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Why Do Birds Puff Up Their Feathers? 9 Reasons for this Behavior

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hawk bird perched on a tree in the forest

Birds are unique creatures with many unusual habits, including puffing up. There are many reasons behind this behavior, so we wanted to dive into the topic further. This habit could be a bird’s way of staying warm. It could also indicate that the bird is sleepy or angry.

In this article, you’ll be able to see what the behavior means and why birds puff up their feathers.

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The 9 Reasons Birds Puff Up Their Feathers

1. Puffing up to regulate body temperature

Birds will frequently puff up their feathers if they’re cold since they need a way to stay warm during wintertime. This is a way of regulating their body temperature, and many birds also spread their wings when puffing up. When birds puff up their feathers, they can trap air to hold their body heat. Feathers are waterproof and provide insulation, which is convenient during colder months. Many wild birds will also look for places to hide during winter, and they may roost together to be warmer.

bird perched on a tree during winter
Image Credit: Gerrit Lammers, Shutterstock

2. Puffing up to cool down

The same way birds puff up their feathers to be warmer, they also do the same thing to cool down. When they need to cool down, birds try to eliminate air pockets instead of trapping warm air. This way, they release excess body heat and therefore feel cooler.

3. Puffing up to prep for sleep

Many birds will puff up their feathers as a sign of sleepiness. If you notice a bird puffing up while its eyes are closed, that could indicate the bird is preparing for a nap. When birds feel relaxed, they will likely puff up, and they can also do this to blow off steam when nervous or anxious.

Allens hummingbird
Image Credit: ArtTower, Pixabay

4. Puffing up to appear larger

Wild birds are in constant danger from predators and large animals, so they need a defense mechanism. Puffing their feathers can be a bird’s way to appear larger and scare off competitors and other animals.

Some birds also puff up their feathers to appear larger so that they can attract a mate. The males try to look bigger to encourage females to mate with them.

5. Puffing up to soak up the sun

When birds puff their feathers under sunlight, that means they are sunbathing. Birds commonly do this in the morning, and they soak up the first rays of the sun to improve their insulation. By doing this, birds keep a warm body temperature without spending energy from food.

Generally, birds keep their body temperature low during the night, so they need sun in the morning to warm up.

blue waxbill bird perching
Image Credit: Dave Montreuil, Shutterstock

6. Puffing up to calm down and show affection

Like humans, birds can get anxious, nervous, or upset, so they need to calm down and blow off some steam. Puffing up their feathers helps birds to feel calmer when they’re upset. This behavior can also mean that the bird is happy or excited.

If you have a pet bird, and you notice it’s puffing up when you’re near, it’s likely a sign of affection and devotion. Also, it could indicate that the bird needs interaction and that it would like to spend time with you.

7. Puffing up due to illness

Another reason in regards to why birds puff up their feathers can be a sign of illness. Birds that are not feeling well will sit for long periods of time with their feathers puffed up. For example, when parrots are sick, they are often puffed up and sit on just one foot.

8. Puffing up to show anger

When a bird feels angry or threatened, it will likely puff up its feathers in a way where the feathers stick out. Puffing up looks threatening to other birds and predators, so this tactic usually drives the intruders away. This tactic frequently includes hissing, opening their beaks, or showing body language ready for battle. 

Birds with crests will often raise them when puffing up the feathers to appear even bigger and scare potential enemies.

Image Credit: Blik Sergey, Shutterstock


9. Puffing up after preening

Another common reason why birds puff their feathers is an after-preening puff. When birds are bathing or preening, puffing up their feathers helps them shake off excess dirt and water. It will also help birds to reach the soft feathers underneath when bathing.

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As you can see, there are various reasons why birds puff up their feathers. You should easily recognize the behavior and figure out which one of the reasons is behind your bird puffing up. As long as it’s not sickness, puffing up won’t harm your bird, and this habit can be highly beneficial for birds in certain situations.

Featured Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.