parakeet hearing

How to tell if your parakeet is nervous or scared

It can be a little difficult to tell what your parakeet is feeling, especially when you are a new parakeet parent.  There are a few physical “tells” that will let you know if your parakeet is anxious or scared, which they frequently are in a new environment, or even after years in your home because of their instincts as prey animals.  Being able to tell when your parakeet is afraid can help you know when to back off and give them space. Remember taming your parakeets is not a sprint, it’s a marathon!

  • Flapping/flying like crazy around their cage. This will probably happen the first few times you put your hand in the cage. Unless your new friend was hand-raised he probably views your hand as a terrifying predator. If this is the case I recommend only going in the cage for essential maintenance in the beginning, and otherwise spend a lot of time showing your parakeet your hand from the other side of the bars.  Let them examine it from a safe distance without you moving your hand. Offer millet through the cage bars once they are able to tolerate your hand being close to the cage without fear.
  • Panting is another indicator of a fearful parakeet. Kelly still does this occasionally but it was much more frequent when she first came home. A panting parakeet breathes with their beak slightly open. It may look “cute” or like they are trying to speak, but no sound comes out.  If you have a clipped parakeet who pants when they are out and about with you they are overwhelmed and would probably like to go back to the safety of their cage.
  • Fear poops: A fear poop is a very watery poop that doesn’t have another explanation like just having taken a bath/eating a lot of veggies or being ill. These are frequently very easy to ascertain the cause of, if I disturb Kelly during an afternoon nap she fear poops right away. The watery fear poop should happen one or two times in a row, and then normal poops will resume once they are over being startled.
  • Very sleek feathers and wide eyes. This is more Toby’s style. If she’s startled by something all her feathers get very very flat and she will stand up at attention with her eyes wide open. She also goes to one of what we call her “fear spot” in the cage; which is randomly on the cage wall next to one of the water bottles. She stays there until she feels the danger has passed.

You may never be able to tell what scared your parakeet in the first place.  Many times I think mine are set off by things they see or hear outdoors through a window, but I’m not sure. Other times it’s the cord on the vacuum, or even my husband or I appearing somewhere unexpected. They got really freaked out the other day when I came home through the “wrong” door.

But, if you’re watching for the signs of fear you can at least know when something has already spooked them, and help them get back to their cage if needed, or try to pinpoint the cause of their concern and eliminate it for them.

11 thoughts on “How to tell if your parakeet is nervous or scared”

  1. My parakeet sleeps on the “eave” of her cage all night. Today she was sitting in one of the corners Staring over at her mirror. I wonder if something frightened her. She has never done this before.

    1. It’s possible that something scared her, if she’s just sitting in one spot and not moving for a long period of time.

      Whenever one of mine if frozen in fear (which is occasionally for no discernable reason) I try to snap them out of it by talking softly to them and offering a treat of millet.

      Hope your girl is doing okay now!

      1. My budgie is just sittin on a perch for like an hour without moving its head. I got him today in the morning an he was exploring the cage only ate some millet and drank no water. Now all of a sudden he’s just still. I touched his tail for the first time, and he didn’t move. Is he sick or just scared?

      2. Hi there! Without being able to see your bird it’s very difficult to assess whether he is just scared or is ill. If you’re still really concerned I would recommend taking him to a qualified veterinarian, if that’s possible in your area.

        Even though he was acting okay earlier, something may have spooked him into stillness, so hopefully that’s al it was.

        How is he doing today?

  2. Since this is recent enough I guess I will respond:

    Hello, I recently just became a proud budgie owner about 3 days ago, but of course it is definitely not a super smooth start. My bird has not had water yet, when I provided both a bottle and a bowl. I have wetted some veggies in his seed bowl and some millet I hand fed him, but he’s only taken to the millet and seeds. Most of the time he is spending on a single perch watching me while I work or opening & closing his eyes, and he also tends to preen and clean himself. Occasionally now he will climb all around the cage almost sporadically, looping his head around his feet while sometimes chirping the same loud chirp. I know some of these behaviors are normal for new birds bought from the store, I just wish I could know how to better acclimate and calm him down. Any advice helps.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jack!

      Bringing home one’s first budgie is frequently a fraught experience! I have to tell you, I didn’t see my first bird take a single drink of water for almost a year. It drove me nuts for a while, but at a certain point I had to accept that she must be drinking when I wasn’t around, otherwise she would certainly have died of thirst! Budgies feel super vulnerable when they are drinking, it’s a perfect time for a predator to swoop in and grab them, and your budgie just isn’t sure that you’re not a predator yet, so he’ll drink when you aren’t around.

      His behavior sounds pretty normal for a new budgie, watching you is great and preening is a wonderful sign that he’s feeling comfortable. I’m a little concerned about the actions you describe as “looping his head around his feet”. There’s a fairly rare disorder called “star gazing” that I would suggest you search around on the internet about. It’s probably not what’s going on with your budgie, but just in case, you should be able to find a video and see if it matches what he’s doing.

      One of my girls will do some crazy acrobatics if she’s mad that we won’t let her out of her cage, she grabs onto the bars with both feet and then sticks her head through, kind of like summersaulting against the bars, is it more like that? If so, he may feel that his cage is a bit confining and wants to come out to stretch his wings.

      Best of luck with your new friend!

      1. Hi again,

        I think summersaulting is the best way to describe it, so I guess I shouldn’t be too worried. I let him come out of the cage for the first time today, he walked around on the floor for a little bit which I think went well. I offered him a perch to sit on and gladly accepted, then when I brought it to the cage he went right back in which is good. He still is not super comfortable with my hand but at least the additional perch works.

        Another thing I’ve been noticing but at the same time dreading is he has been tail-bobbing. I don’t necessarily notice this while he’s eating or when he climbs all around the cage. Watching him now sitting at his perch it is noticeably bobbing, not extremely but I am aware of it. He opens and closes his eyes sometimes while doing it, which was a behavior I noticed on his first day but I bobbing, that started about two days ago. I do sit in site of him almost all of the day at this point, and he definitely is still startled by me but I just can’t tell. I’ve read a lot about how if see tail-bobbing you should instantly go to the vet, which although I understand is absolute necessary for a bird to see the vet, I was not prepared for a potential visit so soon. I’ve changed his bedding to check for poops and I am making sure to monitor his behavior. He definitely is not completely frozen and is still eating and chirping. In the time I have written this he is back to hopping and climbing all around, which I consider somewhat frantically but he might just still be getting used to things. Not relying on you for all the answers, you’re the only person I’ve found who seems to respond.

      2. Hi Jack!

        Wow, it sounds like his first time out of the cage went incredibly well yesterday! Great instinct offering him a perch instead of your hand to return him to the cage.

        So, tail-bobbing. I know a lot of folks will tell you do not pass go, go straight to vet, but I think there’s a ton of variation in how much bob is normal for each budgie. One of my girls tails bobs significantly more than the rest and always has. She’s a bigger girl, which may be part of it. Anyway, if his poops look good and he’s breathing with his beak closed and not wheezing or anything I think you can wait until you’re ready for a vet visit. Caveat is that I’m not a vet and I’m not qualified to provide you with real medical advice regarding your bird, just what I’ve experienced.

        I don’t know if you’re on Facebook, but if you are there’s a group called “Parakeets” that you might consider joining. They have about 40,000 members, some of whom have decades of experience owning parakeets. You could even post a video in the group of the tail-bobbing and crowd source some opinions.

        No worries about reaching out, and I apologize that I’m not always able to respond as quickly as I’d like to either! Hope things are continuing to go well!

        Thank you,

  3. I have had my parakeet for four years. I am not sure if parakeets can have anxiety but I think mine does. He does not like our hands but will allow us to kiss him and he cuddles with my son and loves to sit on my hand while I hold my phone. He likes to look at his reflection. Any noise or my hands freak him out. I think he likes me because if I leave him in the room with music he will scream and squawk until I go into the room, then he calms down, flies out and then a few minutes later goes back into his cage. But the second I leave again he is yelling for me to return. The only way I can bring him into other rooms is if I bring the entire cage. He does not trust my hands unless it is on his terms. I can put my hand in the cage and only when he feels like it will he hop on it. If I grab him he bites so I dont even try it. He does not like head scratches or any form of touch except a kiss. Any suggetions?

    1. That all sounds like very normal parakeet behavior to me, to be honest! He might be a bit more relaxed if he had another parakeet as a friends, they tend to feel safer in pairs or groups.

      Would it be possible to make him some parakeet-friendly areas in rooms where he might like to hang out with you? Play gyms are a great way to give your parakeet a second home base so you don’t have to move his entire cage all over your house.

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