Last Updated on: 14th October 2023, 11:25 am
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. This can be to stay warm by puffing up the feathers to trap heat or cool down by aerating the body.
Head-shaking can also be due to feather preening, mating expression (courtship), or imitating human behavior. Also, all parrots shake themselves after washing or bathing to dry off their feathers.
Sometimes, head-shaking is a behavioral problem or a side effect of a medical condition like parrot wasting disease or Aspergillosis. Some parrots shake their heads for no apparent reason.
What Does It Mean When a Parrot Shakes Its Head?
Consider the parrot species and situation when you see the head shake. Some of the most common reasons parrots shake their heads and bodies include the following:
Parrots prefer the temperature to be 65–80°F. If the temperature sharply deviates from this comfortable range, the parrot will likely react by shaking its head and body.
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 feather to aerate its body, giving the impression of shivering.
If a parrot has just bathed, it’ll shake its head and body to remove the excess water from its feathers. The outcome will be the same if you spray the parrot with water to aid cleanliness.
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 bird’s cage or decorating the room with specific colors (like red) can deeply unsettle a parrot.
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 optimally.
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 often 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.
It’s believed to be caused by avian-bornavirus infection, originating from other bornaviruses (RNA viruses that attack the neurological system).
How parrot wasting disease affects birds depends on their immune system response. Some parrots resist the effects, while others quickly succumb to the virus.
As the disease affects the nervous system, it can result in the following adverse symptoms:
- Abnormal and uncoordinated movements.
- Difficulty balancing.
- Heart arrhythmias.
- Cognitive defects.
The disease may present itself as gastrointestinal problems like the following:
- 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.
Microscopic spores from moldy poop, old food, and bedding dry out and become airborne.
Aspergillus gradually damages the respiratory tract and other organs. The neurological problems commonly associated with Aspergillosis are as follows:
- Head shaking.
- Tail bobbing.
- Dyspnea – characterized by gaping or rapid opening and closing of the bill.
- Drooping wings.
- Exercise intolerance.
- Loss of muscular coordination.
- Loss of equilibrium.
- Partial or total paralysis.
- Reduced respiratory function.
Treatments for Aspergillosis include oral, topical, intravenous, and aerosolized antifungal medications. Sometimes, surgery is required to remove fungal plaque (fungal growth).
Why Do 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 common 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, so there are many explanations for why a parrot bobs its head, like 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 there aren’t many known reasons why Quaker parrots shake their heads, most experts think it’s because they’re declining something.
Quaker parrots are good at imitating their owners’ movements, so it’s possible if the parrot has seen you shake your head to say “no” once or twice, it’s picked up on it.
Parrots are expressive birds, 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.
Why Do African Grays Shake Their Heads?
Head shaking is a common behavior for African gray parrots. It’s unclear why African grays shake their heads as often as they do, but it’s not usually 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 birds, so if the parrot shakes its head, it’s imitating you.
According to Applied Animal Behaviour Science, when African grays nod, scratch, shake their heads, shake their 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.
Unfortunately, parrots shaking their heads can be a warning sign of a health problem, like Aspergillosis or Parrot Wasting Disease. If you’re concerned, have the bird checked over by a veterinarian.