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parrot behavior guide

17 Types of Parrot Behavior (And What It Means)

(Last Updated On: January 23, 2023)

Parrots communicate through sounds and body language. Anybody with a parrot must learn what these behaviors and noises mean to meet their 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 or, as a worst-case scenario, peck at or bite.

You can enjoy a long and agreeable relationship if you learn the varied behaviors of parrots and other companion birds. So, take the time to understand parrot behavior.

How To Understand A Parrot

Parrots won’t always express their wishes, desires, and concerns with speech. Learn what different parrot sounds mean and what is communicated through body language.

Parrot Verbalizations

Parrots can develop a vocabulary that can run as high as 1,000 words.

Alas, as intelligent as these birds are, a parrot doesn’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 these noises 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, please.”

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, please.”
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 summary of common parrot body language and verbalizations, but anybody rearing companion birds should consult a more detailed parrot behavior guide.

Here’s a summary of common parrot behaviors that you must recognize and understand:

1/ Biting and Nipping

Parrots are docile birds that rarely bite humans. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice also confirms that parrots don’t bite each other during conflict.

However, if a parrot is afraid for its safety or sees more subtle attempts to communicate ignored or misunderstood, it can resort to biting. This usually starts with a warning nip but can evolve into a severe bite that draws blood.

If you have any reason to believe that your parrot is agitated based on verbal cues or body language, don’t approach until it calms down.

2/ Bobbing the Head

Head bobbing is usually associated with juvenile parrots. This is a sign of pleasure and happiness, usually seen when the parrot is offered food or wants to be fed.

As parrots reach adulthood, some keep bobbing their head to show contentment. You may notice that your 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 in a parrot.

If your bird starts to bounce on the spot and wag its tail feathers when you enter a room, immediately approach, communicate, and provide petting.

4/ Breathing Through an Open Beak

Parrots should always breathe with their beak closed.

If your bird keeps its beak open, listen for any warning signs of labored breathing. It’s likely that your parrot has a respiratory illness, bacterial infection, or has become eggbound.

parrot body language

5/ Chewing and Grinding the Beak

Parrots love to chew and often gnaw on their perches and other decorations to keep their beaks trim.

This isn’t a concern if the perch isn’t made of anything toxic. Consider offering at least one calcium perch to provide another nutrient source.

Parrots will also grind their beaks, especially before sleep. This is widely considered a sign that your parrot is relaxed, happy, and contented.

6/ Digging and Scratching

Digging and scratching up the floor is a wild instinct for many species of parrot, especially African Grays. It is unlikely to be welcome, but your parrot will be compelled to act this way.

If you want to indulge your parrot’s drive to dig and scratch, provide them with a safe place to do so. Try letting your parrot play in a sandbox, or fill a cage with shredded paper to dig at.

7/ Drooping the Wings

Drooping wings are very common in parrots that have recently had a bath or played in the water. This posture is intended to let the water run off the wings and feathers, speeding up the drying process.

Wings that remain constantly down can point to the parrot overheating or an underlying illness.

8/ Feather Plucking

Feather plucking is a common but profoundly concerning behavior in parrots.

The Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine claims that it occurs in around 10% of all captive birds. This is an act of self-mutilation that suggests your parrot is highly stressed.

If your parrot has taken to forcibly removing its feathers, don’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Try the following:

  • Move the parrot’s cage to a different location.
  • Remove any unfamiliar objects from the parrot’s line of vision.
  • Work to establish a different or superior sleep schedule.
  • Reduce background noise in the parrot’s territory.
  • Check the ambient temperature, ensuring your parrot is comfortable.
  • Spend more time with the parrot if it’s alone most of the day or less if it is growing overstimulated by human company.

It’s also advisable to present this information to an avian veterinarian.

9/ Fluffing the Feathers

Fluffing up the feathers can have many meanings in parrots’ behavior, but the most common is removing dander or dust after bathing or a preening session.

If the puffing of feathers is accompanied by head bobbing and tail shaking, the parrot is expressing happiness to see you. The puffing of feathers is to attract your attention, so reward this with positive encouragement, such as verbal interaction and petting.

Some parrots puff their feathers when they feel threatened to make them look as large as possible. Keep your distance if the parrot is staring at you with narrowed eyes and squawking.

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. Keep your distance and understand what has caused such a reaction.

Occasionally, a parrot makes a purring sound akin to a cat. You’re likeliest to hear this during petting, as it suggests that your parrot is filled with contentment and affection.

11/ Hiding in the Cage

Parrots usually love interacting with human owners, so something is amiss if your parrot hides from you. While the parrot may cover itself while sleeping, no waking parrot should shy away from you.

If your parrot hides from you, consider if you’re holding something unfamiliar or have changed your appearance drastically. Many parrots struggle with neophobia, the fear of new or unknown things.

If you can’t pinpoint a reason for your parrot’s immediate fear response, get out of sight and observe from afar. Watch your parrot going about its business and look for any triggers causing unrest or upset. 

12/ Preening

Parrots are proud of their appearance, so preening is a regular part of their routine. Your bird will only undertake this grooming regime if it feels safe and comfortable.

Many parrots are happy to care for their hygiene, but others will ask you to assist, which can be a good bonding exercise. A parrot will only ask a human to help with preening if they trust you completely.

13/ Quivering

A quivering parrot will likely spark concern, as you may be concerned that your bird is having a seizure.

In reality, many parrots quiver as a sign of contentment, especially when being petted. Listen out for soft purring while you bond with your bird.

14/ Regurgitating Food

When a parrot regurgitates food into your hand, it’s a compliment from your bird. Parrots regurgitate food to feed their young, which shows affection, so the parrot wants to share its meal with you.

This can also be a sign of interest in mating, so if you keep two parrots of opposite genders, keep them apart for a while if you do not want them to breed.

There is a difference between regurgitation and vomiting.

Regurgitation will be passive, usually followed by excited head bobbing. Vomiting will take longer, feature more unpleasant noise, and involve involuntary spasms. The food will also be partially digested.

While regurgitation is natural, vomiting points to toxicity or another health concern.

how to understand a parrot

15/ Running Back and Forth

While parrots spend most of their day in a cage, it needs exercise and the opportunity to free up daily. Most experts recommend allowing a parrot out of its cage for at least hours daily.

If your parrot is running around or flying within its cage, it wants to burn off some energy. The longer a parrot is kept locked up in this state, the likelier it is to injure itself.

16/ Standing on One Leg

Parrots stand on one leg, especially on a perch, when they feel happy and contented.

Many parrots choose to sleep in this position, do not be surprised if you see it immediately before bedtime or if a nap quickly follows it.

If your parrot is perching with both feet, pay attention to your bird’s demeanor. Check your parrot’s feet for any sign of inflammation, as it could have bumblefoot.

17/ Tilting the Head or Stretching the Neck

A parrot tilting its head to one side can be viewed as a sign of happiness.

The parrot is glad to see you and will respond to any attempting petting – or, better yet, communication. This is a great time to teach your parrot some new words.

If the parrot isn’t tilting its head by stretching its neck, the meaning is more cautious. 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 is upsetting the parrot and remove the object or person.

For the relationship to work, you must understand how parrots communicate. Recognizing parrots’ sounds and body language will create a harmonious living arrangement.