Although screaming is normal for parrots ( up to 15-20 minutes several times a day) there are some who will exhibit excessive vocalizations. It is imperative that the underlying reason for this is determined ( which is certainly not always easy) so an appropriate plan can be put in place. Some of the more common causes of excessive vocalization include:
1. owner reinforced attention seeking behavior (…that’s right..for those of you who yell at your bird to stop screaming, you are actually teaching him to scream more!),
2. fear induced
3. anxiety induced
4. distress or injury induced
5. lack of environmental enrichment (boredom!).
Lets say you have a parrot who screams excessively as a result of owner reinforcement. What should you do? Well, first you must understand what reinforcement is for your bird. Reinforcement is any behavior that YOU do that increases the chances of the screaming behavior reoccuring. For many parrots this includes, saying or yelling “no”, “stop it”, or “be quiet.” It can also be simply looking at the bird or squirting the bird with water. Although the person intends to use the water or words as punishment, this is NOT how many parrots perceive these actions. The best approach is to IGNORE the screaming. This means no looking at, talking to, or touching the bird. In fact, leaving the room is a viable option. You return when the screaming stops. What EVERY pet owner should know when they first start ignoring a behavior is that that behavior is going to get worse before it gets better. This is called an extinction burst. This is a GOOD sign as the next phase is for the problematic behavior to decrease/stop.
I have had a some cases where it is hazardous to ignore a behavior. I saw a parrot who had a combination of separation anxiety, aggression issues, and would squeeze his cloaca (a bird’s tushy) for attention seeking. This particular bird had a history of cloacal prolapses ( the tushy tissue hangs outside the bird’s body) and had surgery to keep the cloaca from prolapsing. We could not risk an extinction burst in this particular case because of the surgery, therefore, I had to devise an alternative treatment plan for that aspect of this bird’s behavior.