Why Is My Bird Shaking or Shivering?

Birds in distress sometimes shake, shiver, or “quake.”

When your bird starts displaying these unusual behaviors for no obvious reason, it’s time to be concerned.

Birds are emotive animals, and every kind of shaking, shivering, and quaking has its own meaning.

Why Birds Shake or Shiver? Common Reasons

Birds shake and shiver for many reasons and in different ways.

Your bird may shake and shiver because it is:

  • Afraid
  • Cold
  • Displeased
  • Grooming itself
  • Happy
  • Ill, or
  • Overheated

There are also species of birds, such as budgies and Quaker parrots, that just naturally shake a lot.

There are many different ways your bird can shake, including:

  • Shivering, but not moving around.
  • Quivering, sometimes in place, sometimes when moving around in the cage.
  • Twitching. No, this doesn’t mean that your bird starts twitching in the sense it is “twitcher birding” on the lookout for rare birds. Twitches in birds have other meanings that will be explained a little later in this article.
  • Repeatedly shifting weight from one leg to the other. (This is a kind of twitching.)
  • Sudden, jerking motions involving its neck and wings. (This is also a kind of twitching.)
  • Quaking. Your bird flaps its wings like it is about to take off in flight, but holds tightly to its perch.

While these movements may seem a lot alike, each has its own meaning for birds.

Shaking can mean that your bird doesn’t like the temperature of the air in its cage.

They may shake and shiver to generate the body heat they need to fight off cold, or to get air circulation between their feathers to help them cool down.

When the temperature is the problem, birds also fluff out their feathers.

Shaking and shivering can also be part of feather maintenance.

Birds that are shaking, quaking or shivering as part of preening follow up by inspecting their feathers and their skins with their beaks.

Pulling out feathers, however, is a bad sign.

Birds may shiver and shake and quake when they are anxious, angry, injured, or ill.

And there is even a kind of shaking and shivering that birds do to tell us they are content and satisfied.

Let’s start with a strange kind of motion that may be your bird’s “happy dance.”

Why is Your Bird Shivering?

The time you are most likely to observe your bird shivering is right after it takes a bath.

Shivering is an involuntary reaction to a drop in body temperature.

Your bird’s breast muscles contract and release over and over again to generate body heat that helps your bird stay warm.

Birds may shiver any time they feel the air inside their cage is cold.

Most pet birds prefer room temperatures between 65° and 80° F (18° and 27° C), and they shiver when they are cold. The solution is simple. Just turn up the heat.

Shivering isn’t a bird’s only response to feeling cold.

They will usually fluff out their feathers to trap body heat against their bodies. 

Occasional fluffing out of feathers isn’t a problem. Keeping feathers fluffed out all the time is a sign you haven’t got the room temperature right or your bird is sick.

Shivering all the time is a sign your bird is very sick from an infection or starving, from lack of food or the inability to swallow it. Shivering all the time is a reason to take your bird to the vet.

Shivering while frozen in place usually means that your bird sees a threat outside its cage and knows it cannot escape. It tries to stay still so the predator (or other threat) won’t notice it, but it has to burn off the energy released by the surge of adrenaline its body produces when it is afraid. When the threat goes away, the shivering will stop.

Shivering while taking a bath and shivering to dry off are normal behaviors. Birds get water over their feathers by rolling it down their backs with a shiver and the flick of their tail. They will fluff out the feathers around their breasts and immediately let them fall down again. For drying off, birds shake off little feathers all over their bodies.

There Are Exceptions to the Rules for Shivering in Parrots

Parrots tend to be fidgety animals that shiver a lot.

If you have a parrot, shivering can take on other meanings.

  • Cooling. More than other birds, parrots shake out and raise their feathers when they feel overheated. When they do this, they usually also pant and hold their wings open.
  • General unhappiness. Shivering is one of the main ways parrots let you know they are unhappy. If their cages are not covered at night so they don’t get enough sleep, they will shiver during the day. If they aren’t getting enough food, they will shiver as they guard their food bowl. If you leave your parrot alone so long it feels it has been abandoned, it will shiver until you give it attention.
  • Settling an argument with another bird or another pet. Shivering is also a way parrots communicate “So there!” to other animals to end a dispute.

Why is Your Bird Quivering?

Quivering is a kind of shaking that is more like trembling than shivering. Quivering is especially common in budgies and other parakeets.

Sometimes quivering is an early warning signal that your parakeet is ready to fly away.

Even if they have had their wings clipped, birds in the Parakeet Family will test their strength before they decide to take a short flight.

Birds in the Parakeet Family have natural defensive reactions that protect them from predators.

When one of these birds is getting used to a new cage, or when there is a new bird in their cage, or when your family acquires another non-bird pet, they will quiver for a while until they feel they are safe.

Budgies, parakeets, and other small birds may quiver when you turn up the volume on your TV or you play loud music, when humans in the household have an argument, or when a cat stares at them from outside their cage.

Why Your Bird Is Twitching?

All kinds of pet birds are twitchy. (Nearly) all of the kinds of birds we keep as pets are preyed upon by other animals in nature.

Birds instinctively twitch to make sure they keep their entire surroundings under surveillance at all times so they won’t get caught by one of their predators.

Birds also twitch to remove old feathers when they are molting, and to communicate with each other. Here is a comprehensive list of reasons your bird may be twitchy.

  • Scouting out an escape route. Birds that sense a predator nearby twitch back and forth to find a path to escape capture.
  • Communicating with potential mates. Parrots, as well as doves and pigeons, twitch to make a fluttering sound with their wings that other birds recognize as a mating call. This twitch is known as aeroelastic flutter.
  • Twitching to relieve itching. When birds molt (shed their feathers) once or twice a year, the process exposes itchy, dry skin. Birds twitch because they cannot scratch.
  • Twitching to tell mama you’re hungry. Very young birds use twitching to signal their mothers that they think it is mealtime.
  • Head throw. Birds’ eyes are on the sides of their heads. They have a great vision to the side, but they do not necessarily see what is directly in front of them. Birds twitch their heads in a “head throw” motion to get a panoramic view of their surroundings.
  • Twitching because they are frightened or upset. Twitching is one of the signs a bird is upset. Angry, irritated, hungry, or threatened birds will also make unusual vocalizations you will recognize as upset sounds. They may also bite, scream, pick at their feathers, tap their toes, or swing their heads, adding to their twitchiness.

Twitching can be a symptom of epilepsy in some birds. When wings twitch frequently and persistently, it is a good time to take your bird to the vet.

Why Your Quaker Parrot Is Quaking

Quaker parrots weren’t named after the religious group in Pennsylvania or the oatmeal company.

Quaker parrots got their name from the fact that they “quake,” shaking and bobbing their heads in a way that seems unusual to anyone who isn’t familiar with their species.

Quaker parrots are the only birds that quake.

Quaker parrots don’t shiver. They quake to warm themselves after they take a bath.

They quake when they are young to get the attention of their mothers. When they are older, they quake to attract a potential mate.

What to Do About Shaking, Shivering, and Other Behavior Problems in Birds

Sometimes shaking, shivering, and other behavior problems are manageable without going to the vet, and without changing anything in your bird’s environment. 

Veterinarians tell us that birds are trainable with patient correction when problems arise.

Suppose your bird shakes, shivers, and calls out as soon as you walk through the door every day.

The last thing you want to do is to greet your bird enthusiastically. Instead, approach your bird’s cage slowly.

Train your bird to be patient. And when you get the sound you want—silence—reward your bird with a treat immediately.

Or maybe your bird shakes, shivers, and screams at the sight of some object, or some other pet, that it is afraid of.

The solution is not to remove the object or ban the pet from the room where you have the birdcage.

Instead, train your bird to associate good things, like food treats, with the presence of the object it finds scary.

Birds normalize their behaviors in response to environmental enrichment. They display fewer undesirable behaviors. They are less likely to have days when they are bored or combative.

How can you enrich your bird’s environment so there is less shaking, shivering, and other undesirable behavior?

  • Give your bird a fish buddy. Place its cage next to a fish tank.
  • Give your bird new toys about once a month.
  • Place a bird feeder outside the window so your pet bird can watch wild birds feeding. (But do not let your pet bird interact with wild birds. They can spread disease, and you could have a lot of trouble getting your bird back in its cage.)
  • Play peek-a-boo or hide and seek with your bird.
  • Make sure the bird has bath time regularly so it can burn off excess energy.

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