Body Language – Know Your Bird!

The very best advice anyone is going to give you is to know your bird and understand its body language. Know what calms them, know what excites them, know what motivates them.  Know what tone of voice they respond best to, and know which actions (or in-actions) indicate aggression.  Know their favorite foods.

Know when they’re tired or that they are over stimulated from too much play.  This knowledge is the very best tool in helping you to control their behaviors, assessing their health and preparing their environment.

Learning its body language is a big part of understanding the bird.  Having knowledge about your species will help you to understand what it means when they do that fluffing thing, or when they pound their beak on something.

Parrots have very expressive eyes.  Amazons have that ability to flash their eyes when they are excited or agitated, and it’s a sign you can’t miss.  But knowing whether it means playtime, or back-off, is up to your interpretation.  All of my parrots have dark eyes and without that obvious pinning, you have to really look closely to notice that their eyes are telling you something.

Normally their eyes are quite round.  When their shape changes to oval, something other than business as usual is going through their mind. I know that I have to make some change to the environment, perhaps something I am doing, or redirect their attentions.

The raised crest, the fluffed nape, the fanned tail are all neon signs that something is up, but these signs are useless to you if you don’t understand your parrot well enough to act appropriately.

I know, the minute I uncover my umbrella cockatoos cage in the morning, what kind of day Linus is going to present me with. He is usually in a great mood, with all kinds of enthusiasm for the new day.

But there are some days when he gets up and just has that look:  ” I don’t like my breakfast, I don’t like the weather, and that cat definitely has to go!” Getting up on the wrong side of the perch, as it were.

Cockatoos are famous for biting without warning.  I find that to be an unfair evaluation.  The warning signs are always there, just very subtle and very easy to miss.  Linus is a blur of activity.

He is always on the go and I have to be aware of his every move.  The one thing he does that raises my eyebrows, and the hair on the back of my neck, is nothing.  When he stops moving, he is plotting, and it is never, ever a good thing.

I make sure that I notice every nuance, every pause, and every glint in his conniving little eyes.

My cockatiels have been with me forever.  They are patient and sweet and good.  As I have added to my flock, the dynamics have changed and they have been very relaxed about the division of my attention.

However, when they have decided it is their turn with mom, there is nothing subtle about the way they express their needs.  They will climb my pant leg,  stand on top of my head or peck at my feet.  All birds should be this easy to understand and easy to accommodate.

Libby, my mischief making Quaker, follows me everywhere I go.  She has to be part of everything that goes on around her, but since she has reached sexual maturity, her behavior is sometimes erratic.

When I come home from work, everyone comes out of their cages and gets a plate of warm veggies or some fruit.  Libby sits patiently on my shoulder while I prepare the food, just as happy and interested as can be.  However the minute I set the plate down, she will nip my fingers and flip the plate onto the floor, without fail.

While the cockatiels love this because they get to forage on the floor, and while it is amusing to watch them chasing peas around, it gets a little old.  This is a new “I’m sexually mature now” behavior, one that didn’t exist before, and I don’t get the connection.  It is one of the many oddities Libby has developed and I suspect there are more to come.  I am having to do some relearning with her. I now offer her dinner inside of her cage.

Theo has only been with me for a year and a half.  She is the sweetest, funniest bird ever, but also the hardest to get to know.  Unlike the others, she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve and isn’t usually demonstrative about what she wants.

Without any indicators, it is sometimes tough to figure out, and I run through a mental checklist of possible grievances.  She is a very happy, low key bird by nature, fortunately, so I don’t worry about her feeling neglected when my powers of telepathy fail her. I am hoping that living with other birds that typically ask for what they need will rub off on her.

There’s an old saying that goes: “Only the bird with the open mouth gets fed.”   I can only watch for signs of discontentment and take it from there.

Understanding your parrots is an on going process.  Learning from your mistakes will be the key to your future successes:  “We should’ve stopped this activity five minutes ago before he became so over-excited” or “I know not to keep him up so late at night anymore”.  Keeping a journal of notable experiences will help you a lot.

I have a dated journal in which I record all of the birds weights.  In between these entries I make notes: “Linus had a meltdown today when I turned the blender on in the kitchen. I moved the blender to the area of the kitchen he could see into and he calmed down.  He just needed to see where the noise was coming from.”  This notation helped me  recently when there was construction going on around my apartment.

The commotion was upsetting to him and I took him outside to see what was happening.  He groaned with displeasure and verbally chastised the workers in cockatoo-ese (I’m sure all of the words were four letters long) but went back about his business when we were inside again.  He was able to make sense of the chaos from observing it and his comfort was restored. This is one more thing I now know about Linus.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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