Parrot behaviour 1/3: body language

For the next three weeks I will be writing about the exciting world of parrot behaviour. After I received Captain Beaky at the age of twelve, I became really interested in learning how to understand him better and this has helped me considerably when I am spending time with him and also with my young rosella, Rockhopper.

The first post of my mini series will focus on the body language of the birds that I keep and what it means.

Body feathers

How the bird holds his body feathers can tell us a lot about what he is feeling. When calm, the feathers will be held close to the body but will be relaxed. Tightly held feathers and a tall, upright posture (making the bird appear to be quite thin) are signs of fear, whereas puffed out feathers accompanied with slight trembling show that he may be feeling cold (this behaviour warms the bird up by trapping air between the feathers as an insulating layer, and the tremors generate heat energy).

Body feathers

Tail feathers

Normally a parrot will hold his tail feathers bunched together, however tail fanning is a sign of aggression – this is exhibited when the bird feels threatened as it can give the bird the appearance of being bigger than he actually is, which may deter the predator. There are some other behaviours associated with the tail; these will be covered in a later blog post.


Facial feathers

The facial feathers follow a similar pattern to the body feathers – with tightly held feathers being a sign of fear and ‘looser’ feathers showing that the bird is relaxed. Puffed out cheek feathers are seen during preening and when the bird is sleepy.

Facial feathers


Crest feathers

The crest feathers (on top of the head) are also used by parrots when they are communicating: these are much easier to spot in birds with a large crest (for example the cockatiel).

Crest feathers laid back flat against the skull indicate aggression – these may be accompanied with the bird leaning forward and hissing. Slightly raised feathers show a relaxed, interested parrot, whereas upright crest feathers show alarm or excitement. In extreme fear the crest can be raised to the point of almost tipping forward.

Crest feathers


When the bird is preparing to fly, he will lift his wings slightly away from his body in preparation – from behind this forms a heart shape across his back. However the wings have more purpose than just simply being for flight. Spread wings are another sign of fear or aggression (again with the intended effect of making the bird appear bigger), and I often observe my parrots using their wings for balance when they are climbing.


Join me next week when we will be discussing common behaviours in parrots!


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