Idiom #15 As sick as a parrot

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


2 Responses to “Idiom #15 As sick as a parrot”

  1. Rick Cockrum says:

    I’ve never heard this expression, either.

    Most people around here that I’ve seen with cockatoos must have one of the sulpher-crested. Your image is similar to most of the ones I’ve seen.

  2. Trevor says:

    They do make wonderful pets I believe (I’ve never had one) but the occasional one can be a bit of a rogue. That beak is used to tear away at bark and wood to make a nesting hollow bigger. When a bird practises on a finger the result is rather painful.

    In some parts of Australia this species has become something of a pest. Where there is an abudance of food these cockatoos become bored easily. Some flocks have taken a liking to any exposed parts of houses and other human structures made of timber. They can be very destructive.