Did you know that the average human blinks between 15-20 times per minute?
That means we blink almost 29 000 times per day!
And though our blinks are quick, it also means that we spend up to 10% of our waking hours with our eyes closed!
As humans, we don’t really need to worry about the fact that our eyes are closed this often because we don’t have any predators to be concerned about.
But for a bird in the wild, a blink could be the difference between escaping a predator or becoming prey.
This leads us to the question – do parrots blink?
The answer to this question is yes, parrots do blink – but they don’t blink in the same way that humans do. As humans, we have two eyelids that move up and down to open and close our eyes. But birds actually have a third eyelid too. Their normal eyelids help to keep their eyes moist, while their third eyelid helps to keep out dust and debris.
Today we’ll dive deeper into the topic of parrot eyelids, learning about the purpose of eyelids, why we blink, and more about the difference between human and parrot eyelids.
So let’s not waste another minute!
What is the purpose of an eyelid?
Let’s start with the human facts – what is the purpose of our eyelids and how do they work?
Eyelids, as you probably already know, are the outer layer of skin that open and close over the eye.
When we’re sleeping, our eyelids are closed (although there are some people who sleep with their eyes open), and when we’re awake, our eyelids are open – for the most part.
The exception to this is when we blink. Blinking is an involuntary closing of the eyelid that lasts only fractions of a second.
We all blink, and there’s no way to prevent it.
But what is the purpose of an eyelid and why do we blink?
The main purpose of an eyelid is to protect our eyes from foreign bodies like dust particles and perspiration.
With that being said, the eyelid also helps to keep our eyes moist by regularly spreading tears on the surface.
How does it do this?
Each and every time we blink, a slight squeeze takes place that produces tears over the eyes.
This helps to keep our eyes from drying out.
In addition, blinking can also help to keep our eyes safe from things like UV rays and bright lights.
As we have already established, yes, parrots do blink.
With that being said, their eyelids aren’t quite the same as ours.
While humans only have two eyelids, parrots and other birds actually have three.
And it’s this eyelid that helps to lubricate and protect a parrots eyes.
In other words, parrots don’t use their upper and lower eyelids to blink in the same way that we do.
Rather, they blink using their third eyelid, or their nictitating membrane.
But nictitating membranes aren’t just found in birds – they’re also found in other species like reptiles, fish, and amphibians.
Surprisingly, there are even some mammals that have this third eyelid, including lemurs.
What’s the difference between our eyelids and the nictitating membrane?
The difference is that while our eyelids move up and down to blink, the nictitating membrane actually swipes horizontally across the eye – kind of like a windshield wiper.
And while our eyelids as humans are clearly visible, the nictitating membrane is translucent and difficult to see.
What’s the purpose of a nictitating membrane?
The nictitating membrane is often referred to by scientists as “nature’s goggles”.
It does all of the things that regular eyelids do, but without causing the parrot to lose sight.
In other words, parrots can blink to keep dust and debris out, and can moisturize their eyes without ever actually closing them.
The evolutionary purpose of this membrane is twofold.
Firstly, it helps to protect parrots when they are flying.
Not only does it help to protect their eyes from the wind when they are flying at quick speeds, but it also allows them to keep their eye on quick flying insects that they are trying to make into a meal.
The other evolutionary purpose of the nictitating membrane, as we discussed a little earlier, is that it allows parrots to be constantly on guard.
In a world where parrots are often considered prey, it’s important that they are constantly on the lookout.
One blink and a parrot could become another animal’s meal.
The nictitating membrane allows the parrot to go about their daily tasks, without ever losing their vision – even for a fraction of a second.
The blinking game is a game that you can play with your parrots!
It’s an especially good game to play with parrots that are shy, timid, or nervous because you can interact with them without actually having to touch them.
The blinking game can also be used as a way of getting to know a new parrot, or creating a bond between the two of you.
Here’s how it works:
Walk up to your bird (if they are nervous, don’t get any closer than they are comfortable) and look them directly in the eye.
Then, very slowly, blink at your bird.
They will blink back at you!
Mind you, you might not be able to see them blink unless you are looking very closely (remember their third eyelid is invisible), but most parrots will play this game for several minutes at a time.
Most parrots love eye contact and this will show them that you come in peace and have no intent on hurting them.
It also shows your parrot that you trust them too, as keeping your eyes closed for any extended period of time is a demonstration of trust.
Parrots tell us a lot through their body language – blinking included.
Unfortunately, understanding what your parrot means when they blink at you really comes down to knowing your parrot on a deeper level.
Why? Because blinking can mean a great deal of things.
In some instances it can mean they are interested in what you are doing, and in others it can mean they love and trust you.
Other instances still can mean they are bored or that they are afraid.
Because blinking can mean so many different things, it’s important that you pay attention to other body language that goes along with the blinking.
The more time you spend bonding and getting to know your parrot’s personality, the better able you will be to determine what their blinking behavior means in any given circumstance.
If your parrot seems to be displaying signs of increased blinking, you may want to take them to a veterinarian.
While not always the case, increased blinking can be a sign that something is wrong.
Common eye problems in parrots include, but are not limited to, Mycobacteriosis, Psittacosis, Salmonellosis, Vitamin A deficiency, Conjunctivitis, Mites, and Sinusitis.
If your parrot is visibly blinking more than usual, make an appointment with the veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out any of the above causes.
In conclusion, yes, parrots do blink, but rather than blinking in the same manner that we do, they use a third eyelid called a nictitating membrane.
Known as “nature’s goggles”, this membrane helps to protect and lubricate a parrot’s eyes while at the same time allowing them to be on the lookout at all times – a trait that definitely comes in handy in the animal kingdom.