Learn bird lingo

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Bird language

Don’t wing it. Instead, unlock the secrets of your feathered friends’ communication.

Pet bird owners will know full well that their avian charges can be downright moody at times: loving one minute and demanding the next. Understand what they need and want by learning to read their body language. But remember, parrots have an entirely different body language.

Eyes: Called flashing, birds control their irises by enlarging and shrinking their pupils rapidly. They do this when excited, interested in something, angry, frightened, or aggressive. Take it into context with the bird’s immediate environment and body posture.

Singing, talking and whistling often mean, ‘Yay, I’m happy and healthy!’.

Chatter may signal contentment or a bird practising to talk. Loud chatter says, ‘Gimme some attention!’ Meanwhile, a purr is akin to a soft growl as a sign of pleasure or annoyance. Again, interpret by checking its body language. Tongue-clicking is done either when your bird is entertaining itself or asking to be petted. Growling birds don’t want to be touched.

Wings: Flapping is used as exercise, getting attention or displaying happiness. When a bird wants grub, it’ll flip its wings, hunch its shoulders and bob the head. Young birds let their wings droop when learning the ins and outs of folding their wings. But in older birds, wing drooping may signal illness.

Feathers: Birds will fluff their feathers when preening or as a way to relieve tension or cold. If a bird’s feathers remain fluffed, it could be a sign of illness and should be checked by your vet. Happy birds usually hold back the crest, with just the tip tilted up. If excited, they’ll often lift their crest. But if the crest is held high, it suggests fear or great excitement. Take this as a warning. An aggressive or alarmed bird may hold the crest flat while crouching and hissing. Quivering is part of breeding behaviour, but may occur sometimes when the bird is frightened.

Tails: Just like dogs, a cheery bird may wag its tail. It’s also a precursor to defecating –helpful if you’re housetraining your bird. Tail bobbing accompanied by rapid breathing after strenuous exercise is how birds catch their breath. However, if your bird is bobbing its tail feathers and breathing hard without activity, this might be due to respiratory distress or infection. Consult your vet. Tail fanning is quite the show when the bird brags about its vitality.

Feet: Some birds, especially cockatoos, will tap their feet as a sign of territorial dominance. ‘Weak legs’ are seen in birds that don’t want to stand or perch – their way of resisting being put back in a cage.

Beaks: A grinding beak denotes contentment – usually as the bird falls asleep. Beak clicking has many meanings. If the bird clicks once and makes its eyes smaller, it’s greeting you or acknowledging something. If it clicks several times in a series, stay clear. Beak wiping is the same as using a serviette, or when marking their territory.

Hanging upside down shows pure pleasure.

Regurgitating: Oddly enough, if your bird pins its eyes, bobs its head, stretches its neck, then regurgitates dinner, it’s a love token!

Head shaking is common for African Greys, but the reason isn’t well understood. Usually, head bobbing is an attention-seeking ploy.

To open the door to a mutually productive and respectful relationship, take the time to observe and interpret your bird buddy’s communication forms.

Ref: avianenrichment.com; petcoach.co; lafeber.com