Owners may be confused when parrots fluff up their feathers. It can seem like an aggressive act or even a sign of illness. However, fluffing up feathers has various meanings, and some are harmless and benign.
Parrots fluff their feathers to preen, regulate their temperature, and show happiness. Parrots sometimes fluff their feathers when they feel ill to avoid showing any signs of weakness. If the behavior is aggressive, fluffed feathers will be paired with growling, eye-pinning, and sinking low to the ground.
If your parrot is happy to see you, it’ll puff up its feathers and shake its tail. If it is too cold or hot, it’ll squat down to conserve warmth or keep its feathers lifted to promote airflow. Parrots that are grooming will lift sections at a time to clean individual feathers. Fluffed feathers will allow the parrot to look more intimidating.
What Does Feather Fluffing Look Like?
You’ll have noticed your parrot fluffing its feathers occasionally. It resembles the parrot puffing up its appearance to look bigger in size.
Parrots do this by vibrating or shaking their skin. That spreads individual feathers apart and makes them stand up straight. It can happen suddenly or be accompanied by a full-bodied tremor in the parrot.
Why Do Parrots Fluff Their Feathers?
All parrots fluff up their feathers. It’s a natural response that can:
- Show emotions
- Warm or cool off the parrot
- Allow the parrot to dry itself off
- Enable the parrot groom its feathers
If your home is overly warm or cold, the parrot may fluff its feathers regularly. If your parrot has been newly introduced to a cage-mate, this fluffing may be one of its first responses. If you’ve just bathed your parrot, don’t be surprised if it puffs up its feathers to groom and preen them.
Parrots fluff their feathers prominently when they’re feeling threatened. It’s intended to make the parrot appear larger and more intimidating than it is. This behavior has been observed in many bird species and isn’t unique to parrots.
Cockatoos and cockatiels are especially adept at displaying anger through this method. The crest on their heads will also rise prominently, increasing their height. This makes their fluffing behavior easy to spot, even from afar. There are many types to look out for, including:
- Direct: This is directed at the individual or object a parrot feels threatened or angered by.
- Indirect: This is usually directed at a secondary individual that was not directly involved with threatening or angering the parrot. Indirect aggression is displayed towards weaker creatures, such as a smaller cage-mate.
- Active: This usually results in your parrot harming other people or its cage-mate.
- Passive: This is characterized by actions that may not appear overtly aggressive. This could be a refusal to follow commands or failing to nurture its young.
Parrots always show aggression because of a particular issue. According to Avian Vet, they don’t get angry or mean “just because” or as a way to dominate other birds or people.
It’s a way for parrots to defend themselves and show their displeasure. There are no alpha birds, and parrots are not born hostile. If your parrot is fluffing its feathers, it’s upset, and there’s a way to resolve this distress or frustration.
Parrots also fluff their feathers when they’re excited or feeling affectionate. With a close bond, you should regularly see your parrot shaking its feathers into a puffier appearance when you enter the room.
You’ll know it’s a loving response when the parrot doesn’t show any other signs of aggression. It won’t hiss, move away from you, or hold its wings erect.
Although it may flap the wings, it doesn’t hold them up to continuously appear larger. When you get closer, the parrot should lay its feathers down and be receptive to your touch.
According to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, parrots groom their feathers to remove parasites, dirt, and debris. Since they lay flat against the parrot’s body, it will need to lift these feathers to gain better access. This also enables the parrot to clean the softer, light feathers that sit hidden against its body.
Parrots groom one area at a time, so they may not puff up their entire collection of feathers. You will see it tugging each feather through its beak and attending to different spots on its body.
Adjusting to Temperatures
Your parrot’s feathers are a thick layer of insulation. However, feathers are unique in that they can puff up to trap pockets of air. This air is then warmed by your parrot’s body heat, which keeps it warm in colder environments.
Feathers promote airflow to cool a parrot down. If it’s overheating, it can’t sweat. Instead, it dispels heat up to its skin. Here, it performs a heat exchange by lifting its feathers and letting a breeze or cool air move over its body.
The parrot’s overall temperature goes down, and it can rest easy. Parrots may even lift their wings, fluff their feathers, and hold this position for several minutes as they cool down.
If your parrot does this often, adjust the temperature in your home. You can also provide shade and water so your parrot doesn’t become ill. Parrots are most comfortable at temperatures between 65 and 85 Fahrenheit.
Covering Up Illnesses
As mentioned, parrots fluff their feathers when they feel threatened and want to make themselves look bigger. However, parrots may also attempt to look bigger when they’re ill.
Parrots like to hide their injuries or ailments, so they aren’t targeted by predators or more dominant birds. To put up a strong façade, your parrot will try to appear at its strongest when it’s at its weakest.
Aspergillus is usually one of the main reasons for illness-related fluffing. This disease is a fungal infection of the parrot’s air sacs and may cause breathing difficulties.
What Does It Mean When a Parrot Fluffs Its Feathers?
Although feather-fluffing has clear meanings, you may struggle to understand what they are. You may confuse aggressive fluffing with a sign of affection. Likewise, you may think your parrot is temperature-sensitive when it’s ill. Here are some ways to narrow down the true meaning:
Aggressive Fluffing vs. Affection Fluffing
Aggressive fluffing can appear similar to when your parrot fluffs up with excitement and fondness. Parrots often react to the presence of humans as soon as they enter the room. That can make it tricky to tell how they perceive you at a glance. If your parrot is displaying aggression-related fluffing, you’ll see:
- The feathers raised away from the body
- The head feathers partially raised
- Eye pinning
- The parrot’s body lowering to the ground
Owners should familiarize themselves with the sound of growling as it is a dead giveaway. Your parrot feels threatened by something or someone in the surrounding area. Meanwhile, affection-related fluffing is a more welcoming sight. This is usually characterized by:
- Tail wagging
- Singing or chirping
- The parrot flying toward you
- Puffed-up feathers when in parrot’s line of sight
Cold vs. Sick Parrot
It can be hard to tell when your parrot’s feeling chilly or sick based on its fluffing behavior alone. However, a parrot that feels cold and wants to warm up will:
- Bury its beak into its chest
- Fluff up its feathers across its body
- Squat as a way to cover its legs with its feathers
If you suspect your parrot is ill, you should take them to see a vet. A sick parrot will display other signs:
- A more disheveled appearance from being too weak to preen itself properly
- Changes in appetite or the amount of water it’s drinking
- Difficulty balancing on its perch
Do Fluffed Feathers Mean I Need to Wash My Bird?
As mentioned, parrots puff up their feathers when they’re preening or grooming themselves. If your parrot is engaging in this preening-related fluffing often, it may be overdue for a bath.
Bathing softens the dirt on a parrot’s feathers, making it easier to preen. If your parrot goes for a long time without bathing, it’ll have difficulty removing dirt and debris. This may lead to more frequent preening.
Is My Parrot Fluffing Due to Stress?
Fluffing is usually not an issue. However, parrots may engage in fluffing or shaking when stressed or anxious. This helps them feel larger, safer, and warmer. Additionally, stress can manifest itself as:
- Aggression toward their cage mates
- Picking at their own feathers angrily
- Biting their own bodies
If you think your parrot is stressed, narrow down the cause and resolve the issue.
An Unsuitable Cage Mate
Parrots can grow upset when they’re housed with other birds they don’t get along with. This stress could be tied to the fear and intimidation they experience from being around a bigger, stronger parrot. However, your parrot may dislike sharing their living space with any other bird.
Moving to a New Setting
A change of setting can also be stressful. Pet parrots can become attached to a particular room or setting if they have lived there long enough. Moving them to a new setting takes them out of their comfort zone and stresses them out.
Some parrots dislike external noises in their environment. They need around 12 hours of sleep per day, a portion of which is achieved through naps. External noises can disturb your parrot’s naps and cause them to behave erratically.
In some cases, it may be worth moving your parrot’s cage to a separate room where it is quieter. However, be mindful of the fact that this change of setting can also be stressful.
Parrots are sensitive to light. They adapt their lifestyle to the amount of sunlight available. This means they are active during daylight hours and more passive at night.
However, exposure to artificial lighting at night may stimulate your parrot to stay awake. According to Scientific Reports, many bird species have trouble sleeping due to light pollution.
If your parrot’s cage is kept in a room with artificial lighting, it may get stressed and puff up its feathers in frustration. An easy work-around for this problem is to use a cover over the cage at night. This allows the parrot to enjoy being in the dark after sunset without moving its cage.