Do African Grey Parrots Like Mirrors? Can They Recognize Themselves in Them?

African Grey Parrots (Psittacus Erithacus) are among the most intelligent avian species. 

Their cognitive abilities have been the subject of numerous scientific studies, showcasing their remarkable problem-solving skills and advanced learning capacity.

One area of particular interest to both researchers and pet owners alike is how the birds react to mirrors. 

This seemingly simple question has sparked numerous debates.

In this article, I will explore the relationship between African Grey parrots and mirrors and why it is of such interest to people.

Do African Grey Parrots Like Mirrors

What Do African Greys Do When They See Mirrors?

Like humans, African Grey parrots exhibit individual personalities and behaviors. 

When introduced to mirrors, their reactions can vary widely based on their personalities and past experiences.

Some African Greys perceive their reflection as a companion.

They may engage with the mirror in a friendly manner, often appearing to interact with their reflection as they would with another bird. 

This behavior can be attributed to their social nature and the desire for interaction, especially in cases where they might be the only bird in their environment.

Other African Greys might interpret the reflection as a rival or potential threat.

In these instances, the bird might display signs of aggression or territoriality towards the mirror, attempting to challenge the “intruder” they perceive in their space.

One behavior observed in African Greys when interacting with mirrors is “beak wrestling.”

Here, the bird playfully grapples with its reflection using its beak. 

Some parrots have been observed soliciting preening from their reflection

This behavior is typically reserved for close companions in the wild. 

Additionally, vocalizations directed at the mirror are common, with the bird either mimicking sounds, singing, or even attempting to communicate with its reflection.

African Greys when behave in different ways when interacting with mirrors

Should You Put a Mirror in Your African Grey’s Cage?

Given the various ways in which an African Grey might react to a mirror in its cage, the answer to this question is not an easy one. Here’s what you need to consider:

Benefits of Putting a Mirror in an African Grey’s Cage

Entertainment and Enrichment: Mirrors can serve as a source of entertainment for African Greys. The reflection and play of light can captivate their attention.

Temporary Companion: For a single bird that is alone or feels lonely, a mirror might provide a sense of companionship, even if it’s just its own reflection.

Why You Need to Be Careful?

Potential Aggression: Some African Greys might perceive their reflection as a rival or intruder, leading to aggressive behaviors. This can include biting, flapping wings, hissing, or even screaming.

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    Obsessive Behavior: There’s a risk that the parrot might become obsessed with its reflection.

    This can lead to behaviors like regurgitating on the mirror or spending excessive time interacting with it.

    This can detract from other essential activities and might lead to the neglect of toys or even food.

    There’s a risk that the parrot might become obsessed with its reflection, so pet parents should be careful

    Stress and Confusion: The introduction of a ‘newcomer’ in the form of a reflection can be confusing and stressful for some parrots. 

    This can manifest in restlessness, vocalizations, or even self-harming behaviors like feather plucking.

    Lack of Self-Recognition: African Greys, despite their intelligence, typically don’t recognize themselves in mirrors. 

    They perceive the reflection as another bird, which can lead to various reactions, not all of them positive.

    So What’s The Final Verdict?

    Here’s what I suggest you should do if you decide to put a mirror in your bird’s cage.

    Monitor Behavior: It’s crucial to closely observe your African Grey’s behavior. Look for signs of stress, aggression, or obsession.

    Limit Exposure: Consider introducing the mirror for limited periods rather than leaving it in the cage indefinitely. 

    This can help prevent obsessive behaviors and provide variety in enrichment.

    Safe Mirrors: Ensure that the mirror is bird-safe, without sharp edges or loose parts that could be ingested.

    Most importantly, if your African Grey shows prolonged signs of distress, aggression, or obsession, it’s best to remove the mirror.

    Instead, you could opt for other toys like rope perches, swings, and baby toys.

    Provide other toys and perches as well

    Will Your African Grey Be Afraid of Mirrors?

    By default, parrots, including African Greys, aren’t afraid of mirrors. However, their reactions can vary based on individual personalities and past experiences.

    Initial Wariness

    Parrots are naturally neophobic, meaning they can be suspicious of new items introduced to their environment. 

    When a mirror is first introduced, an African Grey might be startled or wary due to the sudden appearance of a ‘new parrot’ in the form of a reflection or simply because of the change in its environment.

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      Perceived Threat

      While not necessarily a fear of the mirror itself, the reflection can be perceived as a ‘newcomer’ or intruder in the cage. 

      This can lead to defensive behaviors, where the parrot might act wary, defensive, or even aggressive towards the perceived intruder.

      Adaptation Over Time

      With time and exposure, many African Greys might become accustomed to the mirror and either engage with their reflection or ignore it altogether.

      What to Do If Your African Grey Is Afraid of a Mirror?

      If your African Grey Parrot shows signs of distress or prolonged aggression towards the mirror, it might be an indication that the mirror is causing more stress than enrichment.

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        In such cases, it’s recommended to remove the mirror from the bird’s environment and reintroduce it slowly, if at all.

        If your African Grey Parrot shows signs of distress, its best to just remove the mirror

        African Grey and The Self Recognition Question

        Studies have consistently shown that African Greys possess advanced problem-solving skills, memory, and the capacity for abstract thinking, often likened to that of a young child.

        This natural inquisitiveness is evident in their daily interactions. When introduced to new objects, including mirrors, their curiosity is piqued. 

        They often approach and investigate unfamiliar items with caution, keen observation, and sometimes playful engagement. 

        This makes it very difficult to classify their reaction to mirrors. 

        After all, when an African Grey plays with a mirror, is it just the natural curiosity of a bird or the self consciousness or self recognition that a human feels? 

        Why is Self-Recognition a Big Deal?

        Self-recognition is a significant topic of interest in the scientific community for several reasons.

        It’s often linked to the concept of self-awareness, a cognitive trait that denotes an individual’s ability to recognize itself as distinct from others and the environment. 

        In the animal kingdom, self-awareness is considered a sign of advanced cognitive functioning and is not widespread among all species.

        The ability to recognize oneself in a mirror, known as the “mirror test” or “mirror self-recognition test,” was developed as a measure of self-awareness.

        Very few animals outside humans have shown the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror

        Animals that pass this test demonstrate an understanding that the reflection in the mirror is their own rather than that of another individual. 

        This recognition implies a certain level of cognitive complexity and consciousness.

        For many years, this trait was believed to be exclusive to primates, especially humans and some great apes. 

        But some birds, especially corvids, have shown to pass this test as well, which raises several ethical questions about their treatment, welfare, and rights. 

        African Greys, with their already formidable reputation for intelligence, are another species for whom a lot of experimentation has been done with respect to self recognition.

        So, do African Greys Recognize Themselves in Mirrors? What The Science Says So Far

        Dr. Irene Pepperberg is one of the researchers who has particularly investigated this question

        She tried to use mirrors to judge their sense of self-recognition through a “mark test.”

        Other studies have focused on other large parrots, especially magpies, when evaluating an animal’s ability to recognize its reflection in a mirror as its own. 

        Dr. Irene’s tests have shown significant success, suggesting a certain level of self-awareness in African Greys, a trait once believed to be limited only to a few higher mammals.

        Dr. Irene’s tests with African Greys showed significant success

        However, the way she has conducted the mirror test is different from similar tests administered to Asian elephants, dolphins, gorillas, bottlenose dolphins, and others.

        The reasons why the test is different is also quite interesting. 

        Due to their eye placement, parrots perceive their environment differently than animals with forward-facing eyes. 

        Unlike animals with forward-facing eyes, such as primates, parrots have eyes located on the sides of their heads. 

        This lateral eye placement provides them with a broader field of vision, which is advantageous for spotting predators or seeking food. 

        However, it also means that their binocular vision (where the fields of vision from both eyes overlap) is limited compared to species with forward-facing eyes.

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          Now, the mirror test involves placing a mark on a part of the animal’s body that it cannot see without the aid of a mirror. 

          For animals with forward-facing eyes, this is straightforward, as the marked area is typically out of their direct line of sight but visible in a mirror.

          For parrots, due to their wide field of vision, determining an area that’s truly “hidden” without the aid of a mirror becomes more complex.

          Consequently, Dr. Irene and her team needed to devise innovative methods tailored to the parrots’ visual capabilities when conducting the mirror test. 

          However, there is still some doubt and more experimentation is happening

          This involved adjusting the placement of the mark, the angle of the mirror, or even the observational criteria used to determine self-recognition. 

          Therefore, her results need to be interpreted with caution, keeping in mind the unique visual and cognitive characteristics of parrots. 

          Moreover, apple-to-apple tests of mirror cognition performed by other teams have often failed to display signs of self-awareness in African Greys.

          Similarly, other studies haven’t come up with anything concrete either.

          Frequently Asked Questions

          Do African Greys like mirrors? 

          African Greys have varied reactions to mirrors. While some are intrigued and view their reflection as companions, others might perceive them as rivals, leading to aggressive behaviors.

          Can African Greys recognize themselves in the mirror? 

          Typically, African Greys don’t recognize themselves in mirrors. Instead, they often perceive the reflection as another bird, not their own image.

          Is it OK to show a mirror to a parrot? 

          It’s generally safe to show a mirror to a parrot, but owners should monitor their bird’s behavior. If the parrot shows signs of stress, aggression, or obsession, it’s best to remove the mirror.

          What birds like to look at the mirror? 

          Many birds, including parrots, canaries, and finches, are often intrigued by mirrors. Their reactions can range from curiosity to playful interactions or even aggressive behaviors.

          Do quaker parrots like mirrors?

          Quaker parrots, also known as Monk parakeets, have varied reactions to mirrors. 
          While many are intrigued and engage playfully with their reflection, viewing it as a companion, others might perceive it as a rival, leading to aggressive behaviors. 
          The individual bird’s personality and past experiences play a significant role in determining their response to mirrors.

          So, Do African Grey Parrots Like Mirrors?

          In summary, there’s no clear answer to whether African Grey parrots like mirrors. They exhibit varied reactions, depending on their personalities. 

          While some view their mirror reflections as companions, others see rivals, leading to behaviors ranging from playful interactions to aggression. 

          The question of self-recognition in mirrors has been a focal point of research, with studies by Dr. Irene Pepperberg and others offering insights but no definitive answers. 

          The unique eye placement of parrots adds complexity to these studies. 

          While mirrors can provide enrichment, they might also induce stress or obsessive behaviors in some birds.

          It’s essential for owners to monitor their African Grey’s interaction with mirrors and prioritize the bird’s well-being.

          Photo of author

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