Mirrors and other reflective surfaces fascinate parrots. Seeing a parrot admiring its reflection and singing to it cheerily is fun. That said, mirrors can cause confusion and distress for pet birds.
Parrots may show interest and actively respond to mirrors in their cage. Unfortunately, parrots lack self-awareness and can’t distinguish between their own reflections and those of companion birds.
A mirror may seem okay, but it can be harmful. Some parrots grow restless and upset, taking out their frustrations on themselves, their cage and accessories, and even their owners.
If you want to give a parrot a mirror, ensure it reacts healthily to its reflection. If it responds negatively, remove the conventional mirror or add a mirror with a distorted reflection.
Can Parrots Recognize Themselves in a Mirror?
No, parrots can’t recognize themselves in a mirror.
Despite their high intelligence, parrots lack the cognitive function to be self-aware. Instead of seeing their likeness in the mirror, the parrot will see a ‘second bird’ staring back at it.
This applies to parrots of every species and size, but cockatiels and budgerigars are the most likely to experience behavioral issues, such as territorial aggression.
The University of California put African greys through a mirror test, a behavioral evaluation regarding whether animals possess self-awareness. However, they failed to identify themselves.
Are Mirrors Bad for Parrots?
Since parrots don’t recognize their reflection, it can be damaging to give them mirrors. After all, it’ll think that a ‘newcomer’ has appeared in its cage.
This can have positive and negative outcomes, as the parrot could:
- Investigate the mirror and ignore it.
- Play with the mirror, but grow bored or disinterested in the ‘newcomer.’
- Get upset when the new parrot doesn’t respond to its advances.
- Grow angry and defensive toward the newcomer that entered its territory.
- Become obsessed with getting the ‘new’ parrot’s attention.
Not all parrots react badly to mirrors, but negative consequences are more common in parrots:
- Kept alone without a companion.
- Left by themselves for long hours while you’re busy.
- Lacking sufficient social interaction with you.
This will encourage them to bond with any ‘new birds’ (reflections) they encounter. As they try and fail to connect with the newcomer, this may lead to the following problems:
In most cases, when a parrot sees another bird moving along, it’ll perform common social rituals associated with greetings and mating, like dancing, singing, or chirping.
The reflection will be replicated, and the parrot will feel welcomed. However, as the interactions continue, the parrot will find that this new bird copies it and nothing else.
Mimicking is important for parrots. In the wild, it helps them fit in with a group and show interest in one another. However, parrots also rely on unique social calls and responsive body language.
If the newcomer isn’t interacting, the parrot will eventually become confused.
Things will grow worse if the parrot tries to initiate mating rituals. Mating advances unmet by the reflection could cause sexual frustration since the mirror can’t provide what it needs.
The parrot may see the newcomer as a threat. It wasn’t formally introduced to the new bird, yet a second bird is there without permission. This could make the parrot:
- Wary. This is a new bird in its territory.
- Defensive. The ‘new bird’ may want to take its food and water.
- Jealous. The ‘new bird’ might want your attention and love, leading to jealousy.
- Angry. This ‘new bird’ doesn’t back down when the parrot uses dominant body language, appearing to ‘react’ just as aggressively.
If the parrot is territorial, it may dislike this intruder and attack the mirror. You might see it:
According to the University of Arizona, parrots sometimes recognize their reflection as conspecifics behaving abnormally. It’ll think the other bird is sick or strange, becoming more defensive.
This hostility usually indicates that the parrot needs more company and socialization. Bickering and arguing are normal parts of everyday parrot life, particularly for small birds.
If the parrot can vent its energy healthily, it’s less likely to see new birds (or reflections) as a threat.
In the worst case, the parrot may become obsessed with getting the attention of this ‘new bird.’
This may involve regurgitating on it, which initiates mating rituals and showing affection. The parrot may also dance and chirp at it for long hours, even into the evening. Some parrots become entranced by this doppelganger that dances and moves with it.
A parrot may become overly attached to the mirror even if mating isn’t on its mind. It’ll prefer the company of the reflection, excluding you and other parrots.
As this escalates, the parrot may refuse to do anything else. It won’t like playing with you, leaving its cage, or could stop eating. If it gets frustrated with the apparent rejection, it may become destructive.
Watch out for signs of the parrot:
- Plucking its feathers.
- Attacking the mirror.
- Nipping at you.
- Ignoring all its other toys.
- Starting fights with other cagemates.
- Refusing to leave the mirror’s side for hours at a time.
Remove the mirror if this happens. A mirror distorts your parrot’s reality, leading to stress and, eventually, psychological damage.
Are Mirrors Good for Parrots?
Mirrors are a common parrot toy for a reason. They have many benefits, allowing the parrot to:
- Dance with and peck at ‘another parrot.’
- ‘Play’ with a parrot that’s just as energetic.
- Enjoy the flashing colors of its reflection as it passes.
- Investigate flashing lights if it knocks the mirror around in the sunlight.
However, these benefits only become a factor if the parrot:
- Is well-socialized.
- Spends time with you or another parrot.
- It isn’t defensive of its cage, toys, food, and water.
- Has limited access to a mirror.
After all, a mirror’s negative consequences only arise when parrots are frustrated, threatened, or confused. If the parrot only sees its mirror occasionally, it won’t feel rebuffed, ignored, or insulted.
Likewise, parrots that spend ample time with cagemates or their owners are less likely to grow obsessed with a newcomer’s undivided attention.
Small parrots, like budgies and parrotlets, are more energetic and demanding. They’ll want immediate reactions from their mirror friend, becoming more upset when rejected.
Here are the safest ways to incorporate a mirror into a parrot’s life:
Never consider a mirror a substitute for human interaction. If you can spend time with the parrot, you should do so. However, there may be times when the parrot will be alone for short periods.
A mirror is a toy, not a new best friend. So, let the parrot enjoy the mirror when you’re present.
This will ensure that you remain the focus of your parrot’s attention. If the ‘new parrot’ doesn’t react as it should, it can take comfort in your bond.
The more perfect the mirror reflection, the more likely the parrot will confuse it with another bird. Get a thick plastic mirror if you want a toy that reflects lights, colors, and wobbly shapes.
The reflection will be distorted, so the parrot will struggle to pick out a new creature from a random bunch of shapes. This allows the parrot to enjoy a mirror without the negative consequences.
Are Parrots Afraid of Mirrors?
By default, parrots aren’t afraid of mirrors. If the parrot seems scared of a mirror, it’s likely:
- Startled by the ‘new parrot’ (reflection).
- Scared by the movement or reflected light, even if the mirror is distorted.
- Afraid of the change in its cage.
Parrots are neophobes, so they’re naturally suspicious of anything new in their environment.
Mirrors will be a new addition to the cage, making your parrot wary. Likewise, the reflection will introduce several ‘new’ changes, including a ‘new’ cage, water dishes, toys, and a parrot.
Do Parrots Like Shiny Things?
Parrots love shiny objects. In the wild, shimmers have an association with clear water.
This can make distorted mirrors a wonderful toy. A parrot will still benefit from the reflective light and the silvery appearance. However, it won’t be able to catch sight of any mysterious ‘newcomers.’
Should You Give A Parrot A Mirror?
Avoid giving the parrot a mirror unless it had a mirror in the past and didn’t react adversely. You can let it have the toy if it doesn’t show aggression and attachment issues due to the mirror.
However, if the parrot has never seen a mirror, you shouldn’t introduce one to its cage because the disadvantages exceed the advantages.