Skip to main content

Bird body language, decoded: What it means and what you can do

Although birds are some of the only pets to actually be able to tell us what’s wrong, owners can’t always get it right. There’s more to consider than just the way your pet talks (even though it’s pretty entertaining). Body language is just as important as vocalization when it comes to bird communication, so it’s a must to keep an eye on your bird’s behavior, even if they’re talkers.

If their actions are trying to tell you something, you’ll find out here. Consider these eight behaviors to be Bird Body Language 101: all you need to know about your feathered friend from beak to toe.

Eye pinning

One talent that birds have that humans do not is the ability to control their irises and pupils. This talent is called pinning, and usually looks like quick growing and shrinking of the pupils. Always consider your bird’s eye behavior in context with the rest of their body. Eye pinning can be a characteristic of excitement or of aggression, so don’t guess their mood just by the movement in their eyes.

side view of a green parrot with an orange eye
Helena Lopes/Pexels

Stretching

Birds stretch for the same reasons we do! Whether they’re getting ready to fly, relieving some tension, or just keeping the blood flowing, stretching shouldn’t be a cause for concern. You might even catch a glimpse of your bird doing a tai-chi-like stretch, with one leg and the opposite wing extended. If your bird is taking the time to stretch, they’re probably feeling pretty chill. Stretching is wonderful for the body, so take a note from your pet!

Craning their neck

Another peoplelike gesture is neck craning, which is simply a way of taking a look around. It can be hard to take in all your surroundings while in a birdcage! An especially alert bird will widen the eyes and remain very still, though not tense. Mind what you say when your bird is craning their neck (especially if your bird can learn to speak) — they might be listening, too!

If your bird sticks their neck out while you’re interacting, they might just be asking for a scratch! This will look more like bowing, but you may catch a bit of head bobbing, too.

Wing and body shaking

Carefully notice whether your bird is shaking just their wings or their entire body. Shaking of the wings alone is more likely to indicate displeasure, whether it be hesitation or fear — just like people! If their entire body is shaking, though, they’re probably just adjusting to the temperature in the room. If you’re not great at eyeballing your bird’s movements, no worries! Check the feathers on their abdomen; if they’re also quivering, your buddy is just getting comfy.

Head bobbing or snaking

Head snaking is another behavior that means several things. Healthwise, your bird could be trying to vomit. If not, a serpentlike, fluid, sideways motion of the head is usually a call for attention. It’s a common display behavior as well as a way of showing curiosity and interest.

Head bobbing is a sign it’s time for dinner! Oftentimes, birds bob their heads when hungry or when being fed, which can make for a messy mealtime. While a lot of birds outgrow this behavior, some still get excited for a snack well into adulthood. You might spy a bob or two when your bird gets especially worked up, whether they’re feeling delighted or worried.

Drooping wings

The meaning of drooping wings varies depending on your bird’s age and activity levels, so always consider their recent history when analyzing drooping wings. Young birds may still be learning how to tuck in their wings, while older birds may be showing signs of age and illness. If your feathered friend has been especially active lately, they might just be tired and giving their wings a rest. This can also be a postbath ritual to help them dry off.

a white bird stands perched in a cage
Oli Sumit/Pexels

Tail wagging

Another mixed signal! As with dogs, tail wagging can signal excitement in your bird, especially around their favorite people or objects. Seemingly random tail wagging, though, is not quite as cute. You might want to give them a minute before handling a bird with a wagging tail — unless you don’t mind being pooped on.

Regurgitating

If your bird regurgitates something for you, you can be sure they truly love you. Regurgitation is the act of expelling already-ingested food from the throat or crop. Mama birds feed their young this way, as do couples in the act of mating, so if your bird does this for you, you should feel very special. You’re bonding!

While bird body language can be one puzzle after the other, we hope this helped break down some of the more common behaviors and the reasons behind them. Before you know it, you’ll be able to read your bird like a book, and you’ll get along better than ever.

Editors' Recommendations

Topics
Gabrielle LaFrank
Gabrielle LaFrank has written for sites such as Psych2Go, Elite Daily, and, currently, PawTracks. When she's not writing, you…
What fish can live with bettas? These are your best bets for fish buddies
These are the 6 fish that do well living with bettas
Blue betta fish staring at the camera

Betta fish are known for being territorial, feisty, rather combative, and therefore not great tank mates in general. This reputation, however, only holds true in particular situations and with certain fish friends. Male betta fish are aggressive, but only with other male bettas so it is important to never put two males in the same tank. It will lead to tail nipping and other aggressive behavior. So what fish can live with bettas?

Happily, there are several other fish that will keep your betta company in a safe and non-aggressive environment. Many colorful, friendly fish cohabitate well with bettas. This is our guide to finding the perfect fish companion (or companions) for your betta.

Read more
What you need to know about sugar gliders before you get an exotic pet
Follow these steps to set your sugar glider up for success
Sugar glider clings to their owner's thumb

Choosing a small pet involves almost as much deliberation as selecting a breed of dog. While there are a lot of factors to take into account, a sugar glider might turn out to be the perfect fit with their curious personality, attachment to your family, and fondness for pockets.

Like any exotic pet, gliders require expert care plus some dedicated research to choose the right breeder or pet store. But with the right prep, your new mammal will fit in perfectly and bond with the whole family. Keep reading to find out if sugar gliders are good pets.
What are sugar gliders?
Unlike most little pets, sugar gliders aren't rodents but marsupials. This gives you a few distinct advantages, as they behave differently from hamsters, guinea pigs, or gerbils. For starters, these are highly social creatures and they will bond with every member of the family and even other pets in the house. Because gliders don't smell like the animals your cats and dogs like to chase — rats, gophers, and bunnies, to name a few — many bigger pets can get along with your new friend. You'll need to introduce them carefully, but they can form lifelong attachments to each other.

Read more
Can you make a profit breeding your bearded dragon?
Does breeding your bearded dragon make you money? Read on to find out
Two bearded dragons sit on a rock

The first step in getting a new pet of any species is research. You want to make sure you're adopting or purchasing your pet from a reputable breeder who uses ethical sourcing techniques to acquire their animals. While veterinarians suggest that all pet parents spay and neuter their companions, some animals can be bred without causing distress to you or your pet.

One of the easiest pets to breed is the bearded dragon. With that being said, we recommend having experience under your belt before you embark on your journey as a breeder. Here's what you should know about breeding bearded dragons.
Is my beardie male or female?
When they're babies, it's really difficult to tell the sex of your lizard. Wait until he or she reaches maturity before making that determination, which is actually a good thing for breeding. You don't want to start your female reptile before 18 months for health reasons. In order to look at the little beast, you need to get comfortable enough to feel the underbelly, so give it a few days after bringing your beardie home.

Read more