HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.

COCKATIEL SCREAMING

(Behavioral Problem)
If your cockatiel is normal and healthy, it will preen and groom by cleaning its feathers, Roosters crow when the sun rises or sets and Robins usually sing in the early morning and late evening. Many cockatiels scream to greet the day and to wish everyone a good night. The cockatiel yell or scream can also be a greeting or an expression of discontent. A cockatiel that screams all day or all night is a stressed cockatiel. Stress can contribute to illness.

If your cockatiel screams when you return home, go directly to the cockatiel and provide attention and perhaps a favorite toy that was withheld during the day. Moving the cockatiel to a new location or isolating it from the family's activities may cause screaming. Try to perch the cockatiel so that it feels included in the family life. If you want to move the bird to a new location after it had been used to one place, do this gradually by playing with it and giving it a little more attention for the first few hours.

Some things to ask yourself if your bird has "suddenly" become a screamer:
1. Did you spend every second of your day with him?
2. Did you spoil him?
3. Did you come running every time he'd call?
4. Did you give him treats or take him out when he was noisy to "quiet him"? (spoiled)

Answering yes to #1 and/or #2 means he is probably spoiled and that is why it is screaming for your attention. It doesn't understand why you don't always spend time with it, and doesn't understand that your life may have changed and you CAN'T spend the time that you used to. It probably also doesn't know how to keep itself entertained if its always had you for entertainment. All it knows is that for its life up to this point, he/she was the center of attention, and now its not, and that's upsetting and confusing.

Answering yes to #3 and/or #4, means you have taught it to scream for attention. This habit is tough to break. Un-spoiling a spoiled bird is a pretty big task. Curing a spoiled bird will also take a lot of patience and tolerance to screams and yelling. One instance a bird might scream is when you've left the room. This is really common in cockatiels. The bird is actually calling to you and looking out for you. In the wild they are a prey animal, meaning if they're not careful they become dinner while looking for dinner. When one bird cannot actually see another, in an effort to assure themselves everyone is ok, they will shout back and forth. When you leave the room your bird cannot see you, and instinctively becomes "concerned for your safety". To make sure you're all right it calls to you, and it fully expects you to answer. If you don't, well obviously the little guy is going to become more and more anxious. One thing you can do is to answer with a soft whistle or sound. If after you have been out of the room for awhile, you hear your bird whistle to you, just whistle back to let it know everything is just fine by him/her.

Another time birds will usually yell is when it senses you are busy doing something else and it has loss your attention. Once again consider them in the wild- birds are a flock animal and do just about everything together. They do not go off on their own and do things by themselves, in their minds it's just plain rude. You'll usually find just before your bird starts screaming, it will go through its cute routines to get your attention. If that doesn't work then it will move on to screaming. Basically all it is doing is disciplining you for breaking the rules of proper flock etiquette.

Some ways to prevent spoiling:
Be sure he has a wide variety of toys that are different colors, sizes, and textures...try some of those toys that you can hide treats in him to try to get his interest. Do NOT give him attention while he's screaming, even yelling at him to be quiet is attention, and will only strengthen the bad habit. If you notice he's being quiet, go into the room and just talk to it for a few seconds or just whistle for a bit to let it know you are OK. if you see it may have been sleeping you can skip any kind of sound contact with it for a while.

Whatever you do, however, don't respond to screams with treats or by taking him out of his cage. If you let him out or give him a treat to quiet him down, you're teaching him that whenever he wants to come out or have a treat, all he has to do is scream. Keep in mind that it's normal for a cockatiel to be loud sometimes. It's not a "screaming problem" when your bird is doing it in the morning, evening, or when you first come home. That's just his way of greeting the day, greeting you, and saying goodnight. Remember, just because a bird's vocalizations may annoy you doesn't mean they're excessive. Keep in mind birds are NOT quiet pets, and happy, healthy birds will vocalize frequently throughout the day.

Sometimes a screaming problem starts because of boredom, loneliness, or frustrated mating desires, it is very common that screaming develops because an owner has inadvertently reinforced the behavior by rewarding screaming with attention. The problem doesn't develop overnight and there are no magic cures but good discipline and careful alteration of the owner's behavior patterns can often solve it over time.

You should always try and establish your dominant position as flock leader. Status is everything in bird to bird interaction -- the phrase "pecking order" comes from the world of bird behavior. If the bird is boss in your house you will probably have behavior problems at some point.

You should establish a routine for your bird care and for your interaction with the bird by doing this within the same time frame each day whether it is once a day or several times a day. You should not do it at exactly the same time every day so as to prevent it from being spoiled in that it knows exactly when you are going to give it attention and expects it. Birds are creatures of habit and they like their lives predictable.

Screaming can sometimes be stopped by placing a towel or small blanket over the cage to make the bird think it is nighttime. If you try this it should be done with a minimum of fuss and the cover should be removed again as soon as the bird is quiet. If you leave it in place longer than necessary it will cease to be useful because the bird will not associate its own behavior with the presence or absence of the cover. If the cover does not quiet the bird within 5 minutes this technique will probably not be very useful to you since the cover did not affect the bird's behavior and placing it will act as an attention reward.

If the bird is screaming ignore it. If the bird is quiet stop a moment and tell it what a good bird it is or whistle to it for a while or play with one its its toys such as a ladder or swing to encourage it to join in. Then move on and don't turn it into an unplanned play time until the screaming problem is stopped or lessened.

Some bird noise is very loud but is not screaming -- its just the natural sounds of bird life. They are very vocal creatures and you can expect them to greet dawn and sunset with enthusiasm. They may get rowdy just before mealtimes and especially, if you work and the house is empty all day, when you arrive home. A sunny day may send a male into an hour of song just because it is happy.

Some cases of screaming are helped by getting a companion bird, especially when the screaming is caused by boredom, or by a single bird choosing a human mate who cannot spend all his/her time with the bird. Birds bonding with humans is why they make such good pets but unless you are home all day it is unlikely that you can fill your end of what the bird expects of a mate.



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E-Mail: berniehansen@sympatico.ca

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Hamilton & District Budgerigar Society Inc.