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Why Do Parrots Shake Their Heads Side to Side?

Last Updated on March 1, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Head shaking in parrots can have several meanings or no meaning, depending on the species, bird’s quirks, and circumstances. It’s most common among Quaker parrots and African grays.

Parrots shake their heads and bodies from side to side if the temperature is too hot or cold. They may do this to stay warm by puffing up their feathers to trap heat or cool down by aerating their bodies.

Head-shaking can be due to feather preening, mating expression (courtship), or imitating human behavior. All parrots shake themselves after washing or bathing to dry off their saturated feathers.

Sometimes, head-shaking is a behavioral problem or a side effect of a medical condition, such as parrot wasting disease or Aspergillosis. Of course, some parrots shake their heads for no apparent reason.

Parrot Head Shaking Meaning

Consider the parrot species and situation when you see a head shake.

Some of the most common reasons parrots shake their heads and bodies include:

Wrong Temperature

Parrots prefer the temperature to be 65–80°F. If the temperature deviates from its comfort range, the parrot will likely react by shaking itself.

If a parrot feels chilly, its chest will involuntarily contract to generate warmth. You may also see the parrot puff up, trapping warm air between its feathers.

Similarly, when a parrot is too warm, it’ll attempt to reduce its body temperature by shaking its feathers to aerate its body, giving the impression that it’s shivering.

Bathing

If a parrot has just bathed, it’ll shake its head and body to remove the excess water from its plumage. The outcome will be the same if you spray the parrot with water to help with cleanliness.

parrot shaking feathers

Nervous Behavior

Birds are sometimes nervous and jittery because they’re vulnerable to land and airborne predators. While they live safely in the home, they’re hardwired to be on high alert to avoid threats.

Parrots dislike change, so new people and pets can be unsettling. Even changing the position of the cage or decorating the room with specific colors (like red) can deeply unsettle a parrot.

Preening

Parrots preen themselves throughout the day to keep their feathers clean and organized.

They may make unexplained movements while preening but are just removing dirt and debris entangled in their feathers. This activity also organizes and arranges the feathers.

Copulation

According to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Biological Sciences, when a parrot shakes its head vigorously from side to side, it can signify copulation.

Parrots show affection toward opposite-sex birds when interested in mating with them.

Parrot Wasting Disease

According to Veterinary Medicine International, parrot wasting disease, also called avian-bornaviral ganglioneuritis, is a disease that affects the nervous system of birds.

As the disease affects the nervous system, it can cause adverse symptoms:

  • Abnormal and uncoordinated movements.
  • Difficulty balancing.
  • Paralysis.
  • Tremors.
  • Self-mutilation.
  • Aggression.
  • Seizures.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Blindness.
  • Cognitive defects.

The disease may present itself as gastrointestinal problems like:

  • Excessive regurgitation.
  • Crop impaction.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Passage of undigested food into the feces.

Treatments include medications and dietary changes. Many parrots recover quickly with no lasting effects, while others survive with deficits, yet some perish from the disease.

Aspergillosis

Microscopic spores from moldy poop, old food, and bedding dry out and become airborne.

According to Animals, Aspergillosis is caused by the Aspergillus mold. This condition severely impacts parrots’ upper or lower respiratory tracts due to the inhalation of fungal spores.

Aspergillus gradually damages the respiratory tract and other organs. The neurological problems commonly associated with Aspergillosis are:

  • Head shaking.
  • Tail bobbing.
  • Emaciation.
  • Dyspnea.
  • Drooping wings.
  • Exercise intolerance.
  • Depression.
  • Weakness.
  • Anorexia.
  • Loss of muscular coordination.
  • Torticollis.
  • Ataxia.
  • Seizures.
  • Loss of equilibrium.
  • Partial or total paralysis.
  • Reduced respiratory function.
  • Asphyxiation.

Treatments for Aspergillosis include oral, topical, intravenous, and aerosolized antifungal medications. Sometimes, surgery is required to remove fungal plaque (fungal growth).

Why Quaker Parrots Shake Their Heads

Quaker parrots make various head and body movements. Sometimes, there’s a reason for them, and other times, it’s hard to tell why they’re doing certain things.

Quaker parrots make two body movements: head shaking and head bobbing.

Head bobbing occurs when a parrot moves its head up and down as if it’s nodding yes. Head shaking is when a parrot moves its head from side to side as if saying no.

Head bobbing is more common than head shaking. There are many explanations for why a parrot bobs its head, such as attention-seeking, dancing, and asking for food.

Quaker parrots often shake their entire bodies when excited about something or irritated. They may also do what’s known as “quaking,” which combines shivering and shaking simultaneously.

While few known reasons exist why Quaker parrots shake their heads, most experts think they do so because they’re declining something.

Quaker parrots are good at imitating their owners’ movements. They may have picked up on this if they’ve seen you shake your head to say “no” once or twice.

Parrots are expressive animals, so there isn’t always a reason for doing something. The parrot could produce a loud screech just because it wanted to hear its voice.

If head shaking is a new habit the parrot has picked up, and it’s doing it a lot, it might be because there’s an issue with its ears or nasal passages.

what does it mean when a parrot shakes his head?

Why African Grays Shake Their Heads

It’s unclear why African grays shake their heads as often as they do, but it’s seldom health-related.

Imitation and Mimicry

According to Behaviour, African gray parrots are good at imitating and mimicking behaviors, sounds, and phrases. They’re also able to combine sounds with behaviors.

For example, an experimenter said “shake” and shook his head side to side while the parrot observed. Each time the parrot heard the word “shake,” it shook its head in a right or left motion or side to side.

African grays are clever. If the parrot shakes its head, it’s imitating you.

Behavioral Disorder

According to Applied Animal Behaviour Science, when African grays nod, scratch, shake their heads/feet, or gnaw their claws, they could have a behavioral disorder due to nervousness.

Most reasons for head-shaking in parrots are harmless, like washing and shaking to dry off. Others are learned behaviors, signs of emotional expression, or species-specific actions.

Parrots shaking their heads can be a warning sign of Aspergillosis or Parrot Wasting Disease.