What Is Feather Rousing?

Why does your pet bird fluff up her feathers? Find out the many reasons.

Birds, like this blue-and-gold macaw, fluff their feathers up for various reasons. Via Kenny Coogan

Buddy, my Moluccan cockatoo, sitting comfortably on the couch, raises all of her feathers looking like a soft marshmallow. She gives a light shake and it looks like the blizzard of ’07 in my living room.

“Feather rousing is the act of ruffling feathers,” said Johanna Black, manager of Wildlife at the EcoTarium in Worcester, Massachusetts. “In cockatoos or African greys it could also be a way to remove old dust, so the bird will need a dust bath to replace what was lost.”

Feather rousing allows for correct placement of feathers following grooming or a session, Black added. “It can also be used as a way to greet those that the birds work with.”

Rousing is often seen in birds that are very comfortable with their surroundings. It is similar to a bird taking a bath — they aren’t going to bathe if they feel threatened since that behavior wouldn’t be safe. Whenever I see my birds (cockatoo, ducks or chickens) rousing, I feel pleased.

Rousing, “is the term used by falconers to describe bird’s behavior of shaking out its feathers and smoothing them out again,” said Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice) of Veterinary Center of Birds and Exotics in Bedford Hills, New York. “This is a normal behavior that birds of all species perform.”

Why Do Birds Fluff Their Feathers?

Oftentimes, in birds of prey it is the, “Shaking of their feathers right after being worked on the glove,” Black said. Being worked on the glove, means the raptor was asked to jump up or fly to the glove and possibly moved to a new area on the caregiver’s glove. It appears raptors always like to look their best while on the move.

“With the parrots that we house, we often see feather rousing with excitement or anxiety,” Black said. She encourages the interpretation of other body language to better determine which emotion it is.

Cinde Fisher, president of Aloha Hawaiian Parrot Association, in Honolulu, Hawaii, has cared for parrots for more than 20 years. Fisher says that “Owners notice [rousing] when birds first awaken in the morning or after a good bath. In addition to birds rousing to shake off water, realigning feathers after grooming, or to greet people or other birds when they are happy (or occasionally if they are acting aggressively), some birds can fluff and remain that way if they are feeling ill.

“Continued fluffing of feathers could be a sign of illness or that the bird is too cold,” Fisher added. For healthy birds after fluffing, feathers should remain at birds’ sides.

“If a bird fluffs up its feathers and then doesn’t lay them flat again, it may be trying to trap warm air between its body and feathers — generally a sign of illness in birds,” Hess said.

Fluffing can also be a way of relaxing or relieving tension. “Additionally,” Fisher said, “holding the feathers out and away from the body, slightly-curved and “penguin-style” is a sign the bird is too hot.”

I enjoy when my cockatoo rouses her feathers. I feel like she is letting me know she is comfortable and relaxed. Using the training technique of capturing, I trained my bird to fluff on cue when I show her a high five. To start, when I noticed she was about to fluff, I showed her my outstretched palm and waited for her to complete her fluffing of her feathers. Immediately after this behavior I gave her a small piece of nut, popcorn or dried fruit. It didn’t take long for her to pair the cue and behavior together.

What types of natural behaviors are you going to train your bird?

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Birds