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African grey parrot body language

How To Read African Grey Body Language

(Last Updated On: March 12, 2023)

African grey parrots are among the most intelligent parrot species. Known as the Einsteins of the bird world, they have cognitive abilities comparable to young children.

African grey parrots’ body language and vocalizations signify their mood. When happy, their feathers appear ruffled and relaxed, and they purr and sing. They droop their wings, squint their eyes, and may bite when angry. Fearful African greys display similar body language, flattening their feathers.

By learning an African grey’s movements and sounds, you can understand its wants and needs while discouraging undesirable behaviors.

African Grey Parrot Body Language

Parrots communicate in various ways, so you can determine what they’re thinking by noting the most common African grey behavior meanings:

Head And Beak

An African grey’s head and beak positions display various feelings and emotions, enabling you to determine its mood. Head and beak body language includes:

Bowing And Bobbing

Tame African grey parrots bow and bob their heads to gain their owners’ attention. Unfortunately, sick parrots do the same, so you must check for signs of discomfort.

Head bobbing can become a repetitive, neurotic behavior when bored or left in their cages. According to the University of Guelph, parrots exhibit abnormal behaviors when they can’t forage or socialize.

Beak Wiping

You’ll most likely see an African grey wiping its beak after it’s had something to eat.

Beak wiping is to remove any excess food traces, so it’ll wipe its beak on the bars or perches. If you’re playing with the parrot, it’ll rub its beak on your shoulder or arm.

African greys also rub and tap their beaks to keep them filed down to a suitable length.

Beak Grinding

Beak grinding is where an African grey gnashes its beak, sliding the lower mandible and tongue against the upper beak.

It usually occurs as the parrot settles down for the night, signifying contentment. The sound tends to be soft and gentle, leaving no cause for concern.


Biting is common among African greys, but it’s not always due to aggression.

Parrots use their beaks to hold onto things and pick up toys, food, and other items. A bird might accidentally bite if your finger or hand gets in the way.

However, biting is aggression due to living conditions, hunger, a lack of socialization, and fear.

If a parrot appears with an open beak in a crouched posture and is hissing, it’s preparing to bite you.

African grey behavior meanings


African greys blush to communicate. It’s not easy to see because of their facial feathers, but when they blush, the bare white patch of skin around the eyes and nose turns light pink due to hemoglobin.

As documented by PLOS One, researchers found that parrots blush more frequently when interacting and engaging with their owners.

The excitement from this interaction is the most common reason for blushing in African greys, although blushing is also a sign of:

  • Excitement.
  • Threats.
  • Playfulness.
  • Sexual selection.
  • Anger.

A parrot will display other signs when blushing, allowing you to determine its mood.


While the purpose of yawning remains a mystery, most African greys yawn when tired.

It’s a sign of changing conditions within the body. Frequent yawning signifies that the parrot might not be getting enough sleep. African greys also yawn when they’re:

  • Happy.
  • Anxious.
  • Preening.
  • Stretching muscles.

However, yawning sometimes signifies something stuck in the crop or esophagus. If a parrot appears distressed or is choking, take it to a vet for an urgent examination.


African greys commonly shake their heads and exhibit this behavior more than most species. While shaking is usually associated with pain or discomfort, it’s a form of preening.

While preening, a parrot will shake its head to rearrange the feathers around its collar and ears. African greys are particular about this area, so they shake their heads frequently to get their feathers right.

Sometimes, they shake their heads to show their displeasure or reject something.


Regurgitation signifies love and affection. Before expelling their food, African greys pin their eyes and stretch their necks. Parrots do this to bond with their mates and feed their young.

If a parrot regurgitates for you, it recognizes you as someone it trusts and cares for deeply. Unfortunately, it may consider you to be its partner.


An African grey’s eyes are one of the most expressive features and can enable you to determine what it’s feeling. The most common eye expressions include:


African greys can control their irises, causing them to expand rapidly and shrink. They do this in response to stimuli, but it can signify excitement, curiosity, fear, and happiness.

In most cases, eye pinning occurs when a parrot is interested in something in its environment. You’ll know this because its posture will be relaxed.

However, if the African grey puffs its feathers while pinning its eyes, it feels angry or afraid. At this point, it’s likely to bite or become aggressive.

Wide Eyes

Wide, round eyes signify that the African grey parrot is surprised. Perhaps it didn’t see you walk into the room or spotted something it didn’t expect to see.

Squinted Eyes

When African greys are annoyed or agitated, their eyes become more squinted than usual. This could develop into aggression unless the source of the annoyance is removed.

However, squinted eyes are also a sign of sleepiness.


An African grey’s wings are another essential component in its body language. Observing the parrot’s wing movements can help determine whether it’s happy and healthy.

Wing Lift

When an African grey raises its wings above its back, it gives you a friendly greeting. You’ll most likely see this when you enter the room for the first time each day.

Wing Flapping

Many African grey parrots flap their wings to exercise, stretch, or cool down.

Wing flapping is a good sign indicating a parrot is happy and contented. Similarly, a parrot may attempt to get your attention by flapping its wings.

Wing Drooping

Wing dropping isn’t a good sign in African grey parrots, as it means they’re exhausted, overheated, or ill. However, wing drooping is normal after a bath, indicating it’s drying off.

Quivering Wings

Wings held out by the African grey and quivering are part of a mating dance. It’s rarely a sign of sickness unless the entire body’s shaking simultaneously.

However, if the parrot holds its wings horizontally, it might be preparing to fly away from a threat. 

Opened Wings

Open, outstretched wings give the appearance of size. It’s a form of aggression or fear used against other birds, animals, or humans.

Parrots that fight for dominance will hold their wings out to make themselves look more formidable.


The language of feathers is hard to interpret. An African grey’s feather movements are often too subtle to notice and read. However, feather expressions include:

Ruffled Feathers

African greys ruffle and fluff their feathers to relieve tension. This action is a short stretch, making the parrot feel more comfortable.

They ruffle their feathers after preening to remove loose dirt and debris. African greys are dusty birds, so you might notice dust falling from the feathers.

If the African grey’s feathers remain fluffed up for several hours, it’s likely cold or ill.  

Flattened Feathers

African greys flatten their feathers when they’re afraid. Instead of being loose and relaxed, they’ll be held tightly to the parrot’s body. If cornered, it’ll likely turn aggressive.


How a parrot’s feet grip its perches and cage bars can be telling when it comes to its thoughts and emotions. When trying to gauge the African grey’s mood, check for the following:

Chicken Scratching

African greys sometimes scratch at the bottom of their cage. Scratching is a natural wild behavior carried over to captivity that they do to loosen dirt and debris.

Standing On One Foot

When an African grey parrot stands on one foot, it feels relaxed and comfortable. This is confirmed by relaxed feathers that aren’t held too tightly to the body.

Also, parrots stand on one leg to reduce heat loss from bare body parts.

Tight Grip

Fearful or scared African greys grip their perches tightly as a natural reaction. The chances of developing bumblefoot increase if the perches aren’t the right shape or width.

Hanging Upside Down

African greys enjoy hanging upside down from time to time. It’s not a concern as it signifies happiness and relaxation, even if it looks uncomfortable.

What Do The Different African Grey Noises Mean?

African greys aren’t overly loud birds. However, they’re advanced talkers that mimic sounds, numbers, and basic words and phrases.

While they don’t make many sounds, you can tell what they’re feeling with the following noise meanings:


African greys scream when scared or startled. Screaming is usually due to the environment making them feel stressed. If a parrot screams out of fear, try the following:

  • Moving the cage somewhere quieter.
  • Placing a cover over its cage when it sleeps to prevent night terrors.
  • Avoid putting on the TV or radio in the same room as the parrot at night.
  • Keep other pets away from the parrot.

When African greys scream for long periods, they’re likely bored. In particular, African greys require constant mental stimulation and interaction, so constant screaming signifies neglect.

Singing And Whistling

African greys love to sing and whistle and regularly copy songs and sounds they hear on TV and radio. These sounds aren’t shrill but are pleasant to listen to and showcase their mimicking abilities.

Similarly, whistling is a joyful sound when they’re happy and relaxed.


African grey parrots make a unique growling sound whenever they’re frightened.

Growling is unusual in the avian world and is almost exclusive to Congo and timneh parrots. For this reason, some owners misdiagnose their African grey parrot as having a respiratory condition.


When African greys are happy and content, they purr. It’s lower than the angry growl and can be heard when you stroke and pet the parrot.

Signs of A Happy African Grey Parrot

You’ll know if the African grey parrot’s happy and healthy because it’ll show the following signs:

  • Standing upright on its perch.
  • Relaxed feathers.
  • Purring.
  • Beak grinding.
  • Regular preening.
  • Head bowing.

When the African grey displays these signs, you have the best chance of bonding and socializing with them. So, get it out of its cage and offer it some treats.

signs of a happy African grey

Signs of A Sick African Grey Parrot

African grey parrots are known for shaking, which they do when unwell. You might see it mainly in the chest area, but their bodies will shiver in severe illness.

African greys respond to pain by shivering and shaking. If a parrot has a visible wound or isn’t itself, you must take it to the vet. Other reasons for shaking include:

  • Stress.
  • Fear.
  • Cold.
  • Too warm.
  • Displeasure.

Shaking also looks similar to:

  • Jerking.
  • Twitching.
  • Shivering in place.
  • Shifting from side to side.
  • Quaking.
  • Quivering.

Confusingly, shaking can sometimes indicate a parrot’s preening or bathing itself.

Paying attention to other signs of illness, such as drooping wings or frayed feathers, will enable you to determine why the African grey’s shaking. Other sicks of sickness in African grey parrots include:

  • No interest or a lack of awareness.
  • Inability to make eye contact.
  • Both feet on the perch.
  • Fluffed-up feathers.
  • Tail held straight down.
  • Slumped body posture.

How Do African Grey Parrots Show Affection?

African grey parrots are sociable animals that build strong bonds with their owners. If a parrot feels comfortable and safe in your presence, it’ll:

  • Cuddle.
  • Kiss.
  • Contact call.
  • Sing or purr.
  • Move its mouth and tongue more often.
  • Give you a jealous nip.
  • Regurgitate its food for you.
  • Fly straight at you.
  • Fluff its feathers.
  • Wag its tail.
  • Flap its wings.
  • Preen you.

These are signs that a parrot loves you and wants to be nearby.

Whenever you see or hear these noises and body language expressions, attempt to train the bird and teach it how to speak, as it’s likely more willing to learn.

Signs of Mating Behavior in African Grey Parrots

According to Watchbird, hormonal parrots become aggressive during the early stages of the mating season. African greys can be triggered by the surge in hormones they experience.

The most common form of aggression is biting, which happens when parrots attempt to defend their territory and guard their mates. It might imprint on you if it doesn’t have a mate, displaying aggressive tendencies toward others in the household.

Unfortunately, parrots sometimes develop an inappropriate attraction to their owners during this time. They’ll attempt to initiate copulation when touched by rubbing their vent on your hands and arm. Also, they’ll regurgitate their food for you.

During the mating season, African greys often vocalize by squawking and screaming. The sounds should subside when the African grey’s hormones calm down.

Part of the fun of owning an African grey is working out their body language and understanding what it means. They’re intelligent animals that communicate well.