The Behavior of Parakeets

Head Scratching:
If you have a pair or a small flock of parakeets in your aviary you will no doubt have observed two birds taking turns scratching each other's head. One of the birds sits erect and gently works over the head and neck region of the partner who deliberately turns and offers places with slightly ruffled plumage for scratching. Sometimes the bird who is having its head scratched jerks back suddenly with a short cry although clearly having a good time. Perhaps the eager partner has touched a tender spot, such as a feather that is just growing in and is still sheathed. The grooming is interrupted briefly but usually resumed shortly in a less sensitive spot. Occasionally an irritating move results in the switching of roles or even in the termination of mutual preening, but I have never seen two birds fight after mutual head scratching, which suggests that this activity is soothing to both parties.

One thing that mutual head grooming indicates is that strong bonding has taken place. Only parakeets that have accepted each other as partners engage in this gesture. Its soothing effect probably arises in part from the sense of contentment the birds feel because each is close to its chosen companion rather than alone. In parakeets that live in captivity it often makes little difference whether two birds are a 'true' pair, i.e., birds belonging to opposite sexes, or whether they are both of the same sex with one of them acting the male part and the other the female part. If a bird who is not in the mood to have its head scratched simply moves away or turns briefly to its partner in a threatening way with open bill. This is usually enough to discourage the other bird, who then often proceeds to groom itself or starts gnawing on some object.

Mutual head grooming also has a useful hygienic function. To scratch, a parakeet can reach head and neck with its feet, but a partner can do a much better job in smoothing down the small contour feathers, removing dust particles and, if there are any, parasites. A bird that is kept singly has to make do with its feet for keeping head and neck plumage in good order, or the bird can rub its head against the cage bars. If the bird is interested in more than hygiene and if you have won its full confidence, the bird may entrust you with the role of surrogate partner. One day your pet will stretch its head and neck toward you with slightly raised feathers while sitting somewhat hunched. What the bird is communicating to you is: "Please scratch my head." Now you must run your little finger very gently over the bird's head and neck against the lie of thc feathers and continue to do so as long the bird sits still and enjoys it.

And give your bird a chance to return the service to fill the need to reciprocate the pleasure you have given. Take the bird on your hand and leave your pet the choice whether it wants to groom the hair on your arm or your head or chew on your cheek or earlobe. You will soon feel that the grooming administered to you with great seriousness and absorption is not a gentle stroking but more like a pinch massage.

Other behaviour & social apsects.

E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca



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