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African grey parrot body language

How To Read African Grey Body Language

Last Updated on: 27th September 2023, 08:29 am

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

African greys’ body language and vocalizations signify their mood and warn of future actions.

When happy, parrots’ feathers appear ruffled and relaxed, and they purr and sing. When angry, they droop their wings, squint their eyes, and bite. Fearful African greys flatten their feathers and hide.

By learning African greys’ movements and sounds, we can better understand their wants and needs while taking steps to discourage undesirable behaviors.

African Grey Parrot Body Language

Parrots communicate in various ways. You can determine what they’re thinking (and predict their actions) by noting the most common African grey behavior meanings:

Head And Beak

Head and beak body language include:

Bowing And Bobbing

Tame African grey parrots bow and bob their heads to gain their owners’ attention. To confuse matters, sick parrots do the same, so check for other signs of pain and discomfort.

Head bobbing can become repetitive and neurotic when bored or left alone in their cages. According to the University of Guelph, parrots develop “stereotypies” when they can’t forage or socialize.

Stereotypies are unique to captive parrots and aren’t a problem among wild birds.

Beak Wiping

You’ll most likely see an African grey wiping its beak after it has eaten.

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

African greys also rub and tap their beaks to keep them worn down to the optimal length. Parrots’ beaks comprise beta-keratin and are constantly growing. This means that the excess must be worn away.

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 when the parrot settles down for the night, signifying happiness and contentment. The sound is soft and gentle, leaving little room for concern.


African greys sometimes bite, but it’s not always a hostile act. For example, a bird may accidentally bite if it mistakes a finger for food. If you’ve just finished a meal, you’ll retain the scent.

Biting can signify aggression when exposed to poor living conditions, hunger, a lack of socialization, and fear. If a parrot has an open beak in a crouched posture and is hissing, it’s preparing to bite.

African grey behavior meanings


African greys blush to communicate. It’s not easy to see due to their facial feathers, but when they blush, the bare white patch of skin around the eyes and nares 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. Blushing in African greys signifies the following:

  • Excitement.
  • Threats.
  • Playfulness.
  • Anger.
  • Attraction.

A parrot will display other signs when blushing, like ruffling their head feathers.


Yawning is a reflex action that scientists don’t entirely understand. As in humans, yawning can cause other flock members to yawn. Most parrots yawn about 20 times per day.

African greys yawn (open and close their beaks) for the following reasons:

  • Thermoregulation (temperature control).
  • Tiredness.
  • Balance and orientation.
  • Boredom.
  • Affection (when a bird yawns when it sees you).

Yawning can mean something is stuck in the crop or esophagus. If so, a yawning-like action is intended to dislodge something. If this continues, the bird may need medical assistance.


African greys commonly shake their heads, exhibiting this behavior more than most species. Head shaking is usually associated with discomfort or displeasure.

Head shaking can also be similar to feather preening. While grooming, a parrot will shake its head from side to side to rearrange the feathers around its neck and ears.


Regurgitation involves feeding bonded mates and their young. It’s a way for a male to demonstrate to the female that he’ll be a good provider.

If a parrot regurgitates for you, it recognizes you as someone it trusts and cares for deeply. Unfortunately, the bird may be sexually attracted to you and consider you its mate.


An African grey’s eyes are among its most expressive features, enabling you to determine how and what it’s feeling. The most common eye expressions include:

Eye Pinning

African greys can control the movements of their irises, causing them to expand and contract rapidly. They do this in response to stimuli, signifying excitement, curiosity, fear, and happiness.

Usually, eye pinning (eye flashing) occurs when a parrot is focusing on something in its environment. When a parrot puffs its feathers while pinning its eyes, it’s more likely to be annoyed or afraid.

Wide Eyes

Wide, round eyes signify an African grey is startled or 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 evolve into aggression unless the source of annoyance is removed.

Squinted eyes can also indicate sleepiness, as the parrot struggles to remain awake.


An African grey’s wings are another essential part of its body language. Observing a parrot’s wing movements can determine whether it’s happy or healthy.

Wing Lift

When an African grey raises its wings above its back, it gives you a friendly greeting. You’ll most likely observe 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 positive sign, suggesting a parrot feels happy and contented. Also, a bird may attempt to get your attention by flapping its wings.

Wing Drooping

Wing-dropping means an African grey parrot is exhausted, overheated, or unwell. Also, wing drooping is normal after bathing because it’s part of how a bird dries off.

Quivering Wings

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

If a parrot holds its wings horizontally, it may be entering a state of readiness to escape a threat. 

Opened Wings

Open, outstretched wings, especially with fluffed-up feathers, create the illusion of size. It’s a form of intimidation that invokes fear in birds, animals, or humans.


The language of feathers can be hard to interpret. An African grey’s feather movements are often too subtle to notice and read. 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 dust. African greys are dusty birds.

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

Flattened Feathers

African greys flatten their feathers when afraid. Instead of the feathers being loose and relaxed, they’ll be held tightly against the body. If cornered, the bird will likely become defensive.


How a parrot’s feet grip the 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 cages. 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 comfortable. This is confirmed by relaxed feathers that aren’t tightly held against the body.

Also, parrots stand on one leg to reduce heat loss from their bare (unfeathered) feet/legs.

Tight Grip

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

Hanging Upside Down

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

What Do The Different African Grey Noises Mean?

African greys are large birds, meaning their vocalizations can be loud. They don’t squawk and scream as much as macaws but vocalize throughout the day.

Once trained, African greys are advanced talkers that mimic words and phrases. They can build an extensive vocabulary and are believed to be among the best talkers in the avian world.

Here are the most common sounds African greys make and what they mean:

Singing And Whistling

African greys sing and whistle, regularly copying sounds and songs they hear on the TV and radio. These sounds are pleasant to listen to, showcasing their mimicry.

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


African grey parrots make a unique growling sound when they feel afraid or behave defensively. The parrot wants you to cease your actions or move away.


When African greys feel happy and contented, they make purring sounds. It’s lower-pitched than an angry growl and can be heard when you stroke and pet a parrot.


African greys scream when scared, startled, or excited. Screaming is usually due to the environment making them feel stressed, over-stimulated, or unsafe.

If a parrot screams out of fear, take the following steps:

  • Spend more time engaging with the parrot to prevent negative behaviors.
  • Move the cage to a quieter room (less traffic, footfall, etc.)
  • Keep other pets (cats, dogs, etc.) away from the parrot’s room.
  • Place a cover over its cage while it sleeps to prevent night terrors.

When African greys scream for long periods, they’re likely bored. They require regular mental stimulation and interaction, so constant screaming signifies that a pet parrot wants more attention.

Signs of A Happy African Grey Parrot

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

  • Talkative and engaging.
  • Active and energetic.
  • Standing upright on its perch.
  • Relaxed feathers.
  • Purring and beak grinding.
  • Regular preening.

All parrot species are most active and vocal at sunrise (first thing in the morning).

signs of a happy African grey

Signs of A Sick African Grey Parrot

African grey parrots are known for shaking, often when unwell. You may observe this in the chest area, but their entire bodies will shiver in cases of severe illness.

African greys often respond to discomfort by shivering and shaking. Reasons for shaking include:

  • Fear and anxiety.
  • Uncomfortable room temperature.
  • Post-bathing.
  • Extreme emotions (happiness vs. displeasure).
  • Preening behavior

Shaking also looks similar to:

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

Other sicks of sickness in African grey parrots include:

  • No interest or a lack of awareness.
  • Unwillingness to make eye contact.
  • Both feet are perched.
  • Fluffed-up feathers.
  • Tail held straight down.
  • Slumped body posture.

If these are coupled with a parrot not eating and drinking, it should be examined by a vet.

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:

  • Nuzzle against you.
  • Contact call.
  • Sing or purr.
  • Move its mouth and tongue more often.
  • Regurgitate food for you.
  • Wag its tail and flap its wings.
  • Preen your hair.

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

Signs of Mating Behavior in African Grey Parrots

According to Watchbird, hormonal parrots may become hostile during the early part of the breeding season. African greys’ behavior can be erratic due to a surge in hormones.

Then, biting happens when parrots attempt to defend their territory and guard their mates.

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

During the breeding season, African greys vocalize by squawking and screaming more than usual. The sounds should subside once the bird’s hormones calm down.

Part of the fun of owning an African grey is understanding their body language and what it means. Parrots are intelligent animals that communicate well.