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Bird Behavior: Understanding Changes in Your Pet

Bird Behavior: Understanding Changes in Your Pet

Birds are intelligent pets with a lot of personality, but sometimes you may notice a change in behavior that puzzles you. There is no such thing as a bad bird, or bad bird behavior. Instead, birds respond to changes in their environment in ways that make sense to them—even though their actions may not make sense to you.

If your bird exhibits a change in behavior that you find undesirable, it’s your job as a pet parent to determine the cause. It may take some detective work or a consultation with an expert, but if you observe your pet and learn about his normal behavior, you should be able to help take the mystery out of the behavioral changes and work with him to get results that are more desirable to you.

Boredom and neglect

Boredom and neglect are two of the most common causes of behavior changes in birds. These behaviors can sometimes be manifested as anger or frustration—which can result in biting, screaming or feather plucking. While it’s important for your bird to be able to entertain himself, it’s still critical that you provide him with regular interaction and playtime. Otherwise, boredom might arise out of loneliness or neglect.

The amount of one-on-one time you should spend with your bird depends on the species and whether or not he is sharing his habitat with other birds of his species. Some birds enjoy the company of other birds, while others that are kept alone may need more quality time with you. No matter what type of bird you have, you should communicate as much as possible with him and ensure that he is able to observe you and your family so he feels like he’s a part of your flock.

Birds need a variety of toys to keep them entertained, stimulated, to burn energy and to stay fit. Many pet parents find that regularly rotating toys allows them to continually provide their bird with exciting things to do. Choose from a variety of wood blocks, ladders, ropes, barbells and hanging toys made especially for your bird’s size and species.

Interactive and foraging toys can provide hours of fun as well. Many pet birds enjoy playing simple games with you, like peek-a-boo. Games can encourage trust between you and your pet and provide a fun way to spend quality time together.

When your bird is home alone, you can play soft music or leave the TV on to provide him with comforting noises—as well as interesting things to watch.

Biting

Birds use their beaks to eat and pick up items, as well as to balance and get around. It’s important to distinguish between your bird using his beak normally as a tool and using his beak to bite (for example, out of fear). Biting is simply a behavior that elicits the response your bird is trying to achieve. The key to correcting unwanted biting behavior is to determine the cause. To break a persistent biting habit, don’t reach into your bird’s habitat if he appears distressed or is flashing or pinning his eyes (rapidly dilating and contracting his pupils).

If you do get bit, do not punish your bird. Instead, try lightly shaking or disrupting whatever your bird is standing on, be it your arm or other perch, but make sure he doesn’t fall. The slight jiggling will cause your bird to momentarily forget about biting and focus on regaining his balance. Eventually, he’ll connect biting with this unpleasant sensation and stop.

Depending on the species, you can also try telling your bird “no” in a normal speaking voice, but never yell at your bird or use an angry tone. If you can’t determine the cause of your bird’s biting, or if you think his behavior is out of the ordinary for his personality, consult with your veterinarian to rule out any possible medical issues. You may also need to consult with a bird behavior specialist.

Screaming

Most birds are crepuscular, meaning that they vocalize during the morning and evening hours when the sun is rising and setting. This is a natural behavior and should not be discouraged. Also, a certain amount of screaming is normal for some species of bird. Excessive screaming is a behavior you’ll want to address. If fear isn’t the cause, your bird may be screaming because it causes a reaction from you. In other words, you may have inadvertently trained your bird to scream.

If your bird is screaming because he wants attention, don’t rush into the room and tell him to stop. Instead, try to ignore him. When he eventually stops, then go to him and praise him. This way, you are rewarding his patience and quietness—not rewarding his screaming by giving him attention. You can also try covering your bird’s habitat with a towel or blanket until he stops screaming, and reward him once he stops by removing the towel or blanket.

Meeting your bird’s needs

Birds may also display certain behaviors if their basic needs aren’t satisfied—so if your bird is hungry, thirsty or tired, he may respond in a way you don’t understand. He is only behaving this way to get a desired effect—to get your attention for example. Maintain a regular schedule for your pet and make sure that he has adequate amounts of nutritious food, continuous access to fresh water and plenty of time to rest and relax. If you have a busy household that doesn’t allow your bird to get an adequate amount of sleep, he may show a change in behavior.

It’s also possible for your bird to become bored with his variety of food, so make sure you supplement his diet regularly with bird-safe fruits and vegetables. They can be a healthy way to help spice up his life. Treats should never exceed 10 percent of your bird’s total diet.

Fear and stress from a variety of factors can also precipitate a change in behavior. Sometimes the cure is as simple as moving your bird’s habitat to a new location that makes him feel more secure. Household noises, other pets in the house, new objects in the room—even a new brightly colored piece of apparel on one of your family members—can cause your bird to become fearful. Look for and rule out anything that may be disturbing his serenity.

Birds need positive reinforcement just like any other pet. Reward your bird with praise whenever he exhibits positive behavior. Eventually he will begin to understand what is expected and behave accordingly. Clicker training—in conjunction with giving a treat—is another way to use positive reinforcement to teach positive behaviors.

Ask the experts

A board-certified avian veterinarian or a bird behavior specialist can help you identify causes and find solutions for changes in your pet’s behavior. Don’t expect to see results overnight. Be patient and consistent. Your efforts will ensure your bird is a happy member of your family.