Stop Ya Squawking!

Noisy Behaviour In Pet Birds

The joyful twitter and chirping of a content collection of birds in the trees overhead is such a restful and glorious sound - one of the joys of nature.

But not so the harsh, discordant squawks and screams of a parrot demanding attention as dawn breaks.

Squawking, screeching and, sometimes, swearing, parrots are a problem for many bird fanciers and for their neighbours, too.

It is not easy to change the behaviour of parrots but with a little cunning and slight of hand, most cacophonous cockatoos can be cured.

Mostly, parrots squawk because they want attention or maybe some creature comforts. What you should not do is to give them attention when they are yelling. This just trains them to yell and squawk even more the next time they want attention.

The general principle is to give them attention when they are quiet. But how do you do that without also rewarding the noisy behaviour?

Let's talk about that shortly, but first there are some other duties.

Night-time Curfew

When is your batty bird being ballistic? Squawking often occurs around dawn or dusk. When you think about it, such behaviour is quite normal. That's when the early birds are out an about, all chatting about their plans for the new day. It's a very social time for birds. Your cranky cocky wants to join in and the squawking is partly him being social and partly frustration at wanting to get out of his cage and to be part of the action.

It's similar at dusk. The birds are going home to roost, they chatter about the day's events, catch up on current affairs and then settle in for the night with cuddles and kisses all around.

Part of the solution to this behaviour is to reduce your bird's exposure to these other birds. Try covering the cage or having and a 'bedroom' cage for your feathered foe inside the garage or house. In springtime, decreasing the daylight hours by placing the cage in a partially darkened room for a week or two can help curb noisy or aggressive behaviour due to raging hormones.

A Rich Lifestyle

What about creature comforts? You can't expect a bird to be happy in a minuscule cage that is hardly bigger than the bird's wingspan. If the cage is in a hot, cold or windy location, your bird certainly has the right to complain, too. Some folk have a comfortable cage which is in the shade in the morning but as the sun moves, the cage is torched by the afternoon sun later in the day. That's sure to create belligerent bird behaviour.

Giving a variety of food is useful, too. Vary your bird's diet and give it some environmental enrichment by providing nutritious bird snacks, such as pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cockatoos love destroying things, so through out the refined dowel perches and let it destroy a few gnarled and ugly tree branches from native Aussie trees.

Give it toys to play with. There are some very good ranges of bird toys available. Pine cones and home-made wooden toys are also good. You can make wooden blocks out of untreated pine and thread them on a stainless steel ring (avoid metals coated in zinc) to hang in the cage. Strong cardboard tubes (without glue on them) with treats hidden inside or just bits of cardboard to tear up are fun - remove cardboard when destroyed.

You can you train your bird to be quiet but it takes a bit of patience. Some pet birds get over attached to their owners. I have seen several that cannot tolerate being out of their owner's sight. Sometimes the only way such tormented bird owners can keep their feather duster silent is to have it sitting on their shoulder continuously. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy - the more they allow the bird to 'win' by placing it on their shoulder, the more the bird will demand this attention.

The solution is to distract the bird when it is noisy, and then to praise the resulting quiet behaviour. A few tricks will help. Your bird needs to think that the distraction has nothing to do with you.

Seeing the Light and Fan Fare

One cunning technique is to place a bed lamp or fan next to the cage with the electric lead plugged into a power point near you but away from the bird. As soon as a squawk occurs, turn on the light or fan for two to three seconds. This will distract and slightly startle the bird. After turning the device off, wait for about 60 seconds and if it is still quiet, go to the cage and give the bird a little attention and maybe a food treat. Walk off and leave the bird for a further 60 seconds or so. If it still remains quiet, then it really deserves a reward so give the rascal a longer period of attention or perhaps take it out of the cage.

If you want to be a bit more elaborate, get a remote door bell from the supermarket and carry the door bell button in your pocket. Place the bell adjacent to the cage. As soon as squawking occurs, press the button to activate the door bell. Reward any resultant silence as before.

Using this method, the attention is for being quiet, not for being noisy.

You can also try the 'Bad Bird - Good Bird Technique'. As soon as squawking occurs, say a firm 'QUIET', wait for silence for five to ten seconds and then, in a sweet, sooky voice praise your paranoid parrot saying 'GOOD BIRD' or whatever else you feel is appropriate. Now see if that has purchased you a longer period of silence. If it has, go to the bird as before and give it the attention it wanted.

Timing is vitally important. Immediate distraction is essential. If you leave the squawker to screech for too long, it has reinforced its own wrongful behaviour.

One last word - be careful what you teach your parrot to say. If you teach it phrases that are embarrassing, remember that a cockatoo can live for 50 to 70 years. That's a long time to put up with profound parrot profanities!

By Dr Cam Day BVSc - Last updated 16 November 2012

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