If you don’t own birds and are looking to get one, or have ever simply wondered exactly how loud a cockatiel, parrotlet, or canary can get, this is your answer. These small birds can scream very loudly, although all three are often described as very quiet. Some birds can be! But many are not. Mind you, a ‘tiel’s screams are absolutely nothing compared to bigger birds’ vocalisations. The thing is, even a tiny parrotlet or canary can make your ears ring. Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo has a call that we can easily hear down the street – and our flat is all but sound-proofed. Friends of ours own a Blue and Gold macaw who can shake the house with her shout.
Here, for reference, is how loud large birds, like Moluccan and Umbrella Cockatoos (and amazons and macaws, too), sound:
The things is, though, screaming is a normal behaviour for parrots. They use their voices for many reasons, including to celebrate being alive. Sometimes they’re alerting you to perceived danger, but just as often they’re just being birds. Most parrots greet dawn and dusk with enthusiastic shouts. However, if you’re wondering why your pet is vocalising abnormally, there could be more than one reason.
Screaming could be from boredom, sickness, tiredness, fear, loneliness, or frustration – amongst other causes. Sometimes they’ll use their voices to let you know if there’s something scary or dangerous nearby, too. Yet as I said, birds vocalise when happy, too. Cockatoos call at bedtime – they’re one of the few species of birds with a nighttime call, and this behaviour should not be suppressed. Native Australians are known to sleep with earplugs in because wild flocks will randomly call during the night. This kind of screaming is normal and healthy for them.
It’s important to pay attention to your bird’s noises. A change can signal illness: for instance, if a bird suddenly stops singing or vocalising for a few days. Or if your bird is being noisy in the other room and suddenly stops, you will want to check in – if nothing else to praise him and reinforce that idea that quiet is desirable. It’s very possible that a bird who is abruptly silent is in danger, or else getting into trouble!
Birds will also flock call to you if you leave the room, wanting to know where you are. In the wild, a parrot will call wildly if separated from the flock. It’s a good idea to respond with a special whistle just for that; you can tell it’s a flock call if a bird stops at your ‘reply.’ Doing so makes him feel secure and included.
Another vocalisation (and one much more desirable to owners!) is talking. A talking bird (that is, mimicking human words) can signal either happiness or anger. You have to judge based on its body language and feathers. Our parrotlet also uses talking to get attention – we reward the words with scritches and treats, reducing the likelihood that he’ll scream.
As an owner, you quickly learn to distinguish from a nervous or unhappy call and a normal one or an attention-seeking one. When it comes to screaming for attention, one thing an owner must never do is respond. This means completely ignoring the pet in question. No eye-contact, no talking back or soothing it, no leaving or entering the room. This can be an inconvenience, but responding in any way teaches the bird that its noise summons you. If you hold out for several hours and finally give in, you simply teach your parrot that all he has to do is keep going. He knows that eventually you’ll cave.
For a parrot with a chronic screaming issue, I honestly recommend first investing in a good pair of ear plugs or similar hearing protection.
Another great tip for dealing with screaming parrots is to encourage a ‘noisy session’ on your own time. Here’s how: At a time that’s convenient for both you and your neighbours (probably between 3-7pm), put on your bird’s favourite music and crank it up. Dance, sing, and get noisy with your bird. Encourage him to vocalise. Play the song two or three times and then gradually wind the volume and energy down. To conclude the session, put on calming music and reward your bird with calm praise and attention. He’ll learn to expect this sanctioned time for screaming, and hopefully become less noisy at other times.
If you bird is screaming from unhappiness rather than habit, there is something wrong that needs to be changed. You should rule out health issues by visiting your trusted avian vet, and start to find the root of the problem. If he’s bored, teach him to play with toys and forage. If he’s depressed, find the reason why. If he’s angry with you for wearing red shirts, don’t wear red.
Be compassionate towards your pet bird, even when he’s driving you mad. He only has you.
To conclude, it’s good for birds to vocalise: it’s a natural behaviour that often shows that they’re confident in their environment. It’s up to you to learn the difference between his calls. Bottom line, if you think you need a quiet pet, enjoy silence, or live in a flat or house with thin walls, parrots aren’t necessarily the best choice. If you think I exaggerate, watch the video above one more time, full volume, then go and look up screaming cockatoo clips.
Still want one? 😀