As owners, we’ve all seen our parrots regurgitate. However, you may be concerned that this behavior resembles vomiting, gagging, or choking. The parrot might even regurgitate on you or its toys, leaving you completely non-plussed. The good news is that regurgitation in parrots is natural and healthy.
Parrots regurgitate their food to feed chicks, feed themselves during food shortages, feed their mates, and as a courting behavior. They’ll regurgitate by moving stored food out of their crop. This will involve bobbing their head up and down and making a clicking or gagging sound. A parrot will regurgitate about once a day.
If your parrot often regurgitates on you or its toys, it’s 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.
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 slowly eat the extra food over time.
The food can remain for up to 12 hours, allowing it to moisten and soften. It can then take its time digesting it. Likewise, chicks that have not yet developed their beaks sufficiently to eat solids can consume the stored food.
As the crop is not part of the digestive system, the food stored in the crop 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, produce what’s called crop milk, or “bird’s milk.” This is a semi-solid liquid that will appear:
- Whitish gray
- Slightly yellow
According to Stanford University, this bird’s milk has more fat and protein-packed into it than cows’ milk. It’s invaluable for developing chicks as they can more easily process the food their parents regurgitate.
How Do Parrots Express Love?
While regurgitation’s main purpose is to feed young chicks, it’s a process used by many animals for varied purposes. According to African Zoology, bees have crops where they store nectar, which is regurgitated into the honeycomb.
Parrots can 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.
However, it’s also a natural behavior that isn’t concerning, as long as it’s done for other parrots. If a parrot regurgitates on you, that’s another matter entirely.
Regurgitation is often used during parrot courtship. While all species can do it, the behavior is most common in:
Parrots may eject food for one another as a sign that they’re interested in mating. The parrots are showing what good mates they are since they’re accomplished at scavenging and providing food. The receiving parrot 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 good they are at being mates.
Parrot Regurgitating On Toy
Toys are not exempt from being coated in 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 has:
- Never had anyone or anything else to play with
- Feels lonely and needs to form a bond with something
- Mistaken the toy for a possible mate, such as with stuffed animals or mirror reflection
This means that your parrot has mixed up friendship and mating. That should be corrected. The first step is to remove the toy, or your parrot may become aggressive and territorial of the plaything. After that, you’ll need to assess how to 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 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.
Parrot Regurgitates On Me
If your parrot regurgitates on you often, it sees you as a mate. This is one of those 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 negative ramifications. If you allow your parrot to view you as a mate, the parrot can develop mental issues, including:
- Sexual frustration, which leads to self-harm, such as plucking its own feathers
- Social dysfunction, as your parrot 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 animals 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 parrot. 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. Here’s how to resolve the problem:
Your parrot may be under-socialized. It lacks enrichment, it doesn’t interact with anyone but you, and it feels isolated. Depending on the type of parrot you own, it may need a friend or mate of its own kind to spend time with.
The way we play with parrots influences how they perceive us. If your parrot is hormonal, lonely, or too attached to you, only rub the top of your parrot’s head. Caressing the torso, back, and wings will be seen as an attempt to mate.
Ignore Any Advances
If your parrot thinks that you’ve accepted its mating advances, it will continue. When your parrot regurgitates on you, ignore it, clean up the mess, and put your parrot back in its cage. There’s no need to discipline a parrot for regurgitating, but you can reject its courting behavior by ignoring it.
Be aware of certain triggers, such as a specific phrase or game that causes regurgitation. If you identify such a trigger, reduce how often you perform this activity or phase it out entirely.
Baby Parrots Regurgitating
If a newly hatched parrot chick is regurgitating, 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 regurgitate when weaning because of:
- 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 parrot’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 overly thick or runny. If your parrot chick only regurgitates occasionally, it’s no cause for concern.
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 a parrot:
- Has an obvious bulge in its neck or upper chest
- Is sitting in silence on its favorite perch
- 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 cause it to heave, particularly in baby parrots.
Despite popular opinion, mirrors are bad toys for parrots. According to the University of California, most parrots, especially smaller ones, cannot distinguish between their reflection and a real parrot. Mirrors distort their reality, making them believe they are interacting with another parrot.
When parrots interact with this new bird in their territory, they could attempt to bond and mate with it. Your parrot will regurgitate on the mirror as a courting action. As with toys, this leads to an unhealthy obsession.
Infections in your parrot’s digestive or intestinal tract may lead to it regurgitating by accident. Parrots 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 parrot 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 trigger regurgitation
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 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 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 hatch, 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 for their offspring. It will be warm and coated in crop milk.
Why Is My Parrot Gagging?
To initiate regurgitation, parrots will extend and retract their necks quickly. This makes a certain clicking or gagging noise. In this context, the gagging motion is completely safe.
However, you may be concerned that the parrot is choking. The best way to tell if your parrot is safely gagging or has 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
Unlike regurgitation, vomiting is the involuntary discharge of semi-digested or fully-digested food. It signals illness or disease. The good news is that you can easily distinguish it from regurgitation. When vomiting, the parrot will be:
- Visibly stressed
- Uncontrollably spew its stomach contents
- Producing partially or mostly digested food
A regurgitating parrot will:
- Not show signs that it is under stress, since this is a conscious action
- Have full control of itself and where it regurgitates the food
- Extend and retract its neck quickly, bobbing it up and down
- Regurgitate undigested food comes from the crop, not the stomach
Parrot Throwing Up Clear Liquid
If your parrot throws up clear liquid, this can be due to:
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.
Vomiting Up Extra Water
Your parrot may have swallowed too much water during shower time or have drank too much on purpose. When its stomach can’t hold it, it will bring up up the extra water.
The clear liquid may be due to a bacterial or fungal infection, such as candidiasis. Any parrot that is found vomiting should be provided with plenty of water, preferably mixed with electrolytes.
Parrots can become dehydrated quickly. That is debilitating for parrots, particularly smaller species. If the behavior continues for several hours, you should contact an avian 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 natural. Just ensure that it’s doing this for itself or other parrots and not for you.