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A Guide to Understanding Your Bird’s Body Language

In order to create and maintain a healthy relationship with your parrot, you need to be able to understand his vocalizations and body language. Just as a mother of a newborn baby learns the meanings of her baby’s cries, coos and gestures, we, as parrot owners, also need to learn how our birds communicate with us. This guide will review the more common and basic communication behaviors of most species of parrots.

Fluffing and Ruffling: Parrots ruffle their feathers to release tension, much like humans stretch. They will also fluff their feathers after preening themselves to shake any remaining dust loose. This behavior is most often seen in Cockatiels, African Greys and Cockatoos, as these breeds are dusty by nature. Beware, though, a bird on the bottom of his cage, fluffed up and sleepy-looking during the day may be a chilled or sick bird.

Preening: Preening is how a bird keeps his feathers in top condition. It consists of running feathers through the beak in order to distribute the oil that is present at the base of the bird’s tail, which will create a protective layer of water repellent. Preening is also a social activity; birds will preen one another to remove feather sheaths that they are unable to reach themselves. Birds will often attempt to preen their owners to show inclusion in the flock.

Head Down: If a bird loves to have his neck scratched, he may ask by bowing forward and presenting his fluffed up neck feathers.

Leaning Forward, Wings Shaking: If a bird’s wings are quivering while the bird is standing and looks ready to launch, this is a typical “I’m going to fly!” posture. However, if he is only quivering, he may be frightened, excited, or in breeding mode.

Contracted Pupils: A parrot whose pupils are contracted, or pinned, may be in a bite mode, especially if his tail is fanned at the same time.

Potty Language: Backing up a step or two, while crouching on the perch and lifting the tail are signs that a bird is about to poop. If you are looking to train him to poop in a particular place, watch for this behavior.

Beak Language: An open beak, crouched posture, hissing or yelling means this bird is either frightened or trying to assert dominance.

Perching: If a bird feels comfortable and secure in his environment he will sleep with one food tucked up to his abdomen and his head turned around and tucked into his back feathers.

Marching: If a parrot is marching toward a person or another bird with his head down, this is an aggressive behavior intended to frighten the intruder into leaving. However, if he is marching with his head up, this is a behavior that usually signifies pleasure in the person or other bird’s presence, and can be taken as an invitation to play, preen or pet.

Stretching: Birds will often stretch the leg and the opposite wing to improve circulation and refresh their muscles.

Display Behavior: A fabulous behavior to watch, especially among the crested Cockatoos, birds engaging in display behavior will throw their crests up, dilate their pupils, bob their heads and screech loudly. Do not attempt to handle the bird during this process; doing so may result in a severe bite.

While this is only a partial list of behaviors you can watch for while caring for your parrot, learning as much as you can about what your bird is “saying” will give you a better understanding of his moods and let you know when he is most receptive to handling.

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