Screaming is the innate first form of communication for the parrot. Whether in nature with his congenerics or with us in our homes, a parrot that screams (read here screech, yell...) is always trying to communicate, to express something.
One of the acquired forms of communication goes through the apprenticeship of making contact calls. In his natural environment, the young parrot learns the vocalisations that will be used as signals to keep in touch with his social group. These vocalisations are learned by listening and imitating parents and members of the social group at the beginning of the socialisation of the young parrot.
If the contact calls to keep in touch are part of the innate behaviour of the bird, the vocalisations that will form these are acquired. They will become part of the individual baggage of the bird and will depend on what he learns and retains of the environment in which he will develop, according to the responses he will get. Many diverse modulations and sounds will be integrated (if they are worth the effort, if they enable communication) to allow the parrot to maintain tight contacts with the group.
It is in the nature of the parrot to want to communicate through vocalisations and it is normal, also, that this acquired portion of the contact calls mechanism be also transposed in the context of domesticity.
The parrot will learn the familiar everyday sounds needed to attract attention, to keep in touch or to transmit a desire or frustration...and naturally he will retain the sounds that work well (for him).
A parrot expresses himself and you must try somehow and as well as possible to decipher this language; knowing very well that it is a call, a communication, and you must try to understand what your bird is trying to say... Not an easy task! If you ignore these vocalisations, there is a risk of escalation and it is at that moment that the contact calls may turn into very loud sounds, might I say very loud contact screams.
There are a multitude of sounds (calls) that express your parrot's feelings. The modulation of the call or scream will be different depending on the circumstances or the emotions involved.
- To locate the members of his social group. The parrot will make contact calls attempting to locate his favorite human or the members of his group in the house. Sometimes a simple answer will suffice for him to return to his occupations. At other times, he simply will want to join you (if he has the possibility of course) and he will know where to find you by your answer.
- Vocalization of alarm or distress. A normal parrot screams when he is suddenly faced with what appears to be threatening: a new object, a stranger, a sudden noise, etc. This is not an abnormal behaviour, it is an ancestral mode of alarm transposed in a domestic context that is used primarily to notify his group of a probable or imminent danger. We are not talking here of problem behaviour. These kinds of calls are very defined and circumstantial: fear of dogs or large birds outside, the arrival of a car in your parking space, someone walking in front of your home, etc. However, if your parrot often makes these kinds of alarm calls, you must reassess the environment of the bird, it is not normal that a parrot feels in constant distress situation.
- The exclusion. Nothing worse for a social animal that depends on the group to survive. The bird is isolated from the group, and tries to locate you or to let you know his position in the house. The parrot is a gregarious animal and simply does not support the exclusion. He will be at that time making small connecting calls, usually the words he knows: allooo, what you doing, come on, kiss-kiss, etc. If he does not receive a response to these repeated calls, he will gently increase the tone, and if the soft approach does not work, he will use the vigorous, the one at full power... one that works every time. If you wait until this extreme to react, the bird will retain (simply) that he has to scream loudly for you to deign to come and take care of him a little. He has learned to shout to communicate or to get some attention since it is at that moment that he got your attention.
- Environmental influence. You should never minimize the strong empathy of parrots. Often the atmosphere or ambient animation in the home has a serious direct impact on the level of the sounds expressed by the bird. Your parrot can not remain impassive in the face of children bickering, the TV, the radio playing loudly or the dog barking in the yard. If there is some commotion in the household, you can be certain that the parrot will be part of it!
In addition, never forget that screaming is a natural means of communication for the parrot and if you answer by shouting after him trying to impress and silence him... he simply will conclude that you are trying to contact him and he will try to imitate the power of your voice... Believe me, in this game you are no match for the competition.
- Taxi. A parrot that has trimmed flight feathers needs a way to get around the house. So what does he do? He will call his taxi! And if the taxi does not arrive quickly, the parrot is not the kind to give up, he will call as long as it takes... Better leave Coco his natural mode of locomotion (his wings), he will gain in autonomy and you will gain in quietness!
These screams, used in normal situations can quickly escalate depending on the answers that you provide to the bird. Indeed, as an intelligent animal, the parrot may quickly understand how he can affect the behaviour of those around him to his advantage by using strategic sounds in order to gain the most benefits. Make sure to send the right messages to your parrot, those you want him to retain... Many parrots learn quite quickly to get what they want from their human by screaming, as some people will do anything to silence their bird, giving him exactly what he wants when he screams. Indeed, the parrot can emit cries of alarm and distress to get a response, or still, imitate in a deafening way all of the household noises, such as: the smoke detector, the video games or any other inappropriate sounds, because he thinks that he is doing the right thing, convinced that he is communicating adequately, even if it makes you crazy... because it works!
Generally, the parrot does not scream for nothing. There is always a reason (at least, from his point of view), all of his actions resulting from specific motivations. Sometimes it can be difficult for us to identify what makes our bird scream his head off: what seems very trivial to you may mean something else completely for the parrot.
Sporadic screaming is quite normal; do not forget that this is an innate means of communication and that even the most socialised parrots will use sometimes this mode of communicating as a contact call to locate you. At this point, a simple answer, such as: "I'm in the kitchen" will satisfy your bird, if you have taken the trouble beforehand to have him visit and know his territory by showing it and associating a sound (naming it).
The important thing here is to not unduly reward this behaviour by giving the bird the desired attention. If you react to this kind of behaviour by shouting in return or by responding, from his point of view, positively (by coming towards him, giving him a treat to silence him and... etc.), you will validate his attitude and he will only remember that if he wants attention (or anything else), he has only to express it loudly!
Naturally you must use common sense. If it is a young parrot or a baby screaming, the situation requires immediate attention - a very young parrot never cries for nothing; however your reaction to this behaviour from a more "experienced" parrot requires more reflection, to avoid the risk of offering an UNFORTUNATE response. Only a poorly socialised parrot, "insecure", anxious, dissatisfied, even overwhelmed, will scream loudly, persistently, repetitively; either with no apparent reason or either simply because he does not know how to react to a situation, even the most ordinary one.
At this point, it is up to you!
The autonomous parrot
© Johanne Vaillancourt 2006-2009
Picasso, Severe Macaw, ara severa, CAJV
African Grey, psittacus erithacus erithacus, Manon Lacoursière
Umbrella Cockatoo, Cacatua alba, Marie-Josée Ouellet
Chiko, Blue and gold Macaw, ara ararauna, Sylvain-Luc Richard
Never shout after your parrot to reprimand him. The parrot learns through observation and imitation and in this case, the pupil could quickly surpass his master.
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