Parrots bob their head for a variety of reasons. I once worked with a mixed flock of blue-and-gold macaws and scarlet macaws, and the majority of them were with their parents for several months. Two of them were removed early from their parrot parents and given human foster parents. When I started to care for the birds it was easy to identify those that were with their parents the full weaning time and the two that had not been.
The two macaws that were hand fed under human care continued to head bob years after the fact. Occasionally, when they become really excited they would head bob so forcefully, they would lose their footing and fall off of their perch. While it looked cute a small percentage of the time, I often thought about adult cats who knead on soft furniture or clothing. I was once told that this behavior is of cats who were weaned too early. Now researchers say that cats do this due to their unique scent pads in their paws and that the too-early-weaned hypothesis is not true.
“Baby parrots bob their heads when they are begging for food,” said Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice) of Veterinary Center of Birds and Exotics. “Owners of un-weaned parrots should pay attention to this sign, as it may indicate that their birds are hungry and need to be fed.”
Adult parrots may do this head bobbing behavior to get attention.
“This stems from behavior as a young bird, bobbing their head for their parents to feed them,” said Johanna Black, Manager of Wildlife at the EcoTarium in Worcester, Mass. Black added that it is often observed with birds that crave interaction with their owners or keepers.