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Learning to Read Your Parrots Body Language In 2 Steps.

Parrot Blog > Learning to Read Your Parrots Body Language In 2 Steps. | You are here

Learning to Read Your Parrots Body Language In 2 Steps.

Learning to Read Your Parrots Body Language In 2 Steps.

January 15th, 2010

Reading Your Parrots Body Language

Learning to read your parrots body language will help you to see your bird in a whole new light. It can help you understand when he is feeling under the weather, happy, wants attention and can also save you from receiving a nasty bite.

Once you have learned the main characteristics of your parrots body language it is easy to distinguish if your parrot is happy, sad, terrified or excited just by his stance.

By learning to understand how your bird is feeling at any particular time can greatly improve the relationship you have with your bird and help you understand what it is he is communicating to you at any given time.

1. Vocalizations

In the wild, birds use various vocalizations to warn others of danger, attract mates, protect their territory, and maintain social contacts. Most birds are highly vocal and many times may be trying to communicate with you.

  • Singing, talking, and whistling: These vocalizations are often signs of a happy, healthy, content bird. Some birds love an audience and sing, talk, and whistle the most when others are around. Other birds will remain quiet when others are watching.
  • Chattering: Chattering can be very soft or very loud. Soft chatter can be a sign of contentment or can be the practice of a bird learning to talk. Loud chatter can be an attention-getter, reminding you that she is there. In the wild, birds often chatter in the evening before going to sleep to connect with other flock members.
  • Purring: Not the same as a cat’s purr, a bird’s purr is more like a soft growl that can be a sign of contentment or a sign of annoyance. When purring, the bird’s environment and other body language should be taken into consideration to determine what the bird is expressing.
  • Tongue-clicking: By clicking her tongue against her beak, your bird may be entertaining herself or asking to be petted or picked up.
  • Growling: Not heard in all pet birds, growling is an aggressive vocalization. If your bird is growling, examine her environment and remove anything that may be bothering her. Growling birds should not be handled as they do not want to be touched.

2. Wings and Body Gestures

  • Fluffing and ruffling: Parrots will perform a quick feather ruffle to release tension, much like when humans take a quick moment to lean back and stretch before we go on to the next task. Parrots also fluff their feathers after a preening session so that all of the particles of dirt they have just removed will fall away. You may notice a fine dust of powder emanating from your bird after he does this, especially if you have a grey, a cockatoo, or a cockatiel. A parrot that stays fluffed for a longer period of time may be chilled or not feeling well.
  • The “please” dance: A parrot that wants attention will clamber around the cage near the door and may sit right in front of the door, moving his head back and forth. This means he wants out. If he does the please dance while he’s out, he wants your attention or something you have.
  • Head down: If your bird is used to being scratched on the head or neck, she may put her head down and ruffle her feathers, giving you the perfect spot to scratch.
  • The attack stance: Displays of aggression can be normal at times for a companion parrot, though they can be unpleasant. Many aggressive displays are merely posturing. A bird would much rather fly from a fight than actually engage in one, unless it’s defending its nest. Unfortunately for the companion parrot, there is often no place to escape, and the aggression must be acted upon. Aggressive postures include fanning of the tail; crouching or standing tall and swaying from side to side with the crest held tightly back; hissing and spitting; fluffing the back feathers; and crouching with the beak open, ready to pounce and bite (as shown in the following photo).

Parrots Body Language
This African grey is in “attack” stance. Avoid putting your fingers in his face at this time.

  • Stretching: Parrots stretch for the same reasons people do, to lubricate our joints, to release tension, and primarily because stretching feels good. You may notice your parrot stretching one wing and one leg on the same side of his body at the same time. This classic birdie stretch that resembles something from yoga called mantling.
  • Bowing and bobbing: Bowing and bobbing is an attention-getting technique used by tame parrots. It can become a neurotic behaviour for a constantly caged parrot. Also, ill parrots bow and bob, so you’ll have to watch your bird carefully to distinguish an attention-getting strategy from illness.
  • Head shaking: Some parrots, particularly African greys, shake their heads as if there’s water in the ears. No one really knows why they do this, and it seems to be normal. If your bird is doing this a lot, it may be a sign of an ear or nasal infection.
  • Leaning forward, wings shaking: If the wings are quivering, and the bird is staring at you, it’s about to launch itself at you. This is typical “I’m going to fly!” posture.
  • Quivering wings: A parrot that’s shivering or has quivering wings may be frightened, overly excited, or in breeding mode.
  • Beak language: An open beak, crouched posture, and hissing or yelling is prime biting posture. This is a frightened or displaying parrot.
  • Potty language: Backing up a step or two or crouching on the perch, lifting tail, and even making a little noise. You can catch “poop posture” before the poop happens and move the parrot to another place if you want him to poop elsewhere.
  • Chicken scratching: African greys and sometimes other parrots will “chicken scratch” at the bottom of their cage or on the carpet. Greys in particular do this because digging is part of their natural wild behaviour. If you don’t mind the mess, you can give your grey a sandbox (or litter box) to play in, using clean sand from the toy store.
  • Eye pinning (dilate/contract pupils): A parrot whose pupils are pinning in and out is excited and may be in bite mode. Some parrots do this when they’re excited about something they like, such as a new toy or good food.
  • Wing drooping: Wing drooping can be part of a mating dance, but in a listless bird, it can indicate illness.
  • Wing flipping: A parrot will flip its wings up and down to indicate frustration, get attention, or indicate aggression. It may also happen during moulting, when it’s trying to align new feathers or get rid of old ones that may be hanging or ready to fall out.

Posted by Toria


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Parrot Blog > Learning to Read Your Parrots Body Language In 2 Steps. | You are here