Sitting low or standing tall?

When relaxed or resting, parrots will often distribute their weight evenly on both legs and sit relatively low on the perch or surface they are on. If startled or focused on something, we will often see them stand up tall by extending their legs and neck. This can be accompanied by tightening the feathers on some parts of the body, a rounder eye, as well as the bird becoming more stiff.

Left: This young african grey is sitting with it's abdomen relatively close to the surface it's on. It has a short, relaxed neck. Right: This mini macaw has extended it's legs and appear to be standing tall. It also has a more extended extended neck.


Parrots might also alternate between standing tall and low so that they are "bobbing" up and down with their whole bodies. Parrots can do this when playing with other birds, on a swing (to generate movement) or it can be done as a part of courtship or aggressive displays. 

Weight distribution and shifting weight

Parrots will lean or shift their weight towards something they are interested in, as well as away from something they are unsure of. A parrot that is interested in something will often shift it's weight in the same direction that it's beak is pointed towards. A parrot that is unsure of something will often have it's beak directed towards that object while simultaneously leaning in the opposite direction.

Left: This kea is leaning forward; shifting it's weight in the same direction the beak is pointing towards.
Right: This galah is leaning back; the weight is shifted away from the direction the beak is pointing towards.

When a parrot is sitting on our hand, a shift in weight distribution is very easy to feel if we for example approach something unfamiliar.

This blue fronted amazon is leaning very far back on the hand. Note how the body and tail feathers are almost in a straight vertical line, how the feet gripping the perch are at chest level, and the wrists are held out in front of the chest.

Parrots can also sway back and forth by alternating their weight distribution from one side to the other. Swaying can look differently and occurr in different contexts. We can often see stiff, slow swaying as part of threat- or defensive displays, sometimes together with growling or hissing.

Neck and head

 It's not easy to tell, but parrots actually have pretty long necks. When they are resting, the neck is held in an S-position, just like you might see in a swan. This gives the appearance of a short and stubby neck because of how the feathers are positioned. However, the long neck becomes very evident when we observe a parrot reaching for something, or when we look at x-ray images. A relaxed or resting parrot will generally have it's head held so that the eye is positioned higher than the base of the neck, forming a diagonal line, with the beak forward. Parrots can lower their heads and bodies for example when in a defensive position, or when they are about to take flight.

Left: This cockatoos is holding it's head and neck in a "default" position.
Right: This macaw has lowered it's head and neck, almost forming a horizontal line with the rest of the body. Notice the crouching position and wide stance.

Head and neck movements

Position of- and movements in the head and neck can give useful information. It's called head bobbing when a parrot, often rapidly moves the head up and down, back and forth, from side to side or any combination of this. Head bobbing is seen in many species, including grey parrots and macaws. This behavior can be observed in different situations and is usually a sign of high arousal.

Parrots can voluntarily regurgitate food to feed either to a mate, or to their young. Parrots have a puch-like structure extending from their esophagus called a crop, where they can store food that is slowly released to the two stomachs for digestion, or that they can regurgitate to feed to someone else. The crop itself is not a stomach, and regurgitated food does not contain any stomach acid or other stomach contents. 

When parrots regurgitate they will typically bob their head up and down, but unlike the head bob described above this is often a slower, more forceful movement, at least in larger birds, that is directly followed by trying to feed another individual, or in some cases an oject. Regurgitation itself is not dangerous, but if you notice your parrot regurgitating in a strange context, such as when it's resting by itself, it can be a sign of illness that should be checked by an avian veterinarian. Excessive regurgitation, especially when the bird swallows the food back down again as when trying to feed a person or a mirror, can potentially lead to illness. If your parrot is regurgitating food to you it is a sign of an unhealthy pair bond, and should not be encouraged. Please contact a parrot behavior consultant for help on how to stop unwanted sexual behavior. 

Parrots can also vomit, which is always something that should be checked by an avian veterinarian asap, as it is a clear sign of illness. Vomit, unlike regurgitation, is stomach content being expelled involuntarily. Often the only noticable sign of a parrot vomiting is partially digested food or mucus around the parrot's beak, face, cage bars, toys or walls. When vomiting, parrots will often look like they are gagging and vigorously shake their heads from side.

Parrots will sometimes bend their neck towards a person, other parrot or even a toy, while fluffing up their feathers on the head and neck. This is often, but not always, a way to prompt preening of the head feathers from another individual.