what makes parrots yawn?

Why Is My Parrot Yawning A Lot?

Yawning is a bit of a mystery, and scientists still don’t know the real cause of this phenomenon. Like most other vertebrates, it’s very common for parrots to yawn, which they do for several reasons. 

Parrots yawn when tired, as well as when they’re happy or anxious. Some parrots yawn after preening to stretch their muscles and correct their crop. Yawning is also contagious – when one parrot yawns, the rest are likely to follow. Parrots also open and close their mouths repeatedly, which looks like yawning. This is a sign of respiratory disease, bacterial or yeast infection, regurgitation, or an infection.

If your parrot appears to frequently yawn, check its sleeping quarters to ensure that there’s enough darkness, and keep the noise to a minimum. Similarly, if you suspect a health issue, take your parrot to the vet as your parrot may have an obstruction that is causing discomfort.

What Makes Parrots Yawn?

One theory is that yawning wakes up the brain by lowering its temperature. Another is that bodies take in less oxygen when bored or tired. Yawning helps to bring more oxygen into the blood and move carbon dioxide out.

While nothing is proven, parrots likely yawn for one of these reasons:

Tiredness

As described by Scientific American, yawning is a sign of tiredness and changing conditions within the body. Parrots yawn when they’re fatigued, when awakening, and any other time their alertness is shifting.

Yawning can be the sign that a parrot’s not getting enough sleep, especially if they yawn over and over. Other symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Feather plucking
  • Aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive screaming
  • Excessive fear from where the parrot’s overtired

If you notice any of these symptoms, double-check your parrot’s sleeping area to make sure it’s not too noisy and that there’s enough darkness at nighttime. If not, your bird will struggle to get the 10 to 12 hours of sleep it needs. To sleep soundly, parrots also need:

  • A safe space that other pets can’t access
  • A sheet or blanket over the cage to provide enough darkness
  • A bed for birds that don’t like sleeping on a perch
  • A nesting box where they can feel safe

Providing these things, or at least the ones that are relevant to your parrot, will help it drift off every night and feel safe and secure while it sleeps.

parrot repeatedly yawning

Happiness

Parrots make a yawning action when they’re happy. If you stroke your bird and it yawns, it’s because it’s showing you happiness and affection. Don’t stop petting your bird straight away, as it’s enjoying the social interaction. This is also the perfect moment to build your bond.

Similarly, petting and stroking are likely to put your parrot into a state of relaxation. As a result, it’ll yawn because it feels sleepy and content.

Parrots may also yawn after receiving their favorite treat or game to play. As complex, intelligent creatures, they’re highly skilled at conveying their feelings and do so in a manner of ways. Yawning is just one of them. Other signs of happiness include:

  • Singing
  • Talking
  • Whistling
  • Chattering
  • Tongue clicking
  • Blushing
  • Purring
  • Fluffed feathers
  • A relaxed body posture when they’re around you
  • They stretch their wings towards you

These are signs that your parrot feels comfortable around you. In this case, yawning is nothing to worry about.

Anxiety

Some parrots yawn as a comforting mechanism whenever they feel stressed and anxious. If your parrot displays signs of displeasure at the same time as yawning, something is bothering it. This could be:

  • Poor living conditions
  • Bothersome pets, such as cats and dogs
  • Loud noises from a TV, radio, or family members
  • Aggressive cage mates
  • A poor-quality diet

Signs of stress include:

  • Stress bars on the feathers
  • Feather loss
  • Reduction in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Aggression
  • Changes in vocalization
  • Repetitive behavior

To prevent your parrot’s anxiety, you’ll need to get to the bottom of it and improve its living conditions.

Preening

Some parrots yawn after preening their feathers. This is a natural process whereby they move their feathers into place, removing bacteria and dirt from their feathers while spreading the oils. This keeps them clean and healthy.

Because they use their beaks to preen, some parrots need to yawn afterward to get their crop back in place, making them feel more comfortable. Dust and dirt are also likely to get into your parrot’s system during the preening process, so yawning is a way to help push it through to the crop.

However, if your parrot yawns repetitively after grooming, it may have something stuck. If so, get a vet to take a look.

Stretching Muscles

Similar to preening, some parrots yawn to stretch their muscles, especially after a long sleep. This is normal – your bird’s simply getting its crop in order, ready for a day of eating and drinking.

The only time you need to be concerned is if your parrot seems uncomfortable or in pain. This indicates that there’s a problem – most likely with the bird’s crop, throat, or esophagus. Even though this is the worst-case scenario, there’s never any harm in taking your parrot to the vet to get the issue checked out.

Contagious

As described by the journal Animal Cognition, yawning is contagious. In a study, budgerigars were paired in adjacent cages without a visual barrier. Another study saw the birds exposed to a video of other budgies yawning.

They found that the budgies yawned three times as much when they could see each other and twice as often when they watched the video of other budgies yawning.

This shows that yawning is contagious. It also indicates that budgies are emphatic and can put themselves in each other’s shoes to determine what they’re feeling.

If you have a flock of birds, you’ll often find that one parrot starts a chain reaction of yawning. You’ll have a hard time not joining in with this, too.

Why Is My Bird Opening And Closing Its Mouth?

While yawning is a typical parrot behavior, constant yawning isn’t. Yawning tends to happen only once in a while and is more likely when you have multiple birds. That’s because, as described, they catch yawns from each other.

If your bird continuously opens and closes its mouth, a health issue might be to blame. This behavior looks like yawning, but it’s not quite the same.

If you’re worried about your parrot repeatedly yawning (or seeming to), it could be because of one of the following reasons:

Obstruction

If your parrot keeps opening its mouth wide, it could be the sign that something’s trapped in its throat or crop.

Your bird’s yawning may be accompanied by head shaking or unusual movements as the bird struggles to remove the item. Seeds and nut remnants are most likely to become stuck, but any piece of food that’s too large can also become lodged.

If you suspect your parrot has swallowed an object, give it a drink of water in an attempt to wash it down. However, don’t try to remove it yourself, as you could cause the obstruction to get stuck even further.

Instead, take your bird to an avian bird, who will have the right tools to remove the foreign object. Depending on what’s gotten stuck, your parrot might experience slight throat discomfort from the size and texture. This may cause your parrot to go quiet for a little while, but the throat will soon heal. 

Respiratory Issues

Constant yawning is also a sign of a respiratory problem. Alongside unusually frequent yawning, birds with a respiratory disease experience:

  • Labored breathing
  • Tail bobbing
  • Frequent sneezing accompanied by nasal discharge
  • A change in the parrot’s voice
  • Panting after exercise
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Swelling around the eyes

Several factors cause respiratory issues, including malnutrition, insufficient ventilation in the parrot’s living area, and toxic fumes from hairspray and cleaning materials.

Similarly, respiratory disease is directly linked to foreign objects, such as seeds, a piece of toy, or abnormal tissue. This can cause breathing problems that lead to your parrot’s excessive yawning.

Yawning is more likely the sign of upper respiratory disease as opposed to lower. 

Infection

Similarly, yawning is a common symptom of a bacterial or yeast infection in the parrot’s throat. The most likely yeast infection is candida, which is also known as thrush.

Aspergillosis is another common fungal infection, according to VCA Hospitals. It affects both the upper and lower sections of the respiratory tract, including the nose, sinuses, eyes, trachea, lungs, and air sacs.

It usually affects parrots with an already weak immune system by other diseases or malnutrition. While it’s not contagious, healthy birds exposed to the spores could become infected.

Bacterial and yeast infections are uncomfortable and will cause your parrot to yawn to ease the discomfort.

Allergies

It’s relatively common for parrots to get allergies. This could be from environmental irritants or food. Alongside excessive sneezing, parrots may open and close their mouths as if they’re yawning and develop discharge around their nose and mouths.

Low-quality food containing preservatives is a likely culprit, as is pollen or pollution. You’ll have your answer if your parrot develops symptoms after eating or after you open a window. To improve your bird’s allergies, either switch to a better quality diet or give it an air purifier to protect it from the problematic air.

Psittacosis

Parrots are prone to catching psittacosis, which is also known as parrot fever. According to the Victoria State Government, it’s a lung infection caused by the Chlamydia psittaci bacterium and is a reasonably common disease that targets the sinuses and respiratory system.

While all parrots can catch parrot fever, it’s most common in cockatiels, Amazon parrots, and budgerigars. The bacteria usually target the parrot’s sinuses, nose, and nares, causing:

  • Inflammation
  • Irritation
  • Sinus infections

Psittacosis usually begins due to unhygienic environmental conditions involving a dirty cage, too much parrot dust, or a dry atmosphere with little humidity.

Parrots hide illnesses as much as possible to protect themselves from predators, so frequent opening and closing of the mouth is sometimes the only symptom of their condition.  

Parrot fever can also be transmitted to humans, so you must get your parrot treated if it displays these symptoms to protect yourself from the condition.

parrot keeps opening mouth wide

Regurgitating

You may think your parrot’s yawning, but it might actually be regurgitating its food. Parrots regurgitate to:

  • Feed young chicks
  • Expel bad food
  • Show affection
  • Feed their mate

During the regurgitation process, the parrot “vomits” a semi-solid liquid that appears either whitish-gray or slightly yellow. This milk is made from a secretion that lines the crop and contains amino acids, fat, and protein.

Just before the parrot expels the liquid from its body, it’ll open and close its mouth relatively rapidly, as if it’s yawning. Soon after, the milk will appear.

However, regurgitation is usually obvious and you’ll know pretty soon after it starts that it’s the cause of your parrot’s apparent yawning.

Moving Food Into Crop

When parrots tear and scoop food into their mouth, the tongue pushes it into the digestive tract, dropping it down their throat. Parrots don’t have teeth, so their tongues are an integral part of the digestive process.

After the food reaches the throat, it enters through the pharynx to the esophagus, where it ends up in the crop. The crop is a muscular pouch that acts as a storage bag for food.

During the first stages of this process, the parrot will open and close its mouth while moving the food through the tract, which looks very similar to yawning. If you see your parrot repeatedly open and close its mouth soon after eating, this is the most likely reason.

While yawning is mostly harmless, any repetitive behavior is a common sign of a health problem. Look for other symptoms, including pain and swelling around the facial and neck area, that may indicate that your parrot’s suffering from a condition that needs veterinary treatment. In most cases, excessive yawning is easy to treat with antibiotics or removable of the foreign object causing the problem.