by Shelly Lane
Get help with your bird’s sreaming problem by understanding the most common causes of screaming and some potential solutions. Although this article is several years old, this is still one of the most common issues that Quaker Parrot owners face.
Note: Seven years ago or so, I wrote a series of articles that appeared in the Quaker Parakeet Society’s quarterly newsletter. This is the fifth of those articles.
My how time flies. QPS is a year old, and spring is just around the corner again.
Without a doubt the question I was asked the most often during the last year was “How do I stop my Quaker from screaming,” so I thought I would devote the column this quarter to this very important subject. It is not an easy subject to tackle because there is no “one size fits all” answer. However, I will discuss some of the more common causes of screaming and make some suggestions that I hope will help.
Where are you going?!
It is not uncommon for a Quaker to scream when the owner leaves the room. One reason for this may be that birds call back and forth to each other in their native habitats to communicate their locations. You need to understand that this is a natural behavior for a Quaker, and the only way to overcome it is to work patiently and consistently toward a solution.
Some owners have overcome this type of screaming simply by communicating with the bird as they leave the room. They tell the bird they are leaving, and they let the bird know when they will be back. You can use several short phrases to indicate to your bird how long you will be away. I use “I’ll be right back” if I will be away only a few moments and “I’ll be back” if I’ll be away longer than a few moments. If I’m leaving the house, the birds not only see me get ready to leave, but I also tell them “Bye-bye. I’ll be back later.”
Even though these 3 phrases are very similar, Quakers have excellent language skills. It didn’t take my birds very long to seemingly understand the meaning of these words. In fact, they know my habits so well that they often beat me to the punch with the appropriate phrase. For example, if I go into a certain room during the day, they know I’m usually only a few moments and will say “I’ll be right back.” When I put on my coat or pick up my purse, it’s a sure sign I’m leaving the house and they will often start repeating “Bye-bye” over and over before I’m anywhere near the door.
Other owners have tried to simulate nature a little more closely by answering the bird when it calls, but they have replaced the screams with less irritating sounds such as whispers or whistles. I have not personally tried this method, but I understand that it has been successful for some people.
A third method for dealing with this type of screaming is distraction, and food works the best for this. I’ve found that treats such as Lafeber Nutri-Berries and Avi-Cakes are ideal because most Quakers love them, and they take a bit of work and time to eat. The key is to have the treats nearby and to give one to the bird just before you leave the room and before the bird has a chance to scream. Once the bird has started to scream, offering a food treat may be seen as a reward for screaming and can make the problem worse rather than better.
There may be certain times of the year when your Quaker is more vocal than usual. Spring can be one of these times as the lengthening days release hormones into the birds system. You may need to help your bird release excess energy and frustration to combat this type of screaming. Some ways to do this include frequent baths, new toys, wing flapping exercises and making your bird work a little harder for its food. Try a treat carousel or shish kabob, for example.
Another method for dealing with this type of screaming is limiting your pet bird’s exposure to light by covering the cage at set times each night so that the lengthening days have less of an affect. This is what we do, and we rarely experience hormonal mood swings in our birds. I would recommend 10-12 hours of covered time each night. (Our birds receive 12.)
The “Stereo” Effect
Your bird’s noise level is often a reflection of the general noise level in your home. If one of the other “inhabitants” of your home – whether it be a child, the vacuum, the dishwasher or the TV – is making some noise, your bird may try to match it or even outdo it in volume. This is simply a bird who is enjoying being a part of its flock.
Once again, try to anticipate the screaming if you can. For example, if your family wants to watch a special show on television, plan ahead to give your bird a bath or misting right before the show starts. You might also try making your bird a bowl of fresh veggies and fruit or giving it 3-4 Nutri-Berries. A bird that is giving its full attention to preening or eating is a lot less likely to scream.
I have covered 3 common causes for screaming and offered some potential solutions. Of course, you know your bird better than I do, and you may invent other successful methods of training your bird not to scream. In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts to consider when dealing with the screaming issue.
1) Loud vocalizing is a natural behavior for parrots. To react in anger or with irritation to these vocalizations is not being fair to a bird that is simply following its instincts.
2) Never punish your bird for screaming. Parrots are incapable of understanding the concept of punishment. In addition, yelling at your bird, banging on its cage or shaking a can of coins will be seen by your bird as you joining in on the noise-making fun. You will have made the problem much worse and harder to deal with in the future.
3) Distraction methods and helping your bird to release excess energy are very effective ways to help teach your Quaker not to scream. Learn to anticipate the noisy periods and try to stop the screaming before it starts. Make sure your bird is getting enough rest as well.
4) No matter how diligent you are at training your bird not to scream, there will still be some times when it is noisy. Learn to accept the vocalizations as a part of parrot ownership. If some peace and quiet becomes imperative and the usual solutions aren’t effective, you may need to remove either yourself or your bird from the room until the noisy period has passed – not as a punishment but as a sanity-keeper.
My husband and I live with 8 Quakers, and while we have our noisy times, the majority of the time it is fairly quiet in our home. These methods really do work, but they do not work overnight. Once again, patience and consistency are the keys. And it helps to remember all of the wonderful qualities that our Quakers have to offer – and that we humans are not so perfect either. Good luck!