African Greys often engage in behaviors that seem perplexing to bird owners.
One such behavior is the act of scratching the floor, carpet, or cage, much like chickens do when feeding.
To understand this behavior, one must first know about their natural instincts and evolutionary habits.
I will shed some light on the reasons behind this scratching and hopefully help you see that there is nothing you need to be worried about.
Why Is My African Grey Scratching the Floor?
In the wild, African Greys display a range of behaviors that are essential for their survival.
The act of scratching is related to this. Both African Greys and some other African bird species have been observed exhibiting this behavior.
Why do they do it?
While we are not completely sure, our best guess is that African Greys scratch primarily for two reasons in the wild.
Firstly, it might be a method of foraging for them. By scratching the ground, they can uncover hidden seeds or insects, which form part of their diet.
This is exactly how chickens do it, and it makes sense that African Greys might have picked up this behavior as well.
Secondly, this behavior plays a role in nest-building.
Scratching aids in digging out nest cavities, offering a safe space for laying eggs and raising chicks.
That’s why you will often notice that the scratching tendencies become more pronounced when your bird is hormonal.
However, I must note here that all African Greys do it—male, female, young, and old. So being hormonal is certainly not the only reason behind it.
Other birds that do it
It is not just the African Grey that does this.
Various birds, including aviary ones like Rock Pebblers, Kakariki, and Princess of Wales parakeets, and even larger birds like cockatoos, have been observed scratching on the ground.
Perhaps the most common birds that do it are chickens, which is why there’s even a term for it: “chicken scratching.”
Hens and other farm birds frequently scratch the ground, either to forage for food or prepare a spot for laying eggs.
It’s surprising that birds so far apart on the species scale are connected by some common habits, suggesting their common lineage in the past.
“Digging” Deeper into the Scratching Behavior
We discussed two reasons why your bird might be scratching your carpet or your floor. Let’s look at these reasons more closely.
In the diverse habitats of Africa, food sources can be scattered.
African Greys have developed specific behaviors to ensure their survival. One of these behaviors is foraging, a method used by many bird species to search for and obtain food.
Scratching the floor aids African Greys in uncovering hidden treasures like seeds, insects, or other edible items that might be concealed beneath the surface.
In captivity, even when provided with regular meals, this instinctual behavior persists.
Caregivers should recognize this and use it to their advantage to enrich their birds’ environment.
For example, you can hide your bird’s food in smaller bird food pellets to simulate a foraging experience for their pets.
For African Greys, preparing a suitable environment for raising their offspring involves creating a “ditch” or “pothole” in the ground.
By scratching the floor, they initiate the process of nest-building, ensuring a safe and secure space for their eggs and eventual chicks.
While domesticated African Greys may not be laying eggs, this behavior still comes out, reflecting evolution.
Scratching the floor also has a grooming-related advantage for African Greys.
Preening, for instance, is an integral part of their grooming behavior. But preening mainly focuses on the head and neck area.
Scratching helps to take care of the nails and the padding under their feet.
Perceived “Problem” and Perception Management
I hope that by now you have understood that this scratching habit has no bad connotation for your bird. Its just a natural instinct.
Unfortunately, it is not perceived that way by humans.
Why Some Owners Find It Concerning
When African Greys scratch the floor, some owners become alarmed due to unfamiliarity with the behavior or concerns about damage to cage linings or household surfaces.
Other Pets Do it Too
For example, house cats, despite domestication, often scratch carpets or furniture.
This behavior serves multiple functions for the cat, such as shedding claw sheaths and marking territory.
Similarly, African Greys scratching the floor is a manifestation of their natural instincts and not an unusual behavior for domesticated animals.
It’s Not a “Bad” Behavior
Classifying behaviors as “good” or “bad” can be misleading.
The floor scratching observed in African Greys is a natural, instinctual action, not a sign of misbehavior or destructive intent.
Recognizing this helps adjust caregivers’ expectations and perceptions.
Management and Engagement Techniques
Incessant scratching can be irritating, but it doesn’t have to be. You can turn it into a fun exercise that will benefit your bird.
Turning the Behavior into a Foraging Exercise
One effective approach to utilize the African Grey’s natural scratching behavior is to turn it into a foraging exercise.
By hiding food inside hay or other things placed on the cage floor or on a playstand, caregivers can stimulate the bird’s foraging instincts
This will give them a constructive outlet for their scratching behavior.
Introducing a Sandbox for Play
Providing a sandbox can be another means of channeling the scratching behavior.
A sandbox not only allows the bird to scratch and dig but also introduces a novel texture and environment, enriching their daily activities.
And the added bonus, of course, is that it spares your precious carpets and floors!
Other Enrichment Activities
Beyond sandboxes and foraging exercises, it’s beneficial to introduce other engagement tools.
Toys designed for problem-solving, climbing structures, or even auditory stimuli like music or bird calls can keep African Greys engaged and mentally stimulated.
An engaged bird is less likely to show scratching behaviors.
What Not To Do
Unfortunately, those who are inexperienced with African Greys might end up getting frustrated and making matters worse when their bird starts scratching.
Here are things that you absolutely should not do when dealing with a scratching bird.
Avoid Scolding or Punishing
It’s crucial to understand that the African Grey’s scratching behavior is natural.
Scolding or punishing the bird for exhibiting these behaviors is counterproductive and can lead to stress or behavioral issues.
Avoid Giving “Time Outs”
Some people, when faced with a scratching bird, will give it a time out or put the bird back into its cage.
This is not the right way.
Scratching is a natural behavior that will not go away through negative reinforcement. You will only end up confusing the bird about why it’s play time was curtailed.
In time, your bird might end up hostile or aggressive, believing that you are taking away its rightful play time.
Protecting Your Floors and Carpets From Undesirable Scratching
For bird owners who want to protect their carpets and floor surfaces from the scratching behavior of their African Greys, here are some practical suggestions:
- Use designated zones: Consider creating specific zones in your home where your bird is allowed to play and roam. These can be areas with easy-to-clean surfaces or places where potential damage is not a concern.
- Introduce scratching alternatives: While traditional bird toys don’t mimic the sensation of scratching on a carpet, they can still be effective distractions. Offering a variety of engaging toys can divert your bird’s attention away from undesirable scratching areas.
- Utilize playstands or bird gyms: These playstands can serve as designated scratching and play areas. They’re typically designed with a bird’s natural behaviors in mind, ensuring that they’re both safe and entertaining.
- Protective floor coverings: If you notice that your African Grey prefers a particular spot on your carpet, consider placing protective mats or floor coverings in those areas. These will act as a barrier, preventing direct damage to your carpets or floor surfaces.
- Regular engagement and interaction: Sometimes, simple interaction and engagement can reduce undesirable behaviors. Spend time playing with your bird and introducing new activities to keep them occupied.
Remember, it’s essential to use methods that are safe and suitable for birds.
For example, if you are using protective floor coverings, they should not be made or plastic materials that the bird might ingest by mistake.
Always prioritize your African Grey’s safety and well-being when taking such steps.
Answers to Common Behavioral Questions About African Greys
Why did my African grey stop talking?
Several factors might cause an African Grey to stop talking: stress, changes in environment, illness, or a shift in their social structure.
It’s essential to ensure their physical health first and then assess their environment for potential stressors.
Why is my African grey shivering?
Shivering in African Greys can be due to being cold, but it can also be a sign of stress, excitement, or illness.
If the bird consistently shivers, especially in a warm environment, it’s advisable to consult with a vet.
Why is my African grey growling?
Growling in African Greys is typically a sign of displeasure or feeling threatened.
It can be a defensive noise made to warn off perceived threats or to express discomfort with a situation or individual.
Why is my African grey’s tail wagging?
Tail wagging in African Greys can indicate various emotions. It might be a sign of contentment, excitement, or simply a stretch.
However, frequent tail wagging paired with other symptoms could indicate discomfort or health issues.
What are some common African grey noises?
African Greys are known for their diverse range of sounds.
Common noises include whistles, mimicked sounds from their environment (like phones or alarms), “hello” or other learned phrases, clicking sounds, and growls.
Their vocal repertoire often reflects their surroundings and interactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is bad behavior in an African grey?
The African Grey doesn’t inherently exhibit “bad” behavior. However, some owners might perceive their natural scratching or vocal mimicry as problematic. It’s crucial to distinguish between natural instincts and actual behavioral issues.
Why does my parrot scratch like a chicken?
African Greys scratch the floor as part of their natural behavior, similar to foraging or nest-building activities observed in the wild. This scratching can resemble the actions of a chicken.
How do I know if my African grey is healthy?
A healthy African Grey will have clear eyes, smooth feathers, regular eating and elimination habits, and will be active and alert. Any deviation, like lethargy or ruffled feathers, might indicate a health concern.
How do I know if my parrot is angry?
An angry parrot might exhibit behaviors like aggressive posturing, hissing, rapid beak clicking, or lunging. Their feathers may puff up, and their eyes might pin (pupil constriction and dilation) rapidly. Observing body language is key.
In summary, scratching is a natural behavior in African Greys. It’s not indicative of misbehavior or defiance.
Trying to eliminate this behavior is unproductive.
As outlined in this article, there are practical methods to manage and redirect this behavior.
Understanding and adapting to these behaviors can promote a positive environment for both the bird and the owner.