by Mattie Sue Athan
As is usually the case, it is easier to prevent screaming from starting than it is to stop a screaming parrot once it has learned this annoying behavior. Mattie Sue offers some practical advice for owners of young parrots to help prevent screaming from becoming an issue.
Question: What can I do to prevent my baby Quaker from developing excessive screaming behaviors?
Unlike cockatoos, Amazons, macaws, and eclectus, most individual companion Quaker Parrots don’t make enough noise to disturb the neighbors down the block, but a Quaker can be very annoying to residents in the home.
That is not to say that they can’t be obnoxious when the want to be. Especially when wild-caught Quakers were the norm and when they arrived in huge growling, ear-splitting groups, it was easy to speculate that they used their obnoxious voices as a classic defense mechanism in the wild. Today’s domestic handfed Quakers may be two generations from this model, but they can still learn either wild-Quaker language or human-tolerable ways. Humans in the environment are the primary watchguards of the domestic Quaker Parrot’s behavioral adjustment.
Begin with good stock; buy from a breeder who emphasizes handfeeding birds away from wild-caught adult groups.
Many Quaker breeders handfeed and socialize in a manner specifically intended to protect the domestic baby from learning the wild-guttural language of their often wild-caught parents. A conscientious breeder will look for type of vocalizations as well as other behavioral elements in selecting the most desirable breeding stock. Talk to your breeder or dealer and ask to talk to others who have purchased Quakers from them before.
Look for a well-weaned bird with no remnant begging noises.
A baby Quaker might retain the baby quaking behavior for a very long time. A bird exhibiting maladjustment to weaning or an improperly weaned bird might retain vocal begging behaviors which can escalate into mature annoying vocalizations. A baby Quaker that is too vocal can often be trained to discontinue annoying begging vocalizations by providing warm foods such as macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, or grits before the annoying vocalizations might begin on a particular occasion.
Set a good example; protect the bird from acquiring modeled loud sounds like barking, screaming, etc.
Quaker Parrots will do what they observe being done around them. It is not unusual for Quakers in homes with dogs to bark. It is not unusual for Quakers in homes with screaming children to scream exactly like the children. If a parent has a harsh way of speaking to the children, the Quaker will often pick it up. Quakers will, almost immediately, pick up a chronic cough if there’s a cougher in the house. Some Quakers are intolerant of infant crying and will pitch a fit over a new human baby. This is a great time for grandparents who love the bird, because sometimes the best thing to be done is to send the bird to “summer camp” at gramma’s.
Be consistent, especially about feeding, watering, and sleeping schedules.
A tired bird that hasn’t had enough sleep, is fed on an erratic schedule, or is sitting on a dirty water dish has a perfect right to complain. Birds that sleep a good 10-12 hours, sometimes in a roost cage, are observably much quieter than birds that stay up late in the living room.
Don’t reinforce undesirable sounds.
Like all other behaviors, screaming can become habitual. From the baby bird’s first days in the home, they will be studying the behavior of humans and trying to control it. Don’t respond to inappropriate sounds, ignore them, and they will disappear (unless the bird has found a way to make them self-rewarding).
Provide a stimulating environment with lots of things to entertain the active little Quaker.
Any bird can learn annoying vocalizations, but if those vocalizations are not reinforced and the bird is provided with various types of fun-for-fun’s-sake, self-rewarding behaviors, they will not become habitual.
Mattie Sue Athan has been a companion parrot behavior consultant since 1978. During that time she has averaged two to three new Quaker clients per week. Her first book, Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot, is an industry standard. Her second book, Guide to the Quaker Parrot, sold out the first printing in 5 months. She also wrote Guide to the Senegal Parrot and Its Family and Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior.