why is my parrot shaking?

What Does It Mean When Parrots Shake, Shiver, or ‘Quake’?

Shaking is often a sign of fear or illness. If your parrot begins shaking for no reason, you may be concerned. Fortunately, parrots are emotive animals, and each of these shakes has a specific meaning.

Parrots shake due to fear, stress, health issues, keeping warm, staying cool, and grooming themselves. You can tell the meaning of each shake based on other behaviors. A parrot that’s defensive, shy, or sluggish may be upset, injured, or ill. A happy parrot may be showing contentment or grooming itself.

Certain species of parrots will shake because it’s in their nature. For example, African greys and Quaker parrots have a reputation for shaking. Perhaps your bird shakes occasionally or constantly. It may shake its head or its tail.

Why Is My Parrot Shaking?

Parrots shake for many reasons and in different ways. Your parrot may shake for the following reasons:

  • Fear
  • Happiness
  • Displeasure
  • It’s cold
  • Illness
  • Too warm
  • Grooming itself
  • Normal for its species

You may see your parrot shift around in a way that’s similar to shaking. Shaking has different types, including:

  • Shifting from side to side
  • Twitching
  • Shivering in place
  • Quivering
  • Jerking around
  • Quaking

While these may all appear similar, they each have their own unique meaning for parrots. For the owner, it’s important to know the difference. If you do, your reaction will vary. You may need to:

  • Quickly remove the parrot from a source of stress
  • Change the temperature of the room
  • Leave the parrot alone and let it keep shivering

Parrot Is Too Cold

When you’re too cold, you shiver. This is your body trying to produce extra heat by rapidly contracting and relaxing your muscles. A parrot’s body will do the same, but these contractions are restricted to the breast muscles.

If you notice twitching or jerking in this area, then check the temperature. Your bird may be uncomfortable with your thermostat’s setting. This behavior may also be accompanied by:

  • Puffed feathers
  • Sleeping behavior, such as nestling its head into its wing
  • Uncharacteristically quiet

Most parrot breeds are from tropical and sub-tropical climates. They enjoy an ambient temperature between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Most will be able to tolerate a broader range for shorter periods of time.

In the average home, parrots won’t be at risk of hypothermia. However, pay attention if you’ve recently bathed the parrot (or the bird has bathed itself). The water in its feathers could lower its temperature.

Once it encounters an AC unit or a breezy home area, it may catch a chill. It isn’t uncommon for a parrot to shiver to warm itself up after bathing. To help, you can:

  • Raise the temperature of the home
  • Get a heated perch or basking spot
  • Place the cage in a warmer area of the house

Parrot Is Afraid

A common response to fear is to shake. The response is triggered based on how adrenaline floods the system. If startled or heavily stressed, the body will prepare for fight or flight. This produces a lot of energy, which has to go somewhere. When a parrot is afraid, it may shiver in place as its body tries to contain this energy.

Most birds will become completely still when they see a threat. Shivering is an indication that your bird is recovering from a surge of adrenaline. It may know that it’s been seen by the threat but cannot flee.

quaking in parrots

First Signs

This type of shaking will start one way and then may evolve into another type. At first, the bird may hold still and appear to tremor slightly. This shaking may be accompanied by:

  • Puffed feathers
  • Silence
  • Shivering in the main body or wings of the parrot
  • Nervously shuffling away from you or any other presence in the room

These signs make it clear your bird is afraid. As noted by Natural Encounters, parrots are very body language expressive. Their owners can easily miss many of the nuances of their non-verbal communications.

The parrot’s actions may change as you or the perceived threat approaches the bird. Possible threats may include a cat or dog or a guest the parrot doesn’t know. Carefully monitor the parrot for any other signs of fear.

Later Signs

If the bird continues to feel threatened, the shaking may intensify. The bird will take on defensive measures, such as:

  • Hunching its back
  • Hissing
  • Biting at anything that comes near
  • Screaming

In the wild, when a parrot wants to escape a threat, it will fly. A captive parrot will not have this option. This leaves it no choice but to shake or find a way to defend itself.

It will express its fear by shaking, biting, vocalizations, and avoidance behavior. If your parrot is afraid of you, you must correct how you interact with it. You may also need to change where you house it, as other animals may frighten it.

The shaking itself will dissipate once the threat is removed. It may take a few seconds or minutes to burn off the adrenaline. Your parrot cannot harm itself by shaking, so provide it with a calm environment.

Your Parrot Is Too Warm

An overheated parrot will shake out and raise its feathers. This allows the heat trapped beneath the feathers to dissipate. The bird may also pant or hold its wings slightly open.

The Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution notes that feather coats are good at trapping heat. This keeps parrots warm in cold environments. However, their layers of feathering may trap in too much heat. In response, the bird will shake to:

  • Open up its feathers
  • Wave in cool air with its wings, lowering its body temperature

Some parrot species come from naturally warm climates. However, not all parrots can tolerate sustained warmth and humidity. An overheated parrot may look like it’s shivering to cool off. In fact, the main body will be entirely still.

Parrot Is Preening

Parrots groom themselves and each other several times a day. This removes debris and dirt but is also how parrots fix and realign their feathers. In the wild, this allows them to maintain the health of their feathers, which is crucial for survival.

Captive parrots will still carry out the task. In fact, if your parrot stops preening altogether, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Young parrots may complete this act with obvious jerking and waving; older parrots may do this softly, with small jerks over a longer period of time. You may think this type of quaking indicates something bad.

While preening, a parrot is just shaking out its feathers. This will flick loosened dirt and debris away. It also helps the bird extend the feathers and then lay them down in a more orderly layer. The bird may:

  • Shake its head
  • Jerk its body side to side
  • Lightly flap its wings

You may see a small cloud of dust puff up from the shaking, which is normal. You can tell preening apart from other types of shaking based on these indicators:

  • No signs of stress. These include biting, shifting away from people, or holding a puffed position.
  • Lifting its feathers and lowering them with regularity. It won’t hold the position to make itself look bigger.
  • Nuzzling its feathers with its beak several times. This helps to clean individual feathers.
  • Finished within a few minutes. If the bird were ill or angry, it would continue the behavior or escalate it.

Parrot Is Bathing

Parrots enjoy a water bath. This normal habit can result in three kinds of shaking:

Cleaning

While in water, parrots will loosen their feathers and bathe by shaking and splashing around. This may involve them:

  • Dipping their head into the water and then shaking it from side to side
  • Lightly flapping its wings
  • Experiencing a shiver that runs down the spine and finishes with a flick of the tail
  • Puffing out feathers around the chest and then immediately laying them down again

Drying

When finished, the parrot will also shake excess water off. These little quivers may be more subtle. The bird will fluff out the smaller feathers and twitch them all along its body. This can appear like shivering, although it’s not. You can expect this behavior to last for a few minutes after the bath.

Parrot Is Stressed

Overwhelming stress can cause parrots to shake. Birds are quite vulnerable to stress and can fall victim to it. While there is an overlap, stress is different from general fear. That’s especially true in parrots.

  • Fear will cause shaking a moments or minutes after the scare
  • The parrot will stop shaking once the threat or concern is removed

However, when a parrot experiences stress alone, it may:

  • Shake when there’s no threat
  • Shake for longer periods of time
  • Grow ill, aggressive, or destructive, rather than trying to just get away

Short Term Stress

A parrot recovering from a stressful episode may shake as its system returns to normal. For instance:

  • You may have moved the bird to a new cage
  • You may have introduced a new parrot to its environment
  • The bird may have changed owners

These situations all disrupt the parrot’s sense of peace and create stress. The parrot may shake for a while until it learns the area is safe.

Long Term Stress

In contrast, there may be stress points that are harder to find and leave more long-lasting results. For example, the parrot may regularly be startled by the sound of construction next door.

This makes it distrustful of its entire environment, and therefore, it’ll be stressed semi-constantly. This can lead to it shaking, tearing out its feathers, or refusing to eat. Other stress points include:

  • Cage insufficiently darkened at night. Without the ability to sleep well, the parrot will feel stressed.
  • Left alone for long periods. If the parrot worries that it’s been abandoned, it may shake constantly.
  • Trauma from previous experiences. Whether its last owner mistreated it or it lived poorly in the pet store, your parrot may naturally be more stressed out.
  • Limited access to food. Your parrot may be protective of its food and grow unruly if the bowl is not full.

This type of stress will wear the parrot down and make it ill. As such, it’s sensible to identify the points of stress and reduce them. This may include:

  • Giving the parrot more access to food
  • Placing it in a quieter area of the home
  • Ensuring the parrot is never alone for long
  • Training and interacting with the parrot more often

Parrot Is Sick

Parrots can shiver when unwell like people do when running a fever. Shaking due to illness is identifiable when other visual symptoms present themselves. These symptoms include:

  • Drooping wings
  • Rumpled or frayed feathers
  • Unresponsive to stimulus
  • Lethargy
  • Tail bobbing
  • Lack of appetite

Parrots can quickly succumb to illness without treatment. The best course of action is to:

Parrot Is Injured

A frequent response to pain, especially sustained pain, is shivering. This is because of the stress that pain places on the body and mind. A parrot that is shaking may be in acute pain due to injury.

Has your parrot recently had an accident? Has it been bitten by another animal? Then it may be injured internally if no visible wounds can be found. Look for any other signs of pain in the parrot, like:

  • Dull or listless eyes
  • Permanently puffed feathers
  • Ragged or unkempt feathers
  • Audible or strained breathing
  • Drooping in one or both wings
  • Inability to fold one or both wings in against the body
  • Lethargy

The parrot may shy from your touch and ward you away. If your parrot is injured, take it to an avian vet. Parrots are quick to exacerbate their injuries if left alone. Once a parrot has reached the point of shaking, it’s unlikely to weather the damage at home. 

Parrot Is Malnourished

A malnourished parrot will exist in a weakened state. Without proper nutrients and minerals, its muscles will atrophy, and its bones may weaken. This can deteriorate to the point where the parrot shakes from minor exertion. It could also shiver persistently.

Early-onset malnourishment can be repaired with an upgrade to high-quality parrot feed and fresh foods. Variety is also important for parrots. For a balanced diet, your parrot will need a range of:

Medium-to-severe cases of malnourishment will need the attention of a vet. A strict dietary regimen, possibly with supplements, will enable your parrot to recover.

parrot shaking feathers

Parrot Is Excited

Parrots are emotive and expressive. Body language plays a role in their signaling to other parrots and humans. A way of expressing heightened emotional states is by shaking. To figure out what the parrot is feeling, note the following:

  • Are its eyes pinning?
  • Is there something in the immediate area that would cause it to be excited?
  • Is it responding positively to you or other stimulus?

In all these cases, it may be so excited that it shakes.

Why Do African Grey Parrots Shake Their Heads?

Certain species of parrots are known to have their own behaviors and traits. African grey parrots, for example, have a reputation for shaking. You may find this alarming, but don’t fret as it’s a natural behavior.

If the shaking is bad, you’ll know. The African grey will shake for all the reasons outlined above. With that said, the behavior will be matched to other symptoms. These will distinguish the shaking as bad or just African grey behavior.

Heading Shaking

You may see the parrot shake its head constantly. This won’t be accompanied by preening, fearful behavior, aggression, or other telltale signs. The meaning is not 100% understood. It’s theorized to be:

  • Form of preening. The parrot is shaking its head to rearrange the feathers around its collar and ears. Their species is picky about this area, so it may do this often.
  • Communicating. It’s the same way humans shake their head to say no, Africa greys may be rejecting or showing displeasure in whatever’s near or being offered to them.

Shivering In The Chest

African greys are also known for shivering in their chests. Depending on the surrounding circumstances, this can be a sign of contentment or distress.

Whole-body shivering is a sign of distress, stress, pain, or malnourishment. If an African grey shows signs of happiness and relaxation, then shivering is a sign of contentment.

Why Do Quaker Parrots Shake?

Quaker parrots are known to quake frequently. It’s a natural behavior for these parrots and isn’t cause for alarm. You should only be worried if other symptoms of distress or illness present themselves.

Quaker parrots are known to quake and shake when they are irritated or excited. Baby quaker parrots will also quake while begging for food. These are energetic parrots full of energy and character.

Why Do Parrots Shake Their Tail Feathers?

Parrots are expressive birds. As such, their tails play a large role in their body language and signaling. Shaking tail feathers can indicate many communications:

  • Happiness. Parrots shake their tail feathers, usually with a flipping or wagging motion, to tell you they’re pleased.
  • Anger. Shaking the tail feathers out and fanning them is a sign of aggression or anger.
  • Pain. If the tail feathers are shivering and bobbing up and down, it may be unwell or injured.

What Does It Mean When A Parrot Is Shaking?

Parrots are intelligent creatures with a variety of ways to communicate. While they can’t hold a conversation, shaking may be one way of telling you or other parrots something important. Understanding why your parrot shakes involves:

  • Observing other behaviors that it is presenting
  • Identifying triggers in the environment
  • Taking into account their species
  • Responding to your parrot accordingly

If your parrot is constantly shivering, shaking, or quaking and you can’t discern why you can consult with an avian vet.