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Unacceptable Screaming

When it's not OK for your pet parrot to scream.

By Sally Blanchard

umbrella cockatoo 
Umbrella cockatoo by Cioli & Hunnicutt/Bowtie Studio/Courtesy Carina Pasulu
Unacceptable parrot screaming include: excessive, manipulative screaming; baby parrots that cry or scream for food; obsessive screaming for self-stimulation.

In the May 2010 issue of BIRD TALK Magazine, you learned about acceptable parrot screams. Now learn what are unacceptable parrot screams.

Parrots scream for a lot of good reasons — a fact of life that people who keep parrots need to accept. Excessive and manipulative screaming or screaming for self-stimulation, however, can be a serious problem. Is your parrot’s screaming unacceptable or actually acceptable?

Unacceptable Parrot Screaming
Excessive, Manipulative Screaming: Birds that exhibit this type of screaming learned that they get a reaction or drama reward for their negative behavior. Any kind of reaction is better than no reaction for these birds.

This type of screaming behavior indicates a bird in control of its own life, but doing a bad job of it. Sometimes a decrease in the amount of attention the bird receives causes the screaming, which is the bird’s logical reaction to regain attention.

Ignoring a screamer or screaming back rarely changes the screaming. These birds need an increase in nurturing guidance with lots of instructional interaction. They need to be taught positive behaviors and profusely praised for them. Teaching positive behaviors or a few basic tricks can be used to distract a parrot from many screaming tantrums.

Baby Parrots That Cry Or Scream For Food: Birds that exhibit this behavior were usually force-weaned through food deprivation at too young an age. Such poor early socialization can create a very insecure young bird. Over the years, I have had calls from literally hundreds of people who have taken their “weaned” baby parrot home only to have it constantly cry and/or scream to be fed. Often these people are told that starting to hand-feed the bird again will just spoil it. Nonsense. My advice is simple and direct: feed your pet bird!

A baby parrot that cries or screams for food needs the security of hand-feeding. Use regression feeding with soft warm finger foods (baked sweet potato, oatmeal, etc.) to provide the bird with enough security to get beyond the constant food-begging behaviors. Regression feeding helps these birds become more secure and independent as adults.

Obsessive Screaming For Self-Stimulation: Birds that exhibit this behavior scream just to hear themselves scream. This is way past screaming for attention and could probably be related to some sort of parrot obsessive-compulsive behavior. These unhappy birds need a great deal of help from people with infinite patience and a lot of knowledge. It may take months for observable changes in their behaviors.

Often, birds that do this have experienced serious abuse, neglect and a profound lack of stimulation. Their screaming is so ingrained that it is most likely influenced more by brain chemistry than it is by behavioral cues. Consequently, the caregivers often need to work closely with their avian veterinarians to make progress with these problematic birds.

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Unacceptable Screaming

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Reader Comments
Birds scream for a reason. Understand that. And appreciate that. If you think the screaming is not part of their natural communication, it is always the human caretaker who has caused the issue. Maybe you paid too much attention to the bird when she first joined your family. Then that attention dropped considerably as the novelty wore off. Or yes, maybe the bird was force-weaned. One more reason to adopt, don't shop. Most of an older bird's "bad behaviors" have already been exhibited.

If you can't tolerate their screaming--whether natural or human-induced--you have no right having a bird in your family.
Ellen, New York, NY
Posted: 9/27/2014 12:37:50 PM
My 3 macaws wee screaming like crazy one day while I was in the other room. They usually scream at times, but it was more than ususal. I went to see what they were screaming about, and my condo was on fire!!! I quickly grabbed a coat and smothered the flames. If it was not for my birds alerting me by screaming, my condo would have burned down. That day, I was thankful for the screaming, and thankful they were okay!!!
Debra, Chicago, IL
Posted: 5/21/2014 11:18:27 PM
Great article! I live with 1 African grey and 3 different species of conures. I have found that the noise level doesn't bother me as much as the pitch of the scream! I wish the article included more tips and training ideas to help with both #1 and #3, as I have one of each!
Jen, Lincoln, NE
Posted: 3/6/2012 6:22:32 PM
jen, ny, NY
Posted: 3/28/2010 8:22:43 PM
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