How to Communicate With Parrots?

As a parrot owner, one of the first things that you must learn is how to communicate with parrots. Let’s dive into the interesting world of parrot expressions, mannerisms, and behaviors.

For pet bird owners, few things can feel more wonderful than being able to communicate effectively with their feathered friends.

However, how do you communicate with a creature that cannot talk, nor can it bark or purr like other pets?

And if you got them early enough, parrots can’t even talk.

They pick up words only after a certain age and a lot of effort from the pet parent.

So how can you understand parrot language?

How to Communicate With Parrots

I’ll be honest – you can’t learn to communicate with parrots overnight.

It’s a gradual process that involves a slow building up of understanding between pets and their owners.

Don’t worry, though – I will try to help you understand and communicate with your pet bird through some tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years.

So, let’s get on with it.

How to Talk With Your Bird?

First up, when I say talking to your bird, I don’t mean training them to repeat your words.

No, that’s not two-way communication, and most parrots don’t really understand what they are “parroting.”

What I am talking about is establishing a two-sided communication with a creature that works on a deeper level than your speech.

And dog and cat owners instinctively know and understand what I am saying here.

Unfortunately, you can’t really play ball with your parrot, nor can you take it out for walks.

But even though your parrot doesn’t understand what you are saying, the words that you speak still help to form a connection.

That’s why even though talking to your parrot might seem silly to some, it happens to be a great way to communicate with your pet and gain its trust.

Your parrot may not be able to comprehend a word you say, but the bird can understand the tone of your voice and your feelings toward it.

In other words, your feathered friend knows when you speak to it affectionately.

This is why one of the first steps in bird training is to sit near the bird and talk to it in a calm and gentle voice.

A few words spoken softly on a regular basis will help your bird to learn how to talk

Here are a few tips to remember when talking to a bird:

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    • Always maintain an affectionate tone – you’d want the bird to feel loved.
    • Repeat the bird’s name as you speak. Parrots are particularly capable of recognizing their names.
    • Talk slowly and with clarity, like when talking to a child.
    • When talking to a parrot, always maintain eye contact.
    • Don’t keep talking continuously – pause and wait for the bird to respond.

    Look out for physical cues and pay attention to the bird’s attempt to communicate.

    For example, getting too close to a bird early on might make it feel threatened and can result in getting bitten.

    I will be discussing avian body language and vocalizations later.

    Do Parrots Talk?

    Before I go ahead, I wanted to reinforce this point once again – when we talk with parrots, its not the words they understand.

    This is why your tone and body language, facial expressions, hand movements, and so on are all important in order to communicate with them.

    Now you might think that some parrot species, like cockatiels and cockatoos, are very versatile at vocalizing and can mimic human speech.

    As long as your parrot belongs to such a species, teaching it to talk shouldn’t be too hard.

    That said, pet owners must understand that most of these birds don’t know what they are saying when they talk in human language.

    Instead, they simply learn the words vocally and mimic them.

    When parrots hear the same word or phrase repeated over and over again, they start mimicking it.

    Domesticated parrots consider people in the household as their flock mates and try to fit in by making “the same noises.”

    However, when I said that “most” birds that mimic human language do so without understanding the words, it was because there are a few exceptions.

    Some parrots, especially African greys, can be trained (by pros) to understand what they are saying.

    Understanding a Parrot’s Body Language

    So, now you know that even though some parrots can talk, they can’t usually use words to convey a message.

    This gives rise to a couple of questions – how do parrots communicate, and how do bird owners understand them?

    Well, their social interactions are mostly based on body language signals, even when communicating with other parrots.

    To understand a parrot, one must understand its body language.

    Parrots sometime pin their eyes – which can mean both good and bad things

    Eye-pinning

    Birds often respond to different stimuli by pinning their eyes, i.e., dilating and constricting their pupils rapidly.

    This behavior is particularly common in African grey parrots.

    Eye pinning may convey both positive and negative meanings. Birds pin their eyes when they’re excited, but it can also be a sign of fear or aggression.

    To understand a bird is pinning its eyes, a pet owner must consider the context.

    If your parrot displays such behavior when offered a new food or toy, it’s probably just excited.

    On the other hand, eye pinning in response to being approached by a stranger is usually a negative sign – the bird might be feeling apprehensive or annoyed.

    Wing stretching

    This is a very noticeable and interesting behavior, quite akin to a human waving to say hello. Parrots are often known to stretch a wing and quiver it to greet their owners.

    African greys and parakeets are particularly likely to do this. Besides greeting, wing stretching might also indicate that the parrot wants to be petted.

    Blushing

    Some species of parrots, such as Blue and Gold and the Buffon’s Macaws, can also blush.

    However, unlike humans, parrots blush from excitement rather than embarrassment.

    Blushing in parrots may also be a sign of mating behavior.

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      Fluffed feathers

      Besides fluffing up their feathers while preening, birds also do it to relieve tension or when they feel cold.

      Ruffled feathers are also a sign of a sick bird, especially if they remain that way ruffled for a while.

      Beak grinding

      If you find your parrot grinding its beak, there’s no need to worry. It’s simply a sign of contentedness in birds.

      Parrots often grind their beaks while sleeping or before going to sleep – it means the bird is in a content and relaxed state.

      Beak clicking

      This is another common way for parrots to communicate with their beaks, seen especially in cockatoos and cockatiels.

      Beak clicking is often accompanied by eye pinning, and like the latter, it might be either a good sign or a bad one.

      Beak clicking can represent threatening behavior if it done rapidly and repeatedly

      If the parrot clicks its beak only once and doesn’t show any threatening behavior, it’s possibly a greeting or a sign of acknowledgment.

      However, a series of clicks often acts as a warning that the parrot doesn’t wish to be handled.

      Head bobbing

      Parrots are commonly known to bob their heads in an attempt to gain attention.

      So, if you catch your parrot bobbing its head, it likely just wants to be petted and played with.

      Parrots may also bob heads when trying to woo a mate or while dancing to music. In some cases, however, head bobbing is a sign of anxiety.

      Scratching at the bottom of the cage

      Some parrot species scratch at the bottom of the cage to express their desire to be let out of the cage.

      It’s best not to respond to it because it will only reinforce the behavior and lead to more scratching.

      Foot tapping

      Parrots often tap their feet to assert dominance over their territory. They’re especially likely to do this when they feel threatened.

      Standing straight while staring at you

      If a parrot stands straight and keeps staring right at you, the bird probably wants you to pick it up.

      Alternatively, it could also be waiting for you to look away so that it can do something that it doesn’t want to be seen doing.

      Looking directly at you might be a birds way of saying, hey pick me up!

      Wing drooping

      Drooped wings often indicate the bird is sick, especially in older birds.

      I’d recommend getting the bird checked by an avian vet. However, it’s a common behavior in chicks, including healthy ones.

      Wing flipping

      Birds sometimes make a sharp. Flicking movement with their wings to express pain, annoyance, or anger.

      However, if the bird is also bobbing its head and hunching its shoulders, it probably wants some attention or is asking to be fed (in the case of weaned birds).

      Wing flipping isn’t always an attempt to communicate something – birds also flip their wings to readjust their feathers.

      Head lowered and turned 90 degrees

      If you catch your pet doing this, check out what it’s looking at. Birds do it when they see something they like.

      Tail fanning

      Birds often fan out their tail feathers as a show of strength and vitality.

      It’s often a sign of aggression and anger in birds and may be accompanied by other aggressive behaviors.

      Tail bobbing

      Birds bob their tails while catching their breath after any intense activity. However, tail bobbing without any activity might potentially mean the bird is sick.

      Crest position

      Some parrots, like cockatiels, have crests on top of their heads. These crests aren’t just an element of beauty – the birds use them to communicate their mood.

      The crest position indicates how the parrot is feeling at the moment.

      While a lifted crest is a sign of excitement, you should be careful if the crest is lifted too high.

      The latter indicates the bird is either very excited or scared of something.

      On the other hand, an aggressive parrot would have a flat crest and might also crouch down and hiss.

      Regurgitating

      Birds regurgitate food to feed their mates and offspring.

      However, if your parrot does it and pretends to feed you, it means the bird considers you to be its mate.

      Your feathered friend may also bob its head before regurgitating. It’s a sign of the bird’s high affection and love towards you.

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        Crouching with the tail lifted

        Birds crouch on the perch and lift their tails when they need to poop. They might crouch to the extent that their rear end rubs against the perch.

        It is possible to potty train birds by taking them to a desired place when they need to poop and using a specific gesture or keyword to let them know they can do it.

        Way of standing

        A bird standing on one foot is a relaxed bird. It’s even better if the feathers are fluffed up while in this position; it means the bird feels happy and content.

        Standing on both feet can be a sign of contentedness too.

        On the other hand, if your parrot grinds its beak while standing on one foot, it means the bird is tired and needs to rest.

        A half-asleep bird would stand the same way but with the feathers fluffed up halfway and the eyes glazed.

        Other body language signals

        As it must be evident by now, birds are quite versatile in using body language to communicate.

        In addition to the ones I explained earlier, here are a few more examples of how a bird might convey something:

        • Wanting to be picked up: The bird would lean forward or upward with the feathers ruffled, the head lowered, and the wings raised halfway.
        • Wanting to be put back down: If the bird hangs from your shirt collar by its beak and waves both feet in the air, it wants to be put back down.
        • Asking for scratches: Birds often beg for scratches by fluffing up the neck feathers while placing their beak on the ground.
        • Feeling playful: Your parrot might shake its tail to let you know it’s ready for some fun.

        Besides these, always watch out for signs of aggression such as biting, hissing, and lunging.

        Try to calm down an aggressive bird, but if you’re not sure what to do, just leave it alone.

        Common Avian Vocalizations

        Now that you have a better understanding of a bird’s body language let’s check out their common vocalizations.

        Parrots are particularly good at vocalizing and can express themselves in various ways.

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          Chattering

          Birds chatter softly when they are content or learning to talk. Loud chattering, on the other hand, can be an attempt to draw your attention.

          Soft chatter is a sign of contentedness

          Whistling, singing, and talking

          All of these are good signs and indicate that your bird is happy, healthy, and feels content. In some bird species, such as male cockatiels, whistling is also a part of mating behavior.

          Tongue clicking

          Pet birds often express their desire to be petted or picked up by making clicking noises with their tongues.

          However, tongue-clicking is also a way for birds to entertain themselves.

          Hissing and growling

          As you might guess, sounds like hissing and growling carry negative implications.

          The bird is either feeling threatened or bothered by something. Removing the upsetting stimuli should usually fix it.

          Frequently Asked Questions

          Can humans communicate with parrots?

          Yes, it is possible for humans to communicate with parrots.
          Parrots are very intelligent birds and can learn a wide range of words and phrases over time if trained correctly.
          With patience and repetition, someone can train a parrot to recognize certain words and commands, such as its name, “hello”, or even people-like forms of imitation.
          With enough effort, it is possible for humans to establish a basic level of communication with parrots and eventually become lifelong companions.

          How do you get a parrot to trust you?

          Developing trust with a parrot is a simple matter of spending quality time with it.
          Spend several hours per day slowly and patiently building rapport with the parrot, providing treats and love. Talk to it in soft, comforting tones whenever possible.
          Don’t rush into interaction; give the parrot plenty of space when needed, and let it come to you on its own terms.
          Once trust has been established, handle the parrot gently and interact with it regularly.

          How do you know if a parrot likes you?

          You will know if a parrot likes you by paying attention to its behavior.
          It may start to venture closer to you or even try interacting with you, such as perching on your shoulder or head when it deems appropriate.
          A parrot that likes you may also listen more intently when you talk, vocalizing its own response in kind.
          Parrots are very capable of forming strong emotional bonds with humans, so watch for excessive preening or cuddling on your lap as another sign of affection.

          Do parrots have high IQ?

          Parrots may not have an IQ in the traditional sense, but they are exceptionally bright and intelligent animals.
          Some parrots, such as African Greys, have been shown to have intelligence equivalent to that of five-year-olds.
          They are able to imitate human language, solve puzzles, recognize objects, and form complex social relationships with other birds and even humans.
          With training, parrots can be taught to perform amazing feats such as counting, recognizing shapes and colors, or even expressing emotions.
          This strong level of intelligence makes them unique among companion animals and a popular choice for bird owners who desire a loyal and clever pet.

          Wrapping up

          Indeed, it’s amazing how birds manage to communicate between themselves and with humans in such diverse ways.

          According to a research article, a study conducted on wild parrots in Costa Rica found that a specific bird could be addressed using the playback of contact calls.

          Parrots are extremely smart, and their distinct ability to communicate makes them great for companionship.

          I hope this article has been of help and you can gradually learn to communicate with your feathered friends.

          Photo of author

          Team Beauty of Birds

          Beautyofbirds.com's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

          You can meet our team here.
          Team Beauty of Birds is separate from the “Parrot Parent University” parrot training course and its instructors.

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