Parrots are very expressive, from their calls to their dances and their games. However, new owners may be confused when their parrots fluff up their feathers. At a glance, this can seem like an aggressive move or even a sign of illness. The good news is, fluffing up feathers can be perfectly natural. It has several meanings, and some are benign.
Parrots fluff their feathers to preen, regulate their temperature, and show happiness. It can also be a way to show aggression toward other birds. Parrots will sometimes fluff their feathers when they feel ill so that they can disguise their weakness. To tell what your parrot means by the action, look at its body language. Aggressive behavior will always be paired with growling, eye-pinning, and the parrot sinking low to the ground.
If your parrot is happy to see you, it will puff up its feathers and shake its tail. If it is too cold or hot, it will 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 the individual feathers. Fluffed feathers will allow a parrot to seem more intimidating.
What Does Feather Fluffing Look Like?
If you have paid close attention, you will notice a parrot fluffing its feathers occasionally. This resembles the bird puffing up its appearance and looking bigger in size. Parrots do this by vibrating or shaking their skin. That spreads individual feathers apart and makes them stand up straight.
This behavior sometimes catches new owners off guard. It can happen suddenly or be accompanied by a full-bodied tremor in your parrot. That makes it appear like a health issue or sudden aggression. After all, plenty of animals in nature are known to make their fur erect when feeling threatened or confronted.
Feather fluffing can be entirely benign behavior. You just need to know why your parrot decided to puff itself up.
Why Do Parrots Fluff Their Feathers?
All parrots will fluff up their feathers at one point or another. It’s a natural response that can:
- Show a parrot’s emotions
- Warm or cool off the parrot
- Allow the parrot to dry itself off
- Help the parrot groom its feathers
If your home is kept at an overly warm or cold temperature, 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 them.
Let’s explore all the reasons why your parrot is fluffing its feathers. This can help you understand how to respond, or when to let the parrot be.
Parrots fluff their feathers prominently when they are feeling threatened. We may view their puffy appearance as cute. However, it’s designed to make the parrot appear larger and more intimidating than it actually is. This behavior has been observed in many different bird species, and is not unique to parrots.
Cockatoos and cockatiels are especially adept at displaying aggression through this method. The crest on their heads will also rise up prominently, increasing their height. This makes their fluffing behavior easy to spot, even from afar. There are many different types of parrot aggression to look out for. This includes:
- Direct Aggression: This type of aggression is directed at the individual or object a parrot feels threatened or angered by.
- Indirect Aggression: This type of aggression is usually directed at a secondary individual that was not directly involved with threatening or angering the parrot. Indirect aggression is typically displayed towards weaker creatures, such as a smaller cage-mate.
- Active Aggression: Active aggression is more concerning, as it usually results in your parrot harming other people or its cage-mate.
- Passive Aggression: This form of aggression is characterized by actions that may not appear overtly violent. This could be a refusal to follow commands or failing to nurture its young.
Parrots always show aggression because of a particular issue. They don’t get angry or mean “just because,” or as a way to dominate other birds (or even people), according to Avian Vet.
Instead, this is 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 to show aggression, it’s upset, and there is a way to resolve this distress or frustration.
Parrots also fluff their feathers when they are excited or feeling affectionate. With a close bond, you should regularly see your bird perking up and beginning to shake its feathers into a puffier appearance as soon as you enter the room. This behavior is undoubtedly cute, and prompts us to go over and give our feathered friends some special attention.
You will know it’s a loving response when the parrot doesn’t show any other signs of aggression. It will not 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.
If you have a close bond with your pet, you should be happy to see it fluff its feathers in response to your presence. You can reciprocate the affection by showering the bird with praise, scritches, or tasty treats.
Parrots will fluff up their feathers when they are preening. According to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, parrots groom their feathers to remove parasites, dirt, and other filth. 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 poof up their entire collection of feathers. You will see it tugging each feather through its beak, and attending to different spots on its body. It may even seem distracted, and do this several times a day.
Adjusting to Temperatures
Parrots will fluff their feathers when they are feeling too hot or cold. Your pet’s feathers can be seen as a thick layer of insulation, much like fur. However, feathers are unique in that they can actually 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.
In that same way, feathers help promote airflow to cool a parrot down. If it’s overheating, it cannot sweat like humans. 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, you should adjust the temperature in your home. You can also provide shade and water, so your bird doesn’t become ill. Parrots are most comfortable at temperatures between 65 and 85 Fahrenheit.
Covering Up Illnesses
As mentioned earlier, parrots fluff their feathers when they feel threatened and wish to make themselves look bigger. However, these birds may also try to look bigger when they are ill.
Parrots like to hide their injuries or ailments, so they cannot be targeted by predators or more aggressive birds. To put up a strong façade, your pet will try to appear its strongest when it’s at its weakest. Parrots may develop a number of illnesses during their lifetime, including:
Any of these may cause your parrot to keep its feathers fluffed up. However, 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 lungs, 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. If you’re a new owner, for example, you may confuse aggressive fluffing with a sign of affection. Likewise, you may think your parrot is just temperature-sensitive when it’s ill. Here are some ways to narrow down the true meaning:
Aggression 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 will typically see:
- The feathers raised away from the body
- The head feathers partially raised
- Eye pinning
- The parrot’s body lowering to the ground
That last sign is the most obvious. Owners should familiarize themselves with this sound, 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 (which only happens when a parrot is happy or excited about an upcoming activity).
- Singing or chirping.
- The parrot flying toward you
- Puffed-up feathers as soon as you are within the parrot’s line of sight
Cold vs. Sick Parrot
It can be tricky to tell when your parrot is feeling chilly or sick based on its fluffing behavior alone. The good news is, 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 veterinarian immediately. A sick parrot will fluff its feathers, but it will be accompanied by 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 earlier, parrots puff-up their feathers when they are preening or grooming themselves. If your parrot is engaging in this preening-related fluffing often, it may be overdue for a bath.
Bathing helps soften the dirt on a parrot’s feathers, making it easier to preen. If your parrot goes for a long time without bathing, it will have difficulty removing bits of 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 a type of fluffing or shaking when they are 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, be sure to narrow down the cause and fix it. Parrots are sensitive birds that can get upset very easily by things like:
An Unsuitable Cage Mate
Parrots can grow upset when they are housed with other birds they do not get along with. This stress could be tied to the fear and intimidation they experience from being around a bigger and stronger parrot. However, your parrot may simply dislike sharing their living space with any other bird.
Moving to a New Setting
A change of setting can also be stressful for your parrot. Pet birds 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. They feel they have lost their original comfort space.
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 it to behave erratically. For this reason, owners should be careful of how much noise they make in front of their pets.
In some cases, it may be worth moving your parrot’s cage to a separate room where it is quieter. However, just 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 with 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.