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Parrots – understanding body language

Article by Pauline James (Published in Avizandum July 2009)

The way that you react and respond to your parrot will have an important bearing on how your parrot reacts to you. The rules that apply to training or communicating with a dog or cat – will not be gladly received by a parrot, so, it is imperative that the psychology of a parrot is understood implicitly.

Body language is a fascinating subject and learning to read the signs and interpret the vocalizations accurately, will give you a deep sense of satisfaction – while at the same time allowing you to form a deeper bond with your parrot. Some body language is more obvious than others, but with experience and a little guidance, you should be able to interpret even the most subtle of expressions and postures – allowing you to respond to your parrot positively. Misunderstandings can cause great upset and lasting damage.

Through body language, parrots convey messages not only to other birds kept in the household, but also to other animals – and humans alike. It is a language that is often stronger than the spoken word and is intended to be understood by all. It is just us humans – who are not so naturally receptive to the complex mind, thoughts and actions of a parrot and have to learn through experience.

A huge diversity of emotions – from happiness to fear – can be conveyed through your parrot’s eyes, wings, tail, beak and crest (if he has one) and together with his overall posture – and the vocalizations he is making – can tell you explicitly what he is feeling. Here I set out guidelines on how to read your parrot precisely – and allow you to always respond to him positively.

Positive body language:

A happy and contented parrot, will first and foremost, look relaxed, bright and alert, but there are a number of other ways that he may show this too. A parrot may flamboyantly swing upside down from the highest perch in the cage – to show happiness – or he may sing, talk or whistle, while perched on one foot. In a quieter moment he may softly chatter or murmur to himself in melodious tones, or quietly engage in a therapeutic preening session.

Parrots that are encouraged to talk will often show contentment by softly reciting phrases to themselves – over and over again. A cockatiel or cockatoo, in addition will hold their crest back, with just the tip tilted up, to show that they are relaxed and contented, but if they become more excitable – they will lift their crests.

Even if a parrot is dozing he can still show contentment, by nonchalantly grinding his upper mandible sideways against his lower beak. When a parrot is in this congenial state, he will often alternate this calm and pensive time, with engaging in short bursts of activity. He will typically climb all over his cage, clang his bell and perhaps charge up a ladder – before settling down once again.

This is the perfect time for a parrot to have a couple of hours out of his cage and spend quality time with his keeper. This timing very often coincides with when the family are all arriving home or just after it has got dark outside.

Attracting attention
When a parrot is pleased to see you – either first thing in the morning or after returning home during the day – he will often greet you by rapidly moving his tail from side-to-side excitedly and begin to chatter loudly. A cockatiel or cockatoo will often click their beaks just once as a greeting – or perhaps to say ‘thank you’ for something. If they click their beaks several times in succession this is not a greeting – but a warning – and the bird should be left alone.

A parrot may also begin to lightly flutter his wings too – when you are around him. This is a much gentler motion than the normal wing-beating, when he is exercising his wing muscles. This action usually means that the bird is asking for something. It could be that he wishes to be petted or is looking forward to being fed. Sometimes a parrot will do this when asking for a special food treat or some fresh cool water to drink that he is used to at a certain time of the day.

If a parrot is asking to be sprayed with water he will often hang upside down from his perch flapping his wings. He is anticipating a lovely cool shower – which will wash away any dryness or irritation he is feeling – and thinking of the long and enjoyable preening session which will ensue.

If a parrot wants company and wishes to come out of his cage he will often show this by running up and down his perch or by climbing animatedly up the front of his cage. Some birds will even rattle the cage door when they want to be let out.

If you fail to respond to any of these spirited requests, the parrot’s first reaction is often to screech loudly, puff up its feathers around its neck and flap its wings – in frustration. If he still gets no response the parrot is likely to get louder.

If the bird is out of his cage, but is trying to gain your attention he may ‘click’ his tongue against the inside of his beak or bob his head back and forth in order for you to take notice of him. A parrot may also start displaying to you by spreading his tail feathers and making animated movements, and if he is a cockatoo or cockatiel – raise his crest too. To enhance the bond between you and your parrot, always concentrate on your bird when he is putting on these special shows and always respond to him by showing your appreciation.

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