There is a longstanding myth that parrots should not be allowed on our shoulders or heads; and that allowing them on our heads is detrimental to our relationship with our feathered companions.
This stems from the belief in a concept called ‘Height Dominance’.
Height dominance relates to the idea that a parrot is seeking to get on top of our heads or onto our shoulders to show dominance over us, and is a territorial behaviour. One can understand where the belief may have originated, with parrots lashing out on the head and us anthropomorphising their behaviours.
However, with further study and understanding of how parrots behave, this concept is becoming increasingly debunked and proven to be incorrect. Parrots do not have a traditional hierarchy in their social groups as may be observed in groups of mammals or other creatures. They act as a flock and a cooperative entity to ensure their survival. While there may be squabbles between flock mates, and parrots in the group may be more or less pushy in their interactions, the traditional dominance structure just isn’t present.
Bringing this back to our original topic, when a parrot wants to be on our heads or shoulders there is usually a clear reason, and that reason is NOT to gain dominance over us.
Parrots will generally gravitate towards the highest place possible, especially when feeling a little nervous or uncertain. This will often be the head or shoulder, as they are both stable and high up. They also provide great vantage points, and if a parrot is unsure of hands, it’s also a difficult place to be removed from.
Some parrots will also enjoy being closer to our faces. They feel more comfortable in proximity to our heads or on our shoulders and it can provide a sense of safety and security. Conures are a great example of this, as they will often cuddle up to our necks or sit on our heads fluffed up.
As a generality, allowing our parrots on our heads and shoulders is perfectly fine. But, there are certain circumstances where it is not advisable.
When you first bring a parrot home, keeping them off of the head is useful so you can observe them and establish good habits such as a consistent step up and avoid accidentally creating the problem of shoulder rushing.
It is also advisable to keep a parrot off the head if they are showing signs of aggression or hormonal behaviour as it may make the behaviour worse. It can also be difficult to remove a parrot in these circumstances as they may lash out or be difficult to control.
If you intend to let your parrot regularly sit on your head and shoulders you need to ensure a few factors are covered first.
Your parrot needs to have a consistent step up and be target trained. This will allow you to remove your parrot from your head or shoulder if they begin chewing or biting things they shouldn’t be, or need to be removed because they need to go back to their cage.
It’s also important to observe their behaviour when on the shoulder and especially the head. If your parrot begins showing signs of hormonal behaviour or aggression when on the head or shoulders, then it’s advisable to remove them from there and keep them off for a while until hormone season ends or their behaviour becomes more consistent and calm.
The head especially, with lots of hair can make a very tempting nest and letting them sit up there can lead to an increase in hormonal behaviour in some birds. However, for others it just makes a very comfortable vantage point and it frees up your hands to work while your parrot observes the world from up high.
Whatever you decide to do with regards to allowing your parrot on your head, be mindful of ensuring they are properly trained, that the head isn’t over stimulating and you keep an eye on their behaviour. In some situations it certainly is best not to let your parrot up there, but them trying to dominate us is definitely not a factor worth considering.
Hopefully this article proved education and useful! If you’re having problems with any of the issues mentioned in this article or need advice on any aspect of parrot care, send us an email to see how we can help through a bespoke and affordable consultation!