Reading your bird’s body language
i. Tail wagging. Here, the tail wags back and forth very rapidly. This is different from tail flaring (next item). Parrots often wag their tails after fluffing their feathers out as a greeting. A parrot that rapidly flips its tail is most likely happy to see you.
This behavior also occurs after the parrot is finished with one activity and is about to begin another. Generally, this is only seen in a content parrot. Many also do this just to rearrange their feathers. Many cockatoos also do this when they are about to eliminate.
ii. Tail flaring. Here, the feathers on the tail fan out. Some parrots, like lineolated parakeets, will rapidly fan their tails in and out. This indicates that the parrot is excited or agitated. In some cases, this indicates that the bird could bite. If the tail flare is combined with an erect posture, erect nape feathers, and pinpointing eyes, handling the bird would be very unwise.
iii. Tail preening. Parrots spent a lot of time preening to keep their feathers clean and in good shape. A bird that is preening its tail is likely very comfortable in its surroundings. Nervous parrots will not preen their tails or wing feathers because they cannot pay close attention to what’s going on around them while they are doing so.
A parrot’s preen gland is located just above the tail. This is why parrots often rub their beaks on that spot while they are preening. They get some preen oil on their beaks and rub it on their feathers. Some Neotropical species, such as certain species of Amazons, Pionus, and Brotogeris lack the preen gland. Pair bonded parrots often preen each other.
Parrots often preen their owners as well. If your parrot gently chews on your hair, beard, ear, or shirt, this is likely what it’s doing. It means the parrot really likes you! This behavior is less common in parrot species that do not pair bond all year, such as ringnecks and Eclectus parrots.
i. Beak Grinding. This is a normal behavior. Parrots often grind their beaks when they are content or sleepy. You are most likely to see this behavior at the parrot’s bedtime. This behavior likely functions in keeping the beak trim and sharp.
ii.Beak Clicking. Some cockatoos and cockatiels rub the tip of their top mandible over the bottom one. This odd habit should not concern the owner.
iii. Beak Wiping. Many parrots like to rub their beaks on their perches. This is to either get food off the beak or to keep the beak polished.
iv. Regurgitation. This is an indication of affection. A parrot that regurgitates food from its crop to its owner is one that regards its owner as its mate. Mated birds often feed each other by regurgitating food into each other’s beaks. In many parrots, it is only the male that regurgitates to the female. He does this to court her, and when she is on the nest incubating eggs and cannot gather her own food. This is very uncommon in species where both parents take turns with incubating eggs, such as many white cockatoos.
Birds bob their heads rapidly before regurgitation. Some birds will even regurgitate onto a favorite toy or mirror.
v. Panting. The bird is overheated, stressed, or tired after exercise. If the bird is panting because it’s overheated, place the bird in a cooler area. If the bird is panting because it’s stressed, immediately place the bird somewhere it can relax. Parrots can dies of stress quite easily.
vi. Biting. The bird is frightened, or it’s guarding its territory, or it’s trying to control its owner. Baby parrots also use their beaks to explore things, and most parrots use their beaks to steady themselves while climbing or walking on a perch.
vii. Jousting. Young parrots often play by sparring with their beaks, similar to the way dogs will jaw-spar. However, if your parrots do this, make sure it’s just playing. Do not allow different sized birds to interact this way.
viii. Feathers Over Beak. Cockatoos have mobile feathers under their beaks and will fluff them over their beaks when they are relaxed and content where they are.
ix. Chewing. Parrots chew more than normal during the breeding season because they are cavity breeders and often need to hollow out a tree stump to use as a nest. They also chew for enjoyment. Parrots should be provided with plenty of chew toys.
i. Flashing or Pinning. This is only visible in parrots with light-eyes.
If a parrot shrinks and enlarges its iris, it is excited, surprised, agitated or angry. You must consider the rest of the parrot’s behavior and the situation it’s in to determine how it’s feeling. Many parrots (especially Amazons) pin their eyes when playing, vocalizing, eating a favorite or new food, or when angry. If the eye pinning is combined with erect nape feathers and a flaring tail, the parrot may bite and should be left alone.
ii. Eye Contact. Direct eye contact can be frightening or threatening to a nervous or shy parrot, although well-socialized parrots do not mind this. Parrots will often turn their heads to one side and stare at an object with one eye if they are very interested in it.
iii. Blinking. Nervous birds often do not blink when looking at an object/human/animal that is making them nervous.
i. Head bobbing. Baby birds bob their heads when begging for food. Some adult birds will still do this to beg for food or attention, or then they are excited. Very excited “displaying” cockatoos will bob and sway their heads while their crests are up. Depending on the cockatoo, it may not be wise to handle the bird while it is displaying. Some are more likely to bite when very excited. Cockatoos will often raise their crests when they are surprised, excited, interested in something, agitated or happy.
ii. Chin-up. Some birds to do this to indicate they’d like to be petted. Others who enjoy having their necks scratched will lower their heads to be petted. Finally, some birds will slowly scratch their heads with their foot to indicate they’d like to be petted.
iii. Nape Feathers Up: The bird is guarding its territory or is agitated. Do not handle the bird until it calms down, especially if the bird is also strutting and pinning its eyes.
i. Tapping. Many male cockatoos do this. This is a display of strength or dominance. Effectively, the bird is saying, “This perch here is mine!” The bird may want the owner to back off, but this is often just a bluff. Some cockatoos do this to get their owner’s attention. Male black palm cockatoos, (a large black bird from northern Australia, New Guinea, and Indonesia) will often take a large stick and bang it on a tree to let other birds know that a certain nesting spot is taken.
i. Stretching. Birds often stretch the wing and the leg on the same side of the body at the same time. Many do this to greet their owners and start a new activity. Bonded parrots will do this in unison.
ii. Flipping. This refers to when the parrot slaps its wings against its body. Baby parrots will flip their wings against their bodies when begging for food. Adult parrots (especially Quakers) may do this to indicate they want food. If so, the body will be flattened out. If the body is erect, it is a sign that the parrot is annoyed, angry or frustrated. If this behavior is combined with eye pinning and tail flaring, do not touch the bird. It probably does not want interaction.
g) Body Posture.
i. Body Flat, Wings Quivering: Begging behavior.
ii. Tail up, Wings Quivering, Whining: In female parrots, this is an invitation to breed. Do not touch the bird.
iii. Body up and Rigid, Head Up, Head Feathers Flared, Strutting: A territorial display or very agitated bird. Do not touch!
iv. Quivering: The bird is cold or scared, or it is a Quaker seeking attention or treats.
v. On Back, Beak Open, Eyes Pinning, Body Rigid: This is a very frightened bird! Lories and many Neotropical parrots do this when they are very terrified and are ready to fight. Do not confuse this with play. Some parrots (especially many Caiques, Conures, and Poicephalus) like to play on their backs. In that case, the bird will clearly be more relaxed.