Your Pet Question:
I have an Australian cockatiel that screams constantly. We have tried covering her up, using a light like a predator and various other ideas… nothing works! What can be done to slow down or even stop the screaming?
George Rundle, Pefferlaw, ON
The Expert Says:
Assuming your bird has had a full physical exam to rule out any medical reasons for agitated behaviour, understanding the motivation behind the screaming is essential. Birds communicate by calling out to each other. Loud, shrill, persistent calling is synonymous with distress such as losing visual contact with flock members or feeling threatened by a perceived danger, so creating ‘pretend predators’ makes the problem worse. Family members and other pets become your pet’s flock and often one specific person is perceived by the bird to be its mate. A hormonal cockatiel will incessantly call if it feels its ‘mate’ has left the room.
Observe when the bird calls out the most—has someone just left or entered the room? Did another pet enter the scene? Is the cage by a window where crows or hawks (predators) might be seen? Also note what you do when the bird screams. Do you return to the room, ‘scream’ back in answer, pick up the bird? Behaviour is always motivated by consequence. Once you have recorded all the events surrounding the screaming, consult with an avian veterinarian to plan how to modify the behaviour to give you more peace and make you and your cockatiel happier.
Dr. Kerry Korber has practiced bird, rabbit, rodent, reptile, ferret and exotic pet medicine since 1985 at Calgary Avian & Exotic Pet Clinic in Calgary, Alberta.