The Screaming Parrot

   Since this question is asked of me several times a week, I decided to save some time and put it permanently on the website instead of typing it over and over again.
   Before we can begin to fix a parrot's screams (and by screams I mean ear piercing shrieking, not normal bird jabber), we must understand why the bird is screaming.

Why does your parrot scream?
   Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in bird ownership is people treating their bird the same way they would their dog or cat. While there are a few similarities, parrots are definitely very different from domesticated animals and must be treated that way. The following is a brief list of possible reasons why a parrot screams:
  • It isn't handled enough. A bird that is used to being handled, and then suddenly has a dropoff in daily play time will become quite upset. This usually happens when someone first gets a bird. They want to play with it all the time, but after a few weeks, the novelty has worn off, and the bird gets to spend a lot more time in the cage. Parrots don't like that. They need the same amount of time outside their cage daily.
  • It is outside its cage all day. Allowing a bird to be out of its cage constantly (on a playgym, your shoulder, etc.) is generally a bad idea. They get used to being outside all the time, and don't like being put back inside. Eventually, it will escalate to the point where the bird shrieks whether it is inside or out of its cage. We call this the "spoiled bird" syndrome.
  • The bird is bored. Yes, parrots can get bored. Sometimes they will voice their boredom.
  • Something is wrong. This is usually a different sounding scream, when the bird gets caught on something or has otherwise injured itself. They will also be very vocal if their food bowl is empty. Sometimes they will "call" to their owner, just to see where they are.

   This is by no means a complete list. These are just the most common problems I am asked about for the screaming problem.

How to combat screaming.
   It is much, much easier to prevent it in the first place. Reteaching your bird that screaming is unacceptable will take a lot of time, patience, and earplugs on your part, as well as anybody that lives with you or next to you.
   First, you must ignore the bird whenever it screams. Don't react in any way (unless it is a panicked, something is wrong scream). This means don't look at the bird, don't leave the room, don't do anything that suggests you even are aware there is a bird in the room. Any type of reaction from you is a reward for the bird.
   Limit your playtime. If the bird is used to being out constantly, then only play with it for 30-60 minutes a day, 15-30 minutes each time. If your bird doesn't usually get much attention, then you need to play with it for an hour a day, 30 minutes each time. You should always spend time everyday with your bird, that is what keeps them tame (please see the article on biting for more info). Do not pick up the bird if it is screaming. Again, that is considered a reward. Instead, wait for the bird to become quiet, then you may interact with it. Tell it how good and pretty it is when it is quiet. Give it a few treats.
   Make the cage as inviting as possible. This means more toys. You should always have more toys than the cage can hold; you should rotate toys every few weeks. You don't have to remove *all* the toys, all at once. It's usually better if you don't, in case they have a favorite. But continually rotating them in and out will help keep your bird entertained. Some of the best toys are ones they can destroy (leather, wood), cotton toys (rope perches, bird pacifiers), and bird puzzles. The bird puzzles are usually more expensive, but require the bird to use a thought process to figure out how to get the treat from the toy, and thus well worth it. An occupied bird is a happy bird!

What NOT to do!
  • Cover the cage. This isn't a punishment the bird will understand. Again, they aren't like cats and dogs. They learn best from positive reinforcement.
  • Put the bird back when it's bad. By the time you've gotten to the cage, the bird's forgotten what it did. So putting it back serves no purpose.
  • Throw things at the bird/cage. Do I really need to explain this one? If you want a bird that will never trust you again, this is one sure way to it.
  • Yell at the bird. Oh, what a fun game! If I scream really loud, mommy and daddy will scream right back! What a terrific racket we can make! I like noise.
  • Give the bird a treat. That does seem to make them quiet, since they've got to eat the food. But you've just rewarded it for being bad. Don't think the bird realizes that? Think again.

In Conclusion
   Parrots are noisy. They like to make noise. Sometimes, they will exercise their vocals to their fullest extent just to exude the joy of being alive. This is different from constant, behavioral screaming, but sometimes new owners are unable to tell the difference. And usually, that's the part that the breeder or pet store "neglected" to mention.
   It may take weeks to several months to rid yourself of the habit of shrieking, but the end results are much worth it!