Parrots experience a wide range of emotions. They react to situations, and their mood dictates their response. Even though you should never underestimate their emotional intelligence, are parrots capable of shedding tears?
Despite having tear ducts, parrots don’t cry when they’re feeling sad or upset. Instead, parrots express their feelings and emotions through certain behaviors and sounds. Parrots vocalize when experiencing grief, which sounds like humans crying, pluck their feathers, self-mutilate, and lose their appetites.
Parrots can’t communicate how they’re feeling through their tears, so understanding the signs of sadness, fear, or depression enable you to understand what’s wrong.
Can Parrots Shed Tears?
According to Science Focus, a team of researchers looked into how tears worked in various animals, including owls, hawks, tortoises, sea turtles, and macaws.
The researchers discovered that their tears have similarities to ours and are made up of water, sodium, calcium, urea, chloride, and proteins. They also found that parrots’ tears have similar electrolyte levels to human tears.
However, while parrots do have tear ducts, they don’t shed tears to show their emotions. Birds’ eyes make up a more significant percentage of their head in terms of total weight.
Their eyes are bigger, which makes up for the fact that their skeletons are lighter to aid flight. Therefore, parrots cry to protect their eyes from dirt and debris while flying.
Eye problems are also a likely cause of crying or excessive wateriness. If your parrot develops an eye condition, it will secrete tears either because of the discomfort or because the body’s attempting to remove foreign bodies.
Common parrot eye issues include:
- Bacterial or fungal infections
- Trauma or injury
- Foreign body
- Psittacosis (parrot fever)
Don’t mistake your parrot’s tears for crying – it could have an uncomfortable medical condition.
Do Parrots Have Emotions?
It’s thought that parrots are capable of experiencing a similar spectrum of emotions as humans.
That being said, there’s no definitive answer as to whether birds have feelings. Many owners report that their parrots respond to emotional cues, but more research is needed to understand.
There’s such a thing as anthropomorphism, which is where humans attribute their characteristics to certain parrot behaviors. A parrot’s emotional range is far more primal than ours, and they’re unable to feel empathy, sympathy, or other complex emotions. This is why parrots don’t cry.
Parrots show their emotions through other instinctual behaviors:
This isn’t an exhaustive list, as birds communicate their emotions in many subtle ways.
Why Do Parrots Make Crying Noises?
Because parrots don’t cry, they vocalize their emotions by making a series of unpleasant sounds. This is the best way to tell if your parrot is sad, scared, lonely, or depressed.
Here are the most likely emotions your parrot feels when making these sounds:
Worry brings out a range of troubling vocalizations and behaviors in parrots. They don’t cry, but they scream to warn their kin of danger. This could be due to:
- Aggressive pets
- Overzealous children
- Bright lights at night
- Unfamiliar sounds
- Insects and bugs flying around the cage
Night frights are a problem for some birds. This is where they get spooked by something they see or hear at night. Putting a sheet or cover over your parrot’s cage at night could make it feel more comfortable.
Anything that feels new or different can spook a parrot, especially if it fears that a predator is after it.
Parrots grieve when they lose close companions. They mourn the loss of a mate, owner, or friend. Parrots form strong bonds with members of their flock. In captivity, their owners are part of their group.
When someone close to them dies, their behavior becomes noticeably different. Signs of grief include:
- Reluctance to leave the cage
- Lethargy (remaining in one spot)
- Change in sleeping habits
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of interest in toys, play, and activities
- Change in vocalizations (e.g., talking less than usual or screaming)
- Aggression and irritability
- Stereotypic behaviors (pacing, head-bobbing, toe-tapping)
It might take a few days or even weeks for it to feel better.
Even the smallest things can trigger feelings of unhappiness, so you must keep an eye on your parrot’s mood to make positive changes and improve its mood.
Various things can make your parrot depressed, including:
- Poor living conditions
- Sickness or injury
- Sudden routine changes
Instead of the chirpy, melodic sounds parrots usually make, depressed parrots make sad, unpleasant sounds, such as:
Some parrots associate their depression with their owners, especially if they’ve done something to upset them. That’s why you might hear your parrot cry when you enter the room.
Parrots are sociable creatures and enjoy interaction with their owners and other birds. If they’re left alone for too long, they cry out due to loneliness.
In captivity, most parrots see you as their flock. This means they need constant attention and interaction to stop them from becoming bored. If you leave your parrot on its own for too long, it’ll cry out to get your attention.
Parrots feel pain and will cry out or scream if they’re in discomfort. Usually, pain is accompanied by:
- Loss of appetite
- Aggression, such as biting
- Inability to move
- Perching difficulties
Alongside vocalizations, VCA Hospitals explains how fluffed-up feathers are another sign of pain and injury. Other times, it indicates depression.
The two go hand-in-hand, so it’s fair to assume that fluffed-up feathers mean you have an unhappy parrot.
Do Baby Parrots Cry?
Baby parrots vocalize to get the attention of their mothers. This is usually when they’re hungry, as crying is a form of encouragement for the parent parrot to provide more food.
In the wild, adult parrots leave the nest for significant periods throughout the day to forage food. Some baby parrots will cry out for reassurance that they haven’t been abandoned.
How Do Parrots Show Their Emotions?
Owners must look out for other signs of sadness, depression, or ill-feeling, especially if they don’t vocalize their feelings. Some parrots are quieter than others, making it difficult to tell. Signs include:
Some parrots will resort to feather-plucking to show their emotions. Alongside pain and distress, feather-plucking is a sign of boredom and frustration. You’ve probably heard the expression ‘bored to tears’ – this behavior isn’t far off.
Avian Biology Research describes how captive parrots engage in feather-damaging behavior when their welfare is compromised. It’s only seen in captive birds as wild parrots don’t experience the same psychological stresses.
The most common reasons for this behavior include:
- Lack of exercise
- Sexual frustration
- Restricted playtime
Provide your parrot with a more comfortable environment or an increased level of mental stimulation.
This is where they pluck out their feathers and chew their skin and muscles. This causes long-term nerve and tissue damage. Birds that do this often will damage their feather follicles, preventing them from growing back.
Self-mutilation is a type of stereotypical behavior, which means that the parrot’s driven to do it with no apparent purpose. It’s a compulsion and will take time and several behavioral-based treatments for the parrot to recover.
Loss of Appetite
Boredom, stress, sadness, grief, and other negative emotions that make humans cry cause parrots to lose their appetite. As they struggle to express themselves, owners don’t always cater to their needs. Some parrots will even refuse their favorite treats.
Unfortunately, if you don’t deal with this quickly, your parrot’s at risk of losing weight, eventually becoming malnourished. Parrots also get mental stimulation through their food, which makes them happy. If they refuse to eat their food, they’ll slip into a further cycle of sadness and stress.
Some parrots develop stress bars. These are thin, horizontal lines that appear cross-wise along the feathers, running perpendicular to the shaft. Some appear grey, while others become discolored, making them more noticeable.
Stress bars only indicate that something’s not right but don’t tell us what’s wrong. If you suspect that your parrot feels sad or low, pay attention to its vocalizations, as these sounds will enable you to determine what’s wrong.
While parrots don’t shed tears, they still cry. They do this through their vocalizations rather than through tears. Crying out isn’t something you should ignore. Similarly, because parrots can feel and experience emotions, you must provide them with a fun, mentally enriching environment.