Parrots love getting fuss and attention but dislike being stroked or rubbed on the back, wings, or tail. Consequently, petting a parrot in the wrong spots can be uncomfortable or stressful.
Parrots like to be petted on the beak, head, and along their cheeks. More trusting and well-bonded parrots enjoy being rubbed down the back of their neck and along their chest.
Some parrots will even let you touch underneath their neck, but it depends on their personality.
Check for negative reactions, as commonly accepted petting areas may be a no-go for some birds. Also, parrots that aren’t hand-reared or have endured previous trauma may reject touching altogether.
Do Parrots Like To Be Petted?
Parrots enjoy petting once a bond of trust has been established.
Parrots are very defensive of their space. Whether they’re a love bird, macaw, African grey, or an Amazon parrot, most birds won’t accept handling from strangers.
If you cuddle, pet, or touch a parrot that doesn’t trust you or has lost trust for you, it may:
- Move away from your hand.
- Squawk or scream.
- Bite at you.
- Ruffle its feathers and splay its tail.
Hand-reared parrots are more receptive to petting. Birds handled at a young age will be more accustomed to the touch of humans.
Once a parrot realizes you’re safe and trustworthy, petting and handling will be welcomed.
Where Do Parrots Like To Be Touched?
Parrots have preferred petting areas. So, one parrot may enjoy scratches along its chest, while another may only want to be petted on the head. Trial and error will determine the parrot’s tastes.
Here are the best places for petting parrots:
Bonded parrots will preen each other’s heads because it’s an area they can’t reach. The parrot may also rub its head on the cage bars or perch without assistance.
Preening this area is important when a new feather has just grown. While developing, a parrot’s feather will be wrapped in a thin film of white keratin, which protects the fibers as they grow.
This film will come off on its own. However, some preening will remove the film sooner. You can remove the film by rubbing it between your fingers or nails or gently lifting it.
If the film’s not ready to come off, a parrot will tell you by moving away or squawking.
Most parrots can’t resist a gentle rub along their beak.
This may not feel as good as petting on the head and doesn’t closely resemble preening. However, it’s a safe, broad area that still displays trust and affection.
As another difficult area to scratch, a parrot may like being nuzzled on its cheeks.
With cockatiels, it may be hard to resist giving this spot a scratch. Do so softly while avoiding the eyes.
Back of The Neck
Another hard-to-reach area is the back of the neck. You can start at the top of the head and move your finger to the base of its neck.
If the parrot doesn’t resist, try nuzzling slightly under its neck. You can gently move down from the beak if the parrot doesn’t become defensive.
Larger birds, like African greys and macaws, are more welcoming of chest rubs than smaller birds.
If a parrot doesn’t show resistance, pet it along the chest. Aside from its wings, this is one of a parrot’s favorite places to preen. You can brush these thick, plumed feathers with your hand.
Where Not To Pet A Parrot
There are no-go places on a parrot. Most parrots find these areas uncomfortable when touched:
Once you’ve petted down the head and along the back of the neck, you should stop at this point.
Even the weight of your hand or fingers on its back may cause discomfort. As prey animals, parrots dislike having their ability to fly away impeded.
Parrots may resist being petted on the long feathers on their wings by side-stepping your touch.
Under The Feathers
You may get bitten if you lift the wings and pet under them because it makes them feel vulnerable. Some parrots also dislike being petted in the space beneath their closed wings.
If you petted along the parrot’s stomach, it’s likely to retreat because it’s a sensitive and vulnerable area.
Parrots are defensive of their feet and the space immediately above that area. It’s common for budgies (parakeets) to peck and attack each other’s feet.
You’re removing the parrot’s ability to move away by petting those spots. The parrot may also be concerned that you’ll harm these delicate limbs.
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.
Predators tend to nip or grab at a parrot’s tail while chasing it down, which has given parrots an ingrained aversion to being petted in this area.
How To Pet A Parrot
Don’t pet parrots like you’d pet a cat or dog. Parrots need a specific approach due to their:
- Feather layerings.
- Preening habits.
- Place in the food chain.
Remember this when brushing, cuddling, scratching, or rubbing a parrot.
Parrots are surprised by quick or jerky motions because this indicates a predator is about to enter their space. So, always pet a parrot with soft, gradual, and consistent movements.
Show Your Hand
If you touch them unexpectedly, a parrot may be startled, so let them see your hand. If it doesn’t move away, you can be sure it’s aware of your presence.
Direction of The Feathers
Move your hand in the direction of the feathers, as stroking against the feathers can be painful. Stroking against the grain may damage smaller, more delicate feathers.
At the very least, you’ll ruffle the layering of the feathers, so the parrot will need to preen them.
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.
A parrot will tell you if certain spots or petting techniques are uncomfortable. Note the following:
- Feather puffing.
- Moving away from you.
- Staring at you (eye pinning) with a stiff posture.
These are negative signs, indicating the parrot is feeling on edge.
Parrots startled or stressed by external factors will be less accepting of petting because they’ll be on high alert for threats. Distracting it by touching or entering its space will make it feel more distressed.
The ideal time to make a fuss of a parrot is in these situations:
- Home is quiet: No loud voices, TV shows, or music playing.
- Little activity: No pets or children running around.
- No other birds present: These 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 forward. Their eyes will be half-closed or completely closed.
Avoid Stimulating Hormones
Stroking parrots across the body, especially their back, rump, and underneath their wings, stimulates hormone production in both genders.
When coupled with increased light exposure, it can result in unfertilized egg-laying in females. In males, it leads to sexual frustration and behavioral problems.
Unfortunately, this can result in a parrot becoming attracted to you.
Parrots enjoy being petted but focus on the areas they like and adjust to their preferences. If done correctly, it’s a great way to show a parrot affection and strengthen your bond.