Q: My cockatiel yawns a lot. Is that normal?
– Coralynn F., Bedford, Ma
A: Yawning is a bit of a mystery. The reasons for it are not really fully understood, but there are some plausible theories as to why we yawn.
You may have noticed that yawning generally takes place during periods of inactivity. One theory suggests that fatigue causes breathing to slow and yawning increases our oxygen intake.
Another theory says that yawning expands the lungs and causes them to flex, similar to the way we stretch our arms and legs when we are sleepy. It often makes us more alert.
There are some other, more complicated theories, but no one can offer a finite answer to the questions surrounding yawning. And none of these theories can explain the contagious nature of a yawn, something to which birds are not immune. My cockatiels often set off a sequence of yawning that travels throughout the flock and sometimes ends with me. Again, without explanation.
With birds, though, there are other possibilities for the “yawn” that you should be aware of. If you notice repeated yawning in your bird, it is probable that something is trapped in the mouth or the back of the throat. These are not really yawns so much as an effort to dislodge something with the repeated opening and closing of the mouth.
Unless you suspect your bird has swallowed an object, it isn’t anything to worry about – your bird is not suffocating. I have found that a drink of water will usually fix everything right up.
Yawning, and actions that appear like yawning, are all perfectly normal behaviors in parrots.