Understanding Avian Body Language: a Guide with Photos.

Avian body language is an art. A bird can give off the most subtle of signs – and then again, sometimes they’re no less subtle than a train crash. I’m not always very good at reading these signs – conversely, my birds are altogether too good at interpreting mine.

It took me a long time to realise that Mishka was, ahem, ‘in love’ with Charlie. How did I figure it out, in the end? I was flipping through my photos and noticed her very obvious heart wings – see photos below. (On that note, I came to realise that Mishka is male.) My mistake inspired me, actually, to create a post featuring some birdie body language. It’s much easier to see on camera, although not entirely reliable. After all, I have come to know my birds well enough that I can divulge what they’re saying by photo, but it varies per bird, and per shot! The same pose can mean different things in many contexts. This should give you a basic idea of what to look for, however.

Note: When detecting birdie signals, it’s about the context of the situation; is my bird fluffed in contentment, or is it because I’m banging the pans around, and loud noises make him angry? Is she leaning forward because she wants me to pick her up, or because she’s on the defensive and ready to bite? Is my bird’s crest up in excitement or fright?

Here is a video example of how talking is aggressive with some parrots. My parrotlet, Ptak, will bite me if I dare touch him when he’s like this. Note also how he puffs up and chatters, too, and the way he turns his head.

Start with what you recognise and move forward.

As another in-action example, here is an aggressive umbrella cockatoo marching and bouncing. It may look playful, but it signals his disgruntlement at the aviary getting washed. Bobo reacts with aggression to fear. It’s subtle, but here he is bouncing playfully.


Finally, the photo-guide, just to get you started. Try making your own and let me know how it affects your relationship with your bird.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Learning to read our avian companions’ signals right means fewer bites for us, and happier birds in general!


3 thoughts on “Understanding Avian Body Language: a Guide with Photos.

  1. How cool! It’s wonderful that they see you as a friend and “talk” to you in that context. The only things my (wild, handled briefly for banding before being released) birds say to me are “I’m stressed” (=raised head feathers) and “Help! Monster!!!” (=calling). Great pictures!

  2. Pingback: A Guide to Basic Parrot and Finch Care. | Students and Birds

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s