What’s Up Bird? – Basic Behavior in Pet Birds for Beginners

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Is my Bird Mad at Me?

Maybe! He could just be nervous or excited though. Every bird is an individual, and every bird’s personality will show itself in new and varied ways across its lifetime.

Bringing a bird home for the first time can be an especially trying experience. Because you can’t exactly go up to your bird and say “What’s up bird!?” it can be useful to know a little bit about bird behavior. To that effect, I’ve written up this short article detailing some basic behavior to look out for in pet birds for beginners, and anyone else who is just curious.

A bird can become agitated for lots of reasons, and if you think your bird might be stressed or upset you should look around the bird’s environment for things that might be stressing him out, and adressing those issues. But first you have to know enough about your bird’s body language to tell if they’re really upset.

There are some basic body language cues that you can look out for to see if your bird is in a less than happy mood. Remeber that if you see your bird displaying any of these behaviors then your safest bet is to leave them alone! Do not approach or attempt to touch an irritated bird.

A wide-open beak. A bird might click their tongue at you when you approach, which is fine, he’s probably excited to see you! But if a bird opens their mouth wide and keeps it that way as you approach, or if they clack their beak at you, then it might be a better idea to back off. That bird is a threat to your fingers in his current mood.

Pinning. Pinning is the term for when your bird’s pupils dilate and contract rapidly. Pinning can mean a number of things from aggression to excitement, nervousness, or even pleasure. It’s important to look for other body language cues to decide if your bird is pinning because it’s being aggressive.

Fanning their tail out. A bird that fan’s it’s tail out into a wide triangle is more than probably not happy to see you. Your bird is upset about something or feeling aggressive. Approach with caution, or better yet, don’t approach at all!

Combo move. When your bird feels like he’s reached the end of his rope, he may adopt a crouched stance that includes some of the other angry bird warning signs. He’ll be crouched down with his head pointing straight forward. His tail will almost certainly be fanned out in this position with his ruffled out in an aggressive manner, think of a dog with its hackles up. Your bird may also Pin their eyes at you at this point. DO NOT approach your bird, or any bird, that is displaying this behavior, it does not want you near it!

Displaying himself. Many birds, especially in the spring when they are feeling hormonal, will go into display behavior. Display behavior in a bird looks a lot like the defensive crouch I described above, tail fanned, feathers ruffled, with one important difference. When their defensive, their body position will be crouched over and when they’re displaying the birds head will be high and proud and he’ll walk around with a definite strut.

Even though your bird is probably in a better mood when he’s showing display behavior, it still isn’t a good idea to handle him at this point. He only has one thing on his mind when he’s displaying and he certainly doesn’t want you interrupting his flow!

How do I Know if my Bird is Happy?

Every bird owner wants to know that their bird is happy, healthy, and comfortable. However, bringing a new bird home for the first time is especially nerve-wracking.

You worry about all sorts of things with a new bird, is he settling into his new home alright? Does he like me? He seems stressed, is my neon orange strobe light freaking him out? (P.S. The answer to that last one is definitely yes.)

Good news! There are some common bird behaviors that can tell you if your bird is happy and well adjusted in his new home.

Beak grinding. This one seems a little counter-intuitive, if a person was grinding their teeth you would start to worry about their blood pressure! When a bird grinds their beak, most commonly in the evenings, it signals that they feel safe and content in their environment. Congratulations, you have a happy bird.

Wing Flapping. Sometimes, especially when they are first let out of their cage, a bird will beat its wings hard and fast while gripping something, commonly the top bars of their cage or a perch, with its feet. This can occasionally alarm new bird owners because they beat their wings so furiously. Your bird isn’t upset though! Birds like to beat their wings like this for exercise and to stretch their wings after having been cooped up for a while.

Head bowed. If your bird approaches you with their head bowed, they may be asking for attention, particularly head scratches. The best way to tell the difference between defensive crouching and a bird asking for attention is to pay attention to their feather position and body language.

A bird asking for attention will have a relaxed body and may have the feathers on just his head fluffed up in a request to be scratched. While a defensive bird will hold his body tensely and have the feathers on the nape of his neck and back raised, with the rest of his head feathers downs smooth.

Regurgitating. As a human being, (presumably, hello to any extra-terrestrial bird keepers) it’s a pretty safe bet that you don’t like dealing with vomit. At the very least you can probably say that dealing with vomit is not the highlight of your day. For your bird though, regurgitating food for you is a pretty high compliment!

Birds only regurgitate food for their offspring, mate, or a human they’ve bonded closely to. If your bird regurgitates food for you, he definitely loves you!

Be careful to differentiate regurgitating from actually vomiting. If there is material left over around your bird’s beak or slicked to their feathers, then they are vomiting and not regurgitating, take them to the vet immediately!

Tail Wagging. In what might be the cutest body language cue ever, your bird might start wagging his tail when you approach. This means your bird is very excited to see you! Your bird may also wag his tail in anticipation of an exciting activity.

If you ever notice your birds tail pulse slightly up and down in time with their breathing it might be a sign of sickness, and you should take your bird tot he vet for a check-up.

This is Just The Beginning of Bird Behavior

This is by no means a complete list of bird behaviors. Bird behavior varies wildly between species and even in between individuals.

This article is merely meant as a primer for beginners as well as a reassurance to some of you who, like me, are prone to panicked Googling when you bring home a new animal and you don’t know why they suddenly started tap dancing on the ceiling (Your experience may vary).

As a responsible bird owner, I’m sure you’ve done a lot of research on your bird. You’ve bought him an appropriate cage for his species and filled it with interesting toys and perches to keep him entertained. As you spend time with your bird and get to know him as an individual, you’ll become familiar with all of his behavioral quirks and habits, but I hope this introductory guide to bird behavior has been helpful for those of you just starting out on you avian adventure!

Does your bird have any interesting or funny habits? Share them below in the comments, I’d love to hear any good bird behavior stories!





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16 thoughts on “What’s Up Bird? – Basic Behavior in Pet Birds for Beginners

  1. Shirley Reply

    I enjoyed reading this article. While I have no bird pet now, I did have a pet parakeet when I was a teen and would have loved knowing all the stuff in your article. This is good stuff to know if you have a bird pet. – Shirley

  2. Michele Reply

    I have never had a bird as a pet before, but after reading your article, I was very intrigued to learn more about their behavior. One of my friends from high school had a parrot and every time I would go to her house, the bird would starting talking loudly and bowing her head. Now, I know exactly what she wanted. All those years,I had no clue what was happening.

    • Khiori Reply

      I’m glad I was able to help! Bird behavior is a pretty fascinating topic, I only scratched the surface here :).

  3. Thabo Reply

    Wow this article is so informative. It made me learn a lot about when birds are happy ,because that was my concern with the bird that we have at my uncle’s place. I always thought when it was beating its wings it meant that the bird was furious ,but this article has opened my eyes thanx.

  4. Ryan Reply

    I didn’t know there were so many ways to know how a bird likes you! I was especially surprised with the whole “regurgitating” thing…

    Say I were looking into getting a pet bird. I don’t have a ton of money, but I want a bird with a lot of personality. Any suggestions?

    • Khiori Reply

      Off the top of my head, I would have to say some sort of conure. They are small to medium-sized birds so you wouldn’t have to buy a gigantic cage, but they are incredibly spunky birds with a friendly, outgoing personality! All birds are different and have their own personalities, but a conure is likely to be pretty bold and adventurous.

  5. Nate Reply

    I have a friend who owns a couple parakeets and I never knew why they would be grinding their beaks randomly. They did seem quite happy, glad that they feel they’re in a safe environment.

  6. Rachel Reply

    That’s hilarious how regurgitating food is an act of love from the bird. lol! Thanks for the article, keep it up.

  7. Aria Len Reply

    Birds as pets fascinate me. I’ve never thought of having a bird as a pet before, but I do know that, like people, they have personalities. This is great for anyone who has a pet bird and wants to make sure their little (or big) feathered friends are as happy as possible.

    • Khiori Reply

      I think birds are pretty fascinating too! Thanks for the lovely comment.

  8. Dwyan Anthony Alford Reply

    It really seems you have a thorough knowledge of birds and bird behavior. A very well written article by the way. I guess birds like any other creature have patterns of behavior that can also help to understand what they are felling or even saying. There is so much to learn about them. This was revealing to me. My godmother keeps birds she has a special sanctuary for them in the yard next to a swimming pool and she really knows them and talks to them etc. I felt that they were caged and they should be let free. After reading your article though I am wondering if in fact the birds are happy because I have noticed some of the behavior you mentioned especially the beak grinding and tail wagging. Very interesting as I would have thought some of this behaviors was because they were unhappy, but she swears they are happy and content. I guess it comes down to just getting to know and caring for your pets.

    • admin Reply

      I’m glad your Godmother is able to provide a happy home for so many birds! Many kindhearted people like yourself sometimes think that pet birds would be better off set free instead of kept in a cage. However, the fact is that pet birds are generally bred as pets and raised by humans. These birds do not have the survival skill to live in the wild and would more than likely not survive being set free. Many birds also form strong emotional bonds with their people and would be devastated at any forced separation. Of course, there are people in the world who capture and sell wild birds, which I definitely disagree with and is illegal in many places.

      Fortunately, any responsible bird owner will make a bird’s cage a safe retreat and playground for their bird. Most bird owners just want their friends to be happy and will go to great lengths to make that happen!

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