Why Is My African Grey Growling? Understanding Their Fear Responses

Many pet bird owners consider getting an African Grey because of their famous intelligence and ability to learn words.

However, like any creature, they exhibit a range of behaviors that can sometimes puzzle their owners.

One such behavior is growling.

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    While it might be surprising to hear a bird growl, understanding the reasons behind this behavior and the appropriate responses can greatly enhance the bond between the parrot and its owner.

    In this article, we will do just that.

    Why Is My African Grey Growling

    Why Is My African Grey Growling? 3 Reasons

    Growling in African Grey parrots serves as a defensive behavior, signaling discomfort, fear, or a perceived threat.

    Here’s a breakdown of the primary situations that might trigger this behavior:

    When Frightened or Defensive

    Just as humans might raise their voices when scared, African Greys use growling as an audible indicator of their fear.

    This could be a reaction to sudden movements, unfamiliar sounds, or new environments.

    The presence of Something Bothersome in Their Environment

    African Greys are sensitive to changes in their surroundings.

    Items or situations that seem benign to us, like a new toy, a shifted cage location, or even unfamiliar people, can be sources of stress for them.

    If they perceive these changes as intrusive or threatening, they might respond with growling.

    A new toy, a shifted cage location, or even unfamiliar people can be sources of stress for them.

    Feeling Threatened or Cornered

    Like many animals, African Greys have a fight or flight response.

    If they feel trapped or cornered with no escape route, growling can be their way of saying, “Back off.”

    This is especially true in situations where they feel their personal space is being invaded.

    For example, when an African Grey finds itself in a new home, it often growls at its new human friend in the beginning, especially when they try to come near their cage.

    Usually, this just means that the bird is uncomfortable with this proximity and is possibly feeling threatened or cornered in its own space.

    Understanding these triggers is the first step in addressing and mitigating the growling behavior.

    Signs of a Frightened Parrot

    Growling is not the only way African Greys express discomfort. Here are some other primary indicators that your African Grey might be feeling frightened:

    • Feathers Slicked Tight to Their Body: When calm, a parrot’s feathers are usually relaxed. However, when frightened, they will often slick their feathers tight against their bodies, giving them a more streamlined appearance.
    • Avoiding Eye Contact: A frightened parrot might avoid making direct eye contact or show other subdued body language. This behavior is a defensive mechanism, indicating that they are wary of the situation or individual they’re facing.
    • Feathers Pulled In: Similar to the slicked feathers, a parrot might pull its feathers in closer to its body as a protective response.
    A bird avoiding eye contact is a scared bird
    • Attempting to Escape or Fly Away: If an African Grey feels threatened, its instinct might be to flee the situation. This can manifest as frantic attempts to fly away or climb to a higher perch.
    • Raising Their Neck and Other Feathers: A parrot raising its neck feathers is trying to make itself appear larger, a common defensive posture in the animal kingdom.
    • Fanning Their Tails: This behavior, along with other feather expressions like ruffling up feathers is another attempt to appear larger and more intimidating to potential threats.
    • Appearing Taut and Ready for Action: A frightened parrot might appear more rigid, with its body poised and ready to react to any perceived threats.
    • Dilated Pupils: Just as with humans, a parrot’s pupils can dilate when they’re alarmed or scared. This physiological response allows more light into the eyes, potentially helping them spot threats more easily. When accompanied with eye pinning, this is a particularly alarming sign.

    Growling vs. Hissing

    While growling is a behavior commonly associated with African Greys, other pet parrots, such as Cockatiels, also exhibit defensive behaviors like hissing.

    Hissing, much like growling, is a clear sign of discomfort or a warning to potential threats.

    It’s essential to understand that these behaviors, whether it’s growling in African Greys or hissing in Cockatiels, are instinctual responses to perceived threats.

    Recognizing and respecting these signs is of utmost importance. By doing so, owners can prevent escalating the situation into aggression.

    For instance, if a bird hisses or growls, it’s advisable to give it space and approach it later, when it’s calmer.

    Pushing the boundaries or ignoring these warning signs can lead to bites or heightened stress for the bird.

    If your bird is growling, its best to let it alone for sometime

    Behavior and Personality of African Grey Parrots

    If your African Grey parrot starts growling at you, don’t be frustrated. These unique birds have a loving and caring side to them that you should be aware of.

    African Greys are often hailed as one of the most intelligent bird species.

    Their cognitive abilities rival those of young children, making them fascinating companions.

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      One of the standout traits of African Greys is their unparalleled ability to imitate sounds.

      From words and phrases to everyday noises like doorbells and phone rings, these parrots can mimic with astonishing accuracy.

      While their mimicry can be entertaining, it’s essential to note that African Greys can also develop less desirable vocal habits.

      They might pick up loud noises, alarms, or even words and phrases that owners might prefer they didn’t repeat.

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        African greys are amazingly intelligent

        Training and positive reinforcement can help curb these undesirable vocalizations.

        Lastly, African Greys have a strong tendency to form bonds, often with a specific member of the household.

        This bonding can be so intense that they might exhibit jealousy or possessiveness.

        While this bond showcases their loyalty, it can also lead to potential aggression towards others they perceive as threats to their bonded human.

        Tips to Prevent Growling in African Greys

        Here are some expert-recommended strategies to address and reduce growling in African Greys.

        Ensuring a Safe and Comfortable Environment

        Cage Placement: Position the cage in a quiet area away from high traffic zones in the home. Avoid placing it near windows where sudden outside movements might startle the bird.

        Cage Setup and Size: Ensure the cage is spacious enough for the bird to move freely. I recommend a minimum size of 36”x 24” x 48”.

        Equip it with appropriate perches, toys, and hiding spots to provide a sense of security.

        I recommend a minimum cage size of 36”x 24” x 48”.

        Identifying and Removing Potential Stressors:

        Monitor Changes: Any new items or changes in the environment, like new toys or shifted cage locations, can be potential stressors.

        Introduce changes gradually and observe the bird’s reaction.

        Limit Unfamiliar Faces: If your African Grey is particularly nervous around strangers, limit the number of unfamiliar people around its cage.

        Building Trust and Establishing Boundaries

        Consistent Interaction: Spend regular time with your parrot, talking, singing, or just being present. This consistency helps build trust.

        Respect Their Space: If the bird is growling or showing signs of distress, give it space and approach later when it’s calmer.

        Introduce New People Slowly: If the bird is comfortable with one family member but not others, let the familiar person introduce the new individual gradually.

        Training and Positive Reinforcement

        Clicker Training: Using a clicker paired with treats can be an effective way to reinforce desired behaviors and discourage unwanted ones.

        Reward Calm Behavior: Whenever the bird is calm and not growling, reward it with treats or affection. This positive reinforcement helps the bird associate calm behavior with rewards.

        Regularly rewarding calm behavior over time reduces instances of growling

        Avoid Punishment: Never punish an African Grey for growling. This can exacerbate the behavior and damage the trust between the bird and the owner.

        Patience and understanding are paramount. Many African Grey owners face challenges with their birds’ behaviors early on.

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          However, with consistent effort, understanding, and the right strategies, it’s possible to reduce growling and foster a more harmonious relationship with these intelligent birds.

          Frequently Asked Questions

          Why does my African grey parrot growl?

          African Grey parrots growl as a defensive behavior, signaling discomfort or perceived threats. This can be triggered by fear, changes in their environment, or feeling cornered.

          What does it mean when a parrot growls?

          When a parrot growls, it’s communicating discomfort, fear, or defensiveness. It’s a warning sign indicating that the bird feels threatened or uneasy.

          How do you know if an African grey is affectionate?

          An affectionate African Grey seeks interaction, often soliciting petting or head scratches, and may mimic sounds or words associated with positive experiences or loved ones.

          What is the bad behavior of the African grey?

          Bad behaviors in African Greys include excessive screaming, feather picking due to stress or boredom, and potential aggression, especially if they feel threatened or possessive about their bonded human.


          With their remarkable intelligence and captivating personalities, African Grey parrots are truly unique companions.

          However, like all complex creatures, they come with their own set of behaviors and needs.

          Growling, while initially perplexing to many owners, is a clear communication from the bird about its comfort and well-being.

          By understanding the reasons behind such behaviors and implementing the strategies discussed, owners can foster a deeper bond and make their birds more comfortable.

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          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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