Many parrot owners are concerned about their pet's diet, cage and toys. However, a proper amount of sleep is also an integral part of keeping your pet bird happy and healthy. People often confuse avian sleep with circadian rhythm management. In this post, I’ll discuss bird sleep needs, bird sleep habits, and circadian rhythms in our pet birds.
Avian vets agree that most pet birds need between 10-12 hours of uninterrupted darkness nightly. Making sure that your bird gets an adequate amount of sleep will make for a friendlier, happier, healthier pet.
"Parrots of the World" author Fern Van Sant, DVM is a helpful resource for determining the amount of sleep each particular species needs each night. Van Sant references the proximity of a particular species habitat to the equator making it possible to determine how many hours of daylight and sleep the bird needs.
Van Sant identifies that birds are particularly sensitive to photo-periods. In the wild, a difference of just a few minutes can trigger a hormonal response. Regulating the daily rhythms of your pet bird's schedule will require planning and a few bird sleep supplies.
Don Harris, DVM, an avian veterinarian in Florida says. “The further away their home range is from the equator, the more seasonal changes are going to be significant.” (https://www.exoticdirect.co.uk/news/parrots-and-sleeping). In other words, a bird that lives in a northern climate or a southern climate, with seasonal variations in the length of daylight hours versus nighttime hours, will need more sleep accommodations.
Some parrot species from New Zealand and Australia may need sleep cycles adjusted to accommodate the usual photoperiods of these extreme southern hemisphere areas. They may need 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness in the winter months and 14 hours of light and 10 hours of darkness in the summer.
Parrots are nighttime sleepers as opposed to a bird like an owl that is a daytime sleeper. This is called a diurnal sleep pattern. Diurnal sleepers find a perch to roost on at dusk.
A fit diurnal sleeper has a vice-like grip on the perch at night. Our less fit pet birds may have weaker foot muscles and be unable to tightly grip the perch at night. You can help to strengthen your bird’s foot muscles by offering your bird a variety of perch sizes to climb on and perch on at all times.
Bird’s have adapted their sleep to have unihemispheric slow-wave sleep as opposed to our REM sleep cycles.
In other words, half of the bird brain is alert for predators at night. Some birds even sleep with one eye open.
With excellent hearing and vision, birds are easily awakened when we open and close doors at night. The lights and sounds from the TV can keep a bird awake. They hear it when you get up to go to bed after dark. And, early morning risers can wake their bird up when they get up before dawn to get ready for work.
It is uncommon for a bird to sleep throughout the entire night. That is why you see bird’s sleeping during the day. Your bird needs a quiet and dark room to support circadian rhythms more than they need 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Some birds get night frights. Sometimes, unexpected sounds in the night wake a bird up. Maybe, your cat or dog walks by the cage and the bird has a startle response as if it is a predator.
Other nighttime sounds and images can cause your pet to have night frights as well. For instance, a bird whose cage is near a window may wake up when tree limbs blow or night dwelling animals walk around the yard. A full moon can trigger night frights.
Startle responses trigger an adrenaline response that makes it hard for your bird to go back to sleep. The startle response can be so severe that your bird flaps about its cage in the dark, injuring itself. Night frights can also trigger a heart-attack. If your bird is experiencing night frights, make accommodations to support it for a safe night's sleep.
Other birds experience separation anxiety at night and may spend the dark hours feather plucking as a method of diminishing intense anxious feelings.
Older, arthritic, and nutritionally deprived rescue birds may experience night time pain from perching in the same position for several hours. Pain also causes an adrenaline rush causing a sleep disturbance.
Bird’s that consistently don’t get enough sleep can become sleep deprived. A bird can be sleep deprived from environmental causes like light and noise and from external sources, such as excessive startle responses and adrenaline rushes.
Sleep deprivation is a condition that can leave a bird feeling exhausted, immuno-compromised, and susceptible to developing behavior, psychological, and physical problems.
If you think about a time when you didn’t sleep well for a few nights in a row, you’ll be able to understand how physically drained your bird feels.
Sometimes it takes a little detective work or a fresh set of eyes to help you discover why your bird may not be sleeping well at night.
Your bird will develop routines, depending on its age, activity level, and general sleep routines. It is not abnormal for a bird to take a catnap or two during the day. Even though my birds can roam around their bird room, I find them “chilling out” around noon and again around 3:00 pm.
But, keep in mind that a healthy bird will have morning and afternoon bursts of energy where they play, forage, exercise, and preen. You can detect your bird’s overall energy level by how vocal it is and by observing toy debris and droppings on the cage bottom.
It’s normal for most birds to be much more vocal at dawn and dusk. That’s just a natural instinct where bird’s want to check on the flock when they wake up and before going to sleep for the night.
As a general rule, day time chatters are less loud and animated. But, birds are energetic and communicative and have a need to exercise and express themselves.
If you’re not sure how active your bird is during the day, check whether the bird toys are being used up. Check how much food your bird is eating. Look for droppings, toy parts, and food crumbs throughout the bottom of the cage and the play area.
For instance, my birds have an open cage policy, with a bird play stand right outside of the cage door. I line my bird play stand floor with dog potty pads that I buy off of Amazon.com, like these:
These potty pads make it easy to see if there are bird droppings in just one area or all around their play area. If there are droppings all around the play area, I know that my birds are being appropriately physically active, a sign of a healthy, well-rested bird.
If the droppings are predominantly confined to below a favored perch, then I’m alerted that my bird is inactive and may not be feeling well.
There are five things that you can do to help your bird get a better night's sleep and improve its overall health.
A number of our customers have reported that converting a bird carrier into a sleep cage has made a world of difference in their bird’s quality of sleep. A bird carrier can also be used as a bird hospital cage. Think of a good bird carrier as an investment because it serves multiple uses.
While any number of hard-sided carriers will do, I prefer polycarbonate or other clear, hard-sided carriers with hinged stainless steel doors that provide important ventilation.
Hard-sided bird carriers not only muffle out nighttime noise, but they keep your bird's wing tips safe should your bird get startled and begin flapping around in an effort to escape whatever scares them.
It's nice to be able to hang a food and water cup on the stainless steel bars. You can also hang a Snuggle Up Cage Warmer on the door to keep your pet warm at night.
This sized bird carrier helps your bird to feel protected. I like the convenience of the size of a bird carrier because I can place it inside of a dark closet.
Sometimes you just have to muffle out excess noise and light. For instance, when I have company late into the evening and I don't want to disrupt my bird's sleep, I'll place the sleep cage in a dark, quiet closet. Another time that a closet sleep arrangement comes in handy is on the 4th of July when fireworks are blasting late Into the night.
I once had a caique that experienced chronic night frights that resulted from loud construction at my neighbor's house. The bird had gotten himself so worked up with adrenaline that his startle reaction was in overdrive. We had to reset his body chemistry by offering him more than usual quiet, uninterrupted sleep. The sleep cage saved his life.
If excessive light is the cause of your bird's sleep disturbance, use a bird cage cover or room darkening blinds to offer your bird the necessary darkness for uninterrupted sleep.
Some people prefer to use bedding or towels. In most cases this is absolutely fine. Just make sure that the blankets or sheets do not contain flame retardant chemicals on them.
I've already established that birds do wake up numerous times throughout the night. So, it's not that birds need uninterrupted sleep, but rather that they need 10 - 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness.
The variations in seasonal photoperiods trigger the onset of reproductive hormones in birds. Even increasing daylight exposure by as little as 30 minutes can trigger territorial and aggressive behavior.
You can help your bird maintain regulated hormones with a UVA UVB light placed on a timer. Look for a cage mounted light that has bird proof electrical cord protection, like FeatherBrite Brand.
This might seem like an added expense. After all, a good, bird-proof light might cost $200 or more. But, if hormones get so out of hand that you have to take your bird in for hormone injections, at the tune of $500 or more, you’ll see that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Exercise stretches and strengthens muscles in the feet and throughout the entire body. Your parrot’s body is optimized to withstand significant exercise in all of it’s muscles, including its feet muscles.
I’d addressed how weak, arthritic bird feet make it difficult for some birds to perch throughout the night. Your bird's feet are quite unique and serve several purposes. For instance, many parrot species eat with their feet. They, of course, are on their feet 24 / 7, even in their sleep. The only time a bird isn’t using its feet is during flight.
If your bird’s feet muscles aren’t getting adequate exercise they will atrophy, and then, they’ll of course be unsteady.
Offer your bird exercise to keep its body and feet in tip top shape. Get a bird stand, preferably a tree style stand that supports lots of movement. Java tree style stands also have variable sized branches that exercise intricate foot joints and muscles.
Make sure to place the perch low enough so that when your bird stands upright, it can unlock its feet. Choose a perch with as much diameter variability as possible so that your bird can change it’s grip as necessary throughout the night.
If your bird is prone to night frights, you may want to lower the perch or use a sleep cage for your bird’s safety.
Learn more about bird sleep needs
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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