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Parrots, Problems, and the Power of the Positive

Posted December 18, 2014 in Bird Health & Care

Dr. Laurie Hess is our resident exotics expert and contributes regularly on the Pet Health Network. For more from Dr. Hess, find her on Facebook!

It happens every year. Birds scream. People scream back. As the days get longer and temperatures start to climb, the screaming gets worse. Some pet parrots scream all year long, but many scream louder when their hormonal clocks get wound up in spring as they are looking to mate.

The fact is that birds in the wild scream. They scream at dawn to wake each other up and to start to forage for breakfast.They scream at dusk when they get back together as a flock to eat dinner. But what may be a natural behavior for them in the wild is a socially unacceptable annoyance to many parrot owners, especially if they and their birds live in small apartments with neighbors who don’t share their love for these feathered companions.Parrot in a cage So, what do these pet owners do when their parrots scream? Unfortunately, they start to scream back, only making the situation worse.

Birds in captivity scream for different reasons. They generally don’t scream to wake others up or to round their flock mates up for food. Rather, most pet parrots scream for their owners’ attention. They scream, and their owners come to them (even if just to scream back at them to stop screaming). And so the cycle of positive reinforcement of the screaming behavior begins. Parrot screams, owner comes, what will happen next? Parrot will continue to scream so owner will continue to come, and so on, and so forth…

Screaming is not the only behavior that parrot owners unknowingly reinforce. Biting is another one. Bird owners will often hold out their hands for their birds to step up; yet, if the birds don’t want to step up at that moment, they may bite the hands. As a result, owners may scream (giving attention to the birds unwittingly) and remove their hands (reinforcing the biting because now the birds no longer have to step up). Another cycle is established.

So, what are pet owners to do if their animals are screaming and biting and driving them nuts? All too often, owners give up on these relationships, either ignoring their birds completely or giving them away to others who are more tolerant. This happens even more after they have owned the birds for a

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Laurie has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified bird specialist and exotic animal veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.