What's all the screaming about!

One of the most common problems that we get inquiries about is how to stop a screaming bird. Ear blasting screams are difficult to cope with and can be quite disruptive to the household.  Let's look at this form of bird communication.

First, keep in mind that birds are very social animals that communicate loudly.  They have voices that carry.  Most birds communicate with their flock at dawn and dusk.  This is an instinctual way of checking in on flock mates, because for birds, there's safety in numbers. Your bird is simply checking to see if you're okay. Excessive screaming, on the other hand, goes on throughout the day in bursts lasting 5 or more minutes.  

Second, it is important to know that some species are much louder than others. Cockatoo's can be annoyingly loud.  Did you know that Moluccan Cockatoo's are the loudest birds on earth?  Macaws, some conure species, and Amazon parrots follow close behind.  These birds don't do well in apartment dwellings. Senegals, parakeets, cockatiels and parrotlets are much better suited for apartment dwellers.

Screaming Parrots

What constitutes Excessive screaming?

Birds that scream throughout the day and for longer than a few minutes have developed a screaming habit.  

I hate to break it to you, but this level of excessive screaming is created by the owner. 

It is super easy to accidentally train your bird to scream, especially if you're new to birds.  New bird caretakers think of their bird as their baby, like a little feathered bundle of joy that needs to be comforted.  If you are the type that thinks that your bird needs you to reassure it and comfort it every time it squawks, then, you are in fact training your bird that when it wants attention, all it has to do is go on a screaming jag. 

However, even the well intentioned train for screaming behavior.  For instance, if you get fed up and even mutter one word to the bird, the bird learns, "Hey, that gets me attention!" Even, mentioning the screaming to your partner feels like attention to the bird.

The good news is that you can un-train your bird's screaming habit.

Clicker Training for Screaming Parrots


Before you start trying to un-train screaming, check your birds environment and your parrot husbandry practices.  There are a few things that will cause a parrot enough distress that they will scream in agony. Resolve these issues before you embark on training.

1. OUT OF CAGE TIME: Your bird needs to be allowed out of its cage at least once a day, but preferably twice, in the morning and in the evening,  A bird that is restricted to its cage gets cabin fever and will scream to be let out of its misery.

2. BOREDOM: Birds require enrichment and foraging opportunities.  That's what happens when you have an intelligent pet.  These activities exercise the mind. Enrichment would include activities that stimulate the senses, such as sound, visual stimuli, opportunities for movement and exercise, and opportunities to destroy things with its beak.  Foraging, which is problem-solving to get treats (think of cracking open a nut or ripping through a paper sack to find its pellets) is an excellent choice.

3.  LACK OF BATHING OPPORTUNITIES: Parrots thrive with daily baths,  Bathing relieves pent up energy while also moisturizing the skin and cleaning the feathers.  It promotes healthy preening.  

4. TOO MUCH FATS / CARBS IN THE DIET: Simply put, this just induces unnatural hormonal behavior.  A "hard up" bird is going to scream from feeling tormented with hormones.

5. TOO MUCH ALONE TIME: Birds reside in flocks.  A lonely bird develop a sense of unease and feels as though it is in danger.  Get your bird out of its cage and let it socialize as much as possible.


How to quiet a screaming parrot


How to reverse train screaming behavior

Hey, look on the bright side. You've learned that any behavior that gets a reward will occur most often in the future.  For parrots, rewards can be in the form of social attention or something tangible.  Being so social, parrots find any kind of attention as a reward.  It could be as simple as looking at the bird, walking over to it, giving it a treat or grumbling as you walk out of the room.  

Put on your bird training hat and follow these steps to end compulsive screaming.  Keep in mind, that changes won't happen overnight.  After all, this annoying behavior has probably served your bird well for a while.  But, if you religiously follow these steps, your pet will quiet down over the course of several weeks.

1.  TRAIN FROM AN OBJECTIVE MANNER RATHER THAN A REACTIVE ONE.  It may help to literally lay pen to paper.  Jot down a list of 2-5 behaviors that you want to see more of.  Choose natural parrot behaviors such as playing with toys, chirping in an "inside" voice tone, and foraging are excellent choices.

2.  IDENTIFY WHAT TRIGGERS SCREAMING JAGS. This is often something the bird wants and he's found a way to communicate it to you through screaming. The bird wants to be able to see you so every time you walk out of the room screaming ensues. Same with wanting out of the cage or wanting to be played with or petted. 

3.  DIFFERENTIAL REINFORCEMENT: This is a fancy way of saying, reward or reinforce the behavior that you want to see more of and refuse to reinforce the behavior that you want to stop. You must intentionally pay attention to natural parrot behaviors such as playing, foraging, and talking or whistling, while religiously ignoring screaming.  You may have to use ear plugs.  

4.  REWARD QUIET BEHAVIOR: The second that your bird stops the screaming, reinforce it.  Try using a Clicker because you can click and treat within a second or two . The faster you click and treat the faster your bird learns.


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