If you have macaws or have spent time around them, you have no doubt experienced the blush. Sometimes it presents itself as just a bit of pinkness around the nares and sometimes the entire face becomes almost alarmingly red.
The blush is caused by the same thing that makes people blush. In response to certain stimuli (excitement or stress), the many blood vessels and capillaries near the surface of the facial skin enlarge and the increased blood flow causes the red appearance in the face.
And guess what? Blushing is not just a macaw phenomenon – all parrots blush. The featherless face of the macaw allows us to see it where we cannot in other species. With this, the fortunate macaw owner is given an additional piece of body language with which to gauge their moods.
Since all birds are unique in personality, some being more excitable and some more laid back, one macaw might blush more intensely or frequently than another. But if the blush is the result of excitement or stress, how can you tell whether it is a happy kind of excitement or a warning to back off?
Ultimately, no matter what parrot species you have, figuring out their body language is a two-part process:
- You must learn what physical cues your bird’s species is known to express
- Determine the meaning of those cues in relation to what is going on around your bird at that time.
With my dark-eyed cockatoos, I don’t have the advantage of the blush or pinning eyes as body language indicators so when their crests stand up, it might either mean they are having fun or something is alarming to them.
If I am holding my cockatoo having a quiet discussion about why he is not eating his green beans and his crest suddenly stands up, it will be because someone walked into the room and not because he suddenly found our little talk very stimulating.
Since a macaw might turn the same shade of red when a stranger gets too close as they will when they are given a bowl of their favorite food, you have to read their body language AND take the environment into account to figure out what's going on. When used together, these two pieces of information will help you to better understand what your bird is thinking at that particular moment.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.