Last Updated on: 30th May 2023, 09:04 am
Parrots communicate through sounds and body language. Anybody with a parrot must learn what these noises and behaviors mean to meet their care needs.
Chirping and clicking with the tongue are signs that a parrot is happy and content, as is purring during petting. Parrots whistle when they desire attention, cry when upset, and squawk when frightened. Parrots also hiss, growl, and click their beaks as a warning.
Body language cues are even more critical. Happy, contented parrots perch on one leg, tilt their head when they see you, bobs their heads and wag their tail feathers, and ask for assistance during preening. Some parrots also quiver with happiness while being petted.
Angry parrots fluff their feathers and stare with narrowed eyes, warning you to stay away. If you ignore these warnings and approach, a parrot may hide, peck, or bite.
How To Understand A Parrot
Parrots rarely express their desires and concerns with speech. Learn what different parrot sounds mean and what is communicated through body language.
Parrots can develop a vocabulary that can extend to 1,000 words.
Alas, as intelligent as they are, parrots don’t always understand the meaning behind the language it uses. Often, a parrot mimics speech patterns it finds pleasurable.
Instead of focusing on words, listen out for specific sounds and understand their meaning:
|Chirping and chattering||“I’m feeling relaxed and content – feel free to say hello.”|
|Clicking the beak||“I am in charge here – don’t enter my space.”|
|Clicking with the tongue||“I’m excited – I’m about to be fed or let out of the cage.”|
|Crying||“I am lonely, afraid, or upset.”|
|Hissing or growling||“Stay away – I am stressed and will bite.”|
|Purring||“I feel very safe and happy with you.”|
|Squawking or screeching||“Something is wrong – I don’t feel safe and happy.”|
|Squeaking||“Something scared or startled me,” or “I have a sore throat.”|
|Whistling||“Pay me some attention.”|
Common Parrot Body Language
Parrots rely on body language and non-verbal cues to express their complex emotions and wishes. To maintain a positive relationship with a parrot, understand the meaning of these physical cues:
|Drooping the head||“Pet me.”|
|Drooping wings||“I’m drying off from a bath,” or “I don’t feel well.”|
|Head bobbing and tail wagging||“It’s great to see you.”|
|Head tilt to left or right||“Hello, friend – do you have something for me?”|
|Perching on one foot||“I feel relaxed and content – I might take a nap.”|
|Perching on two feet||“Something is wrong – I’m stressed, or my feet hurt.”|
|Plucking feathers||“I’m very stressed and need help.”|
|Running or flying in the cage||“I have lots of energy – let me out of my cage.”|
|Staring, dilated eyes||“I’m overstimulated – approach with caution.”|
|Stretching the Neck||“I see something suspicious, and I want a better look.”|
Common Parrot Behaviors and Their Meanings
We’ve provided a cheat sheet of common parrot body language and verbalizations, but anybody rearing companion birds needs a more detailed parrot behavior guide.
Here’s a summary of common parrot behaviors to recognize and understand:
1/ Biting and Nipping
Parrots rarely bite humans. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice stated that parrots don’t bite each other during fights and conflicts.
It may bite if a parrot sees more subtle attempts to communicate ignored or misunderstood. This usually starts with a warning nip but could be a severe bite that draws blood.
If you think a parrot is agitated based on verbal cues and body language, don’t approach until it’s calm.
2/ Bobbing the Head
Head bobbing is usually associated with juvenile parrots. This is a sign of happiness and pleasure, usually seen when the parrot is offered food or believes it will be fed.
As parrots reach adulthood, some keep bobbing their head to show contentment. You may notice that the parrot bobs its head when it sees you.
If it also wags its tail, the parrot is greeting you with undisguised enthusiasm.
3/ Bouncing on the Spot and Wagging The Tail
Similar to bobbing the head, this is a sign of unqualified excitement for parrots.
If a bird starts to bounce on the spot and wag its tail feathers when you enter the room, you can approach, communicate, and provide petting.
4/ Breathing Through an Open Beak
Parrots should always breathe with their beak closed.
If a bird keeps its beak open, listen for warnings of labored breathing. It may be that a parrot has a respiratory illness, bacterial infection, or is eggbound.
5/ Chewing And Grinding The Beak
Parrots like to chew and often gnaw on their perches and other decorations to keep their beaks trim. They also grind their beaks, especially before sleep. This signifies a parrot is relaxed and happy.
6/ Digging and Scratching
Digging and scratching the floor is a wild instinct for many parrot species, especially African greys.
If you want to indulge the parrot’s drive to dig and scratch, provide them with a safe place to do so. Try letting the parrot play in a sandbox or fill a cage with shredded paper to dig into.
7/ Drooping the Wings
Drooping wings are common among parrots recently bathed or played in the water. This is intended to let the water run off the wings and feathers, expediting the drying process.
Wings constantly remaining down could suggest a parrot is overheating or is unwell.
8/ Feather Plucking
Feather plucking is a common but profoundly concerning behavior in pet parrots.
The Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine discovered that feather-destructive behavior occurs in around 10% of all captive birds. This is an act of self-mutilation, implying that a parrot is highly stressed.
If a parrot is forcibly removing feathers, don’t just hope it goes away. Do the following:
- Move the parrot’s cage to a different room.
- Remove unfamiliar objects from the parrot’s line of vision.
- Establish a better sleep schedule.
- Reduce background noise in the parrot’s territory.
- Check the ambient temperature, ensuring the parrot is comfortable.
- Spend more time with the parrot if it’s alone most of the day.
- Spend less time together if a bird is growing overstimulated by human company.
Share your observations and findings with the parrot’s veterinarian.
9/ Fluffing The Feathers
Fluffing up feathers has various meanings in parrots’ behavior, but the most common explanation is removing dirt, dust, and debris following a bathing or a preening session.
If the puffing of feathers is accompanied by head bobbing and tail shaking, the parrot expresses happiness in seeing you.
The puffing of feathers is intended to attract your attention, so reward this with positive encouragement, such as verbal interaction, playing together, or petting.
Some parrots puff their feathers when they feel threatened to make themselves appear larger. Keep your distance if a parrot is staring at you with pinned eyes and squawking loudly.
10/ Growling, Hissing, and Purring
A parrot that’s growling or hissing is afraid and stressed. Approaching a parrot in this state will result in being bitten. Stay out of range and understand what may have caused this negative reaction.
Occasionally, a parrot makes a purring sound akin to a cat. You’re likeliest to hear this during petting because it suggests the parrot feels contented and affectionate.
11/ Hiding in The Cage
Parrots usually love interacting with their owners, so something is amiss if a parrot hides from you. While a parrot may cover itself while sleeping, a waking parrot shouldn’t shy away from you.
If a parrot hides from you, consider if you’re holding something unfamiliar or have changed your appearance drastically. Parrots have neophobia, the fear of new or unknown things.
If you can’t determine the reason for a parrot’s fear response, move out of sight and observe from afar. Watch the parrot go about its business and look for triggers causing unrest.
Parrots are proud of their appearance, so preening is part of their routine. However, a bird will only undertake this grooming regime when it feels safe.
Most parrots manage their hygiene, but others want assistance, which can be an excellent bonding exercise. A parrot will only ask a human to assist with preening if it trusts you implicitly.
In reality, many parrots quiver as a sign of contentment, especially when being petted. Listen out for soft purring while you bond with the bird.
14/ Regurgitating Food
When a parrot regurgitates food on you, it shows care for your welfare. Parrots regurgitate food to feed their young, which shows love and care. The parrot wants to share its meal with you.
There’s a difference between regurgitation and vomiting.
Regurgitation is passive, usually followed by excited head bobbing. Vomiting takes longer, features more unpleasant noise, and involves involuntary spasms. The food will also be partially digested.
While regurgitation is natural, vomiting indicates toxicity or an alternative health concern.
15/ Running Back And Forth
While parrots spend most of their day in a cage, they need regular exercise and out-of-cage time. Most experts recommend allowing a parrot out of its cage for 2-3 hours.
If a parrot is running around, flapping its wings, or flying inside its cage, it wants to burn off some energy. The longer a parrot remains confined, the likelier it is to injure itself.
16/ Standing on One Leg
Parrots stand on one leg, especially on a perch, when happy and contented.
Many parrots choose to sleep in this position, don’t be surprised if you observe it immediately before bedtime or if a nap soon follows.
If a parrot is perching with both feet, pay attention to its demeanor. Check the parrot’s feet for inflammation because it could have bumblefoot.
17/ Tilting the Head or Stretching the Neck
A parrot tilting its head to one side signifies happiness. It’s pleased to see you, so it’ll respond well to petting and communication. This is an excellent time to teach a parrot new words.
The meaning is more cautious if the parrot isn’t tilting its head by stretching its neck. The parrot has seen something unfamiliar and is unsure how to react, so it stretches its neck to get a better look.
If neck stretching is paired with squawking or screeching, identify what’s upsetting the parrot and remove the object or person from its vicinity.
For the human-bird relationship to work, you must understand how parrots communicate. Recognizing parrots’ sounds and body language is part of creating a harmonious living arrangement.