As I was bird watching the other day I noticed how birds are constantly moving their head around.
This got me thinking why would they do this movement rather than just move their eyes?
Leading to the inevitable question – can birds move their eyes, resulting in me researching specifically whether parrots can move their eyes.
So I thought I would bring my findings for your attention here.
So without further ado … can parrots move their eyes?
Yes, parrots can move their eyes! They don’t have the same range of eye movement that most mammals do but they can make limited movements. They often move their head continually to compensate for their limited eye movement.
Well there you go!
However, there is much more to this question such as why have they evolved like this.
And how useful is moving your eyes anyway?
Let’s dive in.
Why can’t parrots move their eyes as much as most mammals?
Simply put their eye is not spherical as the flat shape allows more of the visual field to be in focus.
There is a circle of bony plates called the sclerotic ring around the eye which holds it in place.
This is closer to a reptilian eye than a mammal’s, however, they do have improvements on the reptilian eye as the lens is pushed further forward in a bird’s eye.
This increases the image size on the retina.
Due to the size and shape of the eye, the movement is limited.
Normally birds have large eyes relative to their face.
Parrots have eyes either side of their face allowing for a wide field of vision which is useful for detecting predators, normally about 300 degrees.
How can birds see without moving their eyes?
This is all to do with evolution!
They can resolve rapid eye movement quickly allowing them to see things moving at a higher speed than humans can.
On top of this they can also detect slow moving objects that are imperceptible to us, allowing for migration as it helps to orient them.
To allow for steady images when flying or perched on a moving branch, birds hold their heads as possible.
Birds of prey particularly need this steady image, they often will spiral when attacking prey rather than moving their head to stay aerodynamic.
What should a healthy parrot’s eyes look like?
Bright, clear eyes are a good sign your parrot is healthy, open eyelids and no discharge surrounding them is also an indicator they are in good condition.
You can get a good look by holding your parrot’s head steady, if something is caught in their eye get someone to help you hold them and gently look for swelling or redness around the eye.
Compared both eyes and check for anything unusual.
Does lack of movement mean parrots have bad eyesight?
No, in fact the eyesight of parrots is quite the opposite.
They see nearly 300 degrees without moving their head and are either “tetrachromatic” or “pentachromatic” depending on which species of parrot you have.
This means birds can detect ultraviolet light and fluorescent light on top of the blue, red, and green that we can see so they can see more colors than humans.
This allows them to recognise their flock easier when in the wild.
Parrots are also known to move their head 180 degrees or move it sideways to focus on one object.
This allows them to take advantage of their lateral vision and really study whatever has captured their attention.
What should I do if there is something in my parrot’s eye?
Depending what it is you might be able to remove foreign objects from their eye.
Sometimes seed husks can become lodged which can be very painful for your parrot.
Flush the eye out with some sterile saline solution or eye wash, it is possible to use sterile water if the former are unavailable.
Boil some water and let it cool completely before putting it into a syringe and rinsing the eye.
Gently open and close the eyelids to free the object and move it toward the corner of their eye.
As soon as you can see it use a moist cotton ball to wipe it away, taking care not to scratch your parrot’s eye.
If this is not possible or there is discharge around the eye take your pet to the vets immediately.
Are there known parrot eye issues?
There are a few commonly found eye problems that can occur.
They are as follows;
Vitamin A Deficiency
This is unfortunately very common in parrots and affects birds of all sizes and species.
The predominant symptom of this is a swelling around the eyes known as a periorbital abscess.
You might notice mouth accesses, tail-bobbing, diarrhea, and lack of appetite as symptoms of this too.
A major issue with this illness is infections of the eyes and respiratory system.
This is highly preventable and treatable by upping the Vitamin A intake of your parrot and treating any infections.
Also known as chlamydiosis or parrot fever, this illness can cause discharge around the mouth and nose.
It can result in breathing difficulties, lack of appetite, and depression.
You should isolate the bird from others in the house and speak to your vet as soon as possible.
An alternative name for this is avian tuberculosis, it is a bacterial infection that unfortunately is hard to treat and oftentimes is fatal.
Symptoms to watch for this one are weight loss and diarrhea, although it can cause masses to develop near the eyes.
This illness can be passed to humans so always wear rubber gloves when interacting with an infected parrot.
This infection is related to salmonella bacteria, it is mainly an infection of the gut but may result in swollen eyelids or conjunctivitis.
Once again you should speak to your vet to acquire the correct antibiotics.
What is eye pinning in parrots?
This is a neat trick that humans are unable to do as we cannot willingly constrict or dilate our pupils.
Parrots are able to rapidly do so as they have pupillary light reflexes, this means when your bird is excited or angry they may “pin” their pupils, constricting them visibly.
This is also known as eye flashing.
So there you have it, parrots can move their eyes but only slightly due to the shape and size.
This helpfully does not hinder their ability to see, in fact they see better than we do.
With their bright colored feathers, their senses focus on the light spectrum and excellent focus rather than the ability to dart their eyes around.
Keep an eye on your parrot’s eyes, no pun intended, and make sure they are healthy and happy and they won’t need to worry about whether or not they can move their eye.