Parrots’ tongues enable them to speak and mimic words, manipulate and funnel food into the throat, handle objects, and taste items. The design and placement of the tongue also support the movement and function of the beak. The tongue even contains a bone that is connected to another five dexterous parts.
A parrot’s tongue is muscled and articulated. This gives parrots control over it, so they can grasp and even manipulate objects or food. In addition to a bone, it’s also made up of cartilage, which creates a hyoid apparatus and holds the tongue in place. It gives the muscle prehensile ability and lets parrots replicate complicated sounds that even other mimicking creatures cannot match.
Parrot tongues are usually black, but they may be pink, grey, or spotted. The color sometimes matches the parrot’s own unique coloring, with blues and yellows. Parrots’ tongues are always dry, can reach far out of their beaks, and will make fun clicking sounds. If your parrot sticks out its tongue, this can be a playful game or a way to taste food it can’t properly eat.
What Does A Parrot’s Tongue Look Like?
At first glance, a parrot’s tongue looks quite similar to ours. It’s fleshy, small, and depending on the species, it may be pink or lightly colored.
Parrots can even curiously extend them. This can look as though they’re playfully goading or mocking others, just like people. However, all similarities end there, both in form and function.
With a closer look, you’ll see that parrot tongues are:
- Long enough that it can extend out of the beak
Some species may have tongues adapted for different feeding methods. Such is the case with lorikeets. They possess a brush or bristle-like appendage at the very tip of the tongue.
This is used for collecting pollen off of flowers, their main source of nutrition in the wild. However, they can use this unique feature for many other purposes, such as playing with toys.
Parrot tongues range in size and color, depending on the species. However, most share the same basic traits.
Parrot tongues are Y-shaped, long, and end in an indentation. This is caused by a forked bone on the inside. According to Acta Biomater, this bone is called the paraglossal. It’s responsible for giving the tongue its prehensile abilities. In basic terms, it helps these birds grasp and hold onto things.
The paraglossal bone is one of 5 different bones in the tongue. Together, they comprise the Hyoid apparatus. The main purpose of this is to:
- Anchor the tongue
- Allow it to expand and contract
Humans have a simplified version of this. We do not have a bone inside of our tongue, but do have a single bone (simply called the hyoid) lying underneath the tongue. According to StatPearls, this is connected only by ligaments and muscle.
Why Do Some Parrots Have Black Tongues?
Parrots’ tongues can be one or more of several colors. Black is the most common one. Pink and grey are also seen often.
Science doesn’t completely understand why the different colors are necessary. Likewise, it’s unknown why the tongues lean towards black. Even still, it’s believed there is a connection to the beak color.
Some species have unique coloration, such as the blue and gold hyacinth. It has a blue tongue with yellow spots. Likewise, the red and black palm cockatoo has a matching red and black tongue.
Once a parrot has a fixed tongue color, it should maintain that color. If your parrot’s tongue suddenly changes color, it may have an illness. It should be taken to an avian vet. In particular, tongues that look whitish or yellow are a sign of infection.
How Parrot Tongues Work?
Most things in nature have a purpose, and that goes double for parrot tongues. These highly specialized muscular organs have evolved to complement and assist parrot physiology.
Why Do Parrots Move Their Tongue?
In lieu of hands, parrots use their tongues to explore the world around them. They will use the tongue to:
- Manipulate whatever catches these curious birds’ attention
They will also move the tongue to shape air and sound. This enables them to mimic speech and other clicking sounds, especially those which are normally exclusive to mammals.
Why Are Parrots’ Tongues Dry?
You may notice that a parrot’s tongue is quite dry. This is especially true near the tip, and for good reason. This allows parrots to hold small items or bits of food in place with only their tongue, an impressive feat indeed.
As you inspect the tongue closer, near the base and back of the throat, it may be slightly moist. However, it is never drenched or glistening in saliva. Parrots do produce saliva, but in very limited quantities. That’s because their salivary glands are located near the throat only.
After all, birds swallow their food entirely whole. They don’t chew, so it isn’t necessary to have saliva moistening the inside of the beak. The tongue itself pushes food back into the gullet. Here, there is a small amount of saliva that will lubricate the food and oesophagus. This helps food pass down through the throat.
How Are Parrot Tongues Different?
Parrots’ tongues are special not just in the animal kingdom, but among birds as well. This is because of how the tongue is built into the beak. In general, tongues are connected by either:
- Intrinsic muscles. These connect the multiple bones and cartilage within the hyoid. They allow the hyoid to move and shift to reshape the tongue.
- Extrinsic muscles. These connect the tongue to bones outside of the hyoid. That allows it to move around.
Parrots are among a small number of creatures that possess both of these. Humans are another rare case. This combination of extrinsic and intrinsic muscles gives parrots a tremendous amount of control. They use it to:
- Move their tongues
- Hold onto food
- Move objects around
- Explore their environment
- Change tongue shapes to assist in mimicking speech
Parrot tongues are also specially adapted to their feeding method. Since these birds do not have teeth, they do not chew. They don’t even use saliva the same way we do. Rather, they swallow their food whole, breaking it up with their beaks in case it’s too big to fit.
Once inside the mouth, the tongue acts as a sort of manipulator arm. It pushes food to the back of the throat, where a few salivary glands are located. Since this food is always whole, the parrot needs extra dexterity to move the food around to properly fit.
Likewise, parrots don’t have lips. They can only keep food in their mouths by positioning their heads and using their nimble tongues.
Do All Parrots Have Tongues?
All parrots have tongues, but their use of these body parts is vastly different. In general, the larger the bird, the more adept it is at using its tongue.
Cockatoos, African greys, and macaws are particularly skilled. They can use their tongues perfectly with their beaks to:
- Break apart thick, sharp objects
- Maneuver pieces inside the mouth
- Fish out hidden food in nooks and crannies
- Pick up and move items without dropping them
Meanwhile, you won’t see little parrots, such as budgies, using their tongues so diversely. Here, the body part is mostly intended to guide food into the mouth, rather than move around outside objects.
Do All Parrots Have A Bone In Their Tongue?
All parrots, and birds for that matter, have a bone in their tongue. This connects to a set of 5 bones in total that assist the tongue. Together, they are known as the hyoid apparatus. The hyoid is what:
- Holds the tongue in place
- Gives it maneuverability
- Provides the control that parrots need
The 5 bones are called the:
This last one is split into a Y-shape in parrots. It allows them to grasp things with the tip of their tongue. This hyoid apparatus will adapt to each bird’s specific environment and feeding method.
Therefore, they are structurally the same across all birds, but have different aspects that custom-tune it to each species. Likewise, each tongue will vary in size and shape, according to the kind of beak it’s in.
Parrot Tongue Hole
If you look inside your parrot’s beak, you’ll notice an opening right at the back. This is near the base of the tongue. It appears like a hole, but isn’t some terrible injury your parrot has sustained. It connects to several other pieces, but from the inside, you’re looking at the glottis.
The glottis is a cavity located at the base of the tongue. It sits just at the top of the larynx (not to be confused with the syrinx, which is what allows a parrot to speak). This glottis forms part of the respiratory system.
In humans, the glottis is covered by the epiglottis, a leaf-shaped flap that covers the windpipe. This covering opens when we take a breath, and closes when we do a swallowing motion. That, of course, prevents food from entering our airways. It’s there to protect us from accidental aspiration.
Parrots do not have an epiglottis, so the glottis is always open. Therefore, it will look like an orifice. This is also why some birds have a high risk of aspiration. They may accidentally choke while drinking water if they are startled, or if they try to talk while eating.
Regardless, the glottis is meant to be open at all times for parrots. That’s true even while they sleep, and should be no cause for concern.
Parrot Keeps Sticking Tongue Out
It’s usually not dangerous if a parrot sticks out its tongue often. It can’t dry out the tongue and get sick. Likewise, parrots often do this for a specific reason, such as to:
- Taste an object that won’t fit in its mouth
- Taste a mist that’s been sprayed in the air
- Just have fun and entertain themselves
That’s because parrots’ tongues don’t have the same distribution of taste buds that we do. The very tip of the tongue is soft and dry, made for interacting with and manipulating possible unknown objects. As such, it does not contain many taste buds.
While humans have approximately 10,000 taste buds, parrots’ tongues have an average of 300. These are mostly located in the back of the tongue.
As such, when a parrot wants to taste something that can’t fit into its beak, it will extend its entire tongue. It will then curl it downwards, exposing what appears to be some opening or pocket. With this, it will try to touch the foreign object, exposing it to the taste buds located there.
To anyone unfamiliar with this behavior, it may seem like the tongue is damaged or the bird is sick. However, this is healthy, exploratory behavior. It’s especially noticeable with larger parrots, where the ridges at the back of the tongue are more distinguishable.
No matter the species, though, some parrots just do it for fun. If your pet did this once and received positive attention, it’ll do it again and again. It’s no different than the bird dancing, bobbing its head, or singing a tune. It’s learned that you appreciate the habit and want to gain your approval.
With that in mind, watch your parrot closely. If it only does this when someone is around, it may be trying to get attention and praise. If it does it while it’s alone, it may just think it’s funny.
On the flip side, if the parrot’s tongue is permanently stuck out of the beak, then be concerned. Any number of underlying conditions may be preventing it from keeping its tongue in a natural resting position. This may include:
- Inflammation of a bone
- Damage to the muscle in the jaw
- Injury to the tongue itself
All of these can easily result in discomfort and make the parrot stick out its tongue. You should consult with a vet about possible treatment options.
Why Is My Parrot Clicking Its Tongue?
Parrots are very expressive and their behavior will usually reflect how they feel. When parrots feel happy, content, or excited, it is common for them to make clicking sounds. This is nothing more than a random, fun, and happy noise. It’s similar to how parrots may squawk loudly when they feel good.
In the wild, parrots adapt to sounds they enjoy. They may pick up songs from other birds or mimic calls from flock members. In your home, parrots often learn words and sounds to fit in, but also because it’s entertaining. That’s why your parrot may suddenly mimic an alarm clock, coughing sound, or laugh.
While those sounds require time to learn, clicking does not. Even young chicks may begin clicking. It exercises their tongue, distracts them, and helps them play with others.
With that said, it does vary from parrot to parrot. Depending on the species, the sounds can be intended as threatening. Be sure to watch its body language. If it doesn’t seem scared or aggressive, then it’s just bored or passing the time.
Can A Parrot Injure Its Tongue?
Your parrot’s tongue may be guarded by the beak, but it can still get injured. This is liable to happen in normal everyday activities or from unforeseen accidents. Tremendous care must be taken in any case. Tongues are exceedingly vascular. As such, they will bleed profusely after any laceration or trauma.
Parrots use their sense of taste and touch to navigate the world around them. Unfortunately, this means a parrot may cut itself during such mundane activities. That might include chewing on something sharp, like:
- A broken toy
- A button
- Metal, such as with a zipper lining
That’s why it’s important to regularly inspect your parrot’s cage. Possible hazards will include:
- A torn-off piece of wire
- A water dispenser’s hooks
- Even an unhinged cage floor
Cuts may also occur from territorial bouts with other members of the flock. That’s especially true if the confrontation is against or amongst larger, more aggressive birds, like cockatoos. Cockatoos have been known to cause terrible injuries to other birds while biting. Wounds may permanently maim smaller parrots, rendering them unable to feed themselves.
How To Treat Injuries
Any tongue injury should be looked at by an avian veterinarian, and promptly. There is a limited amount of first aid you can apply in the case of an emergency. Although you may want to clot the wound, avoid using:
There is a grave aspiration risk, which will only deteriorate the situation. Styptic must also be avoided on the tongue, since there’s a chance of poisoning. Instead, provide water and comforting words to your parrot while it gets medical attention.
Keep in mind that birds are exceedingly skilled at hiding any weakness. Even if your parrot seems to have “shaken off” the injury or is getting better on its own, be vigilant. Symptoms of possible infections might not show until it is too late. Due to the sheer concentration of blood vessels in the tongue, a parrot can easily bleed out if any cut is left unchecked.
Can A Parrot Get A Tongue Infection?
Tongues are quite vulnerable. There are many sources of infection for them, and they can all be deadly. Even problems that appear insignificant can escalate. A small abrasion or laceration on the tongue, if not tended to, can easily become an infection.
Foreign bodies account for a sizable portion of tongue infections. A dirty, rusty cage is a serious hazard if the parrot passes its tongue over the bars. A piece of rust can become encrusted in the tongue, or worse, infect an existing cut. Even a splinter of wood that’s broken off of a toy can become embedded in the tongue. That will result in inflammation.
According to the University Clinic for Companion Animals, hypovitaminosis A (vitamin A deficiency) can lead to an increase in mucous build-up. It may also cause white plaques to appear around the base of the tongue.
This, in turn, will become infected and may cause severe irritation and swelling of the tongue. Luckily, that can be averted by providing a balanced diet for your pet bird. It is common in parrots that are kept on a mostly seed diet, instead of a formulated one.
Infections may also result from exposure to bacteria and parasites. For birds, and parrots specifically, the most common infections are:
This disease is hard to detect, but is lethal. It comes from the parasite trichomonas gallinae, and is caused by drinking water from infected sources. It results in a severe build-up of white plaques on or around the base of the tongue, known as canker.
Canker build-up will escalate into severe respiratory complications. This illness has an extremely high infection and mortality rate. Flocks infected with canker need to be inspected closely. If the infection is rampant, then culling may be necessary.
This disease can affect a wide range of organs, the tongue among them. Among its three main forms, it is the diphtheritic form that targets the oral cavity. Symptoms present themselves as plaques on the tongue.
Companion birds like parrots are not likely to contract this virus, but all birds are at equal risk. This virus is insect-borne, with mosquitoes being a common carrier.
Swollen Tongue Due To Infection
A swollen tongue is a massive concern for parrots. It not only indicates a (likely painful) health risk in your parrot. It also has a high risk of blocking the parrot’s airways, leading to respiratory complications. Just as bad, a swollen tongue creates:
- Behavioral changes, such as hostility and irritation
- An inability to feed or preen
A bite from another parrot (especially a cockatoo) could easily tear a tongue or break one of its internal bones, leading to inflammation. A broken paraglossal is a serious issue indeed, as it primarily limits the range of motion of the tongue. It also inhibits the parrot’s ability to grasp food or even drink water. If the bone is not broken, a hard bite might still cause osteomyelitis, a severe bone infection.
No matter the case, if an infection is suspected, seek out a vet immediately. Luckily, parrot tongue injuries and infections are rare.
Parrots have interesting and complicated tongues. They help them to speak, navigate their world, and stay in good health. While they vary from parrot to parrot, each is uniquely suited to help that bird thrive.