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Tag Archives: Parrot Vocalizations

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What is my Parrot Saying? – Growls, Clicks and Other Noises

Parrot owners often tend to focus on their birds’ speaking abilities, but it is the many vocalizations that our pets make naturally that represent their true efforts at communicating with us. Following are a few commonly-heard parrot sounds and their usual meanings.

Hawkheaded Parrot

Beak Grinding

People often grind their teeth at night, when under tension. Beak grinding has a similar sound, and so is often misinterpreted as indicating stress or aggression. However, in parrots, beak-grinding is usually a sign of contentment, given as darkness falls or sometimes while the bird is sleeping.

Beak Clicking

Beak clicking, the rapid snapping of the upper and lower mandibles, is a threat, most often issued when the parrot is protecting its territory, mate or favored person. Clicking is often accompanied by pupil dilation and a raising-up of the feathers, wings and/or foot (the hawk head parrot exhibits an extreme feather-raising display…please see photos).

Tongue Clicking

Unlike beak clicking, tongue clicks are uttered when a parrot is secure and seeking attention. Most often heard in cockatoos >(including cockatiels), the sound is much the same a person makes when clicking the tongue against the roof of the mouth.


Low, guttural growls indicate that a parrot is stressed and aggressive, and likely to bite if approached. Growling parrots often raise their neck and other feathers, fan their tails and appear taut and ready for action. The pupils will be dilated as well.Hawkheaded Parrot scratching


Purring is sometimes difficult to distinguish from growling; it is lower than growling, and sounds “less aggressive” somehow. Your parrot’s body language is an important key in determining the nature of the sound it is making…the pupils of a purring parrot will usually not be dilated, its feathers will be down and its stance may appear “relaxed”.

Further Reading

Please check out the book The Parrot Problem Solver for valuable information on parrot sounds and body language.

An interesting technical paper on parrot vocalization analysis is also an interesting insight.


Hawkheaded Parrot image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Snowmanradio
Hawkheaded Parrot scratching image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Goaly

Research Update – Parrots, Like People, Use Their Tongues to Alter Vocalizations


Parrots are among the most vocally gifted of birds, and rely heavily upon complex communication skills when interacting with one another. Their vocalizations originate in the syrinx, or “voice box”, and it is from this organ that their voices’ complexities were assumed to originate. However, as bird keepers know, parrots continually bob their tongues up and down when calling or imitating speech. Wondering why parrots might do this, researchers at Indiana and Leiden (Netherlands) Universities looked closely at this behavior.

The Parrot Tongue at Work
Their work led to the discovery that the tongue’s influence on sound may be as important to parrots as it is to people…in common with us, the sound that leaves the parrot’s voice box is not that which eventually exits the mouth. Parrot tongue action is finely controlled, and variations of a fraction of a millimeter can produce sounds that differ in character as much as do the human ‘O” and “A”.

As hobbyists know, parrots are both highly intelligent and social. So, in retrospect, it makes sense that they would have evolved a means of producing complex sounds to communicate with each other. Also, they can be quite choosy (maddeningly so, to breeders!) when deciding upon a mate – perhaps the tongue’s action imprints each parrot’s voice with a distinct quality, as it does in people, and this somehow functions in mate selection.
Parallels in People
These findings have important implications for human speech and communication behavior research. In birds as in people, vocalizing is largely a learned behavior, and specific areas of the brain are involved. Studies of these areas, and how they affect the parrot’s ability to imitate human voices, may shed light on the origin and treatment of human speech maladies.

There is always something new being reported somewhere in the world of birds.

You can read more about the parallels between human and parrot (and other animal) vocal abilities at:

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