Parakeet Behavior: Common and Abnormal Behavior

yellow budgie preening itself

Understanding your parakeet’s behavior helps you know when he is having fun, and when he is in danger. Here is some common and abnormal parakeet behavior that you should know.

As a new bird owner, you’re probably wondering what constitutes normal behavior for your pet and what behaviors indicate that something isn’t quite right with your parakeet.

In this post, I’ll list common normal parrot behaviors.

Use them as a starting point to determine what behaviors are normal for your pet bird.

And compare them against the behaviors listed at the end of this post, which often indicates illness.

If your bird shows any signs of illness, make an appointment with your avian veterinarian for an immediate evaluation.

Birds are experts at hiding signs of illness, especially when they are in a new and unfamiliar environment, or when they are been watched.

So by the time a bird looks or acts sick, he is really seriously ill.

As you get to know your pet and as he settles into his new routine in your home, you’ll soon learn exactly what behaviors are normal for your pet.

It’s important for you as a bird owner to learn what is normal for your parakeet, because your avian veterinarian will often ask for your observations during routine examinations and during times of illness.

Now, let’s dive in

Common Parakeet Behaviors

These common parakeet behaviors will help you to better understand your new feathered friend!

Beak Grinding

If you hear your bird making odd little grinding noises as he’s drifting off to sleep, don’t be alarmed!

Beak grinding is a sign of a contented and comfortable parakeet and it’s commonly heard as a bird settles in for the night.

Beak Wiping

After a meal, it’s common for a parakeet to wipe his beak against a perch or on the cage floor to clean it.

If something particularly persistent is stuck to a parakeet’s beak, he will use his foot to clean his beak.

Birdie Aerobics

This is how I describe a sudden bout of stretching that all parrots seem prone to.

An otherwise calm bird will suddenly grab the cage bars and stretch the wing and leg muscles on one side of his body, or he will raise both wings high.

Eye Pinning

Eye pinning is a bird’s natural response to certain stimuli, and it can help to clue you in on the bird’s mood.

Some common emotions the behavior can indicate are anger, fear, curiosity, excitement, or happiness.

Eye pinning happens when your parakeet sees something that excites him.

His pupils will become large, then contract, then get large again.

Birds will pin their eyes when they see a favorite food, a favored person, another bird, or a special toy.

In larger parrots, this can also be a sign of confused emotions that can leave an owner vulnerable to a nasty bite.

Your parakeet may also bite when he’s in “emotional overload,” so watch out!

Feather Picking

Don’t confuse this with preening (more on preening later in this post).

Feather-picking is a common and often frustrating problem that can be found in pet birds. It can however be managed with proper guidance.

Feather-picking can cause an aesthetic defect in birds, decrease the bird’s ability to keep itself dry and warm, and may also lead to skin infections or more severe complications.

Feather picking results from physiological problems, such as a dietary imbalance, a hormonal change, a thyroid problem, or an infection of the skin or feathers.

It can also be caused by an emotional upset, such as a change in the owner’s appearance, a change in the bird’s routine, another pet being added to the home, a new baby in the home, or several other factors.

Although it looks painful to us, some birds seem to find the routine of pulling out their feathers emotionally soothing.

Once feather picking begins, it may be difficult to get a bird to stop.

The good news is that parakeets are not as prone to this condition as other larger parrots are.

If you keep more than one parakeet, however, be aware that they sometimes pick out each other’s feathers.

If this occurs, you may have to house your birds in separate cages to allow the plucked bird to re-grow his plumage.

Fluffing

This is often a prelude to preening or a tension releaser.

If your bird fluffs up, stays fluffed, and resembles a little feathered pinecone, contact your avian veterinarian for an appointment.

This is because fluffed feathers can be an indicator of illness.

Jealousy

Some parakeets become very possessive of their owners and these jealous birds demonstrate their displeasure in several ways.

This can include tearing up their cages, nibbling on their owners’ hands, or screaming.

Although such noise may not be as annoying as the noise made by a cockatoo or macaw, it can nonetheless diminish your enjoyment of your parakeet.

To prevent your parakeet from becoming a problem pet, allow him to entertain himself in his cage alone from time to time.

Don’t reward his screaming for attention (you’ll soon learn which screams are just for the joy of making noise and which ones indicate a pet is in danger or pain).

Also, don’t bribe your pet into silence with treats while you are out of the room or on the phone.

If you do, your bird will soon have you wrapped around his wing feathers and will take full advantage of the situation.

Mutual Preening

This is part of the preening behavior that can take place between birds or between birds and their owners.

It is a sign of affection reserved for best friends or mates, so consider it an honor if your parakeet wants to preen your eyebrows, hair, mustache or beard, or your arms and hands.

Pair Bonding

Mated pairs bond, but so do best bird buddies of the same sex.

Buddy pairs will demonstrate some of the same behavior as mated pairs.

Some of these behaviors include sitting close to each other, preening each other, and mimicking one another’s actions, such as stretching or scratching, often at the same time.

Preening

This is part of a parakeet’s normal routine. You will see your bird ruffling and straightening its feathers each day.

He will also take oil from the uropygial or preen gland at the base of his tail and put the oil on the rest of his feathers, so don’t be concerned if you see your pet seeming to peck or bite at his tail.

If, during molting, your bird seems to remove whole feathers, don’t panic!

Old, worn feathers are pushed out by incoming new ones, which makes the old feathers lose and become easy to remove.

Regurgitating

If you see that your bird is pinning his eyes, bobbing his head, and pumping his neck and crop muscles, he is about to regurgitate some food for you.

Birds regurgitate for their mates during the breeding season, and also for their young while raising chicks.

So, it is a mark of great affection to have your bird regurgitate his dinner for you, so try not to be too disgusted if your pet starts bringing up his last meal.

Resting on One Foot

Do not be alarmed if you see your parakeet occasionally resting on only one foot.

 This is normal behavior (the other foot is often drawn up into the belly feathers).

However, if your bird is always using both feet to perch, please contact your avian veterinarian because this can indicate a health problem.

Side-Stepping

This is a common movement when a parakeet is working his way across his cage on a perch.

Other common movements include climbing and flying (if the cage is large enough).

Scratching

Parakeets have remarkably flexible leg joints, which they sometimes use to bring their legs up and behind their wings to scratch their heads.

Parakeets may be the only psittacine birds that do this. Larger parrots bring their heads and feet together in front of their bodies to scratch.

Vocalization

Many parrots vocalize around sunrise and sunset, which I believe hearkens back to wild flock behavior in which parrots call to each other to start and end their days.

Parakeets in the wild do this too, especially at day’s end when they chirp softly as they ready themselves for sleep.

In the wild, birds use various vocalizations to maintain social contacts, warn others of danger, attract mates, and protect their territory.

You may also notice if you keep more than one parakeet that the birds will call to each other during the day if they are in separate rooms (perhaps one is on a play gym in the family room while the other is in his cage in the dining room).

These contact calls help birds keep track of each other, both in the wild and in captivity.

If something startles your parakeet, you may hear him make a short, shrill call to signal that something has alarmed him.

Parakeets can also express their pleasure or displeasure through vocalization.

Soft chirps indicate a happy bird, while shrieks indicate that something is amiss in your bird’s world.

Abnormal Parakeet Behaviors

If your parakeet shows signs of any of the following behaviors, make an appointment with your avian veterinarian because they can indicate illness in a pet bird:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Sleeping too much
  • Loss of balance or inability to perch
  • Listlessness
  • Regurgitating whole seeds
  • Feather chewing
  • Feather picking
  • Sitting with feathers fluffed for long periods, even on warm days

Parakeet Behavior when Stressed

This can show itself in many ways in your bird’s behavior, including shaking, diarrhea, rapid breathing, wing, and tail fanning, screaming, feather picking, poor sleeping habits, and loss of appetite.

Stress can harm your parakeet’s health over a period of time.

To prevent your bird from becoming stressed, try to provide him with as normal and regular a routine as possible.

Parrots are, for the most part, creatures of habit, and they don’t always adapt well to sudden changes in their environment or schedule.

If you do have to change something, talk to your parrot about it first.

I know it seems crazy, but telling your bird what you’re going to do before you do it may help reduce his stress.

I received this advice from a popular avian behaviorist, and now I explain what I’m doing every time I rearrange the living room or leave my bird at the vet’s office for boarding during business trips.

If you’re going to be away on vacation, tell your bird how long you’ll be gone and count the days out on your fingers in front of the bird or show him a calendar.

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