Parrot Screaming

My Parrot is Screaming!

Excessive vocalization is one of the most common complaints parrot guardians have.  Unfortunately for our ears (and our neighbors!), even happy, healthy parrots can be very loud.  Screaming seems to be self-reinforcing for pet parrots.  Wondering whether the level of bird noise in your household is normal or not, and how to modify it?  Here is a quick, but by no means comprehensive, outline:

Normal vocalizations:

  • Commonly heard around dawn and dusk, or at a certain time of day for usually about 20 minutes or so.
  • Contact calls are loud, repetitive calls with a pause in between, as though the bird is listening for a response. They’re naturally used by parrots to locate flock members who may be miles away.  It’s generally advisable to call or whistle back to your parrot to reassure him that you’re OK.
  • Screaming can be a common response to fearful stimuli; an alarm call generally sounds very different from other calls.  Remove what is scaring the bird or contact me to get help with desensitization and counter conditioning.
  • Vocalizations commonly escalate when the ambient noise in the room escalates; birdie see, birdie do!  Turn down the television or whisper when you’re talking, and the bird may become quieter, too.

Abnormal vocalizations (these require behavioral intervention ASAP):

  • Boredom screaming can be repetitive, mindless, unending calls over a long period of time – this type of behavior is called a stereotypy, and is similar to dogs barking mindlessly in the backyard all day
  • Fear and separation anxiety: screams can be desperate-sounding, perhaps prompted by you leaving the room (more severe than a contact call)
  • Attention seeking screaming often accompanied by body language that reveals this screaming for what it is.  Often accidentally reinforced by the humans, by telling the bird to shut up!

To make the overall noise level of a healthy, well adjusted parrot go down:

  • Make sure your bird is healthy and is having its needs met by visiting your avian veterinarian. Ill birds or those who need something (ex. A better diet, more stimulation, training) may exhibit more excessive vocalization. There’s no point in trying to correct a medical or husbandry problem with behavioral intervention.
  • Reward/reinforce, with a tiny treat, toy, or attention, good vocalizations (which in this case is anything and everything that doesn’t hurt your ears) – these should increase over days or weeks, gradually taking the place of unwanted vocalizations.
  • Do NOT punish your bird for screaming.  This can make screaming worse – especially if it is anxiety-based – not to mention break the trust your little prey-animal friend has in you.
  • Increase enrichment activities: foraging for hidden food and special toys, “field trips” outside in a harness or carrier, interactive play, destructible toys, showers or baths, physical exercise on a playgym, etc.
  • Start some trick training: even teaching silly tricks gives your bird something to focus on that has nothing to do with screaming, reinforces your parrot for appropriate behavior, and teaches appropriate attention-seeking methods.  It also provides enrichment.  Besides, who wants to tick off the person with the treats?
  • Make sure your bird is getting a good 12 hours of dark, quiet, uninterrupted sleep per night.  Many species live near the equator, where this is naturally what they would get.  Inadequate sleep is a very good way to create an irritable, frustrated, immune-compromised bird.
  • Seek professional assistance!  Even the best tennis player in the world has a coach; there is no shame in asking for help.

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