Basic Bird Handling



11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax



Pet birds are very sensitive animals. In their natural environment, the species of birds commonly kept as pets would be hunted by predators as a source of food. Most pet birds retain some, if not all, of their instinctual prey species behaviors. They are programmed to be extremely attuned to the surrounding environment. They can see colors that we cannot, and notice motions that are almost imperceptible to us. As prey animals, pet birds are likely to interpret sudden environmental changes as potential threats. Because of this, a subtle difference in the home that a human might not even notice can be seen as terrifying to their pet.

Birds also utilize unique body language that the average person may find difficult to interpret, because it is so different in appearance from human expressions. The following are some examples of commonly seen bird body language.

  • Relaxed: A relaxed bird will often sit with its feathers slightly lifted away from its body. Other signs of relaxation include stretching, preening, and blinking.
  • Playful: Many birds will wiggle their tail feathers in anticipation of play or interaction with their favorite people.
  • Excited: Eye “pinning” (in which the bird’s pupil rapidly dilates and contracts), fanning tail feathers, wings held slightly outstretched, etc., can indicate high levels of excitement. Depending on the species, this type of behavior can quickly transition into aggressive or “overload” behavior.
  • Anxiety: A bird that slicks its feathers tightly against his/her body, stands up straight and tall, and leans away from an object is signaling fear and discomfort.
  • Aggression: Commonly seen cues include open/outstretched beak, narrowed eyes, and charging forward towards the offending person or animal.

Although pet birds are very adaptable, and usually adjust surprisingly well to the hustle and bustle of the average human household, we must do everything we can to live in an understanding manner with these fascinating creatures. Here are some tips for working around birds in a positive way:

  • Move slowly and deliberately. Avoid direct eye contact when possible, as this can be perceived as a threatening predatory response by some birds.
  • When holding birds, keep your hands steady. Your bird should never be worried about falling off your hand or getting hurt when he/she is with you. Creating a safe haven for your bird will help him/her to trust you.
  • Always let the bird make a choice regarding your interaction with him, if possible. For example, if you want to hold your bird, but your bird uses body language to indicate that he/she would rather stay in his/her cage, do not force the issue. Giving your bird this measure of respect often goes a long way towards developing a positive relationship with him/her.
  • Practice reading and responding to bird body language on a daily basis.

For more information, we strongly recommend Barbara Heidenreich’s excellent DVD, “Understanding Parrot Body Language.” This can be found at www.goodbirdinc.com.


March 30, 2015

Content of this Care Sheet Courtesy of:

The Center for Bird and Exotic Animal Medicine 

11401 NE 195th St. Bothell, WA  98011

(425) 486-9000 PHONE  (425) 486-9002 fax



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