Sometimes the mood of a pet bird is difficult to read. Happy or sad, moody or mad—you can decipher bird behaviors by observing the bird's body language. These signs can be obvious or subtle and they can always give you insight into your bird's wants and needs.
All birds communicate through different types of body language but there are some behaviors that can be seen in most pet birds just by observing your bird's vocalizations, wings, tail, beak and eyes, and can be very telling. Some of these behaviors are displayed a lot more in some types of birds and stand out best in others.
The Eyes Are The Key
In a bird's case this is true. A bird can control its irises, unlike humans. By enlarging and shrinking their irises the bird can display its interest in something, when they're angry, afraid, or in the fighting mood. This eye action is promptly labelled "flashing" or "pinning." In order to decipher eye pinning and connect it to a bird's emotion, you should observe the bird's immediate environment and body posture.
Most birds are vocal and in the wild vocalizations are used for warnings, attracting mates, territorial protection, and continuing social contact with other birds. But don't overlook the signs when your bird may be attempting to contact you!
The Happy Signs
Did you ever hear your bird sing, talk or whistle? These are signs of a happy, healthy and content bird. Of course you'll have those birds that love an audience and sing like mad when there are people around in opposed to the quiet bird who'll only sing for you. Regardless of which bird you have, if you hear a song, a whistle or some words, you'll know your bird is happy.
Whether soft or loud, chatter can be a sign your bird is content. Keep in mind, however, the chatter may be your bird learning to talk. Sometimes a bird with chatter loudly in order to get your attention. Wild birds chatter in the evening, before sleeping, to connect with other members of their flock.
Purring, Growling and Clicking
This purr is more like a soft growl and not like a cat's purr. This vocalization can either be a sign of contentment or annoyance. In order to read what the bird is saying, it's best to factor in the environment and body language of the bird. The real growl which isn't heard in all pet birds is a sign of aggression. If your bird growls, examine its environment and remove anything she doesn't like. A note of caution here—growling birds shouldn't be handled!
On the other end of the spectrum we have tongue clicking. When a bird clicks its tongue against her beak, she may be asking for you to pick her up and pet her.
Wing Flipping, Flapping and Drooping
Not always meant for flight, the wings of a bird are also used for communication. Flying in place or wing flapping is used as exercise, to get your attention or just to display happiness. Sometimes a bird will lift its wings to cool itself or stretch. Wing flipping can mean a variety of things from anger to pain but it may also be your bird fluffing its feathers to get them to lay just right for them. When flipping is accompanied by a head bob (an attention getter) your bird oftentimes wants food! Note: flipping is also associated with a mating behavior.
Often when a bird learns to fly, they must also learn to fold and tuck their wings. Drooping their wings allows them to learn how to fold and tuck. When an older bird does this, it could indicate illness. Also, dropping is done in conjunction with drying their wing feathers after bathing.
And Speaking of Feathers
How a bird holds its feathers is an important aspect of body language. During the preening process, birds will ruffle or flare their feathers. This will aid in removing all dirt and dust in order to allow their feathers to return to their normal position. Ruffling is also a way a bird will remove tension after preening but if their feathers remain ruffled, take caution—this may be a sign of illness. Tail feather flaring is a little different. This is when a bird spreads out its tail like a fan. Usually displayed by parrots, and often with eye pinning, this means your bird is in a highly excited state.
Birds like cockatiels and hawk-headed parrots have crest feathers they can lower or raise. This is an action to display an emotional state. Observe what will prompt your bird to raise or lower its crest. See if it fears something or someone's relationship if it's happy or sad.
The Quiet Bird
There is no such thing as a quiet bird! Some birds are quieter than others but usually, the bigger the bird is the most noisy or loud. Noise making is instinctual for a bird so do not expect complete quietness always. Noise is how they communicate, defend and form bonds.
Observe Your Bird
Watch and study your bird long enough and learn its patterns and what your bird is trying to tell you. Sometimes you may sense a sign of illness oftentimes not. But if you do uncover some very unusual behavior not usually displayed by your bird, you may want to take flight to your local veterinarian.
By Tom Matteo
About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He specializes in hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and occasionally writes about such topics as animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife Tina and his beloved cockapoo, Angel.