The topic of birds and fears is an ongoing one. Fear is at the root of many bird issues, especially screaming and biting. Your bird uses these drastic measures as desperate attempts to communicate to you that something is wrong – leaving you to figure out what that something might be.
We are human, and it is not always apparent to us what a bird might see as stressful. That makes our job very difficult at times. But there is one method you can use to help pinpoint the source of fear, whether is be an object, person, or even another bird!
Most everyone has experienced this with their bird: when we transport a bird from one area to another, it will lean its body in the direction it wants you to go – sometimes with such emphasis that it nearly falls off your hand.
It sees a favorite person or play area and it points out the way for you – trying to physically will you towards that place. I find it very amusing that my birds do this and I always take them to that place first (as long as they actually remain on my hand.)
Similarly, your bird will tell you, through body language, where it does NOT want to go by leaning back and away from those places it does not wish to visit. We should all be paying close attention to these signs – the more often you transport your bird into uncomfortable situations, the less like it will be to step up on your hand reliably down the road.
Sometimes screaming behaviors are nothing more than manipulation. A bird screams until it gets what it wants, and when you deliver, it reinforces the behavior and perpetuates a cycle.
Sometimes, though, screaming is related to fear – something in the bird’s environment is making it uncomfortable enough to call to you for relief. The problem is, there are many, many things in a bird’s environment – too many, in fact, to hope to investigate them all – from the color of the window curtains to the view outside to the new toy in ANOTHER bird’s cage.(Sometimes, they are not new items at all, but those that have been there all along, something I learned was possible from my goffins cockatoo, Theo. I have no idea what might have transpired to make these thing suddenly scary.)
If you are experiencing behavior issues with your bird, or are noticing that it is unusually tense and on edge, try this simple trick:
Take you bird from the room where there seems to be a source of agitation. Keep it in another room until it is completely at ease and content. Then carry him back into the room of question and watch carefully what your bird takes notice of. Similar to the way your bird directs you while you are walking with it, it can lead you right to the source of a problem!
When you take your bird back into the room where he experiences discomfort and fear the very FIRST THING he will look at will be the biggest object of concern in that room! Often it is clear as a bell and you will wonder why you hadn’t picked up on it before. Sometimes it is hard to identify the exact thing it is looking at, but it will tell you what area of the room it exists in and you can start the process of elimination.
If you move in that direction with your bird, it might try to break free from your hand or perhaps threaten aggression. Your bird might begin to slowly bob its head up and down. Birds use this action to in conjunction with their amazing eyesight. It allows them to inspect something of concern from multiple angles (something humans are not capable of). You know you are onto something if you see any of these behaviors.
Be careful not to force your bird into something that is clearly stressful – remember that you are supposed to be a trusted ally and your hands should always be associated with good things. But a step or two in the direction of concern might be telling.
Move one possibly offensive item at a time and let it be gone for a few days. It sometimes takes that long for your bird to accept it is gone for good and begin to relax. (Don’t let your bird see you put it into a closet in that room – the closet will become the new source of fear. Been there! Take it from the room and keep its whereabouts unknown to your bird.)
Never downplay your birds fears, as silly as they might seem to you. They are very real to your bird and can be debilitating – sometimes causing plucking or stress related health issues.
To further your education about dealing with birds and their fears, please click here: One day Miracles.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.