Your African grey’s body language explained

The African grey is a popular pet with good reason. Endlessly charming, he is thought to be roughly as intelligent as a five-year-old child, and a happy, well-cared-for African grey will bring much joy to your life. How happy is your African grey? Animaltalk gives you a breakdown of his body language.

Feather fluffing

Your African grey will fluff his feathers for several reasons. He is either showing you that he is relaxed, or he could be doing it to calm himself down. Fluffing up is also a way to keep warm in cool weather or a way to rid himself of dirt. Do keep an eye on your grey’s fluffing habits. If he stays fluffed up for a long period of time, and he is quieter than you are used to, it could indicate a problem and it’s better to see an avian vet.


Almost like puppies, the African grey is a big fan of chewing. While he does enjoy it, this is also a way for him to keep his beak in good condition. To avoid destruction and boredom, make sure your bird has enough toys that he is allowed to chew on.

Eye pinning

African greys are able to physically control the size of their irises. Eye pinning is when your bird’s pupils rapidly get larger and smaller. This behaviour is usually related to something that is happening in the bird’s environment. When this happens, consider your grey’s body language. If he looks relaxed, the eye pinning means that he is showing interest and focusing on something. If he looks stressed, with puffed-up feathers, he could be angry or frightened. If that is the case, try to figure out what is bothering him, and remove it from his environment.

Beak behaviour

It is quite a common sight to see your bird wipe his beak, and this is quite normal. He is simply cleaning himself, mostly after eating. Another beak-related behaviour we see in the grey is grinding, when he slides his lower beak and tongue against the upper one. You will hear this when your bird is falling asleep, and it is a sign of contentment.

The quivers

If your African grey’s whole body is shaking, it means that something is scaring him. Especially take note if this is accompanied by other signs such as wide, staring eyes and deep breathing. If only his chest is quivering though, it indicates that he is feeling emotion, with some experts believing that it shows happiness.


At times you will see your bird stretch out his legs and wings. This is normal and helps to get the blood flowing, as this ‘flying’ in one place provides him with exercise. It is essential that you provide your African grey with a cage that is large enough so that he can comfortably stretch out.

Standing on one leg

An African grey who is standing on one foot with the other tucked away into the breast feathers is extremely relaxed. They also tend to sleep in this position, with the head turned around. If your bird never sits or sleeps in this position and always stands on both legs, it might be a cause for concern and it’s best to contact your vet.

Chicken scratching

You might sometimes notice your parrot scratching, much like a chicken, at the bottom of his cage. He has not gone crazy! This behaviour comes from how they live in the wild, where they do this to loosen dirt on the ground.


Sometimes a yawn is just a yawn, indicating tiredness. But if your grey yawns excessively, he might be trying to tell you that he needs some more oxygen in his environment, and it might be a good idea to open a window or two. Also make sure that he doesn’t have something stuck in his throat.

Hanging upside down

Your parrot doing this will look pretty silly – and that’s exactly what he is doing: being silly! African greys love hanging upside down, especially as part of play.


Interestingly, this is a way for your parrot to show affection and tell you that he loves you. Birds in the wild do this for their partners during mating season, and the behaviour also occurs when the female is raising her young.


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