Why Does My Parrot Scream?

Rebecca Margison

Noise levels and screaming are common reasons for birds becoming homeless. Parrots are very vocal animals; yet many people try very hard to force their birds to be quiet. We must accept a certain level of noise if we have birds in our homes - but there are things we can do to control the noise.

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Birds use vocalizations as a means of communication. In the wild, birds live in flocks. The flock is a very safe place for a bird to be. It provides protection from predators, a chance to socialize, help with finding food and a safe place to nest. When we have birds in our homes, we become the bird's flock. Parrots will try to communicate with us just as they would communicate with their wild flock. The problem is that we don't speak "parrot."

Contact calls are one of the most common forms of vocalization. When parrots get separated in the wild, they will call out in an attempt to locate their flock. Other birds in the flock will call back, helping the lost bird to find his way home. In captivity, birds often feel abandoned by their human flock when we leave for work or for school, or even to go into another room. The parrot calls out, and if we don't answer them, its calls will get louder and more persistent. As a bird's call gets louder, it turns into a scream which is usually when we humans come running, asking "my goodness, what is the matter?" The bird learns that she must scream very loudly to be reunited with her flock. In order to ease her separation anxiety, we can develop our own contact call with the bird. A simple whistle or phrase, such as "I'll be right back!" or "I'm right here!" can work if used consistently. When your bird first begins to call for you, simply use the contact call. If used consistently, the bird can eventually learn that your call means that you will be coming back. Of course, we can also make an attempt to bring the bird with us when we are in different rooms in our homes. Having perches throughout your house can make this easy.

Birds can also make lots of noise for other reasons. Boredom, illness, injury, lack of exercise, or simply as an expression of joy are all reasons for vocalizations in parrots. If birds are left alone too often or for too long, they can start to scream because they have nothing else to do, and because it usually gets a human in the room to pay attention to them. Birds need a stimulating environment if they must be left alone for any period of time. A nice variety of toys and food will keep a bird occupied if she is accustomed to having to entertain herself. Parrots need to be out of their cages for at least 3-4 hours a day. By allowing your bird to exercise (by flying or by flapping vigorously), your bird will be able to expend some of the energy that may be making her nervous. This time should also be used to interact with your bird if she doesn't have another bird that she is bonded closely to. Birds need social interaction to remain happy. Birds that are ill may vocalize more, but it is more likely that they will vocalize less. You need to be aware of your bird's habits and call the vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary. An injured bird will usually scream in pain. Any sudden screaming should be investigated. Birds will also scream if frightened. Birds are prey animals and can be fearful of other animals both in the home and outside it -- such as hawks seen out of a window.

All birds will vocalize at some point in the day. Most parrots have a routine of vocalizing during the morning and late afternoon, as they would in the wild. All birds should be allowed this freedom to express themselves. Your bird is simply happy to be alive! Birds may also reflect the general noise level in your home. Loud children, dogs, televisions, stereos, vacuums, etc. can all cause parrots to make lots of noise. Lowering the general noise level in your home should make your birds a bit quieter.

Quick fixes often don't work in the long run to control screaming. Birds will naturally quiet down when it is dark, so many people think that covering the cage or placing the bird in a dark room, closet, or garage will keep them quiet. This will certainly work, but is it humane to keep your bird locked away simply for doing what comes naturally? The health and mental stability of a parrot will deteriorate if subjected to this kind of treatment. Many people will inadvertently reward the bird for screaming by screaming back. Birds love drama, and the noise will only get worse if your parrot thinks you will be taking part in a screaming match. Hitting the cage, throwing things at the cage, or hitting your bird are highly unethical and could result in permanent physical and mental damage to the bird. Once your bird loses trust in you, your relationship will be hard to repair.

Vocalizations, including some screaming, is normal for parrots and should be expected. If you, your family members or neighbors will not be able to tolerate noise, do not get a parrot. If you are dealing with a bird that screams incessantly and you are at your wit's end, please contact a reputable avian behaviorist. It's important to work hard at your relationship with your bird so that she may be able to keep her home for many years to come.