You follow your normal morning bird care routine and leave for work. But, when you get home your bird has destroyed a bunch of its chest feathers.
Company comes for dinner and all of the sudden your bird starts screaming non-stop. Squawk! Squawk! Squawk!
Or, you reach to pick up your bird for some one-on-one time and it suddenly lunges at your hand.
Feather plucking, screaming, and biting are some of the most common bird behavior problems. We professional bird behaviorists also see a lot of bird anxiety and destructive behaviors.
In this blog post by Diane Burroughs, LCSW, Founder of BirdSupplies.com, I'll tell you a variety of science-backed parrot wellness solutions to common bird behavior problems to help you get back on track. Keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
But, that's not to say that you can't turn around problem bird behavior once it occurs. It just takes a little more planning.
A lot of people ask us why their bird is misbehaving. There are a few reasons for why birds develop behavior problems.
First, it's important to remember that pet birds are actually exotic pets. That means that our birds are just a few generations away from their rainforest relatives.
Most pet birds have not adapted to being domesticated. But, over and above that, pet birds have unique wellness needs that, if not met, put the bird in physical and emotional distress.
I don't know about you but when I’m in distress I'm not on my best behavior.
Secondly, just like any pet, it's so easy to accidentally reinforce undesired behaviors while not reinforcing the good behavior. So, if you find yourself running over to your bird to console it when it's plucking or screaming, you're at risk for accidentally training your bird to do more of those very behaviors.
If your bird bites you and you animatedly scream out, “Ouch!!!,” your bird finds that reinforcing, too. Very social animals, like birds, find any type of interaction to be a rewarding experience.
The two easiest ways to stop bird misbehavior is to plan on how you'll meet your bird's unique wellness needs.
Next, learn about positive reinforcement. And, third, if you’re still having trouble, contact a bird behaviorist.
We know that providing for parrot wellness puts an end to a lot of bird misbehavior. As a matter of fact it's the most effective thing that you can do to help your bird become a joy to be around.
Start off by supporting these four needs:
✔ Parrots need 10 - 12 hours of sleep per night
✔ Feed your parrot a species specific, nutritionally sound diet
✔ Create a safe, yet enriching environment for your parrot.
✔ Learn about parrot hormonal behavior
The second most effective thing that you can do to turn around problem bird behavior is to use positive reinforcement. A lot of people get overwhelmed when they think about positive reinforcement, but the resources below will make it seem much more simple.
✔ Reward the behaviors that you want your parrot to repeat, like playing, normal grooming, and talking and chattering.
✔Reinforce wanted behaviors by paying lots of attention to them. Cheerful praise, a whistle, "scritches" on the head, and treats go a long way toward improving parrot behavior!
✔ Decide which behaviors that you want to go away, biting, screaming, feather plucking, and the like.
✔ Ignore inappropriate or irritating behaviors as much as possible (while generously rewarding behaviors you like). This means pretending the bird isn't even in the room with you. The caveat is that as soon as your bird stops misbehaving, you reinforce it!
✔Prevention: If you know your parrot behaves in an undesirable way in certain situations, prevent problems in the first place.
For instance, my client's Goffin would fly over and bite her niece every time the girl came over. Something about the girl caused the bird distress. My client solved the problem by putting her bird in its cage before her niece came over.
✔5:1 Rule: Just like children, your bird needs 5 times more positive interactions for every misbehavior “correction.”
Parrots are very in tune with the emotional tone of their environment. If there is stress in the household, address it.
In the animal world we use the word “enrichment” rather than mental stimulation. Enrichment takes into account the animals Instinctive needs and desires in addition to keeping their brains and bodies active.
Enriching your bird allows it to demonstrate species typical behavior. This is when we offer our bird opportunities to perform a behavior or not. When our birds have a sense of control over their choices it enhances their well-being.
Examples of avian enrichment, then, would include things like offering your bird foraging opportunities so that it has to hunt for and work for its food. Or, even offering them puzzles that they have to problem solve and figure out in order to obtain food.
It could also include offering your birds tree-like play stand that encourages it to climb and exercise.
We can also offer our birds multi-sensory enrichment. Birds have excellent vision and hearing and they also have an excellent sense of smell. These sensors allow them to expeditiously find food in the wild. Imagine having ultra keen senses but being locked up in a boring cage all day long. Any bird that experiences these circumstances would start experiencing emotional and behavioral problems.
Small and big birds I like need various forms of enrichment throughout their day. We now know that routinely offering your bird wards off emotional and behavioral problems and greatly enhances their quality of life. You can learn more about parrot enrichment here.
A lot of people describe how their bird suddenly becomes quite aggressive, to the point where they are afraid to handle it.
We see three common causes of aggression in our pet birds.
One common cause is a bird that has experienced a traumatic episode in its life. Rescue birds come to mind in this scenario but, a bird that is not getting its enrichment and wellness needs met is also going to experience emotional and physical symptoms.
Keep in mind that proper socialization is also an important wellness need that birds have. After all, they are flock animals.
Traumatic episodes can result in handling problems. In other words the bird develops a phobic or fearful response to people And in order to escape a scary situation they become either phobic or aggressive.
A bird trying to escape a fearful situation with phobic or aggressive behavior can be rehabilitated with the help of an experienced ABA animal behaviorist who understands how to properly carry out Constructional Aggression Treatment.
Circling back to earlier sections of this blog post, I had mentioned that there are three highly effective ways to stop bad bird behavior at our disposal. the three techniques are as follows:
Make it a point to actively improve Parrot Wellness each and every day. Parrot Wellness has 6 major components.
Preventive Health Care: Our parrots hide illnesses from us until they are literally on the brink of death. Your avian vet can help you detect if your bird is hiding an illness, pain, or an injury. If in doubt, take your bird to a reputable avian vet for a good wellness exam.
Make it a point to keep up with your annual wellness exams to catch any underlying medical issue early in the disease process. Check out this blog post where I talk about how to find a good avian vet that you can establish a long-term relationship with.
Nutrition: All parrots including budgies have specialized dietary needs. Just like you and I, if your bird's nutritional needs are not met the deficiencies will lead to poor health and organ damage. Learn about avian nutrition and these books by Karmen Budai and start offering your bird enrichment through its diet!
Environmental Enrichment. I've already touched on enrichment above, but just to reiterate, it is so important to provide your intelligent and social pet with multi-sensory opportunities each and every day.Learn more in this blog post.
Behavior Training: Your bird has the intellectual capabilities of a four or five year old child and the energy of a hyperactive one at that!
Good parents and teachers structure the day around activities that are intellectually and physically stimulating. Plus, they develop a set of rules and expectations that support the child to make good choices. If you have children, you’ve probably noticed that the first couple of weeks of school are spent teaching behavioral expectations in a fun way.
Training your bird manners and expectations is just as important. Use positive reinforcement to train your bird basic manners, such as getting in and out of the cage, stepping up, leaving things alone, coming when called, and more. a bird thats had positive behavioral training is much less apt to develop misbehavior.
Specialized Pediatric and Geriatric care. I am going to encourage you to explore these needs with your avian vet. But, young birds have different needs than older birds. Young birds are learning self confidence and manners within your flock while older birds need supportive care to help them deal with the aging process more gracefully.
Pain Prevention and Management. With birds, just like with people, managing pain is important to improving quality of life. Now, imagine that you were a bird that can experience intense pain, but you have a survival mechanism to not let anyone know how badly you feel so you have to try to hide it.
This is what birds deal with in life. Being a flock animal at the bottom of the food chain requires that a bird hide its illnesses, injuries, and pain so that predators don't come into the flock. It is so important to keep predators away from the flock that the flock will actually drive off sick birds.
A bird with medical issues or chronic pain may be suffering. Learn the signs that will help you know whether your bird is experiencing pain and talk with your avian veterinarian about bird safe medications and therapies that can improve your pets quality of life.
NEVER ever give your bird human grade pain medications or pain medications that have been prescribed for other pets. Your bird's unique systems don't tolerate many pain therapies.Learn about spotting and managing pain in pet birds in this blog post.
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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's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians.
With over 30 years experience, in a range of settings, she’s created thousands of successful behavior plans to help turn around challenging behavior.
Diane got parrot fever in the ‘90’s and founded BirdSupplies.com in 1998. Nowadays, BirdSupplies.com focuses solely on Science-backed Parrot Wellness with bird collars for feather plucking birds, nutritional supplements to support avian wellness, and a range of educational materials to support challenging bird behavior. Diane’s authored a number of books on supporting challenging behavior in birds.
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