Most parrots love perching on their owner’s shoulders. The shoulders provide an opportunity for these curious and inquisitive birds to explore and survey their living environment from a safe vantage point.
Parrots stand on shoulders because it mimics the high vantage points encountered in their natural habitat, such as the branches of tall trees. It’s an ideal opportunity for parrots to bond and spend time with their owners. Should the parrot want something, such as food or fuss, it’s easy for them to get your attention.
While there’s no such thing as height dominance in parrots, don’t be surprised if these playful and mischievous birds use the situation to their advantage. If you fail to comply with the wishes of your parrot, it may emit a loud scream or give you a painful nip with its sharp beak. Also, any existing undesirable behaviors will be exacerbated.
Why Do Parrots Like Shoulders?
A parrot sitting on your shoulder is rooted in the parrot’s natural instincts and habits from the wild. In your home, the parrot will enjoy various benefits, including:
Similar To Perching on Branches
Parrots rarely sit or lie down. When a parrot isn’t flying, it will be standing.
Parrots perch on tree branches that are high up from the forest floor. This allows them to stay vigilant to danger while comfortably resting in their natural posture.
Your shoulder can feel like the ideal ‘branch’ to a parrot. Unlike other body parts, the shoulder is:
- Easy to access
- Wide enough to stand on
- High up from the ground
- Remains steady at all times
That makes it a solid area where a parrot can comfortably stand. It’s close to your face, so it can get your attention.
Sense of Safety
There are various predators seeking to eat them. Therefore, parrots evolved defense mechanisms to safeguard against harm, such as perching in high-up locales. This makes it difficult for predators to reach them. Even those that can fly will have to maneuver through dense foliage to reach the parrot.
Since parrots are always standing, their wings are unimpeded. They can take to the air quickly if the need arises. Parrots will nest, groom, and sleep in high vantage points to avoid dangers.
If your parrot isn’t allowed atop bookshelves or tall furniture, your shoulder will be an ideal perch. Some parrots will perch on your head. However, when you move, this jostles them, so the shoulder is more appealing.
A parrot will always choose the highest perch available. Even if it enjoys perching on your arm, finger, or lap, all of these spots are lower than the shoulder. The should is a safe, stress-free position to see the world around it.
Close to Owners
Parrots are social creatures that live in large flocks where they groom, nest, eat, sleep, and play together. In the home, a parrot will bond with its owner, making you its favorite person. It will prefer your company above all others. So, your parrot feels closer to you, which strengthens your bond.
Easy to Get Your Attention
Parrots can be needy companions. If your parrot is bored or hungry, it has easy access to you. The parrot can talk into your ear, nuzzle at your face, or bite your ear or face if you’re ignoring it.
A well-behaved parrot will use this power sparingly and with gentleness. It will just enjoy standing on your shoulder because it can gain your attention without much effort.
A parrot that’s in a bad mood, feeling obstinate, or is poorly trained may nip you for attention. Even bad behavior incites a reaction from you, which could be perceived as a reward. For example, your parrot may learn that biting your ear is a quick and effective way to make you take notice of it.
Dominance In Parrots
Parrots do have ways of exerting dominance. While there isn’t a strict hierarchy in parrot flocks, these creatures will still seek to overpower or intimidate other flock members. This isn’t to gain status, but to handle bickering and disagreements, such as if a parrot wants to:
- Nest in a more desirable position
- Eat the limited food available
- Perch in a spot that another is occupying
- Have more space when it feels too crowded
So, owners need to watch out for parrots exerting dominance over them by:
- Demanding certain foods and attention
- Refusing to let other people go near its favorite human
- Scaring off other pets and humans from near its cage
- Screaming for attention
However, does letting a parrot sit on your shoulder lead to bad behavior? At one time, experts believed that it did. This was thought to be because of height dominance in parrots.
Does Parrot Height Dominance Exist?
In some species of animals, the taller creature is the one in charge. If an animal can find a greater vantage point than you, it can look down on you or remain just above eye level, making it the dominant party.
Experts used to recommend not letting a parrot sit on your shoulder. Supposedly, this would negatively play into your parrot’s natural instincts. However, height dominance in parrots has been debunked as a myth.
According to the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, height dominance has never been reported in the wild. There are many cases of aggression and fighting among parrots in the same flock. However, the outcome of these fights won’t result in dominance in the future.
The social hierarchy commonly found in mammal species differs from parrots. Instead, their social system is more case-by-case between individuals. Parrot flocks don’t come to respect one parrot as being in charge. Each remains independent and relies on the others in an equally balanced unit.
Should You Let Your Parrot Stand on Your Shoulder?
If your parrot is acting out, it’s unwise to let it perch near your face. It will use this vantage point to misbehave and learn that it deserves your unlimited attention. More importantly, it can access the delicate parts of your head to ‘punish’ you, should you refuse to bend to its whims.
Even if you train it throughout this time, it may ignore those teachings. After all, it still gets to perch in its favorite place. So, it’s sensible to limit shoulder-perching until after a parrot is well-trained. According to Exotic Animal Practice, there are many dangers to letting parrots on your shoulder. These include:
Bites To The Face Or Ears
Parrot bites can be dangerous, especially from larger birds, such as macaws. These parrots have powerful beaks, capable of breaking bones, biting off fingers, and lacerating the skin. The soft skin of your face, your delicate eyes, and the cartilage of your ears could be damaged by a single bite.
Parrots can screech at around 120 decibels. In some cases, a parrot scream will reach up to 155 decibels, which can cause hearing damage. You may not want such a loud and vocal animal so close to your ears.
Parrots get spooked easily. Sudden noises, lights, or movements could send your parrot into a frenzy because it fears for its life. If it’s sitting on your shoulder, it might start:
- Flapping its wings
- Digging its talons into your shoulder
Owner Lacks Control
The parrot may ignore your commands and roam freely around your back. Eye contact is a good way to establish control of your parrot. However, if the parrot is on your shoulder, it can be hard to make eye contact.
Remove Your Jewelry
If you wear earrings, your parrot may toy with the jewelry and remove it while standing on your shoulder. This could lead to tears in your ear cartilage if the parrot tugs too hard.
Worse Behavioral Problems
If your parrot has behavioral issues, such as biting, screaming, and ignoring your commands, these could get worse on your shoulder. The parrot will be harder to control, gradually worsening over time.
Parrot May Slide Off
This isn’t an issue for larger parrots, like macaws and cockatiels. However, small species, especially parrotlets, may slide off your shoulder as their feet are so small. This could lead to injury.
Guidelines for Letting your Parrot on Your Shoulder
If your parrot is well-behaved, properly trained, and bonded with you, perching on your shoulder will be fine. The parrot knows how to behave and will respect that on its favorite perch. However, you still need to establish ground rules. With these guidelines, you can ensure that shoulder-perching is safe and comfortable:
You Must Put It There
Don’t let the parrot hop onto your shoulder by itself. If allowed to sit there whenever it pleases, the parrot may decide that it has a right to that spot. If a time comes where you can’t let the parrot sit on your shoulder, it may get offended and become very insistent. It may even bite when you ask it to get down.
Must Obey Your Signals
Train the parrot to climb onto your shoulder only when you give a signal. For most owners, this is the word “up” as they tap on their shoulders. When it’s time for the parrot to dismount, you can say “down” and tap where you’d like it to go. Be sure that your parrot understands these commands before it gets shoulder-perching rights.
Aggressive Parrots Can’t Perch
Even well-trained parrots have bad days. Your parrot may get bored, hungry, scared, or petulant and decide to make that your problem. When it shows any aggression, remove it from your shoulder immediately. Have a one-strike policy.
Parrots stand on shoulders because they like it there. It’s safe, lofty, and comfortable. As long as you train your parrot properly and lay down the rules for shoulder-perching, it’ll be a happy and rewarding bonding experience.