You got a real purty neck, boy.
May 12, 2010 9:48 PM   Subscribe

What is this parrot behavior?: they slowly arch their neck backward and hold the pose, then repeat. I've seen it in other birds as well.

My Congo African Grey will sometimes arch his neck backward gracefully and put his beak in the air -- in other words, the back of his head is touching his back, or near to it. He'll hold this pose for a second or two, then he usually repeats it several times in a row. It's very purposeful and ritualistic -- it looks like bird yoga -- so I wonder if there has been any research into what it means. He seems very calm when he does it. He likes it if I kiss him on the head if I'm nearby, but sometimes he'll be in his own little world in his cage and start doing it.

My cockatiel does something similar, their necks just aren't as pronounced so it has less shape to it.

I have seen other birds do this, including grackles, crows, and flamingos, so it's not just a parrot thing. They seem to do it in groups; clusters of them will just start arching their necks backwards and repeat it a few times. It looks peaceful. I am curious why it is common to so many birds.

What it's not:
- It's not the same as head bobbing, which my grey also does.
- It's not the same as their regurgitating "dance," which my grey also does.
- It's not part of their mating dance, which my grey also tries from time to time. I do wonder if it's somehow seasonal or hormonal, or some kind of display, though. My cockatiel tends to do it after he knocks his beak on things, which I've read is a kind of mate-attracting display.
- It's not any kind of preening or scratching; their beak is away from their feathers and they tend not to do it while preening, and they don't tend to follow it up by preening.
- He's not reaching for anything.

Is there a name for this behavior or movement? Do we know its purpose?
posted by Nattie to Pets & Animals (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My cockatiel does this. I always assumed (anthropomorphizing, of course) that she was just stretching her muscles. I never really thought about researching it, but it looks like there are several interesting places online for deciphering bird body language.
posted by amyms at 12:14 AM on May 13, 2010

My late (Timneh) Grey also did this. I don't know of a name for the behavior, but as amyms says, it always seemed to me as if he was simply stretching/relaxing.
posted by trip and a half at 6:48 AM on May 13, 2010

I'll give you a wild guess as to the reason they do it based only on your report that your "cockatiel tends to do it after he knocks his beak on things... ."

Like us, birds have a vestibular apparatus (for balance, sensing acceleration, etc.) that depends on tiny particles in the ear called otoliths. Our otoliths get out of place sometimes from things like blows to the head, necessitating procedures to get them back to where they once belonged, or at least remove them from a new location where they're causing trouble.

What with pecking and all, birds might be expected to have even more trouble with this than we do, so perhaps they have developed a standard way of putting things back in order.

In short, it could be their Epley maneuver.
posted by jamjam at 8:28 AM on May 13, 2010

Response by poster: I suppose it could be stretching, but it seems more purposeful than the other stretches I've seen birds do, especially with the repetition.

Jamjam, that's an interesting theory! I know that the last time my grey did it, it was after he hung upside down from my hand and had me swing him back and forth, which he loves to do. I think I've also seen him do it after playing aggressively with toys (pecking them, picking them up and swinging them, etc). I'll start paying closer attention to see if he does it after unbalancing things. :-)
posted by Nattie at 8:52 PM on May 13, 2010

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