Reading Parrot Body Language: The How To's

I think these body language related posts will be an ongoing series based on what kind of photos I get of parrots in the future. For now, it's really just these two. But I'm sure I'll refer back to this one and the last in future posts.   For another body language post with tests and quizzes incorporating parrot photos check out my post on Parrot Body Language Tips and Signs.  

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Macon, Georgia Shown: Camelot macaw "Tusa" 

In the above photo, what do you think Tusa is telling us? If you've read my last post, then you should know, as a picture of Comet is on there looking quite similar and showing signs that should give it away. The toes on the edge of the rail... the slicked back feathers, the wings apart from the body just a bit...

Tusa is focused on his trainer, and awaiting a hand signal or verbal cue to come and fly to him.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Macon, Georgia On the rail: Camelot macaws "Comet" & "Tusa" 

I hope the difference between the last picture and this one is very obvious! Feathers raised all around the head, top of the chest, around the throat and not much weight being put on both feet. If you're really paying attention you'll notice that Tusa's left foot has the least weight on it, making is obvious that Tusa (and Comet) are both showing signs that they are super happy, content and don't plan on going anywhere. They're about to get real comfortable and go on one foot within minutes of relaxing. They're approachable, pettable, and just barely vocal with "wah"'s. They're a bit tired from playing and flying, and ready to just hang out. 

Photo by Dave Location: Macon, Georgia One happy bird: Congo African Grey "Cressi" 

Other than the pressure on the feet, Cressi here looks exactly like the camelot brothers above. She's showing the same signs, with the same lifted feathers around her head, face, neck, and chest. A sign of total contentment.

Was it obvious to you this time? Do you know which feathers say "happy" and which say "mad"? Hopefully it's becoming more clear... let's continue... 

Photo by Dave Location: Macon, Georgia Wings out: Galah "Bondi" 

Cockatoos tend to have more to say than other birds, or maybe they're just a bit more... obvious... about it. Or loud. Or all of the above! They're just different than your grey parrot or macaw...

Bondi is showing that she is very excited. Her wings out, her crest up, she's excited about something. And this something happened to be my friend Rosie who was playing with our parrots at the time while they were flying around the arena. She has been around them a little bit, but not enough to know how she might be exciting the birds in a way that could lead to aggression.

Rosie was teasing Bondi with her shoes, as Bondi wanted to chew on the rubber of the bottoms of them, as well as chew the plastic part off the end of her shoe laces. I kept telling Bondi "no" followed by distracting her attention with whatever I could at the time. But this time, I wasn't there to do that and so the whole scenario escalated. Here, Bondi is showing how excited she is and how it's escalating. It can go from fun to not fun in seconds with cockatoos, and with these signs showing. 

Photo by Dave Location: Macon, Georgia Attacking shoes: Galah "Bondi" 

This is what happened next. As Bondi tried to get to the shoes, Rosie teased and darted, keeping them just out of reach from Bondi at the last moments. Making Bondi try harder, and her excitement for the game intensifying.  She eventually used flight in her attacks and jumping. Now, I admit I went in at this point and filled Rosie in about what had happened and what could happen if it all continued. Bondi could get overly excited and stimulated and end up attacking more than just Rosie's shoes, or she could become way more aggressive once she got them.

I'd say it's much easier to rile a bird up, then calm them down so pick your actions wisely...

Photo by Dave Location: Macon, Georgia Lookin' down: Congo african grey "Cressi"

Because of how their eyes are placed on their heads, birds have to turn their heads to really look at something. This is something you should always be paying attention to. Whether your bird is eyeing someone new, or aware of a fan left on up above that you may have forgotten about, pay attention so you can be aware of you and your bird's surroundings.

We always say when we're freeflying our parrots outside that we're watching the skies. But the real truth is that our birds are watching the skies because their eye sight is much greater than ours. We are watching our birds watching the sky. They see specs up there. We can't see those specs until they have actual wings above our heads. Trust what your bird is looking at, I can't tell you how many times I was able to do this and find the source of what MIGHT upset my bird before it ever ended up happening. Your bird will look at something it questions and you can stop anything from happening if you're paying close attention to it and your bird's actions and where it cares to look. 

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Macon, Georgia Shown: Galahs "Bondi" and "Bandit", African grey "Cressi" 

The better you can read your bird, the better communication you have with it and the better off you'll both get along! You need that common understanding and you can't speak back and forth like Irene and Alex, so the next best thing is to be able to know what your bird means by the expressions in their eyes, the feathers that raise and lower, and the small changes in his/her features that you'll continue to learn to notice.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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