What is Eye Pinning?

Ger Bosma/Getty Images

The terms "eye pinning" and "eye flashing" both refer to a common behavioral display in pet parrot species. During this display, the bird will quickly expand and contract the pupils of its eyes.


There are many reasons for eye pinning, but it is best to remember that it is simply a response to a stimulus in her environment. It could indicate anger, excitement, curiosity, happiness or fear. The more you learn to observe your companion bird in her environment and try to link what she does in response to what is happening around her, the better you will get at understanding her behaviors. 

Birds are able to physically control the size of their irises. Usually, if the bird's posture is relaxed and yet the eyes are pinning or changing size, it probably means that it is curious or interested in something that she sees of something that is in her environment that is occurring and it interests her.

However, if there is a change in posture, or her feathers suddenly puff out, it might just be a sign of aggression due to fear, anger or overstimulation. The best way to read why your bird is pinning her eyes is to observe the environment and try to pinpoint what it is that is causing all of that pinning. It is the context of the environment that just might tip off the reason for the eye pinning behavior that is occurring. Just like learning body language in people, you can learn to read your bird's body language. ​

Understanding Behavior

Observation is key to understanding your bird's behavior and it is always understanding that particular bird and her particular normal reactions to certain stimuli. What may excite or scare one bird may not elicit any response at all in another. 

Birds, as a rule, can see quite well. It is probably their most acute sense. Most prey animals such as many birds have an acute vision that gives them an enormous range of sight which helps them survive in the wild. If they can see a threat coming, they have a chance to escape and fly away escaping the threat. Excellent vision is also important for their safety during flight.

A bird's eyes are relatively large compared to the rest of her body and this is part of the reason that they can see so well. The larger the video monitor so to speak, the better the vision and acuity. Owls have extremely large eyes due to their nocturnal life.

No Cause for Alarm

While eye pinning is a perfectly natural response to certain types of stimulation, it can look quite bizarre to those who are new to owning birds. If you notice your feathered friend pinning his eyes, please be assured that there is no cause for alarm. In fact, your pet may just be trying to communicate with you.

It's easy to think of eye pinning as a type of body language, but it's not always easy to identify just what the parrot is trying to say when he does it. Eye pinning behavior can be a sign of happiness, contentment, excitement, curiosity, or aggression. It is best to analyze any observations in conjunction with other physical clues the bird may exhibit, such as lunging, hissing, head-bobbing or feather ruffling.

In my experience, I've found that eye pinning usually means that the bird has seen or heard something that it is interested in. I often observe Oliver, my Indian Ringneck Parakeet, pinning his eyes when he is trying to learn how to say a new word.

The best way to understand what your bird means by flashing his eyes is to spend time with him and learn to read his body language.

In time, you may be able to use your bird's eye pinning behavior as a tool to gauge his or her mood which ultimately improves the quality of all of the interactions with your pet. Just remember that practice makes perfect. Give your pet plenty of love and attention, and he will provide you with endless opportunities to improve your understanding of avian behavior.

Edited By: Patricia Sund

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.