why is my parrot regurgitating?

Why Do Parrots Regurgitate Their Food?

Every owner has seen their parrot regurgitate. You may be concerned about this peculiar behavior as it can look like vomiting, gagging, or choking. The parrot might even regurgitate on you or its toys, leaving you completely non-plussed. The good news is, regurgitation is natural and healthy.

Parrots regurgitate their food to feed chicks, feed themselves during food shortages, feed their mates, and as courting behavior. They will regurgitate by moving stored food out of their crop. It will involve bobbing their head up and down and making a clicking or gagging sound. A parrot will regurgitate about once a day. However, if the parrot often regurgitates on you or its toys, this is a bad sign.

It means the parrot is trying to romance you or its toys, which should be discouraged. However, there are cases where the parrot will regurgitate by accident. This happens when you handle the parrot too roughly, or when it is sick. In some cases, the parrot will vomit, but this is always a bad sign that signals illness.

Why Is My Parrot Regurgitating?

For parrots, the main purpose of regurgitating is to feed chicks. However, it can also be used to:

  • Feed the parrot itself
  • Show love
  • Feed its mate
  • Dispel bad food from its crop

This process has several steps, but the first always takes place in the crop. That’s an extended part of the esophagus, or throat. Once a parrot swallows its food, it travels down into the crop, where it can be stored before being fully digested. The parrot will keep the food here until later, where it can:

  • Feed young chicks that can’t scavenge for themselves
  • Feed mates that are busy tending to eggs
  • Eat later by itself, when food may be scarce

The crop is quite flexible and can hold a surprising amount of food. This allows a parrot to gorge itself when it finds a meal and then slowly eat that extra food over time.

The food can stay put for up to 12 hours, allowing it to moisten and soften. It can then take its time digesting it at another moment, in peace. Likewise, chicks that have not yet developed their beaks enough to eat solids can enjoy the stored food.

As the crop is not part of the digestive system, the food stored within is only slightly digested. Whether it’s seeds, insects, or soft vegetables, the food will be slightly ground up with time.

Parrot Regurgitating White Liquid

Some birds, including most parrot species, even produce what’s called crop milk, or “bird’s milk.” This is a semi-solid liquid that will appear:

  • Whitish gray
  • Slightly yellow

It’s made up of a secretion from the lining of the crop. It aids in both delivering the food and administering many extra nutrients, like:

  • Amino acids
  • Fat
  • Protein

According to Stanford University, this bird’s milk has more fat and protein-packed into it than milk’s cow. That makes it helpful for developing chicks. Not only can they more easily process the food their parents regurgitate. They can even get more health benefits from the crop-mush.

excessive regurgitation in parrots

How Do Parrots Express Love?

While regurgitation’s main purpose is to feed young chicks, it’s a natural process used by many animals for varied purposes. For instance, bees also possess crops where they store nectar, which is then regurgitated into the honeycomb, according to African Zoology. For parrots, they can also regurgitate to show affection.

A parrot will do this by regurgitating for (or on) those it loves. For an unsuspecting owner, your first impulse may be to find it gross and unhygienic (and it is). However, it’s also a natural and healthy behavior that shouldn’t be concerning, so long as it’s done for other parrots. If it’s done on you, that’s another matter entirely.

Courtship

Regurgitation is often used during parrot courtship. While all parrot species can do it, the behavior is most commonly found in:

  • Budgerigars
  • Cockatiels
  • Macaws

Birds may eject food for one another as a sign that they are interested in mating. The parrots are trying to show what good mates they are, since they are excellent at scavenging and providing food. The receiving bird will then eat the slightly digested food and may regurgitate as well.

If two parrots are bonded and continue to regurgitate for each other, it shows they still value each other’s company. They wish to reaffirm how wonderful they are at being mates.

Parrot Regurgitating On Toy

Toys are not exempt from being sprayed by your parrot’s undigested food. If your parrot is an adult, it may be in a breeding mood. Since it’s sexually attached to its toy, it is regurgitating on it. That’s because the parrot has become overly attached, perhaps because:

  • It’s never had anyone or anything else to play with
  • It feels lonely and needs to form a bond with something
  • It has mistaken the toy for a possible mate, such as with stuffed animals or even mirrors

While the show of love is not bad, this means that your parrot has mixed up friendship and mating. That should be corrected. The best first step is to remove the toy. Otherwise, your parrot may become aggressive and territorial of the plaything. After that, you will need to assess how you can fulfill the parrot’s social needs and curb its hormones.

It’s not healthy for a parrot to grow overly attached to its toy, as it may stop spending quality time with you. It may even neglect other important responsibilities, such as eating. After all, the toy won’t respond to its advances, so the parrot may have no choice but to give it constant, undivided attention to win its love. Since this won’t be possible, everything else falls by the wayside.

Parrot Regurgitates On Me

If your pet parrot regurgitates on you often, then it sees you as a mate. This is one of those bittersweet situations where you need to proceed carefully. It means your parrot loves you. However, you can’t be its mate, so you need to let it down easily.

If you don’t curb this behavior, there will be many negative effects. If you allow your parrot to view you as a mate, the parrot can develop mental issues, including:

  • Depression.
  • Sexual frustration, which leads to self-harm, like plucking its own feathers.
  • Social dysfunction, as the bird has an unhealthy attachment and will reject time with other parrots.
  • Increased aggression, biting you and other members of the family.

With that said, if you immediately rebuff the parrot’s love, it will feel rejected. Since parrots are intelligent creatures with complex social bonds, this can damage their trust and hurt the bond you share. The parrot may experience the same level of depression, anger, and jealousy that it would if it remained in an unfulfilling relationship.

Because of this, it’s important to appreciate how rare it is for parrots to show this level of affection. You have built a strong bond with your pet. It values you above everyone else and is happy to spend its long life as your companion. However, you do not want this to continue.

How Do I Stop My Parrot Regurgitating?

If your parrot is unnaturally attached to you and regurgitates as a courting move, then you need to understand how this started. Checking out the factors can help you undo the harm:

Socialize It

It’s possible that your bird is under-socialized. It does not have enough enrichment, it does not interact with anyone but you, and it feels isolated.

Depending on the type of parrot you have, it may need a friend or mate of its own kind to spend time with. It may also need to be taken on walks and introduced to new people, so its intelligent brain doesn’t get cabin fever.

Handle With Care

The way we play with our parrots heavily influences how they perceive us. If your parrot is hormonal, lonely, or too attached to you, then be careful only to rub the top of a parrot’s head. Otherwise, caressing the torso, back, and wings will be seen as an attempt to mate.

Ignore It

If your parrot thinks you accepted its mating advances, it will continue them. When the bird regurgitates on you, do not acknowledge it. Making a fuss gives the parrot what it relishes: your attention.

Ignore the parrot, clean up the mess, and put your pet away in its cage. This makes it understand that this behavior will not get it more attention. Never discipline the parrot for regurgitating, but you can reject its courting behavior by ignoring it.

Remove Triggers

Check for certain triggers, such as a specific phrase or game that always causes it to try and heave on you. If you find such a trigger, try to reduce how often you share in this activity, or even phase it out completely. It will be different with each parrot, so you may have to try this several times.

Baby Parrots Regurgitating

If a newly hatched parrot chick is regurgitating, then it’s for vastly different reasons than its parent. It’s not courting behavior – it’s trying to eject bad food or too much food. Hand-fed parrots commonly regurgitate when weaning because of:

  • Overfeeding
  • Alimentary tract infections
  • Some antibiotic drugs, such as doxycycline (used to treat infections)

Crop stasis, or sour crop, may also be the culprit. Crop stasis refers to the partial or complete blockage of the food as it flows from the crop to the rest of a bird’s digestive system. This means the parrot can no longer accept more food.

In hand-fed baby parrots, this commonly happens when food is not at the right temperature or consistency. It may be too hot or cold, or thick or runny. If your parrot chick only regurgitates now and then, it’s no cause for concern. If it happens often, though, you should consult with a vet.

Excessive Regurgitation In Parrots

As benign as regurgitation may seem, some conditions force a parrot to empty its crop involuntarily. Look for warning signs and make sure your parrot isn’t enduring a sickness that’s mistaken for healthy behavior.

Handling A Parrot After Eating

If you roughly handle a parrot with a full crop, it may regurgitate by accident. This is one of the only cases where the parrot emptying its crop on you isn’t a courting behavior.

Parrots with a full crop will prefer to be alone while they digest their food. You can tell this when:

  • The parrot has an obvious bulge in its neck or upper chest
  • It’s sitting in silence on its favorite perch, away from the commotion
  • It has suddenly tucked itself away into its cage to be alone

If approached, it may not move away immediately, but rest assured, it doesn’t want to be bothered. If you agitate a parrot with a full crop, it may hurl the contents of its crop back out. Any undue pressure or squeezing may also cause it to heave, particularly in baby parrots.

Mirrors

Despite popular opinion, mirrors are bad toys for parrots. That’s because most parrots, especially smaller ones, cannot distinguish between their reflection and a real parrot, according to the University of California. Mirrors distort their reality, making them believe they are interacting with another parrot.

When parrots interact with this supposedly new bird in their territory, they could attempt to bond and mate with it. Your pet will regurgitate on the mirror as a courting action. That’s a common behavior. Like toys, this can be extremely dangerous, as mirrors create an extremely unhealthy obsession in parrots.

Diseases Which Influence Regurgitation

Infections in your parrot’s digestive or intestinal tract may lead to it regurgitating by accident. Birds should clear their crop at least once a day. This will be in the morning, before the first feed of the day.

However, if you notice chronic and overly frequent regurgitation, it may be a sign that your bird is sick. Common diseases that may be responsible for this include:

  • Crop stasis
  • Respiratory parasites, such as Trichomonas Gallinae
  • Avian goiter, also known as thyroid hyperplasia
  • Gastrointestinal diseases
  • Some drugs and antibiotics may also trigger undesired regurgitation
parrot vomiting clear liquid

Do Male Parrots Regurgitate?

Male parrots can regurgitate for their young. A nesting mother will always remain at her eggs’ side for as long as she can. The male partner will assume the role of the provider, searching out food for both of them. When he brings it back to the nest, he will feed her by regurgitating it.

Of course, males can also regurgitate as a courting behavior and to feed themselves during food shortages. However, this incubation time for its eggs will see the parrot regurgitating far more often and consistently.

Do Female Parrots Regurgitate?

Aside from feeding themselves, female parrots also regurgitate to feed chicks once they hatch. Once chicks emerge, both parents take it upon themselves to find sustenance for them.

The baby parrots will not be able to fly for 4-6 weeks. During this period, both parents will regurgitate small amounts of food to their offspring. It will be warm and coated in crop milk.

Why Is My Bird Gagging?

To initiate regurgitation, parrots will extend and retract their necks very quickly. This makes a certain clicking or gagging noise. In this context, the gagging motion is completely safe.

However, you may be worried that the parrot is actually choking. The best way to tell if your parrot is safely gagging or is instead experiencing a blockage is to look for these signs. A choking parrot will:

  • Hold its beak open, slight gasping for breath
  • Extend its neck forward and lower its body, while slightly opening or flapping its wings
  • Emit a human-like cough

Parrot Regurgitation Vs. Vomiting

As with all animals, parrots do vomit. Unlike regurgitation, vomiting is the involuntary discharge of semi-digested or fully-digested food. It signals illness or disease in your bird, and should be worthy of concern. The good news is, you can clearly tell it apart from regurgitation. When vomiting:

  • The parrot will be visibly stressed.
  • The parrot will uncontrollably spew its stomach contents everywhere.
  • Food will be partially or mostly digested.

A regurgitating parrot, on the other hand:

  • Will not show signs that it is under stress, since this is a conscious action.
  • Will have full control of itself and where it regurgitates the food.
  • Will extend and retract its neck very quickly, bobbing it up and down.
  • Regurgitated food comes from the crop, not the stomach, and will therefore be undigested.

Parrot Throwing Up Clear Liquid

If your parrot throws up clear liquid, this can be due to:

  • Regurgitation
  • Vomiting

It’s not always an emergency, but it should be looked at and treated with a sense of urgency. The liquid may be clear or whitish, with a consistency slightly thicker than water. It may even appear to be actual water.

Vomiting Up Extra Water

Your parrot may be trying to vomit up extra water that it drank. It may have swallowed too much during shower time. It may have also drunk too much on purpose, such as when:

  • Your parrot has not had water in its bowl all day.
  • It’s a sweltering day.

It may gorge itself when water next becomes available. When its stomach can’t hold it, it will spew up the extra.

Bacterial Infection

The clear liquid may also be due to a bacterial or fungal infection, such as candidiasis. Any bird that is found vomiting should be provided with plenty of water, preferably mixed with electrolytes.

It can become dehydrated very quickly. That is debilitating for parrots, particularly smaller ones. If the behavior continues for several hours, then you should contact your vet.

Parrots regurgitate their food to feed chicks, show love, feed themselves, and feed each other. If your parrot is engaging in this behavior, it’s perfectly natural. Just be sure it’s doing this for itself or other parrots, and not for you.