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Why Do Parrots Shake Their Heads Side to Side?

(Last Updated On: October 4, 2022)

Most parrot body language is easy to decipher because it’s common among parrots, such as head bobbing, hanging upside down, fluffing their feathers, tail bobbing, and beak grinding.

However, sometimes their body language is more difficult to understand, such as shaking their heads side to side. It can have no meaning or several meanings, depending on the parrot and its species.

Parrots shake their heads during emotional expression, when preening, before mating, or in imitation. It can also be a side effect of a medical condition, such as parrot wasting disease, Aspergillosis, or a behavioral disorder. However, parrots sometimes shake their heads for no reason.

What Does It Mean When a Parrot Shakes Its Head?

You need to consider the type of parrot and the situation when you see the head shake. Some of the reasons parrots shake their heads are common among all parrot species, including:

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 that copulation is about to start.

While the exact reason for head shaking before copulation hasn’t been determined, it’s likely to do with finding an appropriate mate.

Parrots will often show physical affection toward parrots of the opposite sex when they’re interested in mating with them. These displays of affection may include:

parrot shaking feathers

Parrot Wasting Disease

According to Veterinary Medicine International, parrot wasting disease, also known as avian-bornaviral ganglioneuritis, is a disease that affects the nervous system of birds. Research is still being done on what causes the disease, but it’s suspected that it’s caused by avian-bornavirus infection.

How the virus is transmitted between birds isn’t fully understood. Avian-bornavirus infection stems from other types of bornaviruses, which are RNA viruses that attack the neurological system.

How parrot wasting disease affects birds depends on their immune system response. Some parrots resist its effects, while others succumb to the virus.

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

  • Shaking of the head
  • Abnormal and uncoordinated movements
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Paralysis
  • Tremors
  • Self-mutilation
  • Aggression
  • Seizures
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Blindness
  • Cognitive defects

The disease may also present with gastrointestinal problems such as:

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

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

Aspergillosis

According to Animals, Aspergillosis is a respiratory tract disease caused by fungal spores.

All birds are susceptible to it, and many birds have died from it. While it mainly affects the respiratory tract, other body parts can also be affected.

Neurological problems are also associated with the disease. Signs of the disease in birds include:

  • Head shaking
  • Tail bobs
  • Emaciation
  • Dyspnea – characterized by gaping or rapid opening and closing of the bill
  • Drooping wings
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Anorexia
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Torticollis
  • Ataxia
  • Seizures
  • Loss of equilibrium
  • Partial or total paralysis
  • Diminished respiratory function
  • Asphyxiation

Treatments for Aspergillosis may include oral, topical, intravenous, and aerosolized antifungal medications. Sometimes surgery is required to remove the areas of fungal growth.

Preening

Parrots groom themselves often throughout the day to keep their feathers clean.

Parrots may make strange movements while preening, but they’re trying to remove any dirt or debris entangled in their feathers. This activity also helps their feathers to lay in a more orderly fashion. While preening, you may see your parrot do things like:

  • Shake its head from side to side
  • Flap its wings
  • Jerk its body
  • Flap its tail
  • Nuzzle its feathers with its beak

Preening usually only takes a few minutes each time and gives your parrot a sense of contentment.

Why Do Quaker Parrots Shake Their Heads?

Quaker parrots make all sorts of 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 common body movements: head shaking and head bobbing.

To clarify, head bobbing is 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 it’s saying no.

Head bobbing is a bit more common to see than head shaking, so there are a lot of explanations for why a parrot bobs its head, such as attention-seeking, dancing, or begging for food.

Quaker parrots often shake their whole bodies when excited about something or irritated. They may also do what’s known as quaking, which is a combination of shivering and shaking simultaneously.

While there aren’t a lot of explanations as to why Quaker parrots shake their heads, many people think it’s because they’re saying no to something.

Quaker parrots are good at imitating their owners’ movements, so it’s possible if your parrot has seen you shake your head “no” a time or two, it’s picked up on it and is now doing it too.

Aside from preening, copulation, or diseases, here are some other possible explanations:

  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Happiness
  • Excitement
  • Irritation
  • Boredom
  • Imitation
  • Attention

Parrots are expressive birds, and sometimes there isn’t a particular reason for doing something. Your parrot could let out a loud screech just because it wanted to hear its voice.

If head shaking is a new habit your parrot just 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 Do African Greys Shake Their Heads?

Head shaking is a common behavior for African Grey parrots. It’s not entirely clear why they do it as often as they do, but it’s usually nothing to be alarmed about.

Sometimes it can indicate a health problem, but normally it’s just something they do.

Imitation and Mimicry

According to Behaviour, African Grey parrots have a knack for imitating and mimicking behaviors, sounds, and phrases. They’re also able to put the sound or phrase with the behavior.

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

African greys are smart, so if your parrot is shaking its head, it’s doing so because it’s imitating you or someone else. If you often shake your head and say, “No” while doing so, don’t be surprised if your parrot someday starts shaking its head and saying “No” while you’re talking to it.

Behavioral Disorder

According to Applied Animal Behaviour Science, when African Grey parrots nod, scratch, shake their heads, shake their feet in the air in front of them, or gnaw their claws, they could be showing signs of a behavioral disorder brought out by nervousness.

You may be able to determine this behavioral disorder in your African Grey by paying attention to what’s going on when your parrot shakes its head. If it’s done excessively and only during certain situations, you may be able to determine the cause.

If you can’t figure out why or the behavior worsens, it could lead to self-mutilation. When parrots start self-mutilating, they’ll do things like pulling out their feathers, biting themselves, or doing other things to harm themselves.

Finding out the cause so you can try to stop the behavior is important. Ensuring your parrot is happy, receiving adequate attention and care, and is healthy are ways to overcome the problem.