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Understand Your Bird's Body Language

bodylanguageBirds have the ability to communicate with us in a variety of ways but the clearest insight we can get into our bird’s emotional status is via their 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 reduce the likelihood of a bite which can be the result of approaching a bird and attempting to force an interaction (from the bird’s perspective) when it is feeling nervous, fearful or defensive.  Ultimately, learning to correctly interpret your bird’s body language will result in less frustration for both you and your bird.

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. Just looking at one aspect of a bird’s body language can be misleading. Correct interpretation often involves having to consider a combination of physical cues in conjunction with an evaluation of what is occurring in the bird’s environment.

For example, a bird with fluffed feathers could either be ill, cold, feeling relaxed or fearful. But, if the bird has fluffed feathers in combination with a fanned tail, dilated pupils and a wide stance then beware because this is a clear sign of aggression or defensiveness.

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)
  • preening
Fearful
  • crouched and ready to fly (escape)
  • crest slicked down (cockatoos, cockatiels)
  • feathers held tight to the body
  • eyes wide open
  • frozen posture or stare
  • leaning away
  • growling (African Greys)
  • hissing (cockatoos, cockatiels)
Aggressive or excited
  • dilated pupils
  • 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 ready to bite
  • beak banging
  • wide stance or struting
  • foot stomping (cockatoos)
  • blushing (macaws)
Playful or eager
  • 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
Flirty Bird
  • head bobbing
  • eye pinning
  • tail wagging
  • wings held slightly out to side
  • blushing
Disinterested
  • back turned to you
  • no eye contact
Relaxed
  • feathers fluffed
  • cheek feathers puffed
  • tail preening
  • resting on one foot
  • wing stretching
  • beak grinding
Sleepy
  • one eye open/one eye closed
  • foot tucked into body feathers
  • beak grinding
Sick
  • fluffed feathers for prolonged periods
  • tail bobbing
  • panting or labored breathing
  • also see our article Health Matters

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