This article was originally posted on my blog Parrot 1-2-3. At the time I had two quakers, who you will see mentioned a lot. Jingo is still part of my family but lives with my mother in law, and Bobber sadly passed away last June.
I am no stranger to a screaming parrot. My Quaker, Jingo used to be a heavy screamer. I’m not talking about chatter, whistles, squawks and the like. I mean I could easily count on a minimum of four hours of a waking day to be him non-stopping screaming. If you have never heard a Quaker scream…it can be quite irritating!
Please note: ALL birds scream and you will never be able to have a 100% quiet bird. That is not my intention. The idea is to reduce the amount to a more acceptable amount. “Zero” screaming is not a goal you should entertain.
Simply put: I follow the guideline that a busy bird is a quiet bird.
First, I looked at what issues I had and what I thought was an acceptable result to strive for. It’s not enough to simply say, “I don’t want my bird to scream.” It is not only unrealistic, but it doesn’t provide an actual goal. My goals became:
- I want my birds to scream less during (my son’s) naptime
- I want my birds to be less reliant on me for entertainment when I am not in the room
Now that I have figured out what I wanted to work on, I needed to figure out what that really meant, and what changes I could make that would actually have an impact. Often, knowing the root of the issue can help give you the answer. It can be most challenging, then, to correct an issue when you don’t know what that issue is. Some things you can focus on for resolution, even without knowing the cause, are:
- Environment – is it engaging? Where is their “territory”? What do they have that is all theirs? Is movement encouraged?
- Diet – what food is available to them? Is it meeting their needs nutritionally as well as mentally? Are there supplements that you could incorporate to help?
- Opportunities – what kind of opportunities do they have for outlets? Foraging, shredding, noise making, exercise?
- Social – what kind of attention do they get? How much of it?
Now, there are two ways to go about this – you can add one idea at a time until you find a solution that works, or you can implement them all at once. I decided to go all in, because in all likelihood, the issues are multifaceted and it isn’t a single thing that needs to be done to achieve the desired results.
- Environment – One thing that is easy to do is give your bird more than there little 4 walls. Let them "own" the cage to defend, while giving them other areas near the cage or away from the cage they can also be on. Set up "bird approved" areas like rope perches, playstands, etc to extend what their area is. I added more hanging gyms to the bird room, and am leaving their cages open 24/7. They are still locked in the room during the night or when we aren’t home, for their safety (I have cats), but they have free movement. They still have their cages to “defend”. I also added a new playstand!
Diet – I started adding three products by Avitech to their diet – Featheriffic, AviCalm, and Relaxation and Calming. This is a company I have turned to before for supplements and have always been pleased with their results and quality. I add the full dose of Featheriffic and AviCalm (1/8 tsp or half a scoop each) into each bird’s food dish, as well as into the “community chop” dish where they get their fresh food each morning. The Relaxation and Calming I add a half dose into their water.
Sadly, as of this update, Avitech is no longer in business. Fortunately, Morning Bird has stepped in and is now producing similar formulas! The links provided are now the Morning Bird equivalent.
- Opportunities – I forced movement. I saw that most of the screaming from my birds seemed to result from boredom. Their seeds, pellets, chop and water were all in their cages, and their was little incentive to leave the cage. They ate, then got bored. So, seeds and chop are no longer available in their cages. If they want seed, they have to get it from one of the various foraging toys around the room, and if they want their chop, they have to climb out and get it from the desk or on top of the cage to eat it.
Social – I found that I most of the times my birds were contact calling was when they were too lazy to come into the living room! So, I wheel a cage out into the living room if they aren’t willing to come out on their own.
Need some ideas for keeping your bird busy? Here are some things that have worked for me over the years!
Find something your bird loves, and make them work/forage for it. My birds rarely, if ever, get seed for free. They have it in foraging toys, scattered in plastic boxes covered in paper, stuffed into coin rolls… Foraging is easily the most rewarding activity for them, and while they are working for it, Jingo is never screaming. He may be making other noises, but these are more desirable. He rewards himself by working for the food.
I also am a fan of withholding a certain treat except for things like this. So pumpkin seeds are only ever given in this house in a foraging situation for him. Plain and simple. Jingo absolutely adores pumpkin seeds, and will work hard to have them. He does not get them for tricks. He does not get them for being good. He gets them when he works for them.
I fill foragers in the morning (if you work early, you can do it the night before if you will be short on time) AND before “loud time” which is usually 2PM. The trick was to figure out when my bird is generally louder, and to be sure foraging opportunities are available before then. Then, when he gets bored, instead of screaming, he goes to get his “yum yums.”
It can be hard to find a balance between “challenging” and “difficult”. It took a lot of trial and error! To help, I offer a few degrees of difficulty at one time so that he can choose how much he wants to work that day.
Eat healthy snacks. Jingo is quietest when I am eating! He waits patiently to see if he gets anything. So, when all hope is lost, I eat something. I’ve taken to eating smaller meals and having healthy snacks like pomegranate, etc, instead, so that we can share (and so I don’t gain a million pounds). I drag out that snack time like no one’s business – the longer I can make an apple last, the longer he is quiet for!
Try a different background music…or no music at all. I try to keep some noise on during the day for my birds, which I am sure many do. But, I have found great success with simply turning off the radio, TV, computer….everything. Sometimes the quiet just gives a nice reprieve for a bit so you can collect your thoughts. Otherwise, you can try to simply change the station. Jingo seems to enjoy The Offspring, so once in a while, I just turn off everything else in the house, and boot up Spotify or YouTube with a favorite.
Foot toys! Foot toys are a godsend. I keep a foraging container on Jingo’s cage at all times, and in it is a sprinkle of seed, crinkle paper, and foot toys and toy parts. It has easily won me more sanity than I can truly fathom. He spends hours in that thing, foraging, chewing, etc.
Let them destroy. Willow wreaths, phone books, paper towels….something. Jingo burns a lot of energy throwing himself into absolutely destroying something. It doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, I find something that is absolutely easy to decimate and provide several of that item. Today it was tiny balsa slabs. (1/2? by 2? by 1/8? thick – tiny!). He just thought it was the best thing ever! And so did I!
Make them fly! Jingo has this need to follow us everywhere! Well, flying can be tiring! I will spend 10-15 minutes just walking around my apartment until he has burnt off some energy, and then he is content to hang out quietly for a bit
Get Creative! One day, I put a few drops of 100% juice in a soda bottle cap. It entertained Jingo for 45 minutes of the 4 hours he would normally scream, just licking it and playing with it. I also discovered that Q-tips/cotton swabs are a lot of fun to him. Toothpicks, facial tissue, straws….I get desperate and then I get creative! Essentially – put something in the beak, and it’s harder to scream.
Keep it interesting. Change stuff up, and often. Once you find a “trick”, use it, but not so often that it loses its “magic.” I don’t ever use the same trick two days in a row (except foraging – but I do change the type of foraging!)
Things to Avoid Doing
Don't cover the cage. While this is a short term solution, it doesn't fix the issues, and can actually make it worse. Your bird cannot live it's whole life under a blanket or in darkness!
Don't spray your bird with water. Negative reinforcement for birds rarely works, and again can make the problem worse.
Use "stop screaming" products that emit a noise or light when they scream. These products can cause fear and anxiety for your bird, which can lead to other behavioral issues, such as feather destruction.
Need more help? Join us over at Avian Avenue to talk with other bird owners!