macaw blushing

Why Do Parrots Blush?

You may have noticed that from time to time, your parrot blushes. Blushing typically ranges from light pink to a deep red and conveys what your bird is feeling. It’s most commonly seen in macaws because they have larger areas of bare white skin on their cheeks.

Parrots blush when feeling extreme emotions, such as excitement, anger, playfulness, and sexual maturity. They also blush when feeling threatened. Blue-and-yellow macaws blush most often when receiving attention from their caregivers. Feathers mostly cover a parrot’s cheeks, which means we can’t always see when they’re blushing.

It’s not just macaws that blush, but all parrots. How much we can see of it depends on how many feathers cover the skin. But even if we can’t see it, it doesn’t mean that parrots aren’t capable of producing rosy red cheeks.

Do Parrots Blush?

Surprisingly, facial blushing is common in many species of birds. As described in a journal from the Department of Applied Biology, hemoglobin is a protein molecule that’s contained in the blood of all birds. It’s responsible for the red flushing colors that appear on bare skin.

A journal published by the National Library of Medicine explains how parrots don’t have carotenoid pigments that most other birds have. These pigments give birds their coloration.

Instead, parrots have plumage pigments called psittacofulvins, which give a parrot’s skin and feathers their color. They work in mostly the same way as carotenoids.

However, blushing can’t be seen (and therefore studied accurately) because of a parrot’s facial feathers, which cover the skin.

Underneath their feathers, parrots have bare white skin. As a result, it’s likely that all parrots blush. But because we can’t see the color change, they fluff the feathers on their face, nape, and neck to communicate with us and other animals instead.

To blush, parrots turn their cheeks pink or red by increasing blood flow to the vessels and capillaries near the skin’s surface in the same way humans and primates do.

Is My Macaw Blushing?

To find out more about a parrot’s facial expressions, a team of researchers, led by Dr. Bertin, conducted a study into the unexplored research of facial display in captive blue-and-yellow macaws.

Macaws were used for the study because their heads comprise of mobile colored feathers on the top of the crown and nape, along with mobile black feather lines on the cheeks. They also have patches of bare white skin.

The bare skin was of particular interest to the researchers, as it allowed them to more accurately observe whether or not blushing occurred.

Documented as a journal on Plos One, the team observed feather position on the crown, nape, and cheek and blushing on the parrots’ bare cheeks during the parrot’s daily routine and while interacting with a human caregiver.

The study found that crown, nape, and cheek feather-ruffling was more frequent when the parrots were sitting still.

Similarly, crown ruffling was even more frequent when the parrots’ familiar caregivers actively engaged with them by talking to them and maintaining eye contact. Furthermore, blushing was also judged to be present in photographs taken of the interactions.

While the study was only small, the results show that blushing could be a form of communication that many parrots adopt to convey their emotions.

People don’t commonly associate birds with using facial cues and expressions to communicate, so this data is useful in helping caregivers better understand their pets.

do parrots blush?

What Does It Mean When My Parrot Blushes?

Now that we’ve established that parrots blush to communicate, what are they trying to say? Parrots are complex, highly intelligent creatures. When they blush, they’re attempting to tell us something. Parrots may blush when they are feeling:

Excited

Parrots are most likely to blush when they’re excited. As already mentioned, parrots blushed when given attention by their human caregivers. The reaction was less common when the person turned their back and began ignoring the bird. Other signs of an excited parrot include:

  • Singing
  • Talking
  • Whistling
  • Chattering
  • Purring
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dancing or head movements
  • Tail flaring
  • Preening
  • Feather ruffling
  • Raised chest

If your parrot starts doing any of the above, it’s happy, content, and excited to see you. Have some fun by getting your bird out of the cage and playing with it to strengthen your bond.

Threatened

A multitude of things may cause your parrot to feel threatened, such as:

  • Predator pets in the home
  • Loud noises
  • Boisterous children
  • Other birds

As a result, your parrot may become territorial. Blushing is a common sign that parrots are feeling flustered and uncomfortable, as are:

  • Feather displays
  • Nest making
  • Self-mutilation
  • Destructive behavior
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Refusal to eat
  • Panting

If a parrot displays these signs, something is making it unhappy. To calm your parrot down, investigate the cause of its stress, and remove it from your parrot’s vicinity.

Playful

Many parrots love to play. They also need mental stimulation to keep them healthy and sane, especially if you’re away from home. Similarly, parrots require constant social interaction and love forming bonds with their caregivers. Parrots that are eager to have some fun may:

  • Bob their heads
  • Sway
  • Hang upside down
  • Make their head feathers stand up

Parrots that are excited about the prospect of playtime will also start to blush. At this point, you must provide some toys and games to occupy your parrot. If you have time, your bird will enjoy being let out of its cage to explore and roam around.

If a playful parrot is ignored, it may become destructive as it tries to find another way to channel its energy.

Sexually Selective

When parrots become sexually mature, they develop the instinct to find a mate. Desexing parrots is expensive and comes with many risks, so you’ll likely experience the various stages of sexual development, including hormone-induced behavioral challenges.

Unfortunately, when a mate isn’t available, parrots become sexually attached to their owners. When they become bonded to their caregiver, they become frustrated as their mating needs cannot be met.

During the various reproductive stages, parrots may blush and ruffle their feathers to attract a mate. You will also notice:

Parrots do eventually come out of the breeding cycle, but until that happens, you’ll want to deter your parrot’s behavior by:

  • Putting it to bed early
  • Prevent it from nesting
  • Being careful of the areas you pet your parrot, avoiding stimulating areas such as the back and under the tail
  • Feeding it an optimum diet

Angry

Angry parrots are not to be messed with. Most of the time, they’re friendly and affectionate. However, birds that are stressed or want to be left alone may show the following angry behaviors:

  • Crouching
  • Hissing
  • Fanned tail
  • Raised feathers on the rump, back, nape, and crown
  • Wings held away from the body to appear larger
  • Agape beak
  • Flashing pupils
  • Perching low

Blushing is also another prime sign that your parrot isn’t happy. When combined with the above, it’s crucial to understand what’s causing your parrot’s anger. Otherwise, it may begin to hurt itself by plucking out its feathers and tapping its beak on its cage.

Parrots go through a range of emotions just like we do. But if your parrot’s anger doesn’t subside, try to find the source of the problem to stop it.

If you have a blushing parrot, you’re very lucky as it can’t always be seen. The more your parrot blushes in front of you, the more you’ll begin to understand what it means. Look out for other behavioral signs that give your bird’s mood away.