7 Key Points to Understand Your Bird’s Body Language

Translated by Nick R

Communication is essential for a good relationship with our pet birds, yet it may be a more complex issue than with other animals. However, birds are very intelligent and their songs and whistles are not their only way of communicating, there are several body signals that warn us of a specific feeling or emotion. Read on to learn how to know them.

7 signs to understand your bird’s body language 

Remember that these items are not the same for all birds and some may not have any trace of them at all.  

How to understand…

1. Your bird’s visual language 

The movement of the pupils can express emotion or the intention to attack. This aspect should be observed in conjunction with other actions to identify what it means, although some examples can be:

Constant movement of their pupils 

The pupils of some birds dilate and contract when something attracts their attention such as eating a favorite food or a person; however, there is no exact interpretation of this behavior to predict whether it will attack or remain calm.

Eyes half closed 

When a bird is being petted and enjoys affection, a common reflex is to half close its eyes, but some other reasons your bird may close its eyes will be for:


Sign of lethargy is related in some cases to a sign of illness.

2. Your bird’s posture 

Some postures of your bird, such as tilting the head, are a sign that he wants to be pampered or he wants to avoid being moved from where he is. You’ll know when you do either action and if he is taught to “Step Up” which means to climb on your finger.  

3. The position of your bird’s feathers 

Feathers are a key point of bird body language. Depending on how they are positioned you can even tell how healthy they are.

Firm feathers 

Firm feathers in birds mean that they are calm or content. However, if their posture is straight and tense, it can mean that they are alert to something happening in their environment.

Fluffy feathers 

When a bird has fluffed feathers it is a sign that it is calm and comfortable; if this is accompanied by shaking it is happy to see you.

Another interpretation of this behavior is that they are sleepy. You’ll know that your bird is sleeping or trying to sleep when it keeps its head under its wings.

In some cases, it may be a sign of illness as a sign of lethargy, although this will only be evident when the behavior is prolonged and accompanied by other signs such as lack of appetite.

Fluffy neck feathers 

Fluffed neck feathers may be a sign of an intimidated bird, usually to appear larger or to appear intimidating. This expression may be accompanied by chirping or loud singing from the bird.

In cases where the bird wants to feel affection or to be pampered, the bird’s neck feathers will fluff up as it ducks its head towards you, this behavior will also be done while being pampered.

4. Your bird’s wing  language

Two green parrots fighting

Wings are an indistinguishable part of birds. Not only do they use them to fly but to show us that:

  • Drooping wings can mean that their wings are wet and they are waiting for them to dry, although in baby birds this is probably because they have not yet learned to pick them up.
  • Another reason for drooping wings away from their body is that they are hot.
  • Drooping wings can be a sign of illness but should be accompanied by other signs such as lethargy or the bird being cornered on the cage floor.
  • If the wings are flapping, it may be a sign of playfulness or high energy.
  • Sometimes spreading the wings works to appear larger and intimidate in dangerous or aggressive situations.

5. The position of the tail 

Birds’ tails are usually always extended when they fly, but in other cases they do so to intimidate and express anger, accompanied by a fluffed neck and a tilted head position.

Some birds may also wag their tails as a sign of happiness, although this depends a lot on the unique language each bird has.

Finally, the tail can also help identify illness, only when it is twitching or wagging while breathing.

6. The language of the beak 

The beak signals are not the same in all birds due to their shape. Here parrots have more obvious expressions than other bird species.

Beak clucking 

It happens as the bird grinds the lower beak with the upper beak. It usually does this in everyday situations that it shares with you as a sign of confidence and security at your side.

Tongue clicking 

This sign is common in cockatoos and cockatiels: this organ is further developed in them. The sound is produced when the tongue touches the peak.

This sign can be somewhat ambiguous and you’ll need to identify for yourself what your bird wants to indicate. However, its most common meanings are:

  • To ask to be pampered, to get your attention, or to be fed.
  • To protect its territory, accompanied by other actions such as constant neck movements.

Open beak 

If your bird has its beak open in a single position, check if it is agitated, as this may be a sign of heat or the result of heavy exercise. If, on the other hand, the behavior continues for no reason and is accompanied by other signs such as fluffy feathers, lethargy, and lack of appetite, you must see a veterinarian.


This is a behavior that can be alarming if it’s the first time you have a bird but don’t worry, it is common that they do it with their chicks or with those they feel affection for. You’ll identify it from the head movement and neck stretching that ends with the expulsion of their food.

Rubbing their beaks 

This behavior is common in many birds to clean their beaks after eating or because they feel any discomfort in it, the way they do it will be by rubbing themselves with the grill, the perch or any other element that allows them to do it without hurting themselves.

In other cases, it may be a way to mark territory or to defend it by rubbing its beak with that of another bird.

Gentle pecking 

As I said at the beginning, some signals can be misleading. It’s common for some birds to be pecked gently and interpret this as something tender; however, this can be a sign of discomfort in some situations, usually in the ‘Step Up’, the most common in which the hands are involved.

7. Your bird’s song 

It’s a ritual of all birds to sing in the mornings and at dusk. It is believed that it is a way to warn about their presence or to strengthen relationships between them, however, other types of tonalities or sounds in them may indicate a certain intention.


Some birds purr when feeling affection, but the purr is not like that of a cat that is constant, but it comes out of the same song of the bird, the onomatopoeic form would be similar to a “Murrr”. You can find an example in the following video.


Hisses are small sounds that some birds make when they don’t feel comfortable; it is a warning signal that may be accompanied by a low head posture and/or lifting of the legs.


Some birds, such as African grey parrots, may grunt in anger or annoyance.

Singing or whistling 

This behavior is the most neutral of all birds. Although it can have many meanings for communication between birds, for domestic birds it can be a way of letting us know that they are happy or calm in the situation in which they find themselves.

Shouting or chattering 

Birds will always look for ways to get attention, in these cases, when the bird exceeds the normal and sonorous tone of their common song, they will do it to get attention, it can happen because they want to play with you, they want to be taken out of the cage or maybe they want to sleep and their environment does not allow it.

Another reason may be warning that they are not in a dangerous or stressful situation.

5 tips to understand a bird’s body language 

1. Communication may be more evident in some birds 

Some species are more expressive than others. In the case of domestic birds, parrots (Psittaciformes) are the most expressive ones in contrast to other species such as canaries or zebra finches.

2. Personality of your bird 

The personality of each bird is unique, although there are cases in which a specific species can be more social and playful. The truth is that not all of them will have the same behavior or share the same actions, this is of utmost importance to know what kind of things can bother or please your bird in conjunction with what it expresses bodily.

3. Some actions can be deceptive 

A key point in understanding the body language of your bird is that it can be misleading, although some actions may seem funny or tender they can mean the opposite. Because of this, you must know how to identify very well what a certain type of action derives from, whether it is aggression or affection, to know how to act and not reinforce bad behaviors.

4. Not all signals work the same way 

Although I give you in this blog some of the common actions of bird body language and their possible meaning, they don’t all apply to all birds and can mean the opposite of what is written here.

5. To get to know your bird you must pay attention to details 

The best thing you can do to really get to know your bird and know how to have a good relationship with him is to identify all the aspects that involve knowing what kind of things he likes or dislikes and how he expresses them.

How do I know what my bird is saying? 

Happiness☐ Singing and whistling.∙ Up and down head movements.∙ Purring (only if consented to).∙ Beak rubbing∙ Constant side-to-side tail wagging is common in some birds.∙ Lowered head and fluffed neck feathers (sign that it wants to be spoiled).∙ Sometimes regurgitates its food into your hands.
Scared∙ Most commonly, they try to hide and move away from what may be causing them fear. ∙ Shaky breathing due to fear or stress.
Angry∙ Hissing is the most common sign in some birds. ∙ It will be in a forward position, with its head down and its gaze fixed on you. ∙ Try to give the appearance that it is larger.∙ They will try to peck you, or it will open its beak to try to do so. ∙ Extended tail
Playful∙ Constant flapping in the same place.∙ Fluttering back and forth inside the cage. ∙ Constant singing to attract attention.∙ Cockatoos may have their crest pointed.
Territorial∙ A bird marks its territory by poking its beak in the area where it is located.∙ Birds that want to defend their territory or are angry will always try to appear larger to intimidate whoever they consider their enemy.  
Sick ∙ Agitated breathing accompanied by secretions.∙ Fluffy feathers.∙ Open beak.∙ Does not sing. ∙ Hiding head under its wings outside of bedtime.  

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