Parrots are just as capable as humans of showing emotion. They react to situations, and their mood dictates their responses. But even though you shouldn’t underestimate a parrot’s emotional intelligence, are they capable of shedding tears?
Parrots don’t cry to show emotion, even though they have tear ducts. Instead, they display their feelings through behaviors and sound. They vocalize when experiencing grief, which sounds much like a human cry, and pluck their feathers, self-mutilate, and lose their appetites when experiencing strong emotions.
Parrots can’t communicate with us about how they’re feeling through their tears, so understanding the signs of sadness, fear, or depression can help you figure out what’s wrong. Improving their living conditions may make your parrot feel happier, but sometimes their feelings go far deeper than this, and you need to do more.
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 remarkable similarities to ours and are made up of water, sodium, calcium, urea, chloride, and proteins. They also found that parrot tears have similar electrolyte levels to human tears.
However, while parrots have tear ducts, they don’t shed tears to show 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 facilitate flight. Therefore, parrots cry to protect the 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 condition that you need to address.
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 their birds responding to specific emotional cues, but more research is needed to understand for sure.
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. They show their emotions through other instinctual behaviors:
This isn’t an exhaustive list, as birds communicate their emotions in so 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 whether your parrot is sad, scared, lonely, or depressed. Don’t ignore your parrot’s vocalizations, as it could need your help. Here are the most likely emotions your parrot feels when making these sounds:
One of the most common reasons parrots cry out is due fear. 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 anything, from:
- Aggressive pets
- Overzealous children
- Bright lights at night
- Unfamiliar sounds
- Insects and bugs flying around the cage
Night frights are also 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 help it feel more comfortable.
Another common reason for fear is a change in the environment. Anything that feels new or different can spook a parrot, especially if it feels that a predator is after it. That’s why you should only make essential changes if you have no other option.
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. As mentioned, in captivity, their owners are part of their group.
When someone or something close to them dies, it affects them, and 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)
Sadly, your parrot won’t feel better overnight. It might take a few days or even weeks for it to feel better. Time is a healer, so give your parrot some space.
Depression is common amongst captive parrots. 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 your bird’s mood. Several 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:
- Growling (which is something African greys do)
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 as soon as 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 because of 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.
It’s not always possible for you to be at home 24/7. That’s why you must provide games, toys, and mental enrichment to keep your bird happy and healthy. Otherwise, its vocalizations will increase to the point that they’re constant and disruptive.
Parrots feel pain and will cry out or scream if they’re in discomfort. This is a warning to you that your bird needs help. Usually, pain comes alongside a range of other symptoms, including:
- 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 very much go hand in hand, so it’s fair to assume that fluffed-up feathers mean you have an unhappy parrot. Get your parrot to a vet for treatment, as pain rarely goes away on its own.
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.
If you have baby pet parrots, they’ll do the same thing to you. However, the early stages of their lives are the most crucial, so you must only feed the parrots a limited amount at specific periods of the day to prevent them from overfeeding. This can be fatal for young birds.
How Do Parrots Show Their Emotions?
Seeing as parrots can’t cry, owners must look out for other signs of sadness, depression, or general ill-feeling, especially if they don’t vocalize their feelings. Some parrots are quieter than others, making it difficult to tell. Signs include:
Not all parrots vocalize. Some resort to feather-plucking to show their emotions. Alongside pain and distress, feather-plucking is the 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 the behavior include:
- Lack of exercise
- Sexual frustration
- Restricted playtime
Providing your parrot with a more comfortable environment or an increased level of mental stimulation should minimize your bird’s feather-plucking.
Parrots that feel particularly low self-mutilate. This is where they pluck out their feathers but also chew their skin and muscles, going deep to the bone. This is incredibly painful and 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 bird’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 would make most humans cry cause parrots to lose their appetite. This is primarily because they struggle to express themselves, so their owners don’t always cater to their needs appropriately.
Some parrots will even refuse their favorite treats and won’t touch the seeds, nuts, fruits, and vegetables you try to tempt them with. Most parrots enjoy their food, so if this happens, you have an unhappy bird.
Unfortunately, if you don’t deal with this quickly, your parrot’s at risk of losing a significant amount of weight, 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 can’t communicate very well, so they develop stress bars on their feathers. 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 are linked to appetite loss. Parrots that don’t eat aren’t able to get the nutrients they need. As a result, stress bars can’t tell you what your parrot’s specifically feeling but only indicates that something’s not quite right. If you suspect your parrot feels blue, pay attention to its vocalizations, as they can help you determine what’s wrong.
While parrots don’t shed tears, they still cry. They do it 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.