Parrots have eyes that sit flat against the sides of their heads, making it difficult to see their eyelids or when they blink. These body parts are essential for keeping the eyes moist and dust and other harmful particles out.
Parrots have 3 eyelids: an upper eyelid, lower eyelid, and a nictating membrane (third eyelid). The nictitating membrane is a translucent layer that covers the entire eye, enabling birds to keep their eyes moisturized and the cornea protected from damage while seeing perfectly.
The nictitating membrane is a thin, clear layer, so it’s hard to notice when a parrot blinks. If a parrot is sleeping, it will do so with one eye open. Parrots only close both eyes when they are completely at ease. Much like the nictitating membrane, a parrot’s ability to sleep with one eye open is an evolutionary tool that’s essential to their survival.
Smaller parrots, like budgies and lovebirds, blink with their nictitating membrane so rapidly that the human eye can’t see it. Bigger parrots can often be seen blinking with their top and bottom eyelids, either halfway or fully closed. However, even though they seem to only be moving their two eyelids, they primarily use their nictitating membrane.
There may be a slight movement of the top and bottom eyelids when blinking because the nictitating membrane is connected to the lower eyelid. This moves along with the nictating membrane.
It’s difficult to detect the third eyelid when parrots blink because of its transparency and how quickly it slides over the cornea. Usually, humans can only see this with slow-motion footage. However, there are times when a parrot will blink very slowly at you.
Parrots will slowly blink to display:
Blink at your parrot slowly. As is the case with cats, if your slow-blinks back, it trusts you completely. You might even get a chance to see the nictitating membrane in action if you’re close enough.
Why Do Parrots Have Eyelids?
Parrots have eyelids for two purposes. They:
- Protect the parrot from any particles that could harm its eyes, like dust.
- Lubricate the eyes so that they remain moist.
Parrots’ eyelids protect their corneas and enable them to watch out for predators. According to Slatter’s Fundamentals of Veterinary Ophthalmology, parrots can use their third eyelid voluntarily. Parrots use it in the following situations:
When parrots blink, they use their third eyelid only. While the lower and upper eyelid moves up and down, the nictitating membrane sweeps across the eye horizontally.
The nictating membrane is thin and nearly transparent, allowing them to see, even while the membrane runs across the entire eye. Parrots can protect and lubricate their eyes while remaining fully aware of their surroundings.
Feeding Their Young
When an adult parrot feeds its chicks, it has to be careful. The baby chicks are blind during the first few days of their lives. They can’t see where the food is and may accidentally poke their parent in the eye. Adult parrots use the nictitating membrane to protect their corneas from the beaks and claws of their offspring.
Protection During Flight
When flying, parrots need to protect their eyes from dirt and bugs. However, they also need to be able to see. With the nictitating membrane, parrots can fly around as fast as they want. They don’t need to worry about something getting in their eyes. This third eyelid also keeps their eyes from drying out and impairing their vision while flying.
Clearer Eyesight When There’s Danger
When feeling threatened, parrots might rapidly use their nictitating membrane. This will keep their eyes moisturized while they focus on the threat. After all, the sharper their sight is, the more cues they can detect, and the faster they react to danger.
Preventing Motion Blur
When bobbing their heads up and down, they will blink with their nictitating membrane. This enables them to control the motion blur and prevent dizziness.
Do Parrots Close Their Eyes?
Parrots rarely close their two main eyelids. Since they’re so thick, a parrot can’t see through them. This momentary blindness makes a parrot vulnerable to threats and ambushes from predators. As such, parrots use their third eyelid to maintain the health of their vision while leaving their large eyelids open.
These thicker eyelids are usually reserved for greater dangers to the eye. For example, a parrot might close its two eyelids when it sees a projectile coming. These eyelids then protect the cornea from harm. A parrot rarely closes its eyes unless it feels totally safe.
Do Parrots Sleep with Their Eyes Open?
Parrots don’t sleep with both of their eyes open but often sleep with one eye open. They only close both of their eyes when they feel safe enough to enter deep sleep.
Parrots can’t afford to be vulnerable. That’s why they have the ability to control how asleep they are. When a parrot is sleeping with one eye open, its brain is half asleep and half awake. Their eyes will open if there’s the slightest sound. So, while it may seem like your parrot is sleeping with its eyes open, it is constantly opening them as it rests.
If your parrot regularly sleeps with one eye open, don’t take this to mean that it doesn’t trust you. It may feel safe in your home, but they have certain instincts ingrained into them from centuries of evolution. Even when hand-reared from birth, it’s in a parrot’s DNA to stay alert while sleeping.
It’s wise to leave your parrot alone while it sleeps. The more time it spends in uninterrupted sleep, the faster it will enter a REM cycle. This is a much deeper level of rest. You should:
- Close the door of the room your parrot is sleeping in
- Turn off the lights when it’s nap time
- Tell the other members of the household to make less noise
- When a parrot is half-asleep, don’t make any sudden movements or sounds
A parrot that feels comfortable enough to sleep around you will fully close its eyes. However, one that is tired and on edge will keep its eyes slightly open. If startled, it may try to attack you. This response to being woken up while half asleep is usually observed in larger parrots, like African greys and macaws.
Do Parrots Squint?
Parrots are capable of squinting. However, if you see your parrot squinting regularly, it is not a good sign. Parrots squint when they are in pain or have an eye infection.
When it’s a problem relating to the eyes, you will usually see some form of swelling or redness. If you don’t see any eye irritation, the discomfort is probably in another part of the body.
Sometimes, a parrot will squint before falling asleep. If your parrot is squinting outside of its regular sleeping hours for days at a time, it should be checked over by an avian vet. Squinting is a sign of physical discomfort in parrots.
Parrots have three eyelids. These are the upper and lower eyelids and the nictitating membrane. The top and bottom eyelids are just like our own, opening and closing fully. The nictating membrane is an added level of protection.