Home » Do Parrots Like Mirrors in Their Cage? [Good vs. Bad Effects]
should you give a parrot a mirror?

Do Parrots Like Mirrors in Their Cage? [Good vs. Bad Effects]

(Last Updated On: January 27, 2023)

Mirrors and other reflective surfaces fascinate parrots. It’s fun to catch sight of a parrot admiring its reflection and singing to it. Unfortunately, mirrors can cause mental health issues in some parrots.

Parrots may show interest and actively respond to mirrors in their cage. However, parrots can’t distinguish between their reflections and other parrots because they lack self-awareness. So, parrots will attempt to interact with the second bird, leading to certain behavioral problems.

A mirror may seem harmless, but it can be damaging. Some parrots will grow restless, frustrated, and angry, taking out these emotional issues on themselves, their cage, and even you.

If you want to give a parrot a mirror, ensure it reacts okay to its reflection. If it responds unfavorably, remove the mirror or add an alternative 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 functions to be fully 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 develop behavioral issues, such as territorial aggression.

Some owners claim they’ve trained their parrots to understand what they see in a mirror. However, these are anecdotal stories and aren’t backed by scientific studies.

The University of California put African greys through a mirror test, a behavioral evaluation to determine whether animals possess self-awareness, and these were the findings:

are parrots afraid of mirrors?

Parrot Mirror Test

The mirror test is intended to tell if an animal can identify itself via a reflection. By extension, this tells us whether or not it’s self-aware.

When you look into a mirror, you understand that it’s an image of yourself, not a new person. You clearly understand ‘self’ and can distinguish it, even when viewed differently.

In contrast, animals that fail the mirror test think they’re looking at another animal and can’t pick out their ‘selves’ from an outside view. This is how it works:

  1. The test begins by sedating the parrot, so there’s no chance of paying attention to where markers are placed.
  2. Once safely unconscious, researchers put an identifiable mark on the parrot’s body, such as a brightly-colored sticker.
  3. This sticker is placed somewhere the parrot can’t see without a mirror, such as on its head.
  4. The animal is put in front of a mirror to observe its reflection.

At this point, the researchers observe the parrot’s reaction, noting all possible effects. How does it move? Does it approach or back away from the mirror? What emotions does it convey (interest, curiosity, fear, or aggression)? Self-awareness is confirmed if the parrot:

  • Notices the identifying mark on the mirror’s reflection.
  • Attempts to get a better look at it on its own body.
  • Tries to remove the spot since a reflection is the only way for the parrot to know the spot is there.

To date, no parrot has passed the mirror test. The birds may interact with the reflection and act positively, but they don’t identify the spot. Rather than seeing the mirror parrot as themselves and investigating the new marking, they ignore it or don’t appear to notice it.

Self-Recognition

Of course, researchers didn’t leave a big question like “are parrots self-aware” to chance.

According to The Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, another test was administered called “Mirror-Mediated Object Discrimination.” In this test:

  1. A box is placed between the parrot and the mirror.
  2. The box has a large opening facing the mirror but away from the parrot.
  3. A piece of food or a toy is placed in the box at an angle, so the parrot can only view it as a reflection.
  4. Ideally, the parrot will see the object and attempt to go around the box to retrieve it.

This would indicate that the parrot understands the mirror is reflecting the view.

However, scientists found no conclusive proof that the parrots understood the mirror’s function. If the parrots searched the box, it was just a curious investigation without the mirror’s help.

The mirror and the box test have a clear result: if an animal passes, it has some self-awareness. Animals that have passed include certain primates, corvids, dolphins, and one elephant species.

However, parrots are still unable to pass the mirror test.

Are Mirrors Bad for Parrots?

Since parrots can’t understand their reflection, it can be dangerous to give them mirrors. After all, your pet won’t see it as a new toy; it’ll think that a ‘newcomer’ has appeared in its cage.

This can have good and bad 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.
  • Get angry and defensive against the newcomer that invaded 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 come across. As they try and fail to connect with the newcomer, this may lead to the following problems:

Social Issues

In most cases, when your parrot sees another bird moving along, it’ll perform common social rituals associated with greetings and mating, such as dancing, singing, or chirping.

The reflection will be replicated, and your parrot will feel welcomed. However, as the interactions continue, your 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, your parrot will eventually become confused.

Things will grow worse if your 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.

Aggression Issues

Your 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 your parrot:

  • Wary. This is a new invader of 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 your parrot uses dominating body language, appearing to ‘react’ just as aggressively.

If your parrot is territorial, it may not take kindly to 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 your parrot needs more company and socialization. Bickering and arguing are normal parts of everyday parrot life, particularly for small ones such as budgies.

If your parrot can vent its energy healthily, it’s less likely to see new birds (or reflections) as a threat.

Obsessive Issues

In the worst case, your parrot may become obsessed with getting the attention of this ‘new bird.’

This may involve regurgitating on it, which initiates mating rituals and shows 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 also dances and moves with it.

A parrot may become overly attached to the mirror even if mating isn’t on a bird’s mind. It’ll prefer the company of the reflection, excluding you and other parrots. Excessive regurgitation can lead to a thin, unhealthy, and malnourished parrot.

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 your 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, which can lead 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 your 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.
  • 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 your parrot only sees its mirror occasionally, it won’t feel rebuffed, ignored, or insulted.

Likewise, parrots that spend ample time with cage mates or their owners are less likely to grow obsessed with a newcomer’s undivided attention.

Small parrots, like budgies and cockatiels, 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:

can parrots recognize themselves in a mirror?

Temporary Distraction

Never consider a mirror a substitute for human interaction. If you can spend time with your parrot, you should do so. However, there may be times when your parrot will be alone for short periods.

Under Supervision

A mirror is a toy, not a new best friend. So, let your 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, your parrot can take comfort in the bond you share.

Distorted Mirrors

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 your parrot will struggle to pick out a new creature from a random bunch of shapes. This allows your parrot to enjoy a mirror without the negative consequences.

Are Parrots Afraid of Mirrors?

By default, parrots aren’t afraid of mirrors. If your 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, as it displays 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. Likewise, parrots may collect shiny objects to add to their nest during mating season.

That can make distorted mirrors a great toy. Your 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 your 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, attachment, or social issues due to the mirror.

However, if the parrot has never seen a mirror before, you shouldn’t introduce one to its cage, as the disadvantages exceed the advantages.