Parrots enjoy fuss and attention from their owners but don’t ruffle up their feathers or scratch their bellies. Parrots are choosy about the areas they like touched. Prodding them in the wrong spots can cause annoyance or stress.
Parrots have their favorite spots to be petted. Most will accept petting on their beak, head, and along their cheeks. More trusting parrots will enjoy being rubbed down the back of their neck and along their chest. Some will even let you touch underneath their neck, but preferences come down to the individual parrot.
Monitor your parrot for negative reactions to petting. Even these commonly accepted areas may be a no-go for some birds. Parrots that aren’t hand-reared or that have endured previous trauma may reject touching altogether. In general, most parrots dislike being petted on their backs, wings, or tails.
Do Parrots Like To Be Petted?
Parrots enjoy petting. However, this depends on the trust between you and your parrot. As prey animals, parrots are defensive of their space. Whether they’re a love bird or an Amazon parrot, most do not easily accept handling from strangers. If you cuddle, pet, or otherwise touch a parrot that does not explicitly trust you, it may:
- Move away from your hand
- Squawk or scream
- Bite at you
- Ruffle its feathers, splay its tail, and look uncomfortable
- If it accepts the touch, it may look disgruntled about it
That’s why many owners choose to own hand-reared parrots. Birds that are handled at a young age will be more accustomed to the touch of humans. Once a parrot has learned that you are safe and trustworthy, handling will not only be welcomed.
Do Parrots Pet Each Other In The Wild?
Parrots that have been tamed and bonded will enjoy petting. That’s because of how it resembles their habits in the wild. Wild parrots may:
- Nuzzle each other as a sign of affection
- Huddle together to conserve warmth
- Pick, rub, or brush each other for grooming purposes
In particular, wild parrots help each other to preen feathers as a sign of community and trust. According to Ethology, shared grooming enables parrots to form more meaningful bonds with other family members.
This study observed the behavior of 6 corvids and 9 parrot species. The scientists determined that the birds only preened the heads of other birds they were close with. Specifically, the more valued partners were more likely to get preened on the head from a specific bird. Because birds cannot reach this spot on their own, the head becomes more important than grooming in other areas of the body.
Why Do Parrots Like Petting?
In domestic settings, your parrot doesn’t need your assistance in caring for its feathers. However, the gesture will be appreciated. Firm yet gentle petting will be interpreted as a sign of affection by your parrot. It shows:
The parrot is allowing you into its space when you pet it. This shows that it trusts you not to harm or damage it in any way. The more gently you pet the parrot, the more you will prove that this trust is well-founded.
Parrots are social creatures that rely on interaction with their family. In lieu of other birds, the parrot will come to see you as part of its flock. By petting your parrot, you’re proving that it has your undivided attention.
As mentioned, parrots groom other birds that they care about. If you’re petting your parrot, you’re proving that it’s important to you. You care about the condition of its feathers, and you’re petting it in preference to another bird. Parrots are jealous of their owners. This affectionate gesture soothes those fears.
Where Do Parrots Like To Be Touched?
Parrots do have preferred petting areas. For example, one parrot may enjoy scritches along its chest; another may only want to be petted on the head. As long as you go slow and watch for its reactions, you can customize it to your parrot’s tastes. Parrots like to be petted:
On The Head
Bonded parrots will groom each other’s heads as this is an area they cannot reach by themselves. Without your assistance, the parrot may rub on its cage bars or perch. However, this isn’t as precise as a beak or fingers.
Grooming in this area is especially important when a new feather has just grown in. While developing, a parrot’s feather will be wrapped in a thin film of white keratin. This protects the fibers as they grow. This film will naturally come off by itself. However, some grooming will remove the film quicker. You can help remove the film by:
- Pinching it between your fingers or nails
- Gently lifting
- Repeating this motion a few times
If it’s still not ready to come off, your parrot will likely tell you by moving away or squawking.
On The Beak
Most parrots will not resist a gentle rub along their beak. This may not feel as good as petting on the head and doesn’t closely resemble grooming. However, it’s a safe, broad area that still displays trust and affection.
On The Cheeks
As another difficult area to scratch, your parrot may like being gently nuzzled on its cheeks. For birds like cockatiels, with large orange circles on their cheeks, it may be hard to resist giving this spot a scratch. Just be sure to do so softly and with great care for the bird’s eyes.
On The Back of The Neck
Another hard-to-reach area is the back of a parrot’s neck. You can start at the top of the head and gently drag your finger down to the base of its neck. The motion should be calm and fluid.
If your parrot doesn’t show any resistance, try nuzzling slightly under its neck. You can brush down from the beak in a gentle motion. Just keep in mind that some parrots are more defensive. If you’re still in the bonding process, it may take more time before it trusts you with its throat.
Along The Chest
Larger birds, like African greys, are more welcoming of this spot than smaller birds. If your parrot doesn’t seem to resist, try petting it along the chest. This is one of a parrot’s favorite places to groom, aside from its wings. You can brush these thick, plumed feathers with your hand. If your parrot is trusting, it may lean into the motion.
Where Not To Pet A Parrot
Of course, there are also no-go places on a parrot. Most will find these areas uncomfortable and resist you when touched there. Even well-tamed parrots may only tolerate these kinds of pets. Less trusting parrots will likely pull away or bite at you. Keep that in mind while you’re exploring where your parrot likes to be touched.
On The Back
Once you’ve pet down the head and along the back of the neck, it’s wise to stop there. Many parrots dislike being touched along their backs.
Even the weight of your hand or fingers may be enough to send them skittering away. As prey animals, birds do not appreciate having their ability to fly away impeded. A weight on their back would do just that.
On The Wings
Parrots may resist being pet along the wings. Yours may side-step your touch when you touch the long feathers.
Under The Feathers
If you dare to pull up the wing and pet under it, you may earn some scrambling or a bite. Some parrots will even dislike being petted in the space beneath their closed wings. Be sure to watch how your parrot reacts before trying this.
On The Belly
While some parrots will like scratches along their chests, they may want that touch isolated there. If you pet along the parrot’s belly, it’s likely to retreat from your touch. This is a sensitive and vulnerable area. The parrot may not trust or appreciate its space being invaded that much.
Near The Feet
Parrots are defensive of their feet and the space immediately above that area. By petting those spots, you’re blocking the parrot’s ability to run. The parrot may also be concerned that too much prodding will hurt these delicate limbs.
On The Tail
The most common no-go space for all parrots is the tail. If you brush along the base or pet the long feathers, the parrot will likely swing around and retreat from you. In the wild, predators tend to nip or grab at a parrot’s tail as they’re chasing it down. This has given parrots an ingrained aversion to being handled there.
When You Should Stop Petting Your Parrot?
Since every parrot is different, some will respond positively to these areas. Others will respond negatively. If you keep petting a parrot that dislikes the touch, that could make it lose trust in you or act aggressively. You should immediately stop petting your parrot if it responds by:
- Pulling away from your touch
- Lunging at you
- Biting at you
- Squawking or chirping
- Flapping its wings
- Purring or hissing
These are all signs of agitation and discomfort. You may also run into the problem of your parrot liking the pets too much. Stop touching the parrot if it:
- Begins to regurgitate with a bob of its head
- Quivers or shakes
- Makes a mating noise, commonly clucking
- Raises tails or wings
- Begins to mount your hand, or any object nearby
- Drops wings
- Begins panting
- Flushes on the featherless areas of its face
These behaviors indicate that your parrot is sexually stimulated, according to the Italian Journal of Animal Science. The researchers concluded that this peculiar set of behaviors were due to frustration. Young parrots with hormonal changes are more likely to get their wires crossed about petting.
Continued petting is a signal to your parrot that it’s being rewarded. This can be unhealthy for your parrot and will elicit more mating behaviors in the future. When unreciprocated, this can make your parrot feel rejected, jealous, or scorned. That can lead to symptoms like screaming or even self-mutilation.
As such, you should stop petting your parrot until it ceases this behavior. Once it has, you can pet it again. If it starts displaying mating habits once more, stop the petting. Continue to refuse its pets until it learns to respond with happiness, but not a misguided expectation.
Do I Have To Pet My Parrot?
You may run into situations where the parrot refuses your touch altogether. If you’re worried that it needs physical affection, but won’t accept it, then don’t be concerned.
Parrots do not need physical touch. If your parrot has undergone traumatic events or is otherwise stressed, petting may cause more emotional discomfort. Instead, try to bond with the bird through:
As long as you’re spending time with your parrot, it doesn’t matter how you’re showing it affection. It may appreciate your company more than your petting.
How To Pet A Parrot
Don’t pet parrots like you would a cat or dog. Parrots need a specific approach because of their:
- Feathers layerings
- Grooming habits
- Unique place in the food chain
Keep this in mind when brushing, cuddling, scratching, or rubbing your parrot.
Parrots are surprised by quick or jerky motions. In the wild, this indicates a predator is about to enter their space. As such, always pet your parrot in slow, gentle movements. Soft, gradual, and consistent is the best way forward.
Let The Parrot See Your Hand
Parrots may be startled if you touch them unexpectedly. Instead, let the parrot see your hand and watch as it approaches. If your parrot doesn’t move away, you can be sure it’s aware of and allowing the touch.
Go With The Direction Of The Feathers
Ensure that you brush in the direction of the feathers. Depending on the parrot’s tastes and size, brushing against the feathers may be painful. Smaller, more delicate feathers may even chip if you brush them upwards.
At the least, you’ll ruffle up the layering of the feathers. Your parrot will then need to groom them or adjust them. Some parrots will find this annoying, so go with the grain.
Some parrots have itchy spots or enjoy more forceful petting. In that case, don’t scratch the parrot in an up and down motion. Instead, scratch the spot in a circular motion. This will help the parrot feel better without disrupting its feathers or going against the grain.
Learn Your Parrot’s Body Language
Your parrot will let you know if certain spots or petting techniques are uncomfortable. Just be sure to watch for the signs. If the parrot:
- Puffs its feathers
- Moves away from you
- Stares at you with a stiff posture
These are negative signs. At the least, your parrot is anxious and on edge. It may be stressed, done with the petting, or dislikes that exact spot. Give it some space and try again once it’s appeared to loosen up.
Ensure The Surroundings Are Peaceful
Parrots that are startled or stressed by outside factors are less accepting of pets. That’s because your parrot will be on alert for danger or threats. If you distract it with touching or invade its space, it will feel even more distressed. Because of this, the ideal time to make a fuss of a parrot is when:
- The home is quiet, without loud voices, TV shows, or music playing
- There isn’t much activity, such as pets or children running around
- There aren’t other birds present, which might be vying for your attention
Relaxed parrots will have their chests flat or slightly raised. They may also be sleepy, with their heads drooping forwards. Their eyes will be half-closed or completely closed.
How To Train Your Parrot To Allow Petting
If your parrot isn’t yet comfortable with being touched, you can train it. Parrots that aren’t hand-reared, or those with previous trauma, may take longer to adjust. These techniques will help the bird warm up to you.
Start With The Beak
Touching the beak will be the least threatening place to start. That’s because parrots:
- Have a full view of your hand as it approaches. It’s impossible to surprise the parrot
- Interact with everything, from toys to friends, with their beaks. They’ll be less defensive of the spot
- Have ample chance to pull away. It won’t feel cornered or forced to accept the touch
- Beaks are less sensitive. Touching this spot won’t feel as invasive as other tender areas, like under the wings
To properly pet the beak:
- Always start with slow movements and light touches
- If your parrot shows any signs of discomfort, don’t chase after it with your hand
- Watch out for the eyes. A poke in the eye won’t be a good idea for either you or the parrot
Time Your Training
For antsy parrots, try out petting when they’re calm or tired. For example, as your parrot is winding down for bed, touch its beak. This will be a single, gentle motion. After that, retract your hand and don’t touch the parrot any further.
The parrot will be too drowsy to find it irritating or threatening. It may also perk up immediately afterward, so speak softly to it and then let it go to sleep. After a week or two of this, it will learn that being touched had no negative consequences. You can try touching its head or officially petting it, not just touching it.
Use A Touch Signal
A touch signal includes any motion you perform before touching your parrot. This may include:
- Raising your hand
- Wiggling your finger
- Baring your palm to the parrot
Once you’ve shown the parrot your signal, you can touch and pet it. This is helpful for unsocialized parrots that may need advanced notice before their space is invaded. Parrots will naturally respond to this with a signal of their own. This may include ruffling their feathers or dipping their head. This states that you are welcome to pet them.
Work Up The Head
Once your parrot is comfortable with you petting its beak, extend to the sides of the face. As always, keep your movements slow and deliberate, and always touch lightly. Once your parrot is comfortable with you touching its head, you can work your way to other areas.
Reward The Parrot
It pays to reward your parrot. After you have pet its beak, cheeks, head, or anywhere else, reward it with a treat. This may include a roasted peanut, sunflower seed, or a piece of fruit. Even parrots that dislike being pet may be tempted to accept it in exchange for a reward. This makes it a trick, not just a sign of affection.
Over time, your parrot may associate the treat with the pets and start to look forward to it. That can work as a stepping stone to developing more trust with your parrot.
Test All Its Areas
If your parrot has no-go areas, learn where those are. With enough encouragement and treats, you may teach your parrot to like petting anywhere on its body. This isn’t just a great bonding process, it has practical advantages.
You may need to examine certain areas for medical purposes should the parrot become sick or injure itself. If the parrot is already used to touching, this becomes far less stressful.
It’s time-consuming to train a parrot to like petting, but you need to be patient and calm. It will react based on your expressions, tone of voice, and movements. If you seem stressed or annoyed, the parrot will feel the same way.
Parrots enjoy being petted. Just be sure to focus on areas they like and adjust to their preferences. If done correctly, it’s a great way to show your parrot affection and strengthen your bond.