If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend this exercise: go into the woods or someplace where you can’t be heard (this is to keep you from being arrested) and scream at the top of your lung for 30 seconds. Just 30 seconds. You will find yourself needing a nap afterwards. It is a lot of work.
There are a million different reasons why a bird would choose to scream. But the one thing all screams have in common is that, somehow, it is beneficial to the bird. If they are going to expend that kind of energy, it had better be worth it because most birds do not limit their scream-fest to a measly 30 seconds – some go on for hours.
Parrots don’t do things without reason. Generally speaking, if you think hard and use logic, you can find a purpose for any and all of their actions.
You could ask what reason and purpose a bird might have for putting pieces of kiwi in your shoes. You could also ask why humans sit and toss endless wads of paper into a trash can and the answer might be the same – just to make sure it can be done. But for a parrot, it is more likely the squeal of disgust we issue when we next put on our shoes that justifies the action. Entertainment has high value to a parrot and you should always bear this in mind (more on this later).
Back to screaming – there are different reasons why a parrot will scream. Screaming is a “choice” with an intended outcome. Stopping the problem will depend on your ability to determine the type of scream it is.
There are two types:
1) Screaming that is a form of communication meant to call your attention to a problem. Your bird could be telling you it is sick, afraid, bored to tears or that its diet is inadequate. It might be telling you that, as a companion, you aren’t holding up your end of the bargain, for which we always recommend training as the cure.
2) Screaming that is meant to manipulate your behavior. No doubt you already realize how very intelligent your parrot is. They are smart enough to use psychology to affect our interactions with them. If your bird screams when you leave the room and stops when you come back, it won’t take long for you to recognize this pattern. Won’t it cause you to hesitate before leaving the room again? Your bird is training you.
Someone posted a question on the Facebook page recently complaining about his bird screaming whenever he is on the phone. This is fairly common problem, in fact, I have had trouble with it myself in the past.
Of course, while it is hard to say for certain why a bird might object to your phone conversations, my brain says that it is related to the bird’s unwillingness to share you with anyone, or any”thing” else. Why would you focus all your attention on some gizmo you hold to the side of your head when there is a perfectly good parrot in the room to share conversation with? From a bird’s standpoint that is completely unreasonable.
The screaming that ensues is a perfect example of your bird’s attempt to manipulate your behavior – I say “attempt” but I suspect it is almost always successful. You can’t have a conversation if you can’t hear it.
Unlike the solutions to the screaming that is related to health, environmental or relationship problems which require action on your part, the solution to handling manipulative screaming is the opposite. You should do nothing at all. But that’s not as easy as it sounds – you have to do “nothing” the right way.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this post where I mentioned that everything a parrot does has a purpose and that screaming is a choice with an intended outcome. What do you suppose would happen if an activity produced “NO results” for your parrot…if there was no gain? After assessing the situation, and perhaps after trying a few method variations, your parrot would eventually abandon the idea altogether. Why waste the energy?
In order for this approach of problem solving to work you have to look at what “NO results” means to a parrot.
Remember the “kiwi in the shoe” mentioned earlier? A curious thing about parrots is that they will often do things for the sole purpose of entertainment.
The shoe with the kiwi in it was mine. I had kicked my shoes off near my goffins cockatoo’s cage when I came into the house. When I needed to go out again, I noticed several pieces of kiwi gathered around my shoes. I said goodbye to Theo who was clinging to the side of the cage watching intently. I slid my foot into the shoe…and ”squish”. Thinking it was a big, juicy spider, I screamed. Theo bobbed her head with excitement. Her action, while it offered no tangible benefit, was the highlight of her day.
She had been aiming specifically for my shoe. I know this from similar incidents with her pellets in the past. Needless to say, from then on, any time I left my shoes too close to her cage I would find bits of wet food in them.
The point to this story is that your reaction to your bird’s behaviors can be very rewarding. When your bird is screaming, it is probable that your reaction will be tense and angry. While you would think your bird would find this reaction unappealing and a reason to stop screaming – that is seldom the case. Your reaction gives purpose to the screaming, for better or for worse, and your tension further excites the bird. Yelling at your bird, shaking the cage, squirting it with water will actually promote the screaming.
If you want your bird to stop doing something, you have to take away any value to doing it. This means that your birds can get NOTHING from you in the way of a response to its actions. No conversation. No eye contact. No exasperated gestures. If you leave the room it must not seem in any way that your bird has run you off with their screaming. Give your bird nothing at all to work with. Your intelligent bird will eventually realize his efforts to manipulate you are unsuccessful.
For those of you wondering how to stop your bird from screaming while you are on the phone, the answer is rather simple…
Obviously, it is impossible to just ignore your bird’s unwanted behavior while you are having a phone conversation. It is unfair to the caller to try to proceed with that level of noise in the background. Which of your friends will you torture while you are ignoring your bird in order to drive home a point?
My advice is to fabricate a learning opportunity for your bird and participate in what I will call a “phone-y call”.
Pretty simple – just pretend to be talking to someone on your phone. Your bird will scream as he always does, but now you don’t have to worry about offending a third party and you are free to ignore your bird and show him his manipulations will not work without running off your friends. It might take a few phone-y calls, but it will work.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.