Last Updated on February 5, 2024 by Carrie Stephens
Parrots communicate with members of their flock nearly constantly. They do so to share life-critical information, such as the whereabouts of abundant food or the presence of deadly predators.
If you were to ask, “Do parrots have conversations?” like humans do, chatting in a recognizable spoken language like English, Spanish, or French, the answer is no.
Parrots communicate with each other through body language and vocalizations. Even the subtlest movement or sound can have a distinct meaning that other parrots instantly understand.
Parrot Body Language
Body language is a vital form of communication among wild parrots. All body parts, from the beak to the wings to the eyes, convey messages between psittacine birds.
While a parrot may bite in self-defense if left with no choice, biting other parrots is rarely observed in the wild. In their natural habitat, parrots defuse disagreements before biting becomes necessary.
If a parrot sits calmly and grinds its beak, it’s calm and contented.
Parrots don’t have lips, so they can’t smile, but this is the avian equivalent. Upon noticing a flock member or mate, a parrot grinding its beak may click once as a cheerful greeting.
Prolonged beak clicking is a warning of hostility and aggression.
A bird constantly opening and closing its beak doesn’t want to be approached. Other parrots will acknowledge this and maintain a safe distance.
A parrot may also use its beak to regurgitate food for another bird. This shows the male’s desire to breed and proves he can provide for his mate and offspring.
Feathers And Crests
The position of the feathers can reveal a parrot’s mood. Each feather can be independently controlled, with a parrot fluffing or flattening its feathers based on its emotional state.
A relaxed parrot has soft and puffy feathers. Sometimes, it means it’s feeling cold, especially if it’s squatting. Tightly holding the feathers against the body denotes fear and anxiety.
Some parrots, like cockatoos, have feather crests atop their heads. Like body feathers, a crest can be controlled independently and will be used to denote the cockatoo’s mood.
A parrot holding its crest feathers flat against the head is usually frightened or angry. An erect crest usually means a parrot is calm. An erect crest pointed forward is typically a sign of curiosity.
The position of a parrot’s wings is indicative of its emotional state.
A happy, calm parrot keeps its wings flat by its sides in a relaxed stance. Shaking, slightly horizontal wings suggest a parrot is preparing to fly at short notice, usually in case it needs to flee a predator.
If a parrot is afraid, it’ll extend its wings as far as possible. Extending the wings suggests the parrot wants to look too large and intimidating to be attacked to scare off the threat.
If a parrot raises its wings above its head, it’s usually expressing a greeting. This behavior is commonly observed when parrots return to a roost and reconnect with flock members.
If a parrot feels uncomfortable, it may use its feet to push another bird away to a safe distance.
Some parrots, most notably cockatoos, also use their feet for communication. If a cockatoo wants to deter another bird from approaching, it’ll stamp its feet as a warning.
How a parrot walks can be a form of communication. Bird Behavior explains that Amazons’ incubating eggs take turns performing an aggressive walk, strutting around the nest to warn others away.
Parrots can control their eyes. A parrot pinning its eyes (rapidly contracting and dilating the pupils) is usually aroused and excited by something it has spotted, but it can signify aggression.
Parrots, especially macaws, can blush. While blushing may not always be visible to humans, parrots have tetrachromatic vision because they have 4 color receptors in their eyes.
The benefit of tetrachromacy is that parrots can see additional colors in the spectrum, including UV light rays that are invisible to humans.
A blushing parrot will often be in a state of arousal. Wild parrots blush when confronted by a same-species bird that could be a potential mate or one that poses a threat.
PLoS One explains how blushing frequently accompanies a ruffling or contraction of the feathers, suggesting this action should be assessed alongside other body language.
Parrots have distinctive vocal communications, all of which carry distinct meanings.
A parrot’s sense of safety and contentment influences the sound. This sends a message to other parrots, whether they’re part of the flock or an infiltrator.
Chirping And Chattering
Chirping and chattering suggest that all is good in the parrot’s environment. A flock of wild parrots will chatter to attract others, denoting that the terrain lacks predators while food and water are plentiful.
These contented sounds can sometimes drop a few octaves, switching from a high pitch to a more raspy or agitated noise. This suggests that something is making the parrots uncomfortable.
This could result from a change in the atmosphere. The Journal of Experimental Biology suggests that parrots can predict incoming storms or predators looming in the distance.
Other parrots will heed this warning, and the flock may move as one to a safer location.
Singing is a communication style in all bird species, with the “dawn chorus” greeting most people upon waking in the morning. Small parrots like budgies sing more than others.
Scientific Reports suggest that singing is the closest a wild bird comes to communicating in human language. Budgies’ songs break down into vowels and consonants, creating an understandable dialog.
Wild parrots frequently sing when imitating other birds in their environment.
Just as captive parrots imitate words they hear from humans that the bird finds pleasing, a wild parrot will imitate birdsong that captures its imagination.
Singing can signify that a parrot is interested in mating. Female parrots choose a mate based on various factors, including aesthetic appearance and singing voice.
A robust vocal performance, especially a note-perfect imitation of a tune previously sung by a female, is deemed a sign of vitality and superior genetics.
Whistling is a cheerful, contented sound often used as a greeting. Wild parrots whistle to express pleasure when encountering a familiar parrot or welcoming a new flock addition.
Hissing sounds warn that a parrot feels agitated or threatened. A parrot hissing at another bird is announcing that it wants to be left alone and that encroachment will be met with hostility.
Parrots are likeliest to hiss when they feel their territory is being invaded. Female parrots guarding eggs often hiss when anybody other than their mate approaches.
Hissing can occur when parrots experience a hormonal surge. This is called mating aggression.
A female may hiss at a male who shows interest in breeding that isn’t reciprocated. A male may attempt to dominate a female, hissing to assert authority or at a rival male.
As parrots are often monogamous, many wild parrots form pair bonds.
According to Animal Behavior, a female may breed with another male outside the flock (extrapair sexual behavior) if she considers them a more suitable mating match.
Parrots experience emotions like jealousy. Hissing may be used to scare off a virile male rival.
Squawking And Screaming
Squawking and screaming can reach very high volumes. The larger the parrot, the louder the noise. Fittingly, a large flock of wild parrots is called a pandemonium.
Wild parrots, especially macaws, squawk upon waking. Loudly verbalizing attracts the attention of all flock members, announcing that it’s time to come together to forage for food.
A wild parrot may scream if it observes a threat, with others joining in.
Wild parrots constantly communicate with each other, using complex body language and vocal expressions to express how they feel and warn flock members.