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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. Arthur (goffins) likes to be the sentinel bird, and we found that placing him where he can see everything, in the highest cage, with toys to hide behind GREATLY decreased what had been problem screaming in other homes. He even alerted us to a neighbor's home being burglarized, and another neighbor's car being broken into, along with the zillion hawks and cats and shadows he's screamed at.
I accidentally trained Boo (my 15 year old goffins) to live quietly in apartments with me by trying to anticipate his needs so he wouldn't have to scream, and by reinforcing EVERY "indoor" voice that he ever made. This is ongoing, it doesn't stop at not responding to him saying "hi Boo" after a few months or a few years. Also, as a baby, I realized that he wasn't as weaned as the breeder had led me to believe, so I would feed him formula with a spoon or cuddle him every time he begged/screamed for food. He has grown up into a fairly independent and confident little goffins (so it didn't "spoil" him or "create codependence").
Birds live in socially complex groups, and to treat them with the top down communication that you would a dog, is not only wrong, but it's depriving an intelligent animal of a vital ingredient to being whole.
Sometimes, with birds, you just gotta blast some good rock music, put ear plugs in, and sing and dance along with them.
Jessica, STL, MO
Posted: 9/3/2015 6:54:38 PM
well this helps my understanding a bit. we have three birds 1 Alexandrian 1 ring necked and a lovebird. the ring necked is by far the loudest and most frequent screamer. he sets of the other two as well. the lovebird has the most shrill ear piercing chirp of all but thankfully she seems the most content. These guys aren't caged although their wings are clipped they have free run of the house. since we basically adopted these pets from someone with a busy lifestyle with little time for them i think the screaming is going to be very difficult to change.we've had them a year now. The episodes are constant. you cant even leave the room without him screaming down the hallway till we return. my neighbours say they are at it nonstop if we go out. i know they squawk at dawn but these guys wont stop until the whole house is awake.if we talk on the phone they squawk, they squawk over the noise of somebody watching a video on the PC.we have tried some of the solutoins written here and even after 2 months there is no noted changes in the noise. this constant screaming is driving us insane. we are at wits end here. If they don't change soon we will sadly have to give them to the local bird refuge.
john, International
Posted: 4/30/2015 5:17:11 PM
My blue and gold is 8 years old and screams so loud it is difficult to ignore. Often she screams when my wife walks by the cage and screams so so so loud it can damage ear drums! She also does it to me but not as often. She has my wife crying it is do bad. I know I have done all the wrong things by screaming back at her, beating on the cage, squirting her with water, etc...
I hate to take her to a rescue agency as I know she is completely bonded to me and a lot of the problem is she wants out of the cage and to be held by me!
I'm afraid the rescue agency will allow someone to adopt her and mistreat her. I've seen birds that have plucked all their feathers out and I can't stand to think of that!
I need help!!!
charles, Punta Gorda, FL
Posted: 4/26/2015 12:16:55 PM
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
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