How Do You Read A Bird’s Body Language?

The discipline of reading human body language has finally emerged from academia and into professional psychology labs and publications. The study of tiny involuntary human body postures, eye movements, and minute facial changes that reflect our underlying emotional tones is known as neurolinguistics. These tiny motions are now thought to be inherent in our species. Some of them we identify on a conscious level, and probably all of them on an unconscious level of awareness.

Birds have inborn body language and feather posture that is unique to each species. The bird’s postures and motions also reflect its underlying emotional tone. Each bird species has its own variants on an overarching avian theme, yet there is enough overlap across the species to make useful conclusions about the significance of these stereotypic behaviors.

Understanding the body language and feather posturing of a bird allows the observer to better comprehend the sometimes fast-changing emotional condition of an avian field subject or pet bird perched in your living room. The observer (typically another bird) is constantly presented with a bird’s background mental tone as a type of useable non-venal social information or signals. The watching bird (or pet owner) interacts with the observed bird using these social cues.

Learning to understand his emotional tone written in his body language and feather positions can dramatically improve your connection with your feather pet as you learn to decode these often-subtle hints. The following are some of the most noticeable posturing behaviors seen in pet birds. [Editor’s Note: Doctor Desmond Morris produced a television series on human behavior (The Learning Channel) and has written extensively on the significance of bird body language. These older texts may still be found in well-stocked public or university libraries.]

The Rouse:

This word comes from the old art of falconry and refers to the forceful shaking of almost all of the body feathers in a way similar to a dog brushing water off his coat. This activity usually lasts 1 or 2 seconds. This action translates as “well-being” or “happiness.” This behavior is often seen when a beloved person enters the room or when the bird has finally arrived at a place/perch where it feels most at ease. The rouse should not be misinterpreted as a reliable indicator of excellent health. When a loved one approaches, even the sickest bird will stir its feathers. The rouse is possibly the most essential action that a new bird owner should learn to detect since it is the key to determining how well your connection with your bird is growing. A bird that sits with its feathers sleeked and never rouses in your presence is giving you an unmistakable message of mistrust. It is worth noting that this most fundamental stereotypic behavior is not even described in pet bird literature.

Tail Wagging:

This move is often employed in tandem with the rouse. The sequence is often seen as a fast fluffing of the feathers (rouse) followed by a tail wag. This additional activity emphasizes the sense of well-being. Dogs aren’t the only animals that show their delight by wagging their tails. The rouse and tail-wag may be performed separately.


Amazon parrots are an eye-contact species. To that aim, they (and other psittacids) have acquired the capacity to temporarily restrict their irises. This skill is connected with adults rather than children. This gesture seems to be intended to draw the observer’s attention to the bird’s eyes, and hence to the bird itself. Eye flashing is linked to increased emotional/mental activity, whether happy or negative. When eye-blazing activity occurs, the major message in the remainder of the body language and feather posturing, which includes slightly expanded wings and slow purposeful strutting on the perch, is modified or enhanced.

Intention Movements:

Flight – a bird’s take-off jump before flight consists of a crouching phase in which the bird bends its legs, moves its head forward and lifts its tail, followed by the leap into space. The initial phase of the take-off jump may occur alone as an intentional movement, and it may be repeated many times if the bird is eager to fly someplace but is unsure where to go. These flying intentions are prevalent in pet Amazons with clipped wings. As one would expect, wing clipping increases the severity and frequency of this action. This intended movement is often accompanied by a verbal twittering of delight. When my Panama Amazon wanted to travel someplace, he would employ flight intention motions. For example, if he desired to be returned to his cage, he would squat and swiftly quiver the bends of his wings, making light twittering noises.


The need to care for and preserve their feathered attire is a fundamental avian need, but preening is also a crucial component of a social signal to the observer. Breast feather washing and upkeep is a frequent preening action that indicates a comfortable, unfrightened, and non-aggressive bird. When the bird focuses its concentration on cleaning and separating its tail feathers, it is at its most relaxed and content. If there is any risk of a surprise assault from a predator, a prey species (and all parrots are prey species) will never take its eyes off its surroundings long enough to preen its tail feathers.

Wing-Over-Leg Stretch:

Although this may seem to be a simple stretching exercise, the acting bird communicates comfort to the spectators). The stretching sequence relaxes the muscles while also conveying to the viewer that the stretcher is in a highly relaxed peaceful (non-aggressive) frame of mind. In the presence of an observer, only a calm and comfortable bird will undertake a wing-over-leg stretch.

Grinding of the Beak:

The obvious action here is to grind the lower jaw against the inside of the upper mandible to achieve a fine crisp fit and so preserve the beak in excellent shape. Again, the social signal sent to the observer is one of ease and slumber. This activity is often performed just before going to bed.

Perching on One Foot:

This is the natural perching stance of a sleeping or deeply relaxed bird. The bird’s head is often twisted over on its shoulder, its beak buried in the scapular leathers on its back. This is a common sleeping posture for almost all perching birds.

Tail Fan:

The fanning of the tail is a common bird behavioral feature. The tail fan of the peacock is one of nature’s most visible instances of its usage in courting displays. However, as with other ritualized, stereotypic behavioral patterns, the exhibition starts to shift significance with time. The coloring of the Amazon parrots’ banner tail feathers is most visible to the spectator when spread out and kept in that posture. We’re talking about the largest of the graded tail fans here. This strong tail fanning activity near the nest location is a warning to keep away. In your living room, it signifies the same thing.

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