includes cockatiels. During the day, their vision is better than ours, but at night, they are at an extreme disadvantage.
How long does a cockatiel need to sleep? Cockatiels require ten to twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, and they can become quite grouchy if they don’t get it. It is important to put your cockatiel to bed at an early time where you can ensure that he will get the quality sleep he needs, especially if you are someone who gets up before the sun.