Incessant screaming is the most common and serious problem complained of by parrot owners. Of course, one must first distinguish between normal and abnormal vocalizations. Having observed a number of parrot species in the wild, and worked with many more in zoos and aviaries, I can assure you that almost all are extremely noisy creatures. Noise-making is therefore not always indicative of a problem – in fact, even with much experience, I am still surprised at the racket that free-living parrots raise. Simple put, parrots are not for everyone, and no amount of training or bonding will change their basic nature.
Bear in mind also that parrots are not suited by nature to live alone. No matter how much time you spend with your bird, compared to its ideal, natural situation, it is living alone. Again I think back to wild parrots I have observed – they are almost always preening, squabbling or otherwise in physical contact with one another. Of course, certain species tend to be quieter than others, but individual birds of any type can be problematical.
What Not To Do
A parrot that screams for hours on end, or whenever you leave the room, is not exhibiting normal behavior. Assuming that the bird is healthy and not fearful of anything, screaming is most likely a call for attention. Do not reinforce the behavior by responding, as parrots are very quick to learn what works and what doesn’t. Never scream back (tempting as that may be!) – your bird will be happy for the response and will respond in kind. Physical punishments – i.e. tapping the beak or squirting water – never work with birds. Covering the cage is only a temporary solution, and may bring on other problems due to the disruption of the bird’s light/dark cycle (just ask anyone whose work shift swings from day to night).
Getting to the Root of the Problem
If your parrot screams when left alone despite getting a great deal of socialization time, look for a reason other than attention-getting as a root of the problem. Perhaps the bird is being frightened by something of which you are unaware. One Manhattanite was surprised to discover that the source of her bird’s distress was a red-tailed hawk that alighted daily on a nearby tree and peered at the parrot for a few minutes. Raccoons or cats that have an eye on your bird will make a “window check” part of their daily routine, and may program your parrot to scream in anticipation of their visits.
If your pet has been adopted, perhaps a clue form its past will help. You will likely not be able to make much headway in this situation unless you are able to speak with the former owner – parrots have long memories, and sometimes make associations that might not make sense to us. If the parrot is fearful of some real or imagined danger, its screaming may occur even in absence of the threatening object or situation.
A Useful Technique
The trick is to give the parrot attention when it is not screaming. One technique that often works over time (the key words here being “over time”) is to respond to the screaming with a low, soothing sound (easier said than done, I know!). Once the parrot picks up and mimics this sound, reward it with attention immediately. Eventually, your bird may learn to use the new noise to attract you…..assuming you continue to ignore the screaming. As the key here is consistency, you must be able to spend a good deal of time near the bird if this tactic is to work.
Above all, please remember that, charming and intelligent as your parrot may be, it is first and foremost a bird, and its behaviors are in no way comparable to what a person might do in similar circumstances. Trying to understand its actions in any context other than the natural history of a parrot will frustrate and confuse both you and your pet. Read as much as you can about parrots in the wild and captivity, and try to apply the facts you learn to your own unique situation.
Noise potential and other factors to consider before becoming a parrot owner are explored in an article on the web site of the Wisconsin Bird Lover’s Club: