Author: Gary Colvin, Behaviour Consultant

This is another problem that can be very complex and be varied in the underlying causes. In this article I will try and discuss some of the more common problems and possible ways to deal with a bird that is screaming. Before I start, I must say that with any behavioural problem, I first want to discover or eliminate any underlying causes. I first want a complete and comprehensive behavioural history taken, including whether or not this behaviour has suddenly appeared, or has been building up over a period of time. The answers and information I receive will decide whether I am dealing with problem behaviour, or a true behavioural problem and maybe give information and probable causes of the presenting problem. Ideally I also want the parrot given a full medical by a veterinarian to also rule out any underlying medical problems, as one of the first things to change when a parrot is ill, is its behaviour. This may sound a lot of bother, but only by getting a clear history and ruling out possible underlying problems can you start to deal with a problem clearly and head on the right road to solving the unwanted behaviour. Clutching at straws or jumping from one possible cure to another, without a firm diagnosis as to why the behaviour is occurring, can only waste time and possibly make the problem even worse or more difficult to cure. Unfortunately, our parrots, unlike our cats and dogs, do not require yearly vaccinations, where included at this time is a full medical, so it is through education that we learn to get used to taking our parrots for yearly medical check ups, as a form of preventative medicine.

In looking at the problem of screaming, we must first understand that it is a very natural behaviour for our parrots perform, but can become a problem when performed out of context and to excess in intensity or duration, or when comes into conflict, or disrupts our lives. We have to look at who finds it problem and usually it isnt our parrot, but ourselves. In the wild parrots vocalize at different time of the day and depending on the variety of parrot, this can range in loudness and harshness of their calls. The most common periods of loud and raucous calling seems to be first thing in the mornings, when the parrots are awakening and assembling for the day ahead, then again when they return to their roost at the end of the day, when they will call to the rest of the flock, almost as if making sure everyone is accounted for, or exchanging information about their day.   If a parrot is screaming non stop, it would be considered an abnormal behaviour and would also be a problem to that bird living a productive and healthy life and most probably be considered a true behavioural problem, rather than just problem behaviour.

Before a person acquires a parrot, I really feel they need to spend some time, either with the parrot of their choice, or with some parrots of that particular breed, so that can observe the variety of parrot they have chosen. You need to observe what their behaviour is like and this can include how much room they like, how messy they are and very importantly how much noise they make. Many first time parrot owners have been surprised just how loud their small Sun Conure can actually be, so it is not always the size of the parrot that governs how much noise it makes.

Attention Screaming- Even though we think that we are very good at training our parrots, I personally feel they much better at training us. Many times when our parrots scream to us for attention and we either go to the parrot to see what is going on, or call back, even if that is to tell it to SHUT UP!, then your parrot has got the exact reaction it was seeking, and we have Positively Reinforced the behaviour, which means that it is more likely to occur in the future. Once your parrot has learnt that this works, it is difficult to remedy, as in most cases we find it hard to ignore the noise and eventually give the parrot some sort of attention. If we try to ignore a bout of screaming, which may have been going on for 10 or 20 minutes, but eventually cannot to take it and give in and answer or go to our parrot, all the parrot has learnt is that it may have to try a bit harder next time. If it screamed for 10 or 20 minutes last time and you eventually came, if screams for 15 or 25 minutes next time, then it will probably get your attention. We can inadvertently be teaching our parrots to scream longer and louder to get our attention.

To try and deal with the problem, we must learn to never pay our parrots for inappropriate behaviour by rewarding it by going to, or calling back. You must learn to totally ignore the undesired behaviour and only reward desired behaviours such as quiet, calm, or an alternative, such as a quieter noise, a whistle, or a taught word, if your parrot talks. These are called desired alternative behaviours, as your parrot cannot scream or screech if it is whistling or using an alternative word at a desired level.

When you first try to deal with a screaming problem and you are setting new rules, the problem can actually become worse, as your parrot is still using what it knows used to work, and this is known as Extinction Bursts. When you start ignoring your parrot, it may try harder and scream even louder or longer. Do not get discouraged, or give in, as this is just your parrots last ditch attempt to make old rules work for it. Whatever you do, once you have decided to deal with this problem, you must not give in and make sure everyone else in the family is understands what is being set in place and why and it is important that everyone is consistent in implementing this behaviour modification plans. Everyone must fully understand that even yelling at your parrot to stop screaming, may, and probably will be seen as a reward to your parrot. Parrots love excitement and drama and will soon join in if they think it is fun and will also try and prove who can scream the loudest!

It is extremely important that from now on your parrot only ever gets attention and rewarded for quiet and calm behaviours. If your parrot is screaming, then you must never go to, or answer your parrot. If while your parrot is screaming, it stops, or performs any other alternative behaviour that you consider is desirable, then you go to your parrot, answer it and reward the behaviour you prefer. You can put it on Cue by giving it a word, such as Calm or Quiet and praise and reward for this desired behaviour.

If you have neighbours that are being affected by your parrots noise, it is a good idea to go and see them and explain that you are aware of the situation and are trying to remedy the problem. If they know you are trying to fix the problem, they will be less likely to get the council involved with a noise complaint, and also it may stop them from yelling out at your parrot to be quiet and inadvertently reward the unwanted behaviour. Sometimes it can also make them understand that naturally some parrots vocalize at least twice a day. It may mean you moving your parrots cage away from your neighbours house if you house your parrot near a boundary fence.

Every parrot is an individual, but there are a few different things that may help you in dealing with a parrot that screams, or prevent the problem for occurring to start with. Firstly, if your parrot is just doing its normal early morning calling and night call, but that is causing problems if you are not an early riser and you kept indoors at night, you can give him an area to sleep in that you can black the windows out, with heavy curtains and so prevent your parrot seeing dawn break, till you draw the curtains. This can let you parrot sleep in a little later and not wake at dawn and then you can let him do his morning wake up calls. This darkening of the room, can also let you adjust his sleep/wake hours a just a little, so you can enjoy his company at night a little later, rather than him going to sleep at dusk, when he should. If you do decide to try this, I would only adjust your parrots sleep/wake hours as minimally as possible and never use putting your parrot in a darkened room as a punishment, or for solving problems,

I like my parrot to perform as many of its natural behaviours as possible, so because I see early morning calling and evening calling as natural, I have tried to put it on Cue and let him perform it, but at a time that is desirable to me. I either do it going to and from work in my car, where it doesnt affect anyone else but me and him, or when I first move him to and from his night time cage to his  daytime cage. I say the word Good Morning in a loud and boisterous voice and turn up the CD player. I sing and am very loud and he joins in and we both end up in a screaming, yelling singing contest. This gives him the chance to perform a natural behaviour but at a time that is desirable to me .I can also do this in the car on the way to work, which can get some strange looks from other drivers, when I pull up at the lights. I think they think that I having some form of  road rage, but I honestly say, that as well as it being good for my parrot, I have found it extremely therapeutic! At the end of each session, I start calming the situation down by starting to talk in whispers, being less animated and I use the cue word of, Quiet and also use the visual cue of shrugging my shoulders and letting out a sigh. This lets my parrot know that the screaming session is now over and it is time to be quiet. If he displays any noisy raucous behaviour, I turn my back on him and ignore him, which is Negative Punishment, and I am taking away something he considers a reward..my attention. Negative Punishment only means taking away something the parrot sees as a reward, which is my attention, and since companion parrots are so social and seem to love having our attention, this can be a very valuable tool in training our companion parrots.

You have to recognize that some companion parrots will call to you to just let you know they are there, or to seek you out and are not screaming. It can be a fine line to tread to decide if you are going to reward these calls by answering them. Everyone gets to know their parrot really well and can usually get to distinguish different calls and sometimes if a parrot is just singing out as recognition call, you can answer back, as long as this does not cause a problem and the parrots calling is not too loud or too often.

Another thing you can try, is when you parrot is getting too loud and over excited, start whispering very quietly. Calm your behaviour down and display calm and relaxed body posturing. Many times a parrot will feed off our behaviour and that is why yelling or showing aggressive behaviours, will do very little in solving the problem of a loud and over excited parrot. I will lower my voice, my head and shoulders and try not to stare right into my parrots eyes. I slow my movement right down and once my parrot is calm enough to listen, I may ask him to do something simple that I know he can perform, such as a Step Up or Go To Your Perch, just to get him listening to me and focused on something new.
Hopefully some of these strategies will help you if you are having problems with an overloud parrot, but always remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If your parrot isnt a screamer, do not wait till it is, to then try and find a cure. When your parrot is performing calm and relaxed behaviours, praise and reward your parrot and put it on Cue, by giving it a word, such as Calm or Quiet. As humans we always tend to wait till we have a problem and very rarely recognise all desirable things that are around us and reward these wanted behaviours. I want my parrot displaying as many calm behaviours as possible and will praise and reward these behaviours whenever I see them I reward my parrot for doing nothing, or anything else I consider desirable! When it is doing nothing or any other desirable behaviour, it isnt screaming, biting, or doing a multitude of other unwanted behaviours and it gives me the chance to reward and show my parrot that this what I want.

As always, make sure your parrot has a healthy diet, receives regular veterinary check ups and you are providing plenty of environmental enrichment and exercise. Providing your parrot with plenty of physical and mental stimulus in the forms of foraging behaviours will help occupy the parrots time as well as his mind A bored, or sick parrot, either physically or mentally could soon display unwanted or stereotypic behaviours.