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.
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!