Facts about a parakeet’s sense of sight & how you can use them to your advantage

You may know some of the basics about a parakeet’s sight and eyes, but do you know how you can use this information to help bond with your budgies?

  • Parakeets have very sharp vision, superior to humans. As prey animals this would help them watch out for anything that’s ready to attack. Because their eyes are on the sides of their head they can’t really see directly ahead of them, but they do get a much better wide view. At home, you may notice your parakeet looks at you or whatever it’s focused on with just one eye. This is particularly noticeable when they drop something and tilt their heads to watch it fall.
  • Parakeets can also see ultraviolet light, which we cannot. This means that they see lots of stuff we don’t, particularly in regards to color. It helps them decide who to mate with by looking at which parakeet has the best and most vibrant feathers. Since they don’t have a very keen sense of smell or taste they can also detect which fruits and vegetables are rotten and which are good to eat by sight.  This probably explains why your parakeets may have an aversion to certain colors or patterns; they could just be way too intense. Some folks think that parakeets amazing UV sight also allows them to sense what mood their humans are in, almost like seeing an aura. I know that when I come in from work angry my parakeets react to me differently, and I completely believe that they are reading my energy somehow.  Being aware of your energy when you approach your parakeets can really help your interactions with them.
  • Your parakeet’s eyes change in appearance as he matures. Baby and juvenile parakeets have fully black eyes, with no detectable iris ring around the edges. As your parakeet grows up, you’ll see the iris start to come in very faintly at first, and then over time it becomes lighter and more prominent.  A caveat is that some color mutations do not ever develop the visible iris – also color mutations Albino, Creamino and Lutino are born with red eyes.  But, most of the time it’s an excellent way to help judge the age of a parakeet.  Toby is almost two years old and it’s so neat to see how her eyes are developing over time!
  • Once the parakeet’s iris becomes visible it will be easy to see their eyes “pin” or “flash” – this is when the parakeet’s eyes rapidly dilate and contract. We humans don’t have control over our eyes dilating, it happens in response to light.  Parakeets dilate their pupils at will.  Eye pinning is really one of the most helpful ways that you can understand what your parakeet is feeling, they typically do it when they are excited, happy, curious, and/or see something that they like a whole lot. Some do it when they are feeling aggressive and angry, although I have rarely seen it in that context. It may look a bit off-putting or totally unnatural at first, but now that we are accustomed to Toby pinning her eyes it is really so helpful in knowing how she’s feeling and whether she’s excited about, for instance, a piece of fruit or a potential scritch of the neck.
  • Another fantastic way you can use your eyes to communicate to a parakeet is “blinking” them. Early on when we were trolling for baby parakeets at Petsmart, Patrick realized that if he shut his eyes, all of the parakeets would grow calm and start falling asleep. Because they are so instinctually part of a flock, if one parakeet closes its eyes and relaxes they all tend to follow suit. This is useful if your parakeet becomes scared or panicked, you can help them relax by shutting your eyes and relaxing.  Also when you are taming them, when you cast your gaze downward it is less threatening for them. Close your eyes and lower your head and you will seem even less like a predator.  Now I’ve noticed that Toby and Kelly will try to put us to sleep if they don’t want to play with us.  Toby will shut the eye facing me very decisively and then wait a few seconds and open it just a slit to see if my eye is shut.  Mind you the eye on the other side of the head is wide open and ready for action; she is just tired of dealing with “mom”.
  • Also, making eye contact with a parakeet will typically open a line of communication and an engagement. In the early days they may feel safer if you don’t make a lot of eye contact, because they don’t know your intentions. Now, however, if I walk by Toby and Kelly’s cage and don’t look their way they will go about their business, but if Toby and I make eye contact she immediately rushes over to the side of the cage and becomes very excited to tap her beak on my fingernails. So, if I’m hustling out the door and I’m late it’s much better to call out “bye” and breeze out instead of stopping and getting trapped in an endless cycle of adorability.  Conversely, if I want to hang out and they are busy at play I make an effort to engage in eye contact and they will usually come over to where I am to see what’s going on.
  • As amazing as parakeet eyesight is during the day it is terrible at night. This is part of why they are susceptible to night terrors, any small movement that is detected will be alarming because they can’t see what it is and perceive it as a threat. Many parakeet owners cover their parakeets at night to help reduce these night frights.  You can also avoid nighttime issues by providing your parakeets with night lights. Another tip related to poor sight at night time is to never make changes in their cage layout or add new toys/perches right before bed time. Things that sort of freaked them out during the day may seem absolutely terrifying at night, and could cause them to panic.

Hopefully these facts and hacks will help you better understand some of what’s going on with your parakeet’s incredible eyes!  Coming soon, perhaps not surprisingly, a series of posts dedicated to the other senses.