Posted: May 14, 2013, 5:45 p.m. PDT
"Summer time and the living is easy …” These words from the famous Blues song, "Summer Time,” may not seem as appropriate to people with pet birds. It can be somewhat difficult to live with a pet parrot that is experiencing the hormonal pull of increased light and warmth in its environment.
In the wild, changes in the angle and amount of light and an increase in humidity signal the parrot breeding season. These changes instinctively signal mature wild parrots that there will be abundant food to feed young parrots. Our pet birds often respond to these same triggers in their environment. However, seasonal behavior can be more confusing for our parrots because of the fact that we control the environment in our homes with central heating, air conditioning, humidifiers and artificial lighting.
The increase in light during summer might trigger a parrot's hormones.
Most pet birds become more exuberant as winter ends and spring turns into summer. At least some of this change in behavior is attributable to the fact that many of us become happier as the cold weather decreases. Pet birds definitely match our energy. Even if I were totally oblivious to the changes in weather, I would still know that summer was on its way by the many phone calls I receive from people inquiring about changes in their pet parrot’s behavior. The major complaint is an increase in both pet bird aggression and screaming behavior.
Defining "Normal” For Pet Birds
It is normal for most parrots to scream in the morning. I refer to this as the "sunrise serenade.” In the wild, parrots normally wake up at sunrise and, once they start to move around, parrot flock members or family groups let each other know that it is time to fly to their feeding area to forage for food.
Parrots can also be very loud in the late afternoon as they fly back to their roosting area to settle in for the night. It is natural for our pet birds to have these same screaming patterns in our homes. Of course, since our parrots like their sunrise serenade, their summer screaming can start much earlier in the morning. My female double yellow-headed Amazon, Paco, lets me know when the sun comes up; however, I learned a long time ago that if I cover her cage at night, I have some control over when she perceives sunrise. Because I am a night person, she doesn’t think the day has arrived until I uncover her cage.
Most seasonal screaming doesn’t create that much of a problem in pet birds that are generally well-behaved. Seasonal exuberance and screaming behavior is natural, and each episode usually doesn’t last for more than a few minutes. When we try too hard to stop normal screaming behavior, we often create pet birds with screaming problems. Most pet birds are noisy from time to time. It is when a pet parrot learns to scream for attention that their noise becomes a behavioral problem.
Leaving "Normal” Behind
When normal parrot screaming becomes excessive manipulative parrot screaming, people quickly lose patience with their pet birds. Most of the time, excessive screaming has a lot to do with the response of the people in the pet parrot’s life. Often it is because people think that if their parrot screams at all, it will turn into problem screaming. This is the same sort of erroneous thinking that says if a parrot touches your skin with its beak, the pet bird will turn into a biter. A certain amount of screaming from a pet bird should be accepted without any response from its owner.
When an owner rushes over to quiet a screaming parrot, he or she is providing a drama reward. The more dramatic the attention is, the more likely it will increase the amount of screaming. Any attention, whether it is positive or negative, is attention that has rewarded a pet bird’s screaming behavior.
Greetings and farewells are also very important to parrots. This is another exception to the rule of not paying attention to a screaming parrot. Parrots are intelligent social animals that use verbal communication to stay in touch.
Many parrots start to scream at the slightest indication that their owner are coming home. A client’s African grey started to yell out his greetings when his "working dad” was five blocks away. The bird recognized the sound of his owner’s car shifting gears as he started up a hill in San Francisco. The pet bird kept screaming because the couple believed that they should not give a screaming pet bird attention. I recommended that he greet the African grey as soon as he walked in the door. Within a week or so the pet bird stopped screaming after his greeting.
Make Calmness Contagious
If we take a parrot’s natural behavior and needs into consideration we can prevent, or at least lessen, a lot of screaming problems. It can be as simple as calming down an agitated parrot by calming down the energy in its environment. Parrots usually match our energy and will try to compete with a noisy household. When my parrots are wound-up, I often walk into the center of their area and, without making any eye contact, I let my head droop, shut my eyes, and take a few slow deep breathes. It is amazing how quickly the parrot’s energy changes.
If your parrot is usually well-behaved, seasonal screaming is not likely to become a serious problem. If the pet bird owners don’t reward screaming with a dramatic response, chances are parrots will return to their normal behavior before the summer solstice, when the days start to become shorter again.
Exceptions To The Rule
We have all heard the rule, "Don’t pay any attention to a screaming parrot.” Like many rules, there are exceptions. When a parrot starts screaming, the owner should first think about why the bird is screaming.
A few months ago, my black-headed caique, Spikey LeBec, started screaming as loud as he could. He is normally a fairly vocal bird but this was excessive, even for him. I usually can stop him from screaming if I just start whistling. (Teaching distractions that a parrot enjoys and can receive praise for is an excellent way to cut down on screaming.) I don’t pay attention to his screaming, I just start whistling, and he normally joins in because he loves to whistle. But this time, he didn’t stop screaming and I have to admit, I was becoming very upset with him. It was then that I stopped and thought about my own advice and wondered why he was so agitated.
I walked over to his cage without making eye contact with him. I realized that I had become distracted when I was feeding the birds earlier in the day, and I had neglected to put Spike’s water dish back in his cage. I had been oblivious to his need for a drink, and screaming was the only way he could communicate my accidental omission.
Excerpt from BIRD TALK Magazine, June 2007 issue, with permission from its publisher, I-5 Publishing LLC. To purchase digital back issues of BIRD TALK Magazine, click here.
Pet Bird Hormonal Changes
Are you encouraging hormonal behavior in your bird? Here are common triggers:
Boxes and other nest-like items in and around the cage, which can be viewed as a nesting site.
Full-body stroking and long cuddle sessions with pressure on the pet bird’s back and under the wings, which can keep a mature parrot sexually stimulated, especially when the increase in light has already influenced the pet bird.