This blog was written by Elaine Henley P.G.Dip CABC
Clinical Animal Behaviourist
Togetherness: From March until June 2020, our Parrots may have become very used to our full-time presence at home during lockdown, with few or no visitors to their home. For some Parrots this may have been positive, as this may have resulted in extra attention from their caregivers and time out of their cage.
For other Parrots, caregivers being at home might have been stressful, as families were all at home. Many caregivers may have struggled with certain unwelcome aspects of their Parrot’s behaviour, such as vocalization, or aggression, as they tried to work from home or home school.
Separation: As lock down eased, caregivers could once more leave their homes, and their children could return to school. As a second wave is being predicted with local restrictions being announced weekly, we and our Parrots are living during an unpredictable time, often involving conflicting choice such as: work from home or don’t work from home, leave the house or don’t leave the house.
Parrots (and humans) quickly become stressed when their environment is no longer predictable. As a result, stressed Parrots are more likely to display their stress though their behaviour—for instance, they may begin to feather pluck, excessively vocalize, or be aggressive.
To help your Parrot cope with an unpredictable environment:
Try to establish a routine similar to the one you had prior to March ‘20
Keep to a similar feeding and out of cage schedule.
If working from home in the same room as your Parrot, then change the location of your workstation, so that your Parrot is not always with you. A further benefit to this is that your Parrot is less likely to interrupt important Zoom meetings.
If other non-working family members are at home, ask them to give your Parrot the space that she or he needs.
When possible and safe to do so, leave the house for short periods of time each day and go for a walk or make a call sitting in your car.
Assess your Parrot when alone:
To see how your Parrot is coping when alone, set up your tablet, laptop, phone or camera and wi-fi so you can see the cage.
Use a video conferencing app such as Zoom or Skype; do the same on your phone and leave the house for no more than half an hour and watch what your Parrot does.
Remember, if using a tablet, laptop, or a phone to turn off your audio and visual so that the Parrot can neither see or hear you, which otherwise might cause them stress.
Please don’t be tempted to speak to them when they are alone in the house; some people have tried this with dogs, and it did not end well, with the dogs becoming very stressed at hearing their caregivers’ voice but not being able to see or smell them.
If your Parrot is screeching, feather plucking or showing other signs of distress, these are all signs of quite strong emotions that could be linked to a separation disorder and will require the assistance of a professional. Please see the Help section below.
Tips to help
Parrots are flock creatures—that is, all Parrots live in flocks. A lone Parrot in the wild is a dead Parrot as there is safety in numbers.
When some Parrots are foraging, others will be watching for predators. When we bring a Parrot into our home, we become their flock.
They feel safe and secure when we are with them, and some feel frightened or insecure when we are not with them; thus, from when we first bring our Parrots into our home, we need to build up their tolerance to being left alone.
Once tolerance has been learned, it is not for life; therefore, having us spend long periods of time with them during lockdown can reduce that tolerance.
Parrots in the wild give flock calls that tell other members where they are. These communications also serve to call other members of the flock back to them.
DO establish a flock call with your Parrot in the home, so that s/he knows where you are or that you have not abandoned them, or worse, have been eaten by a predator. By doing this, you may be preventing a screeching problem later on.
When you leave a room and it is not possible for your Parrot to follow you, then tell them where you are going and what you will be doing. If you will be working in another room, tell them so.
When your Parrot calls to you from another room, be sure to answer; again, this will help to prevent or reduce screeching, as your Parrot does not need to raise its voice to locate you.
Remember that Parrots have two periods of time during the day when they are most likely to be vocal, i.e., dawn and dusk. To avoid any negative feelings towards your Parrot during these times, it is best to avoid important work calls.
DO teach your Parrot that when you leave the house, you will return. You can do this by gradually increasing the time your Parrot spends alone in the house. Begin small, no longer than 5 minutes and gradually build up the time spent alone.
DO teach a cue word for leaving the house so that the Parrot will associate this word or phrase with your departure and return; for example, "I’m going to work; see you later!" The Parrot can then settle down and not worry about being on their own.
Being bored mentally can be stressful by itself; and this stress could be compounded by the Parrot’s being left alone or being unable to cope with a change in routine.
Discover what is enriching to your Parrot, for some this may be chewing wood or paper or it may be nest building; and, for others, it might be foraging toys or feeding enrichment.
Some Parrots enjoy listening to the radio or watching TV. Provide your Parrot with enrichment that suit their preferences.
Remember that many species of Parrots are neophobic and have a fear of new objects; thus, introduce any new enrichment in a controlled manner and from a distance, by placing your Parrot close to its cage and then, over a period of days, gradually moving him/her closer to the inside of their cage.
To encourage Parrots to play with toys, play with them yourself, as the Parrots’ natural curiosity will ensure that they come closer for a look.
Useful guides to making these are:
Please remember any sudden changes in behaviour can be an indication that something is amiss.
If your Parrot suddenly starts behaving in a way that is not their normal behaviour and that is out of character, there will be a reason – it may be behavioural, but it may also be medical.
If you are concerned about your Parrot’s behaviour, do talk to your vet in the first instance, in case there are any underlying medical causes.
Please remember, if your Parrot is not doing well when alone, you need to seek professional help. Qualified behaviour help is available from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors www.apbc.org.uk. Separation related issues and other problems lend themselves very well to remote consultations with a behaviourist.
Here are Elaine's contact details
Elaine Henley P.G.Dip CABC
Animal Behaviour Clinic
Full member Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC)
Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist (ABTC)
Certified Parrot Behaviour Consultant (IAABC)
Telephone: 01294 833764 or 07789112347
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