Understanding Your Bird's Body Language

Written by Deb White. Posted in Social Interaction

Understand Bird Body LanguageLearning your bird's language is key to having a productive, respectful relationship with your parrot. Birds can communicate in a variety of ways. If we are lucky, they use our own language to let us know what they want but certainly, they always convey their moods using their own unique vocalizations and body language.
By taking the time to observe and interpret your parrot's body language, you will soon be able to easily discern when they are happy, want to play or eat, tired, angry, sick or even when they are about to poop! Gaining an understanding of the subtle clues your bird provides will enhance your relationship with your bird because you'll be able to earn his trust by respecting his moods and responding to his needs better. Not to mention, it will also help you to avoid some unwanted bites!

Body language can vary from species to species and even within a species but generalizations can be made regarding various body postures. Some signs are very clear, but many aspects of a bird's body language can be very subtle and many have dual meanings. Therefore, a particular movement or position can often only be accurately interpreted in conjunction with simultaneous postures, vocalizations and awareness of what's happening in the environment. A bird's eyes, posture, feather position, wing position and tail all provide valuable clues.

How to Recognize when your bird is.......

Happy or content
  • a fluffing and quick shake of all the feathers is a greeting and sign of pleasure towards a bird's loved one (very glad to see you)
  • a tail wag consisting of a quick side to side movement often accompanies the fluff and shake move
  • beak grinding
  • tongue clicking (cockatoos and cockatiels)
  • A lowered and fluffed head (please scratch me)
Fearful
  • crouched and ready to fly (escape)
  • crest slicked down (cockatoos, cockatiels)
  • feathers held tight to the body
  • eyes wide open
  • frozen posture
  • growling (African Greys)
  • hissing (cockatoos, cockatiels)
Aggressive or excited
  • constriction of iris
  • feathers slicked back
  • crouched posture
  • tail fanning
  • crest up (cockatoos, cockatiels)
  • feathers hackled (the "I'm a big bird, don't mess with me" look)
  • beak open
  • foot stomping (cockatoos)
  • blushing (macaws)
Relaxed
  • tail preening
  • resting on one foot
  • wing stretching
  • beak grinding
Playful
  • flapping wings
  • leaning forward with wings out
  • foot up (pick me up)
  • crest up
  • rocking back and forth on perch
  • hanging upside down from top of cage
  • head bobbing
Sick
  • fluffed feathers for prolonged periods
  • tail bobbing
  • panting or labored breathing
  • also see Signs of a Sick Bird

For more information on understanding your bird's methods of communicating see our article: Understanding Your Bird's Vocalizations

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