A parrot standing on your shoulder is a stereotypical image. With a well-trained parrot, this causes no harm and can even strengthen your bond. With a spoiled or poorly-tamed parrot, it can make its behavior worse.
Parrots like standing on shoulders because it mimics high vantage points in the wild. Parrots are naturally driven to perch on tall branches. You may be the highest, safest point in your home. Your shoulder is also easy to hang onto, doesn’t move around, and lets the parrot explore the area with you.
While height dominance isn’t a thing for parrots, they can learn to misbehave on your shoulder. They may scream, demand your undivided attention, and even peck at your face. However, with well-trained parrots, they learn to behave and treasure how close they are to you. Be sure to exercise some ground rules. Your parrot should always know when, how, and for how long it’s allowed to sit on its favorite perch.
Why Do Parrots Like Shoulders?
A parrot sitting on your shoulder is iconic, but it’s not just a stereotype. It’s rooted in the parrot’s natural instincts and habits from the wild. In your home, the parrot will enjoy other advantages:
It’s Similar To Perching on Branches
Parrots rarely sit or lie down. When a parrot is not flying, it will be standing and perching.
In the wild, parrots usually perch on tree branches that are high up from the forest floor. Those kept as pets will also have a variety of perches in their cage to mimic tree branches in the wild. This allows them to stay vigilant to danger, while also comfortably resting in their natural posture.
Outside of its cage, your shoulder can feel like the ideal branch to a parrot. Unlike your other body parts, the shoulder is:
- Easy to access
- Wide enough to stand on
- High up from the ground
- Remains steady even when you stand, sit, or move around
That makes it a solid area where a parrot can comfortably stand. As a bonus, it’s very close to your face. The parrot will enjoy the advantages of a perch and get all of your attention.
Sense of Safety
In the wild, there are a variety of predators seeking to eat them. Therefore, parrots evolved defense mechanisms to safeguard against harm. One includes 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 a parrot.
Since parrots are always standing, their wings are unimpeded. They can take to the air quickly if they need to. Parrots will even nest, groom and sleep as high up as possible to avoid detection by predators.
Because of this, parrots will seek a vantage point to feel safe. In your home, this may be your shoulder. If your parrot isn’t allowed atop bookshelves or tall furniture, your shoulder will be an ideal perch. Some birds will even try to perch on your head. However, when you move, this jostles them, making your shoulder an appealing substitute.
A parrot will always choose the highest perch available to it. Even if it enjoys perching on your arm, finger, or lap, all of these spots are lower than the shoulder. Therefore, if it’s perching on your arm, the parrot may try to climb up to your shoulder to reach a safer, more stress-free area.
Close to Owners
Parrots are very social creatures. In the wild, they live in large flocks where they groom, nest, eat, sleep, and play together. In your home, a parrot will bond with its owner, making you its favorite person. It will prefer your company above all others. That makes it perfectly natural for a parrot to enjoy sitting on you for the following reasons:
- On your shoulder, you’re well within its sight and reach.
- Since the parrot will recognize your face, it could even feel like it’s perching on a tree branch together with you.
- It will be able to move with you throughout the home and keep you company during everyday tasks.
- Instead of needing to follow you around or beg for your attention with a contact call, it can be assured of your company without effort.
This makes your parrot feel closer to you and strengthens your bond.
Easy to Get Your Attention
Parrots can be needy companions. If your pet is bored, hungry, or wants your attention for any other reason, it has easy access to you. The parrot can talk into your ear, nuzzle at your face, or, in the worst-case scenario, bite your ear or face.
A well-behaved parrot will use this power sparingly and with gentleness. It will like 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 do it just for attention. Even bad behavior incites a reaction from you, which could be a reward to the parrot. For example, the parrot may eventually learn that biting your ear is a great way to make you notice it.
Don’t encourage this behavior. Try to minimize your reaction and carefully remove the parrot from your shoulder. This will teach it that negative attention-seeking robs it of the safe, cozy position it wants to keep.
Dominance In Parrots
In the wild, parrots do have ways of showing dominance. There isn’t a strict hierarchy in parrot flocks, but these creatures will still try to overpower or intimidate other members. This isn’t to gain status, but to handle bickering and disagreements, such as if a parrot wants to:
- Nest in a spot that another desires
- Eat the limited food that another is crowding in on
- Perch in a spot that another is occupying
- Have more space and feels too crowded
Because of this, owners need to watch out for their parrots trying to exercise dominance over them. Yours might:
- Try to demand certain food
- Refuse to let other people come near its favorite human
- Try to scare off other pets (even you) from its cage
- Scream for attention and demand you respond
- Bite or try to intimidate you if you don’t bend to its will
But does letting a parrot sit on your shoulder exacerbate this behavior? At one time, experts believed it did. This was thought to be because of height dominance in parrots.
Does Parrot Height Dominance Exist?
Height dominance in parrots has been debunked as a myth. However, it’s important to address this theory, as it used to be widespread among parrot owners, breeders, and trainers.
Experts used to strongly recommend against ever letting a parrot sit on your shoulder. Supposedly, this would negatively play into your pet’s natural instincts.
In some animals, the taller creature is the one in charge. If an animal can find a greater vantage point than you, look down on you, or remain just above your eye level, that makes it the dominant party.
This is not the case for parrots. Sitting at eye-level with you, or even above you, will not cause the parrot to view itself as superior.
Height Dominance for Parrots in the Wild
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.
That’s because the social hierarchy commonly found in mammal species differs from parrots. Instead, their social system is more case-by-case between individuals. Parrot flocks do not come to respect one bird as in charge. Each remains independent and relies on the others in an equally-balanced unit.
Squabbles are handled as they arise, and a parrot may learn to avoid certain spots only to avoid more fights. There is no evidence of dominance-based hierarchies in wild parrots. If they do exist, it may only be prevalent among a small family unit, rather than the entire flock.
The only evidence in support of height dominance is anecdotal, from owners and veterinarians. Of course, the theory is still appealing. It allows people to cleanly explain a parrot’s misbehavior by blaming it on the parrot, not the owner’s training.
Height Dominance for Pet Parrots
It is not certain where exactly the theory of height dominance in pet parrots came from. However, it’s likely derived from personal observations and assumptions that we, as humans, made about parrots.
Owners may have believed that because the parrot was above eye level, it felt dominant. Therefore, it would refuse to listen to the owner. However, when parrots try to show dominance over humans or other pets, it’s likely because:
- The parrot is isolated and kept in a small area, so it needs to be more defensive of this area.
- The parrot cannot easily communicate with humans, so it needs to be more aggressive.
- The parrot has a limited social circle, so it cannot gain attention elsewhere as it may in the wild.
- The parrot is not receiving the level of enrichment it needs, so it’s acting out.
Being kept in a lofty place does not make parrots believe they are superior. Instead, a parrot may try to dominate you because its other needs are not being met. This leaves the parrot to act out, much like a child, and see how much it can get away with.
Sitting on your shoulder doesn’t cause this. The parrot’s height is irrelevant. Instead, that vantage point just makes it easier for the parrot to misbehave in a way you can’t ignore.
Should You Let Your Parrot Stand on Your Shoulder?
Whether or not a parrot should be allowed on your shoulder depends on the parrot. It can serve as a delightful reward to the parrot, or a real punishment for you.
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 discipline the parrot and train it throughout this time, it may ignore those teachings. After all, it still gets to perch in its favorite place. What has it lost by misbehaving? That makes it smart to limit shoulder-perching until after the bird is well-trained.
Some owners may not want to risk it. According to Exotic Animal Practice, there are many dangers to letting parrots on your shoulder. Even though height dominance is a myth, parrots still have impressively strong beaks. One instant of misbehavior could be damaging to you. This may include:
Bites To The Face Or Ears
Whether it’s from a tiny parakeet or a large macaw, parrot bites can be dangerous. These creatures have powerful beaks, capable of breaking skin at the least.
The soft skin of your face, your delicate eyes, and the cartilage of your ears could be heavily damaged. These kinds of injuries play a major factor in owners deciding to rehome their parrots.
Parrots can screech at around 120 decibels. That can be heard for miles. In some cases, a parrot scream will reach up to 155 decibels, which causes very real hearing damage. You may not want such a loud animal so close to your ear, especially when parrots just scream for fun.
Something May Frighten Your Parrot
Parrots get spooked easily. Sudden noises, lights, or movements could send your bird into a frenzy. If it’s sitting on your shoulder, it may harm you by:
- Flapping its wings
- Digging its talons into your shoulder
- Lashing out in some other way
Owner Lacks Control
The parrot may choose to ignore your commands and roam freely around your back. Eye contact is a good way to establish control with your parrot. However, if the bird is on your shoulder, it can be difficult to make eye contact without putting your face at even more risk.
Parrot May 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.
Behavioral Problems May Worsen
If your parrot has behavioral issues, such as biting, screaming, and ignoring your commands, these get worse on your shoulder. The bird will be harder to control, so you may not be able to properly correct it. This lets it get away with the behavior, worsening it over time.
The parrot may also hurt you with its antics. It’s always best to train the parrot long before it gets shoulder-perching rights.
Difficult To Remove Parrot
Your parrot may like your shoulder so much that it refuses to leave. Given the delicate position and the limits of your reach, it can be hard to force it. You may get tears in your clothing or scratches on your shoulder. The parrot may even decide to bite.
Parrot May Slide Off
This is not an issue for larger parrots, like macaws and cockatiels. However, small species, especially parrotlets, may slide off of your shoulder due to their feet being so small. This can leave your pet to flutter around and possibly harm itself.
Guidelines for Letting your Parrot on Your Shoulder
If your parrot is well-behaved, properly trained, and bonded with you, then perching on your shoulder will be fine. The parrot already knows how it needs to behave and will respect that on its favorite perch. This can reward the parrot with:
- A safe vantage point
- Access to its favorite person
- More direct time with you as you move about your home
With that said, you still need to establish ground rules. Even well-trained parrots can slip up and cause damage if they get careless. With these guidelines, you can ensure shoulder-perching is safe and comfortable for both of you:
You Must Put It There
Don’t let the parrot hop onto your shoulder by itself. If it’s 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 very insistent. It may even bite when you try to force it down.
Must Obey Your Signals
You should 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 thoroughly understands these commands before it gets shoulder-perching rights. This makes it clear that you have control over the perch and the parrot doesn’t. It’s not allowed to reign freely on your shoulder.
As a plus, if you need the parrot to step down, you can use this system to ask the parrot to obey. You don’t need to struggle to remove it by hand.
Aggressive Parrots Not Allowed To 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 kind of aggression, it should be removed from your shoulder immediately. Have a one-strike policy. This will teach the parrot that bad behavior is not allowed, and will help safeguard you against harm.
Give Your Parrot Something To Do
Parrots get bored easily. You can ensure it doesn’t take this boredom out on your ears and face by giving it a task. This may include playing with a toy, mimicking a word, or eating a snack. Once it’s occupied, it won’t have the desire to make up its own games, like “how loud can I scream before my owner notices me?”
Parrots stand on shoulders because they like it there. It’s safe, lofty, and comfortable. As long as you train the bird properly and lay down rules for shoulder-perching, it’ll be a happy experience for everyone.