African grey parrot body language

How To Read African Grey Body Language

African grey parrots are one of the most intelligent parrot species. Affectionately known as the “Einsteins” of the bird world, they have speaking abilities comparable to young children. This means that they can communicate with their owners through their body language and the sounds they make.

African greys have a range of body expressions and noises that signify their mood. When they’re happy, their feathers appear ruffled and relaxed. They’ll also purr and sing. When angry, they bite, droop their wings, and squint their eyes. Fearful African greys display similar body language expressions, flattening their feathers close to their body. Parrots also regurgitate, which is a natural behavior with their bonded mates and humans.

By getting to know your African grey’s movements and noises, you can learn to understand its wants and needs while preventing certain behavioral issues.

African Grey Parrot Body Language

As mentioned, parrots communicate in different ways. This means that you can analyze what your parrot’s most likely to be thinking and feeling with the most common African grey behavior meanings:

Head And Beak

An African grey’s head and beak expressions display a wide range of feelings and emotions, enabling you to determine your parrot’s mood at any given time. Head and beak body language includes:

Bowing And Bobbing

Tame African grey parrots bow and bob their heads. They do this to gain their owners’ attention. Unfortunately, sick parrots also do this, so you’ll need to watch for any signs of pain.

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

Beak Wiping

You’ll most likely see your African grey wiping its beak after it’s had something to eat. This is to remove any food traces. If it’s in the cage, it’ll wipe its beak on the bars or perches. If you’re in the middle of playing with it, 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 reasonable length. This is normal and natural. In fact, they need to do this to ensure that their beaks function properly.

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, which is a sign of contentment. The sound tends to be soft and gentle, leaving no cause for concern.

Biting

Biting is common amongst 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 you if your finger or hand’s in the way.

However, biting is also a form of aggression. This is caused by several things, including poor living conditions, hunger, or a lack of socialization. Another possibility for biting is that your African grey’s scared of you.

If your parrot appears with an open beak alongside a crouched posture and hissing, it’s getting ready to bite you.

African grey behavior meanings

Blushing

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

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 the sign of:

  • Excitement
  • Threats
  • Playfulness
  • Sexual selection
  • Anger

Your parrot will display a range of other signs when blushing, allowing you to determine its mood more accurately.

Yawning

While the purpose of yawning is still a mystery, most African greys yawn when they’re tired. It’s a sign of changing conditions within the body. Frequent yawning signifies that your parrot might not be getting enough sleep. African greys also yawn when they’re:

  • Happy
  • Anxious
  • Preening
  • Stretching muscles

However, yawning sometimes signifies that something’s stuck in your parrot’s crop or esophagus. If your parrot appears distressed or seems to be choking, take it to a vet for an examination.

Head-Shaking

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

While preening, the 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 in the right position.

In some cases, African greys shake their heads to show their displeasure or reject something. The difference between this and preening is clear.

Regurgitation

Regurgitation is a sign of love and affection. Before expelling their food, African greys pin their eyes, stretch out their necks. Parrots do this to bond with their mate and feed their young.

If your parrot regurgitates for you, it recognizes you as someone it trusts and cares for.

Eyes

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

Pinning

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

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

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

Wide Eyes

Wide, round eyes signify that the African grey parrot is surprised. This could be because it didn’t see you walk into the room, or it’s 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.

Wings

An African grey’s wings are another essential component in its body language. Observing your parrot’s wing movements can help you determine whether it’s happy and healthy or not.

Wing Lift

When your African grey raises its wings above its back, it’s giving you a friendly greeting. You’re most likely to 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 themselves down. Wing flapping is typically a good sign and indicates that your parrot is happy and content. Similarly, your parrot may also be attempting 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, as it indicates your parrot’s drying itself off.

Quivering Wings

Wings that are 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 at the same time.

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

Opened Wings

Open, out-stretched wings give the appearance of size. It’s a form of aggression or fear commonly used against other birds, animals, or humans. Parrots that fight for dominance will hold their wings out as wide as possible to make themselves look bigger and more formidable.

Feathers

The language of feathers is complex and hard to interpret. In many cases, an African grey’s feather movements are too subtle to notice and read. However, the most apparent feather expressions include:

Ruffled Feathers

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

They also 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. This is normal and nothing to worry about.

If your 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 like they should be, they’ll be held tightly to the parrot’s body. If cornered, the parrot will likely turn aggressive.

Feet

The way your parrot’s feet grip its perches and cage bars can be telling when it comes to their thoughts and emotions. When trying to gauge your African grey’s mood, watch for the following things:

Chicken Scratching

African greys sometimes scratch at the bottom of their cage or carpet. This 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. Parrots also stand on one leg to reduce the heat it loses from its bare body parts.

Tight Grip

Fearful or scared African greys grip their perches tightly as a natural reaction. If the perches aren’t the right shape or width, the chances of developing bumblefoot are increased.

Hanging Upside Down

African greys enjoy hanging upside down from time to time. It’s nothing to worry about 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, but they’re advanced talkers, mimicking 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:

Screaming

African greys scream when they’re scared or startled. This is usually because something in the environment is making them feel stressed. If your parrot screams out of fear, try:

  • Moving the cage to 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 of time, they’re likely bored. In particular, African greys are intelligent animals that require constant mental stimulation and interaction. Constant screaming is a sign that the parrot’s neglected and needs entertainment.

Singing And Whistling

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

Similarly, whistling is a happy sound. They do this when they’re happy and relaxed.

Growling

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. Because of this, some owners misdiagnose their African grey parrot as having a respiratory disease.

Purring

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 your parrot.

Signs of A Happy African Grey Parrot

You’ll know if your 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 your African grey displays these signs, you have the best chance of bonding and socializing with it. Take advantage of its good mood by getting it out of its cage and offering it some treats.

signs of a happy African grey

Signs of A Sick African Grey Parrot

African grey parrots have a reputation for shaking, which they do when they’re unwell. You might see it mainly in the chest, but in severe cases of illness, their entire bodies will shiver.

African greys respond to pain by shivering and shaking. If your 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

However, these things are different body movements altogether. 

Confusingly, shaking can sometimes indicate that the 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 the reason for your 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

All of these signs warrant a trip to an avian vet to make sure nothing’s seriously wrong.

How Do African Grey Parrots Show Affection?

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

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

These are tell-tale signs that your parrot loves you and wants to be near you. Whenever you witness or hear any of these noise and body language expressions, attempt to train your bird and teach it how to speak, as it’s likely to be most willing to learn at this point.

Signs of Mating Behavior In African Grey Parrots

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

The most common form of aggression is biting. This is because the parrot’s attempting to defend its territory and guard its mate. If it doesn’t have a mate, it might imprint on you, displaying aggressive tendencies toward other people in the household.

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

During the mating season, African greys will vocalize more often by squawking and screaming. The sounds should subside when your African grey’s hormones die 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 and communicate effectively when they need to.