Q: My son recently moved back home and he gets in late from work and turns on the television in the family room where our african grey is sleeping. My grey has been nippy lately and I wonder if it’s because he’s not getting enough sleep now. How much sleep does my parrot need? – James K., Providence, RI
A: During the first few years that I had my first parrots, cockatiels, I kept them in my bedroom with me. Very often I would retire to my bedroom where I would stay awake into the late hours watching movies or reading a book. Usually the cockatiels were up and about until I shut off the lights for the night.
Eventually, I started noticing that they were becoming uncooperative with me and were squabbling with each other. Once I started looking for causes for this “off” behavior, it didn’t take too long for me to attribute the problem to a lack of sleep.
Parrots need between 10 and12 hours of undisturbed sleep every night. This means they should be in a quiet and dark room, where doors are not opening and closing and lights remain off.
Some birds are more easily disturbed by sights and sounds at night than others. Headlights from passing cars as well as street lights and porch lights are enough to keep some birds up at night.
As prey animals that are instinctively hyper-aware of potential dangers in their surroundings, birds never fall into a dead-to-the-world sleep like humans do. Nearby sounds, such as those coming from a television, will cause a parrot to remain awake – even if they don’t complain about it while it’s happening.
Eventually, a lack of sleep will effect your bird’s demeanor. Just like humans they can become cranky and impatient and they are quicker to bite. We should also keep in mind that, just like humans, a bird’s immune system is weakened through lack of sleep leaving it more susceptible to any disease that might be in the environment.
Many people keep their bird’s cages in the living or family rooms – the hubs of activity in the house. Not only do birds appreciate being nearer to those that they love, but they benefit socially by being a part of the action everyday.
However, if the habits of your family are such that the room sees few quiet hours each day, try using a separate sleeping cage for your bird at night. Don’t worry! This doesn’t mean you have to drop a fortune on a new cage. For smaller birds, an animal carrier, or a small dog crate for the larger species, fitted with a single perch is ideal as a sleeping cage.
In contrast to the large cage a bird needs to spend its waking hours in, sleeping cages are better when they are small. Not only does a smaller space provide more security for a sleeping bird, it is mobile and convenient for you.
Since your bird will only occupy this cage during sleeping hours, it is not necessary to add any toys or food dishes. It is essential, though, that you install a perch because it is unnatural for a parrot to spend that many hours on a flat surface and it will eventually damage its feet. It is equally important that you install the right size perch – one that your bird’s feet wrap 3/4 of the way around.
Place the sleeping cage in a spare bedroom or bathroom (or even a closet) as long as there is ample ventilation and temperatures remain fairly consistent.
Many people have discovered sleep deprivation to be the source of behavioral problems with their birds. You know how grumpy you can be without proper sleep. It only makes sense that after a while with too little sleep, your bird’s behavior will become unpredictable and aggressive.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.