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Understanding Your Parrots Body Language

Updated on September 14, 2014

Never Get Bit Again!

If you're a bird owner, then you know how badly bites can hurt. Even a bird as small as a parakeet or cockatiel can pack a lot of pain into their little bite. Macaws and cockatoos beaks are able to crack the hardest nuts and shells known to man. It goes without saying that they could easily break and crush bones and cause serious injuries. What most parrot owners don't realize is that nine times out of ten, their bird gave them plenty of warnings. They were simply overlooked. Birds typically do not bite without giving us very obviously signs. The exception to this is birds going through puberty, new mothers, or breeders. However, birds, or any animal for that matter, never bite because they're "mean." Animals don't bite because they're spiteful or angry with you, they bite because they are threatened, frightened, or protecting themselves or their mates. Attributing human emotions to animals is call anthropomorphizing, and nine times out of ten, it is the completely wrong assumption. If you learn to read and understand your birds body language, you will be able to avoid most of the bites. This will lead to a better relationship between you and your parrot.

Watch Those Eyes

Parrots say more with their eyes than most owners recognize. One of the most commonly ignored warning given by parrots is pinning of the eyes. Pinning is the action of repeatedly dilating and constricting the pupils. Larger parrots, such as Macaws and Greys, have lighter colored eyes that make this more obvious than some parronts realize. Pinning can mean two things: the bird is really interested in something and thinking hard or the bird is distressed and about to bite. If you see your bird pinning his/ her eyes, take a few minutes to assess his/her mood. Are they playing, foraging, or watching something intently? Is there something new or frightening that could be upsetting your bird? Are you tense or angry? To avoid unnecessary bites, if you see pinning, walk away and give your bird a few minutes to relax. Never punish a bird for exhibiting these signs, if they are afraid, try to understand why and what you can do to help.

Mind your approach

Birds are very cautious animals and do not appreciate being startled or surprise. When approaching a parrot, never rush or run towards them. Always be polite, speaking softly and calmly. Do not ever shove your fingers or hands at your bird. Birds have vision significantly better than ours, which means they detect movement much more swiftly than we can even imagine. A big tip is to never offer your bird your hand, if you want a bird to step up, offer your arm. Not only is the arm less threatening, it's a more stable perch and can make a bird feel more comfortable. Not to mention, a bite on the arm would hurt a lot less than a beak to the finger!

Feathers and Fluff

Another good indication of your birds mood is how their feathers are positioned. Cockatiels and cockatoos make this incredibly obvious and easy to recognize with their crests. Most other parrots, however, also give fair warning of the coming bite. Distressed birds will often lower their bodies and puff up their feathers as much as possible, especially those surrounding their neck and stomach. In the wild, birds are prey animals and when they feel threatened, they attempt to make themselves appear as large and mean as possible. Though we keep them as pets, birds are still wild animals. We may bring them out of nature, but we cannot take the nature out of them. Pay attention to the way your bird is presenting him/herself to you. A fluffed up bird may mean a bite!

Posture Says It All

The way a bird is positioning him/herself can be a good indication of their mood. An agitated parrot will lower themselves, spread their tail feathers, and sway back and forth. This is their way of telling you to "back off." If you see these behaviors in your parrot, take the warning and save kisses and scritches for another time!

Saving Your Fingers

Although some hormonal birds will attack from time to time without much warning, nearly all other parrots give significant warnings to their owners that they are in no mood to be fussed with. By learning your birds individual body language and warning signs, you can prevent most of those nasty bites. Do not ignore these behaviors. Your birds know what they want, and when they want it. Although many parrots can be trained to be handled without biting, some birds are wild caught and cannot be hand-tamed. Some birds have a preference for one gender over the other. This means if you are a man trying to touch a female bonded bird, then you can expect lunging and biting. Some birds just have their moods. As parronts, we need to do everything possible to keep our feathered friends as happy as possible. Remember, no means no!

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