Anxious parrots might keep their body feathers tight, their necks extended and their eyes wide. African grey parrots often chew on their toenails when nervous, and may make a growling noise if approached by something or someone they perceive as a threat. Anxious parrots may constantly repeat patterns, such as endlessly pacing back and forth in their cages, or circling obsessively (stereotypical behaviors). Other birds might rock constantly, continually shiver when the environment is not cold, only eat when no one is watching or move as far away as possible if approached by someone with whom they are not comfortable.
Young parrots are not allowed to develop self-confidence if their wing feathers are trimmed prior to normal fledging or if their wing feathers are so severely trimmed that they cause the bird to fall hard onto the floor when startled. Young parrots housed directly in front of a window without access to a hiding place often become apprehensive, as they cannot hide if something outside the window frightens them. Parrots that live with people who have dramatic mood swings often appear anxious as well, likely because the owner is unable to provide a feeling of safety for the bird. Some parrots can also be anxious around other pets, such as the cage of a small bird constantly watched by a cat.
Young parrots do better if they are allowed to fledge naturally, learning how to confidently control their flight prior to flight feather trimming. Once accomplished at flying, they seem to understand that they have mastered a critical survival skill, resulting in birds that seem more self-assured, even if their wing feathers are trimmed later on.
Older parrots can be assisted by carefully controlled socialization via gentle and non-threatening exposure to new situations while making certain the birds feel safe throughout. By introducing nervous birds to new stimuli in a non-threatening way and making certain they can easily deal with it without fear, the animal can develop the tools to self-reliance. Once comfortable in its ability to deal with new situations, an anxious bird relaxes and seems much less apprehensive.
Since parrots are prey animals, they are often instinctively neophobic (afraid of new things). With that understood, owners can gradually desensitize their anxious parrots to new things (such as new toys) by introducing them away from their cages, from a distance. New pictures, throw pillows, etc., often need to be introduced the same manner. Once objects or people are identified a source of apprehension, owners can work diligently at teaching their birds that said person or object is not a threat to the bird’s safety.
Disclaimer: BirdChannel.com’s Bird Behavior Index is intended for educational purposes only. It is not meant to replace the expertise and experience of a professional veterinarian. Do not use the information presented here to make decisions about your bird’s health if you suspect your pet is sick. If your pet is showing signs of illness or you notice changes in your bird’s behavior, take your pet to the nearest veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic as soon as possible.