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What To Do If Your Parrot Is Choking

(Last Updated On: June 17, 2023)

Parrots are curious birds who explore the world with their beaks, meaning they may swallow objects they shouldn’t. Although parrots rarely choke, since they swallow food whole, it can happen.

When a parrot chokes, identify what it’s choking on, giving it time to cough up a solid object. If it can’t do so, hold the parrot firmly, turn it upside down, and allow gravity to take its course.

Gently massage the parrot’s keel as some liquid will pass through as it coughs.

How To Help A Choking Parrot

Parrots can usually cough up blockages on their own. After cracking open the shell, they routinely swallow tough foods like seeds and nuts. They rarely choke but may need assistance if they do.

Here are some ways parrots can choke and how you should react:

Parrot Choking On Water

If a parrot chokes on water, it’s only a temporary blockage.

As a liquid, it’ll pass through any gap it can find. A parrot may have its airway blocked for a few seconds, but if it isn’t submerged in water, the liquid will drain away down the throat.

The parrot may cough and gag for a while as it regains access to its airway. It may also be coughing water out of its lungs and air sacs. However, this is a process that a parrot can resolve independently.

Avoid turning the parrot upside down or pressing on its keel because this only works for solid objects.

Parrot Choking On Food

If a parrot is choking on food or a solid object, this won’t pass as easily as water. Food may become trapped in the throat, blocking the airway partially or fully.

If a parrot is choking on food (or broken pieces of a toy), here’s what to do:

  1. Give the parrot time to cough. The parrot may remove the food itself, so intervening prematurely will stress out the parrot.
  2. Speak calmly and offer reassurance. The more relaxed you are, the more calmly the parrot will attempt to remove the blockage.

If choking on food lasts for more than 10 seconds, you should intervene:

  1. Place your hands around the parrot’s middle, holding it firmly, but don’t restrain its head.
  2. Lift the parrot and turn it upside down.
  3. Gravity and coughing will assist in forcing the object out.

If you don’t see an improvement, use one of these techniques:

  • Apply mild pressure to the keel (breastbone). Pressing gently will compress the area and should dislodge the item, but do so carefully because you may damage the bone.
  • Apply alternating pressure to the crop. This is the expandable pouch on the neck for food storage. Tap it with your finger, and the resulting pressure or shaking may clear the throat.
  • Simulate regurgitation. Hold the beak between your fingers, applying enough pressure to simulate the same head-bobbing motion observed during regurgitation.

Baby Parrot Choking on Formula

When a parrot eats soft food, like formula, it’s not choking on it. Baby parrots (chicks) are choking on the water content, as they’ve eaten too fast and aspirated water in the mix.

Food content is kept soft to avoid choking so it can’t get lodged in the throat. Once it begins coughing, the muscles contract and expand, moving the soft, gooey substance through.

The only exception is if you’ve overfed the parrot. According to AFA Watchbird, the feeding formula will have nowhere to go when the crop overfills.

Can You Give A Parrot The Heimlich Maneuver?

Never attempt to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a parrot.

The Heimlich maneuver stops asphyxiation in mammals. However, a parrot’s respiratory system differs because they don’t have a diaphragm (the muscle that contracts to let in air and push it back out).

With land mammals, most use a diaphragm for breathing. The classic Heimlich maneuver is impossible since parrots don’t have a diaphragm.

The closest version is massaging the keel bone, which stimulates the airway. However, the keel shouldn’t be pushed forcefully because it’s a bone, not a muscle.  

something stuck in parrot's throat

How To Tell If A Parrot Is Choking

The signs of a parrot choking are similar to a human’s reaction. After all, choking happens when something gets stuck in our trachea or esophagus.

A choking parrot will show some (or all) of these signs:

  • Opening its beak.
  • Coughing.
  • Gasping for breath.
  • Bobbing its head.
  • Wheezing.
  • Extending its neck and elongating its body.

If the parrot’s throat is partially blocked, it may cough for a few seconds. Once the airway clears, it’ll cough but draw in breath. The coughing should subside after a few minutes.

How To Tell If A Parrot Is Choking To Death

If the parrot’s airway is blocked, it may be incapable of sound. If so, it can only:

  • Extend its neck and body.
  • Head bob.
  • Flap its wings.

Extending its neck and body shows the parrot is struggling to clear out the object. It’s trying to stretch its throat to get the object to move.

If a parrot only does this for a few seconds and stops, it may have cleared the blockage. Now it’ll cough for a few seconds or minutes and be fine.

If the parrot extends its neck or stretches out several times, it’s still choking and needs assistance.

Things Parrots Choke On

While parrots are skilled at eating sharp or clunky objects without choking, it does happen.

Here are the common items that parrots choke on:

Broken Toys

As a parrot plays with its toy, it may break off a piece. This is most likely for thick plastic toys, leftover bones, or pieces of wood.

While most parrots know better than to eat the fragments, some may swallow them accidentally, which is common in toys with buttons, beads, or rubber parts.

Parrots usually avoid eating bone fragments by just picking out the marrow.

Tough Food

If you feed a parrot nuts, it’ll enjoy pulling them apart. This can be fun, but it poses risks. It might crack off a piece and swallow it. If it gets lodged, the parrot will choke.


Parrots are curious and playful, picking up items within their reach. Beware of loose buttons, small ornaments, and jewelry. Beads off a necklace or earring could get stuck in the throat.


The parrot may aspirate water if it tries to talk, whistle, or move around while drinking. This is the least dangerous choking, but it’s still uncomfortable.

Is My Parrot Choking or Something Else?

Even if it seems like choking, a parrot may be doing something entirely different. Birds have habits and behaviors that can be confused with choking.

Things Mistaken for Choking

If a parrot seems to be choking but isn’t, it might be:

Crop Adjusting

Sometimes parrots rearrange their crops. As mentioned, the crop (ingluvies) is a muscular pouch in the parrot’s throat that temporarily stores food.

The parrot can store food more comfortably by shifting its contents around. If this happens, you’ll likely observe strange head and neck movements.


Parrots regurgitate to eject food, which is an entirely natural behavior.

It’s a way for a parrot to feed its young or show affection to other parrots. A regurgitating parrot won’t show signs of stress as it’s a conscious action. To initiate regurgitation, parrots will:

  • Extend and retract their necks quickly.
  • Make a clicking or gagging noise.

Regurgitated food comes from the crop, not the stomach.

parrot choking on food


Vomiting is the involuntary discharge of food. If a parrot is vomiting bile, it might be hard to notice the contents coming up. Instead, you’ll think it’s choking.

The parrot might involuntarily bob its head before or during vomiting.


If a parrot has a respiratory infection, it may begin to cough regularly. Avian respiratory infections can occur for many reasons and can be life-threatening.

Food Poisoning

While they know better than to eat spoiled food, parrots may eat toxic food. This usually happens when owners give their parrots a treat without realizing it’s unsafe.

When a parrot is poisoned, it’ll struggle to breathe with its beak open wide.


A parrot may cough for many reasons, not just because it’s choking. It may be:

  • Clearing its throat after eating or drinking.
  • Readjusting its crop.
  • Mimicking human behavior.

A parrot’s cough can be loud and audible, with an uncanny resemblance to a human cough. It can also be quiet and subtle, making it hard to hear, so it’ll sound more like a soft chirping.

Can Parrots Choke To Death?

If a parrot eats something that fits in the beak but is too large for its throat, it’ll inevitably get stuck.

Once the food becomes lodged in the trachea, oxygen is cut off. This means that air will no longer be able to reach the air sacs around its body. While a bird can choke to death, it’s rare.

A vet must remove the blockage. If the parrot can’t breathe, they’ll insert an abdominal air sac tube for temporary respiration until the (partial) blockage is removed.

The vet will check for damage after the parrot has stopped choking and its airways have been cleared. This is achieved with an endoscopy to verify the integrity of its organs.