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Why Do Parrots Shake Their Heads Side to Side?

(Last Updated On: May 28, 2023)

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

However, sometimes parrots’ body language is more difficult to understand, such as shaking their heads side to side. Depending on the individual parrot and species, it can have no meaning or several meanings.

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, like parrot wasting disease, aspergillosis, or a behavioral problem. However, parrots sometimes shake their heads for no reason.

What Does It Mean When a Parrot Shakes Its Head?

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 species, including the following:

Wrong Temperature

Parrots prefer the temperature to be 65–80°F. If the temperature sharply deviates from this 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.


Bathing is an enjoyable activity that’s essential for the cleanliness of birds. If a parrot has just bathed, it may be shaking to remove the excess water from its feathers.

The outcome will likely be similar if you’ve recently misted the parrot with a fine spray.

Nervous Behavior

Birds are nervous and jittery because they’re vulnerable to land and airborne predators in the wild. 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 extremely unsettling. Even changing the position of the bird’s cage or redecorating the room can unnerve a parrot.


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 will soon commence.

While the reason for head shaking before copulation is unknown, it’s likely to do with finding a mate.

Parrots often show physical affection toward the opposite sex when interested in mating with them. These displays of affection may include the following:

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 conducted, but it’s suspected that it’s caused by avian-bornavirus infection. It 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 lead to the following symptoms:

  • 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 itself as gastrointestinal problems such as the following:

  • 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.


According to Animals, aspergillosis is a respiratory tract condition caused by fungal spores.

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

Neurological problems are also associated with aspergillosis, including the following:

  • 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.
  • Reduced respiratory function.
  • Asphyxiation.

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


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

They may make strange movements while preening but are just removing dirt and debris entangled in their feathers. This activity also helps their feathers to lay in a more orderly fashion.

While preening, you may observe the 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 takes a few minutes, giving the parrot a sense of accomplishment and contentment.

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 2 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 a bit more common than head shaking, so there are many explanations for why a parrot bobs its head, such as attention-seeking, dancing, or asking 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 many reasons why Quaker parrots shake their heads, most experts think it’s because they’re saying no to 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 and is doing the same thing.

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. The parrot could produce a loud screech just because it wanted to hear its own 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 Do African Greys Shake Their Heads?

Head shaking is a common behavior for African grey parrots. It’s not entirely clear why African greys 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 African greys 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 observed. 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 the parrot shakes 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 the parrot someday starts shaking its head and saying “No” while talking to it.

Behavioral Disorder

According to Applied Animal Behaviour Science, when African greys nod, scratch, shake their heads, shake their feet, or gnaw their claws, they could have a behavioral disorder brought out by nervousness.

You can determine this behavioral disorder by observing what happens when the parrot shakes its head. If it’s done excessively and only during certain situations, you may be able to determine the cause.

It could lead to self-mutilation if you don’t figure out why or if the behavior worsens. When parrots start self-mutilating, they’ll pull out their feathers, bite themselves, or perform acts of self-harm.

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