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Why Is My Bird Screaming?

This is my 20 year old male Goffin Cockatoo named Iggy. My husband and I adopted him 1 year ago this month! This picture was taken a day or two after we got him. Iggy wasn't in great shape, but has come a long way since then! Now, we had never lived with a cockatoo up until this point and knew that they could be loud, but truly did not know what we were in for until Iggy was settled in.

He's loud. Like......really loud. He will scream bloody murder at the following:

  • "Scary" things on tv. Like wide, panoramic shots, cows, yelling, bright moving colors, laughing, women with heavy make up......basically whatever trips his trigger in the moment.

  • Anything unfamiliar coming up the driveway. He's actually a very helpful "guard dog!"

  • If we are eating dinner in the dining room (out of sight) for too long.

  • If we dance (he loves dance parties).

  • If he hears something unfamiliar (like if we drop something).

  • If we are carrying something.

  • If he feels like it.

Basically my point is that one of Iggy's primary ways to communicate and express himself is through various vocalizations (not just screaming). He does not talk (I wish he did), but he has his own little sounds that mean different things. His screaming can be unnerving a lot of times, but one of the biggest factors that I keep in mind that help me build empathy with him is that he is physiologically wired to vocalize loudly. Cockatoos as a species are known for their loud calls and use this as a way to communicate with other members of their flock in the wild. Additionally, males tend to be more vocal overall.

Where do we draw the line between normal vocalization and inappropriate vocalization? It's a fine line to balance for sure. It's so easy to inadvertently give attention for screaming, which just reinforces the screaming and increases the likelihood of it happening. Here are some factors that I look at when working with screaming birds:

  1. Are their needs being met? This includes having access to a variety of different toys (preening, chewing, puzzle, etc) that give them opportunities to practice species-typical behaviors. It is important to know how the species in question operates in the wild in order to accomplish this goal. In the wild, do they feed on the ground or up high? Iggy's species only feeds up in the treetops, so his meals need to be given up high.

  2. Are they healthy? As always, we want to make sure that there is not an underlying medical concern that could be contributing to the problem.

  3. How big is their cage? If their cage is too small, this can cause stress and frustration, which snowballs into other behavior concerns.

  4. Do they have a variety of perches? Birds require a variety of perches (made of different materials) on different levels of the cage.

  5. Are they getting enough time out of their cage? Birds that are confined to their cages 24/7 are certainly more likely to scream out of frustration and boredom.

  6. Are they getting enough human interaction? Parrots are extremely social animals and most rely on their humans to meet this need. Iggy was kept in a spare bedroom for most of his life and had minimal human interaction, so we had a lot to work through when he first came to live with us.

One strategy that has been immensely helpful with Iggy is giving him lots of calm feedback when he is quiet. I found that if I got excited or animated in my feedback, this would get him too amped up and he would scream. He has figured out that he gets lots of attention when he is quiet, which increases the likelihood of quiet.

If he is in a screaming mood, I will typically leave the room or move him to a second cage set up for him in a different area of the house to decompress. This is in no way a punishment; it's just a way for him to get a change of scenery and to calm down from whatever was exciting him or stressing him out.

He is a super entertaining boy, and we wouldn't trade him for anything!!

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