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Birdie Body Language
Most parrot people are aware of some of the basic body language out companions use to communicate with us. But it's usually the more negative ones! However, our buddies use a multitude of moves to express lots of emotions, both positive and negative. So, let's look at a few:
Although most of these activities are associated with aggressive/defensive attitudes in our birds, they can also simply signify any excitement, good or bad - so you have to know your bird, and observe closely to differentiate between aggressive postures that mean "Stay away!" and those that simply mean "I'm over-excited!" even in a good way. (Of course, even with those you need to be careful, as an over-stimulated bird can still act out by biting.)
Eye pinning: The pupils dilate and constrict rapidly, back and forth, indicating excitement and interest. Definitely means you need to pay attention and look out.
Feather Puffing: The bird fluffs his feathers out all over, but especially the head and neck, and with Cockatoos, the crest is erect. In the wild, birds use this to appear larger, and thus be more intimidating to foes.
Tail Fanning: Especially in Amazons, the bird fans his whole tail out (like a mini-horizontal peacock), again, to appear large and "scary."
Blushing: Bare-faced birds like Macaws, allow you to visually observe the facial redness that accompanies excitement. (Actually, ALL parrots so this - we just can't see it through the feathers! Some birds blush a light pink, others (Like my Amber), go a deep red. I find babies blush more than adults, as they experience new things in the world.
Head Bowing: The bird, while puffed up, eye-pinning, tail fanning, and blushing, also lowers his head, stretching out his neck. Often accompanied by a "growling" sort of sound, or with African Greys and Cockatiels, it's more of a "hissing" sound.
Stretching/Wing Spreading: The bird raises up on tip toes, feathers and crest erect, neck stretched, wings eagle - spread -again, he's trying to look large and threatening. Often, a highly agitated bird will sway back and forth. "Flash" colors (Bright color accents under wings, crest or tail) are highly visible during this type of posturing - it's hard to miss, as this type of display is QUITE obvious!
Although aggression behaviors and excitement behaviors are similar, the good observer with a trained eye can readily tell the difference. Work on developing your observation skills, so you'll know how to best proceed. Of course, a bird coming at you, head-lowered, with an open beak, is hard for ANYONE to misinterpret!
These include all the more passive ways a parrot asks for attention. If we ignore these, they can lead to more outright demands, such as screaming, or neurotic behaviors that become obsessive, almost ritualistic, habits such as constant flipping or circling in the cage, or toe-tapping, beak wiping, and odd looking head movements. The basic solicitous behaviors include the following:
Food Begging: Recently weaned babies often cry and "baby bob" repeatedly. They sit low on the perch, heads turned up, slightly quivering their wings, with heads bobbing rapidly. This needs to be addressed! Often, newly weaned babies revert after moving to their new home. It's a good idea to continue regular body weight checks, as anything over a 10% loss is cause for concern. I don't believe in time-table weaning, and do not feel it is inappropriate to continue, or re-start, hand feeding of young birds. Ask for guidance on how to best handle it.
Wing Quivering: The bird sits low with wings gently quivering, head out, and stretched and softly chirps to you. Some may "bob," even as adults. This is more common in females. It simply means "Pick me up! Love me!" I find it quite endearing and nothing to be alarmed about.
Leaning Forward/Looking up at you with Big Eyes: This is also a very sweet way birdies ask for some loving. They simply lean toward you and give you big, soft, goo-goo eyes! Pretty fool-proof for most birds!
Feather Puffing: Nothing like the feather puffing of aggression/over-excitement, which is stiff and rigid, this is a "soft" raising of the feathers, again, especially on the head and neck and means "Please scratch me and preen my pin feathers!" They need out help to reach those difficult spots, and it's a glorious way to strengthen your bond by preening his "pins" for him!
These are my favorites! They are also the most subtle and most often missed signals that our parrots give us. Learn to recognize them and you'll enjoy a whole new level of richness in your communications.
Tail Wagging: Often in one on one interactions, you'll see your bird give his tail a quick "fan" and a vigorous side-to-side shake. This means "I'm content, I'm enjoying myself and feeling quite relaxed!" It's always a happy sight!
Happy-Wing Tai Chi: You walk in the room, or up to your parrot, he spreads out one wing, in a big stretch, often accompanied by a full extension to the back of the leg on the same side (very graceful, martial-arts-looking). I love this one! Often, they do it at the most inopportune time, like when you're in a big hurry to put him up and get out for the day. But, this is the parrot equivalent of a big hug! It means "I'm so happy to see you! How 'ya doing?!" Don't ever rush him when he's being sooo courteous and pleasant!
"Happy Beak": It's late, he's eaten, he's played, he's cuddled, he's almost ready for bed - and you hear a funny grinding rasping sound coming from your bird. This is a total contentment, relaxed, happy behavior. I actually met someone once who professed to "hate" that sound! To me, it's music to my ears - it means my kids have had a great day and are ready to go night-night for sweet dreams!
Regurgitation: You're loving on your buddy when all of a sudden, he starts to bob, then deposits a warm gob of partially digested food onto you! Well, you've just been paid the highest compliment your parrot can pay you!! This is how parrots say "I love you madly, for ever and ever - you're mine!!" Please, don't act grossed out, or make faces, or laugh, or run away. Simply say "I love you, too!" and give him a rub!
There's lots more behaviors an postures our companion birds use to express their moods, needs, and feelings to us. When you start to pay attention to your friend's many ways in which he communicates with you, you'll surely discover some special and unique ones that will go a log way in enabling the two of you to get along better, strengthen your bond, and provide insight into his own unique personality!
Your Parrot Place
Marilu Anderson, Bird Nutrition and Behavior Consultant, (503) 771-BIRD. Marilu is a regular contributor to the Your Parrot Place Newsletter. YourParrotPlace.com - Only the Best for Your Parrot!
140 pages! A compilation of parrot articles from 2000-2004.
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