SouthEast Companion Animal Rescue & Education Services, Inc

Bird Behavior

Birds are very intelligent and sensitive animals.  They are usually quick to learn accepted behavior with consistent reinforcement from their owners. Body language, vocal tone and facial expressions are all used to discipline birds.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Bird Training:

Do be consistent. Repetition is important to the learning process. Knowledge of what is allowed and expected reduces stress, anxiety and frustration. Happy birds are better behaved birds.

Don’t raise your voice. Birds can interpret loud vocals as excitement. They may then associate the bad behavior with making their owner happy. Yelling can also scare the bird and cause it to withdraw and develop other undesirable behavior such as screaming or biting. When disciplining, speak in a soft yet firm voice.

Don’t be physically negative. Never strike the bird or its cage. Don’t blow in its face or squirt water at it. All these actions will cause fear and anxiety for the bird and increase its undesirable behavior.

Do reward good behavior. Lavish the bird with praise anytime it is behaving in a desirable manner. Whether through healthy treats or touch and attention, positively reinforcing good behavior is a valuable training tool.

Do pay attention to housing. The cage must be large enough to provide room for the bird to move around freely. Its wings and tail should not touch the cage sides when turning. Place the cage in an area the bird enjoys to reduce stress. Some birds thrive in a busy room, while others prefer a more quiet area. Perceived safety from predators is also important. Placing the cage against a wall or in a corner gives the bird a sense of security.

Don’t allow high perches. Birds associate physical height with superiority. Allowing a bird to perch above human eye level invites dominant and undesirable behavior.

Do provide enrichment and variety. Boredom is a leading cause of behavior issues. Offer toys of all types: shreddables, chewables, noisemakers, perches, mirrors and ladders. Change the play items frequently. Just the addition of one new toy makes a big difference to the bird.

Do give time to sleep. Some parrots require up to 12 hours of sleep a night, so be sure to provide a quiet time for this. This can be done by covering the cage or moving the bird to another.

Body Language:

Understanding how a bird is feeling helps minimize stress, reduce the chance of biting, increase the effectiveness of training and pinpoint early signs of physical distress. This awareness comes by interpreting the bird’s behavior. Birds express themselves through their vocalizations, eyes, tails, feathers and body position. Owners must familiarize themselves with their bird’s routines and normal behaviors. Some behaviors are very clear in meaning, such as a growling vocalization. Others, like eye pinning, can have various meanings depending upon the circumstances.

The following are a few common behaviors:

Happy Bird:

  • Singing, whistling or talking
  • Slightly lifted crest (cockatiels/cockatoos)
  • Wagging tail
  • Tail flipping
  • Hanging upside down
  • Grinding beak
  • Relaxed body/alert head posture

Warning/Angry/Stressed Bird:

  • Growling vocalization
  • Fully erect crest (cockatiels/cockatoos)
  • Fanned tail feathers
  • Tapping foot
  • Repeated beak clicking
  • Biting
  • Rigid head, neck and body posture

Ill/Injured Bird:

  • Wing flipping
  • Drooping wing(s)
  • Consistently ruffled feathers
  • Tail bobbing

The following behaviors can have multiple meanings and must be interpreted within the context of their environment:

  • Eye pinning
  • Tongue or beak clicking
  • Flapping wings
  • Ruffling feathers
  • Quivering