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How to Read Parrotlet Body Language

Nicole Cosgrove

Parrot species may be known for their ability to vocalize and imitate words and phrases, but they cannot actually communicate with their owners. If you want to know what your parrotlet is thinking or how it is feeling, you should become familiar with your bird’s body language. If you take some time to understand your parrotlet’s behaviors, you will be more in tune with its mood and needs and be able to tell whether it is healthy and happy. In this article, we will discuss some common parrotlet behaviors and what they mean.

divider-birdCommon Parrotlet Body Language

1. Beak Grinding

While the sound of your parrotlet grinding its teeth may seem to be concerning, there is usually nothing to worry about when birds do this. In fact, this behavior usually signals that your bird is content. Compare the grinding sound to a cat’s purring when it is pleased. You are most likely to hear this noise when your bird is getting ready to go to sleep, whether it’s right before a daytime nap or in the evening after its cage has been covered for the night.

green rumped parrotlet
Image Credit: Chelsea Sampson, Shutterstock

2. Biting

As you probably can guess, biting is not usually a sign of positive emotions. Birds tend to bite when they are angry, scared, or when trying to defend their territory. If you find that your parrotlet is biting you, other members of your household, or any other pets you may have, you should spend some time observing your bird to see if there is anything in particular that is triggering the biting.

3. Chewing

Chewing is a natural behavior for birds in the wild and captivity alike. Birds tend to use chewing as a means to explore their surroundings. It’s also a great way for your pet to get some mental stimulation. If you find that your parrotlet is chewing things it shouldn’t, try buying some chewing toys for birds to see if that helps the behavior.

4. Dancing

Like humans, parrotlets like to dance–and they are good at it, too! Parrotlets and other parrot species are often excellent at picking up the beat to a song because they have a motor and auditory link in their brains. Try playing songs with different tempos to see if your bird’s dancing patterns change to match the beat of the music! As in humans, it’s a good sign when your parrotlet is dancing to some music because it usually means your bird is excited or happy.

Parrotlet Standing_Ear Iew Boo_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Ear Iew Boom, Shutterstock

5. Drooping

When a bird droops their wings, it can have many different meanings. For example, young birds might let their wings droop before they learn how to properly tuck them in. Drooping can also be a sign that your pet is tired. However, wing drooping may be a sign of illness in birds. If you notice that the drooping is happening frequently, talk to your vet to rule out any health problems.

6. Feather Preening

Birds need to preen their feathers regularly to keep them clean. Most birds have what’s known as a preen gland, or oil gland. In parrot species, the preen gland can be found right above the tail. Parrotlets use their beaks to distribute the oil from the preen gland to their feathers in order to keep them healthy. Birds are not very likely to groom if they are on high alert, so if you notice your bird preening, it probably means they are relaxed.

7. Head Bobbing

There are several reasons why your parrotlet may be bobbing its head. One of the most common explanations is that your bird is hungry. Birds bob their heads to beg for food when they are babies, so if your parrotlet is young, try offering it something to eat. Adults will also bob their heads, perhaps out of excitement, right before a meal. However, when an older bird displays this behavior, it is most likely looking for attention. You might take this behavior to mean that your parrotlet wants to play.

8. Pupil Dilation

Unlike humans, parrotlets and other birds are able to control their pupils. The ability to shrink or enlarge the pupils on command is known as “pinning.” Birds do this when they are excited, scared, angry, or even when they are feeling aggressive. Use context to try and discern the reason why your parrotlet is pinning. Is it almost mealtime, and is its head also bobbing? Your pet is probably excited. Did you recently introduce another bird into your parrotlet’s enclosure? It may be feeling territorial.

9. Ruffled Feathers

Ruffled feathers are another behavioral clue that could mean many different things. For one, birds tend to ruffle their feathers while preening. If preening is the reason for your bird’s ruffled feathers, it will be pretty obvious. Your parrotlet may also ruffle its feathers as a way of relaxing, when it is cold, or when it is ill. If ruffled feathers are the only symptom your parrotlet is experiencing, you probably don’t need to be too worried. However, if your parrotlet’s wings are also drooping, if it seems to be breathing hard without activity, or if you find it sitting on the bottom of its cage, it is time to take your bird to the vet.

10. Tail Wagging

You’ve heard of dogs wagging their tails, but did you know that birds also do this? As in dogs, a bird wagging its tail typically means that it is content.

11. Wing Flapping

If your bird is getting ready to fly, it will come as no surprise when it starts flapping its wings. However, parrotlets will sometimes flap their wings without the intention of flying. Flapping while perched could be a sign of aggression or playfulness. It’s also possible that your parrotlet is simply showing off!

Blue Parrotlet open wings_ Eric Isselee_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Eric Isselee, Shutterstock

12. Vocalizations

Birds use many different kinds of vocalizations in the wild to communicate different types of messages. Let’s break down some of the different vocalizations you may hear from your parrotlet.

Chattering

If your parrotlet’s chattering is fairly soft and quiet, it could be a sign that your bird is content. If the chattering is fairly loud, you can assume that your parrotlet is trying to get your attention. Birds use chattering to connect with other birds in the wild, so you can assume that your parrotlet is trying to connect with you.

Clicking Tongue

If you hear your parrotlet clicking its tongue, it could be asking you to be picked up or petted. If you aren’t in the room but hear this noise, your bird is probably just trying to entertain itself.

Growling

As you might expect, growling is a sign of aggression. Try to figure out what environmental factor might be triggering this response. Avoid handling or touching your parrotlet; it probably isn’t in the mood.

Whistling or Singing

If you hear your bird whistling or singing, you should take this as a good sign that your pet is healthy and happy. Like humans, birds sing when they are feeling good!

divider-birdFinal Thoughts

Parrotlets are charismatic creatures that use many different behaviors or vocalizations to communicate. Sometimes it’s obvious what the behavior means, but sometimes interpreting your parrotlet’s actions requires careful observation and context clues. By taking the time to understand what your parrotlet is trying to say, you will be able to respond more efficiently with the care your bird requires, leading to a happier pet at the end of the day!


Featured Image Credit: Rafael Martos Martins, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.