As Sick as a Parrot

I have been writing about various idioms on my writing blog. Some of these relate to birds in some way. Today I discuss an idiom I don’t ever recall hearing before.

This week’s idiom: “As sick as a parrot.”

It may seem strange but this is one idiom I don’t think I’ve ever come across before reading it in a book of idioms. “As sick as a dog” I am familiar with but that has a different meaning. To be as sick as a dog is to be very sick.


To be as sick as a parrot is to be very disappointed or depressed.


This saying may have several origins. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries people were said to be as “melancholy as a (sick) parrot.” In thinking about this, I have a theory. Parrots are fairly uncommon in Europe. Some early collectors of birds would have returned to chilly Europe, a climate quite unsuitable for tropical parrots, for example. Naturally the parrots would not have been happy on two or three counts, the cold climate, being in captivity and most likely alone. Can one blame them for being ‘melancholy’ and even becoming sick?

Another origin could have been in relation to a disease called psittacosis, or parrot fever, a common illness in cage birds. This disease is transferrable to humans. Since the 1970s this has been something of a problem for aviculturalists.

A third possible origin relates to its common usage in a sporting context. It has been suggested that this phrase was coined by an imaginative footballer describing his utter despair at losing an important game.


I was as sick as a parrot when my team lost the Grand Final.


I have included below a photo of a very healthy parrot, a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, a common species here in South Australia and one kept world wide as a pet. This one was very much active and healthy and in the company of a small group of other parrots. It did not look at all melancholy for it was investigating hollows in this tree with the aim of nesting.

Disclaimer: no parrots were hurt or became sick in the making of this article.

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo


14 Responses to “As Sick as a Parrot”

  1. Hey,

    I believe that the phrase sick as a parrot comes from the parrot that the tottenham hotspur team brought back from their tour of uruguay and paraguay.

    years later hotspurs got relegated and bitter rivals arsenal got promoted and on the very day, the parrot at tottenham hotspur dies.

    hence..sick as a parrot

  2. Trevor says:

    Thanks for your contribution to this discussion Barton. Your suggestion may well be the origin of the phrase. Thanks for visiting m blog and leaving a comment.

  3. Tom says:

    I agree with Barton’s comment. In 1909, the Tottenham Hotspur team toured Uruguay and Paraguay. On the voyage back home they were gifted the ship’s parrot by the captain of the vessel. The parrot lived happily at the club for 11 years until it keeled over and died in 1919 on the very day Spurs were relegated from Division 1 and Arsenal promoted in their place.

  4. Paul says:

    astonished to find the internet confirm the assertions of my friend, a shameless Spurs supporter. But it is fitting that the phrase should have a Spurs origin as over the years they have had so many reasons to employ it. One recent example: I was sick as a parrot when we sold Dmitar Berbatov.

  5. Trevor says:

    Thanks for visiting Paul, and for adding to the conversation.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Hi, I was just looking for the origins of this expression after making a little quiz for my readers, and your post was number one on Google – well done! ‘Sick as a dog’ is also said in French (malade comme un chien), but only refers to physical illness.
    I don’t know much about parrots, but I understand that they normally mate for life, and so can literally die of heartbreak if separated from each other – is this true? If it is, then ‘sick as parrot’ meaning extreme disappointment, rather than physical illness, is quite appropriate.

  7. Trevor says:

    Thanks Jonathon.

    Many Australian parrots do mate for life, and as you say, separation can cause extreme stress and even death.

    An example is the Galah and the Corella. These common species will feed on grain (eg wheat) spilled on the sides of roads from farmers’ trucks transporting their crops to silos.

    The parrots are frequent victims of road kills. If one is killed its partner will stay with the body and invariably also becomes the next road kill victim. Sadly all too common on our rural roads.

  8. Owen says:

    The phrase originated on March 22, 1978, moments after Liverpool had been beaten by Nottingham Forest in the replayed League Cup Final at Old Trafford, Thompson told millions of bemused TV viewers: “I’m as sick as a parrot.”

  9. JB says:

    One theory that I heard on the radio once is that “I’m as sick as a parrot” isn’t the original idiom in its entirety.

    The original was along the lines of “I’m as sick as a parrot with a rubber beak” or perhaps a wooden one. And the phrase has been shortened as happens a lot in language.

  10. sarah says:

    I was pondering this, and I could be completely wrong, but as someone who has a very happy pet parrot, parrots are rarely ‘sick’ sick….but when they love another bird, or a human, as my parrot does they regurgitate to show they would be a ‘good provider’ when the mate has eggs.

    My parrot daily will bob his head up and down and be sick onto my hand…it’s pretty gross lol, but in parrot language regurgitating is the most affectionate behaviour a parrot can show a person. It means true love 🙂

  11. Trevor says:

    Hi there Sarah,

    Thanks for your comments. You are lucky to have a healthy parrot – you must be looking after it wisely.

    Many parrot species do have a variety of serious illness that they are prone to, especially in captivity where diseases can be easily spread. This is not likely to happen to a single bird like yours, of course.

    The point of this article was the idiomatic saying. The origins of some of our idioms are often debatable, but their meanings can be quite clear. It’s all part of our wonderful, colourful language.

  12. Robert says:

    I remember people at school in the UK in the 1970’s using the phrase: ‘sick as a parrot with beak ache’, which I have always assumed to be the origin of the shorter expression, though I can’t find other references to support this theory.

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