Raised nape feathers can often be a signal for beware. If you observe this, your parrot may be agitated by something (check environment), or simply protecting its territory. If it’s accompanied by strutting movements or its eyes are flaring, be very cautious about approaching. If your parrot tips it chin up or lowers its head down this may signal an invitation to be tickled there. Some will lift their foot and “tweak” their head feathers. In tame parrots this often indicates they want some petting from their human and can be accompanied by them “meeting your eyes”.
Head bobbing describes a series of up and down movements and probably stems from infancy when begging for food. In adults it may still signify begging, but is more likely a behaviour to get attention or to say “I’m excited”. Don’t confuse this with the side to side head movements of cockatoos, often accompanied by erect crests and other “display” behaviours (e.g. wings extended, standing tall, swaying) as cockatoo excitement can quickly turn into aggression! The crest alone tells many stories. A raised crest can signify curiosity for something or somebody, excitement, pleasure, agitation or surprise. Again this behaviour shouldn’t be seen in isolation, but in the current context and environment.
Respect the Beak
Parrots use their beaks for many things aside from eating and drinking and behaviours associated with beaks can tell us much about our parrot companions, both positive and negative. Beak grinding, whilst it might drive you mad, usually says your bird is just fine. It’s a normal everyday behaviour that shows your bird is content, ready to go sleep at bedtime, or have a daytime nap. The noise comes from the upper and lower parts of the beak sliding side to side against each other, and may serve to keep your bird’s beak trimmed and sharp. Grinding differs from the beak clicking heard in some species. Here the tip of the top of the beak is rubbed over the bottom half. One click may be a greeting or acknowledgement of something nearby, but a series of clicks may be an agonistic cue and should be treated as a warning.
Parrots like to keep their beaks clean so don’t be surprised to see your companion wiping it’s beak after eating or drinking. They will wipe their beak on anything suitable: their branches, aviary mesh, cage bars, your clean t-shirt…….. It is sometimes thought that parrots mark their territory through beak wiping, something you might observe if you have other birds in the vicinity or when a new bird is introduced to a home or aviary. Parrots bite! They do this for a variety of reasons and rarely does it occur without a change in the immediate environment, your behaviour, or the behaviour of another bird or animal in the vicinity. Biting cannot therefore be seen in isolation. Many things cause a parrot to bite including, fear, anger/frustration, over-excitement. They may be defending their territory, food dish, or even a favourite toy. It’s up to you to work the why and attempt to remedy the situation, especially if you think your parrot might be trying to control you. A gaping beak and a crouched stance or a forward movement is a reliable sign that your feathered friend is likely to inflict some flesh wounds!
Biting is not all bad though. Parrots bite toys, perches, furniture and furnishings (be warned) through their explorative and playful nature. They use their beaks like an extra foot to grip when climbing or simply to steady themselves on perching places, and these are all normal behaviours. Chewing behaviours are generally positive ones. Aside from maintaining their beak condition, chewing may be seen as the captive parrots’ alternative to foraging behaviours in the wild. Captive parrots need stimulation and things to interest them. Providing them with suitable objects that can be chewed and stripped is not only essential for their physical and psychological well-being, but helps to avoid them wrecking and ingesting harmful or inappropriate materials. Other beak related behaviours include beak sparring or jousting with another parrot. Here two parrots will lock beaks and push and pull each other. This is usually seen as social play in young birds, but in adult birds it may be fuelled by aggression and attempts at dominance.
Many people living with a parrot mention their parrot is regurgitating food to them. Between two adult parrots this is part of the bonding process and is part of courtship. In mated birds this is commonly seen and of course this is how parents feed their young. If your bird flares its eyes, bobs its head and extends its neck towards you, expect to receive the contents of its crop! Don’t be disgusted – accept it as a sign of affection. This behaviour is however quite distinct from a bird vomiting, where the head is shaken vigorously from side to side and the crop etc. contents is sprayed outwards. If your parrot is doing this then you should be seeking medical advice. If your bird has its beak open and its breathing is faster than normal then this can be seen as panting. This could be caused by numerous things such as stress, illness, overheating or tired after excessive flying. The correct steps should be taken to alleviate this including removing the source of distress, or if illness is suspected taking your parrot to an avian vet. Final beak behaviour. Some parrots close their feathers around their beaks often obscuring the tip part. Common in cockatoos, your parrot does this when it is content, chilled out or going off to sleep.
Wings were meant for flying....
…….but they can also tell us how our parrots are feeling. Parrots wing flap even when they are not flying. Sometimes your bird may grip a branch or cling to aviary mesh and simply flap as if wings were going out of fashion. There are several reasons for this including exercise, to show pleasure, or to just to gain your attention. Some birds will lift their wings upwards or outwards in a slow exaggerated movement similar to how humans enjoy a good stretch. This might be a greeting or they could be letting you know they are about to start some activity. Some parrots do “V-wings” where they lift their wings over their back from the shoulder and flick primary feathers in and out from the wrist joint. This behaviour has been interpreted as the parrot’s greeting to its human, or to another bird it is familiar with. On the other hand drooping wings in an adult parrot may suggest your bird is unwell. However if your parrot has just indulged in a bath he or she may droop their wings to allow drying, or is perhaps temporarily tired from their exertions.
Wing flipping (quick short movements of the wings against the body) can occur for several reasons. It can be to simply allow feathers to fluff up then lie down correctly in place. Accompanied with hunched shoulders and/or head bobbing, flipping of wings may be an attention seeking device or that your parrot wants fed (seen more in young birds). Wing flipping is also seen as part of mating behaviour and if directed at you is best discouraged. If this behaviour is encouraged with a female bird it can promote egg laying, which is not advantageous for a tame human imprinted parrot as this can lead to serious health problems. Wing flipping can in some instances also be an indicator of anger in a parrot, or that that they are in some pain or distress.