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Articles concerning owning pet birds as pets as a whole.

“HELP……My Parrot Won’t Stop Screaming”!

Normal Noise
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.

Scarlet MacawBear 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:

Behavioral Enrichment for Parrots: Adding Zest to Your Pet’s Life

The concept of behavioral enrichment encompasses a number of techniques designed to encourage a captive animal to live, for lack of a better word, a “fuller” life. We do this by exploiting natural behaviors in a way that encourages the animal to stretch its mind and body by exploring, exercising, hunting, trying new foods and so on – activities outside of the basic necessities of captive life.

The Importance of Enrichment Opportunities
Blue & Gold MacawParrots, with their limitless curiosity and energy levels, are ideal enrichment candidates. This is fortunate, as enrichment activities go beyond “nice to do” for such highly intelligent birds. Most animals that I have worked with in zoos, from fish to mammals, benefit from “BE”, as zoo keepers term it. However, active, inquisitive, social species – parrots, crows, primates, wolves and so many others – need physical and mental stimulation if they are to not just endure but thrive in captivity.

What’s more, opportunities to explore and think stave off boredom, and in parrots this often translates into a well-adjusted pet that does not pluck its feathers or scream.

Following is a review of the major categories of BE. You’ll notice that the various types overlap, and most stimulate parrots in more than one way. Please see our large selection of unique parrot toys, play pens, perches and CD’s – many will be useful in organizing a BE program for your pet.

Physical Enrichment
I really favor this with parrots – after watching several species in the wild, I’m convinced that physical movement should be a key component of any pet parrot’s BE program. Parrots, even those long confined to boring cages, take well to wing and leg-stretching opportunities.

Provide a complex cage, and remember that you can vastly increase the cage’s usable area by adding climbing surfaces. Birds that flit from perch to perch, such as finches, make good use of spacious cages. But caged parrots move about mainly by climbing – a huge cage is not much good if the bird can merely sit on a perch or two and stare into space.

Install vines and perches of varying widths and sizes, so that your pet can make full use of the space afforded to it. Wild grapevine is particularly useful as you can find nearly any shape and size needed – just be sure you can distinguish it from poison ivy! Parrots will also delight in using and shredding branches from fruit and other non-toxic trees (please see Pet Birds and Plants – Avoiding Toxic Species).

When adding toys to your parrots cage, don’t just attach them within reach – try making your pet work, by installing the toys in locations that can only be reached by hanging, climbing sideways, etc.

Social Enrichment
Amazon ParrotThis category of BE includes interactions with other birds, people and (if safe!) other pets. When your parrot is left alone, a training CD, TV or radio may provide some diversion.

Mental Enrichment
Anything that stimulates your parrot to “figure some thing out” qualifies as mental stimulation. This can range from hiding its food, supplying a foraging toy within which a treat is secreted or simply introducing a safe, novel item into its environment (i.e. a pine cone or cardboard box).

Nutritional Enrichment
Hiding and varying the diet works well with any animal – just watch a group of guppies habituated to a fish flake diet react to a chunk of frozen prawn if you have any doubt as to the universality of the technique. Nutritionally based enrichment is also very easy to introduce, and the possibilities are limitless.

Please browse our parrot food selections for unique items to offer your pet, and consider using whole fruits and nuts as opposed to pre-cut pieces. Research your pet’s wild diet and then search for some foods it might appreciate – food markets in Asian, Latin American, African and Caribbean communities offer a wealth of nutritious fruits, nuts and vegetables, some of which might be part of your pet’s natural diet.

Time and time again, I have been surprised by the very noticeable change in an animal’s level of excitement when offered a new or natural food item. This applies whether the animal in question is a toad or a tiger – I’m sure you will be delighted at your parrot’s reactions.

Small meals spread over time and food items hid about the cage or, if safe, the house, are other tried and true methods of keeping your parrot on his or her toes.

Sensory Enrichment
Pay attention to those noises that stimulate your bird to call, display, bathe or just sit up and take notice. Play these and similar ones to rouse it to activity.

Of course, avoid using noises that might startle or instill fear in your pet – your macaw might not appreciate a recording of the scream of a harpy eagle, for example…then again, it would be interesting to see if a captive born macaw might respond to a predator’s call!

An excellent article on the natural foraging and social behaviors of the kea is posted on the web site of the University of Nebraska’s Avian Cognition Center:

Iodine Deficiency (Avian Goiter, Thyroid Hyperplasia) in Parrots, and Other Cage Birds

Causes and Symptoms
Avian goiter or thyroid hyperplasia is most commonly caused by an iodine poor diet. The afflicted bird’s thyroid gland cannot produce enough thyroxine, and the brain responds by signaling the gland to increase the number of thyroxine-synthesizing cells. These additional cells cause the thyroid gland (located in the throat) to enlarge, which is the main symptom of the condition. The resulting goiter may be accompanied by vomiting, lethargy and difficulty in swallowing. Eventually, pressure upon the circulatory system and other complications may lead to the bird’s death.

Seed vs. Pellet Based Diets
Seed-eating birds, especially budgerigars (parakeets), are particularly susceptible to thyroid hyperplasia. Seeds vary, among species and locality grown, in iodine content and hence a seed-based diet may be fine in some cases but iodine-deficient in others. The surest way to prevent an iodine deficiency is to wean your pet onto a pellet based diet, with seeds being used as a supplemental food. Lafeber, ZuPreem, Pretty Bird and our other pelleted foods have been formulated to meet the specific nutritional requirements of a variety of bird species, and provide complete, balanced diets.

Iodine Supplementation
If your bird will not accept pellets, you might consider adding a preventative medication, such as Gimborn Iodine Solution, to the diet. Budgerigars seem to have rather high iodine requirements, while other birds vary in this regard, so each case must be reviewed with your veterinarian on an individual basis.

Please write in if you are considering iodine supplementation, or have questions regarding pellet-based diets.

A comprehensive bibliography of papers dealing with wild and pet bird nutrition, including iodine requirements in budgerigars, is posted at:

The Natural History and Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus; Part II – Natural History

Click here to read Part I of The Natural History and Captive Care of the Budgerigar (“Parakeet”), Melopsittacus undulatus
Budgerigars feed on the ground, foraging in small to quite large flocks. Their diet is comprised almost exclusively of the seeds of various grasses, with Spinifex and Mitchell grass being particularly important. They sometimes take wheat and other grain crops as well.

Researchers at the University of Queensland recently discovered that budgerigars use naturally fluorescent feathers in the cheeks and crowns to attract mates. Birds whose feathers were coated in UVB-blocking sunscreen were unsuccessful in their matting attempts (perhaps the birds just looked “unattractive” covered in sunscreen!).

Breeding mainly takes place during August-January in the south and June-September in the north, and is tied to rainfall, temperature and grass seed supply. Birds in areas hard-hit by droughts may not breed at all for periods of several years.

budgie Budgerigars are uniquely adapted to one of earth’s harshest environments, where rainfall and food supplies are unpredictable and may be depressed for years on end. Assuming favorable temperatures, they can breed in response to rains at any time of the year, even if such falls outside of the usual nesting season. Unlike many birds, hormonal changes bring budgerigars into breeding readiness with astonishing rapidity, thus enabling them to take advantage of the any and all reproductive opportunities. Such adaptations no doubt help to explain the budgerigar’s amazing reproductive output when kept under ideal captive conditions.

Note: The actual interplay of rain, temperature, grass growth and breeding is also governed by very long-term climatic patterns. Studies of the red kangaroo, an animal that shares the budgerigar’s habitat and basic breeding ecology, revealed that time periods approaching 100 years in length affected the over-all reproductive capacity of the species.

Pairs are monogamous (females sometimes mate with “non-partners”, possibly to insure help in raising the young) but nest in close proximity to one another. Nests are located within cavities in trees, stumps, fence posts or even logs on the ground.

The 4-8 eggs are laid upon a bed of decayed wood, and are incubated solely by the female for 18 days. The young fledge 30 days after hatching and reach sexual maturity at age 3-4 months.

In sharp contrast to their cage-bound cousins, wild budgerigars are extremely shy and difficult to approach. Flocks forage in the early morning and late afternoon, and chatter unceasing as they do so. The hottest part of the day is spent roosting quietly in the shade. Their flight is swift, erratic, and amazingly orchestrated, with huge flocks seeming to twist and turn as a single bird.

Budgerigar numbers fluctuate wildly in response to rainfall and grass seed supply, but bounce back with incredible rapidity during favorable years. They are quite nomadic when necessary, and shortages of food and water will drive huge flocks to coastal areas far from their normal haunts. They also somehow follow rainstorms, and will at such times appear in areas from which they have long been absent. In this manner the resourceful birds can take advantage of the equally adaptable desert grasses that come to seed almost immediately after the rains.

Onto captive care next time.

An interesting, in depth examination of the breeding biology of wild budgerigars is posted at:

Using Microchips to Identify Pet Birds

Microchips are tiny computer chips that, when inserted below the skin of an animal, provide a means of permanent identification.  In my work as a zoologist, I have long used them with a wide variety of birds, reptiles and mammals.  Early models were large and tended to move about, but those in use today are barely the size of a rice grain, and hold their position quite well.

Why Use Microchips?
In addition to offering a means of positively identifying lost or stolen pet birds, microchips enable hobbyists to differentiate similar individuals in large collections, and to keep track of parentage and genetics.  This last point is important to all breeders, but especially those who deal with rare birds that might be seriously impacted by inbreeding.

Placement and Practical Considerations
Microchips are inserted below a bird’s skin by a veterinarian utilizing a hypodermic needle, and without anesthesia.  The process takes but a few seconds, and the results last a lifetime.  Once inserted, the chip’s unique identification code is registered with a recovery network so that a permanent record may be maintained.  The network is contacted in the event of the recovery of a lost or stolen bird.

Unfortunately, the chips can only be read by a scanner that understands the manufacturer’s code. Scanners are expensive and therefore veterinarian’s offices and recovery agencies usually stock only one type.  Be sure to choose a well-known make of chip.  AVID and Trovan are favored by many zoos and used by the ASPCA, while the American Kennel Club relies upon Home Again.


An interesting article detailing a unique use of microchips in a field study of hummingbirds is posted at:

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