Screaming Behavior in Pet Birds

Screaming is the second most common problem noted by parrot owners.  Normal parrot vocalizations include alarm calls and contact calls.  Alarm calls occur when the parrot is feeling as if it is in danger or distress.  Contact calls are vocalizations used to identify where other members of the bird’s flock are at any given time.  Both of these types of calls are normal.  It is also normal for some parrot species to call and scream for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, especially in the morning, and may be a way that wild parrots tell other parrots from another flock to stay away.  When a parrot begins to repeatedly vocalize for prolonged periods of time this is considered to be abnormal and may indicate stress or boredom.  Studies on parrot behavior have shown that one cause of problematic screaming may be a lack of physical interaction between social partners (i.e., other birds or its human companions).

The reaction of the people in the household can greatly influence a screaming bird.  If you pick the bird up, scold it, or give it a treat to be quiet, you are actually reinforcing the unwanted screaming.  If you want to stop the screaming, everyone in the household must know that these things actually reward the screaming bird so the screaming will continue.  If you want it to stop, everyone has to ignore the screamer and only reward the bird when it has settled down and become quiet.

It is a good idea to keep a log for two weeks of the parrot’s behavior and screaming episodes.   Document the time of day the screaming most often occurs, what activities are going on in the house while the bird is screaming, what the parrot is doing while screaming, the time between feeding and screaming, and what are the reactions of the humans to the screaming.  Patterns of behavior may be detected from a detailed log that can help better guide training and behavior modification.  As with any training, modifying a parrot’s behavior to decrease screaming requires commitment and lots of patience.

Some quick tips

If the screaming begins when you are in the same room as the parrot, your attention should immediately be directed away from the bird until the bird calms down and stops screaming, at which point you should reward the bird for its calm behavior with praises or reward the bird with its favorite treat.

If your parrot begings screaming while you are not in the same room, you should wait until the bird quiets down.  Once the bird has stopped screaming or when it is producing an acceptable level of noise, you should go into the room to reward the bird.

If your bird’s screaming is elicited by visitors to the house several things should be done prior to the visit: withhold food 4-6 hours prior to the visitors arriving, encourage exercising such as flapping, move the bird to a night cage in a separate room, and feed the bird and hide treats around the cage to keep the bird occupied.

Unfortunately, many parrots can take quite some time to lose a bad behavior like screaming.  Patience, consistency of action in response to the screaming, and cooperation of everyone in the house is needed to achieve success.  In many cases, additional behavioral management may be needed and veterinary attention is needed.