Night frights in birds, particularly young birds, aren’t that dissimilar to those your toddler may have experienced. Waking up sobbing (toddler) and terrified or thrashing the cage bottom (Parrots).
Research has shown that birds dream but has not yet shown that they have nightmares. However the blind manic they display has to be assuaged. Reassurance from parent or carer and plenty of comforting is needed.
As a Cockatiel carer told me: ‘His little heart was pumping so hard. I held him till it quietened.” Fortunately most babies (birds and humans) grow out of night frights. But in the case of birds - not always.
Les Rance, secretary of the Parrot Club and an experienced breeder of many species, told me the following unfortunate experience that happened ten years ago in his breeding establishment.
His Turquosines and Bourke's Parakeets had fledged in adjoining twenty-foot aviaries.
Headlights from a passing car startled the young birds who were perched together at one end of the aviaries. They made full speed panic flights to the other end and crashed into the wire. Three of them were fatally injured. Les did not find them until the next morning.
He has prevented this sad event from any recurrence. He was not able to close off his road to night traffic but was able to place young birds in shorter aviaries so that should they make a panic-flight, they couldn’t get up enough speed to fatally injure themselves if they crashed.
He also erected 6-foot boards in front of the aviaries to lessen light pollution.
His birds have not suffered a night fright since.
In my aviaries since we live down a lane and there’s no through traffic, headlight pollution causes no hazard. However, I’ve had the equivalent of a fatality from night frights in daylight.
A hawk flew over the aviary roof which has only partial cover. A blue Ringneck hen flew into a panic and knocked herself out on the wooden supports. This accident has been prevented from happening again covering the wire mesh with reed matting. It looks pretty and if a collision occurs, it is not so violent.
Parrots kept indoors in cages singly or together can also suffer from night frights. There is a distinction between the blind panic of a terrified Parrot and the nervousness Parrots show at the approach of darkness.
Wild Parrots return to their roosting trees usually making a hell of a din before dark, settle down and sleep through the night. Outside it is never completely dark or completely silent.
Some carers cover their Parrots’ cages at night. This is a widespread custom which has both advocates and critics.
The Parrot grows used to the cover and will often say ‘night, night’ etc.
Other benefits are the Parrots sleep later which is what some carers need.
The cover may limit night frights as the cage is dark
Draughts are eliminated
Some carers - I’m one of them - don’t use covers for various reasons.
I prefer natural light - an imitation of dawn to sunset
Ventilation is better with no covers
My Parrots sleep in a designated birdroom so are not disturbed by human activities
Some birds will play with fabric and can harm themselves with individual threads
Causes of Night frights
Not always easy to work out since the Parrots cannot tell us, whereas the toddler might sob that there was a monster under the bed. The monster as a cause of night frights in Parrots can be one of a number of things.
Headlights from traffic
Insects: flies, wasps, moths. Spiders scare certain birds
Hornets - a very real danger
Clattering from cockroaches around the cage is scary
Mice snatching spilt seeds or pellets. (I’ve caught a mouse in my Macaw cage.)
Sudden untoward noises
What happens during a night fright
Bird falls of their perch
Thrashes around floor of cage
Bangs against toys and bowls
A wing can be forced through the bars
Danger is that a blood feather may be broken – a potentially serious injury
Dealing with injuries
A worst-case scenario is a broken wing in which case the sooner you see the vet the better; broken wings can heal enough to allow flight in many cases. Damaged feathers can be left to moult naturally.
If a blood feather is damaged that must be removed by yourself or the vet in case it is knocked again and bleeds. A bleeding blood feather left unchecked is a serious injury and can be fatal in the case of small birds. Blood feathers are wing or tail feathers newly grown which still have their blood supply at the root before the blood is reabsorbed back int the body.
While someone holds the bird, you can, with small pliers, pull out the feather from the root pulling steadily in the direction that the feather is growing; it will bleed. This bleeding stops pretty soon with corn starch, or styptic powder.
If you are unsure about of removing a blood feather yourself, take the Parrot to the avian vet, following the old adage – better be safe than sorry.
If headlights from passing traffic shines into the room, you can use blinds or heavy curtains to cover the windows.
A common solution is to have a sleep cage in another room - not the family living room - where no headlights can reach the windows and the Parrot can have a restful night. Depending upon whom you ask and your own experience of grumpy tired birds, Parrots need between 8 and 12 hours sleep a night.
Some of us who don’t experience this hazard of night frights have Parrots that sleep in a birdroom on perches outside of their cages. This appears to eliminate the problem but is not a universal solution because not all flocks of birds can be trusted to coexist without harassing one another.
Mine do up to a point but if I want to regulate their meals I will put them in their cages when they eat to prevent Benni Macaw, who has a tendency to act like a bully from taking whatever he fancies from the three others’ bowls.
One Parrot owner took her bird out of her cage and let her sleep on a perch next to her bed. That eliminated the night frights.
Two other measures that have proved helpful in lessening or eliminating the problem are buying a baby monitor so that you will hear if anything untoward is happening and also providing white noise. White noise is the sound of radio or TV static or sounds in nature. Rather than leave the TV on static, you can get free aps or play some white noise music quietly.
Night frights seems to be more common in the smaller birds with Cockatiels and Budgies being especially prone.
Everyone I read about or spoke to seem agrees that a night light will often eliminate the problem or will make it less frequent. A night light should be dim, just enough to dispel the dark. That reminds me of moonlight through trees in my garden at night.
When I researched solutions for night frights I came across an anomaly. Some respondents claimed their Parrots needed covers to prevent night frights and others claimed their birds’ frights stopped when they left the cage uncovered. The pros and cons were evenly balanced.
And I believe both views were correct. It remains one of the fascinating aspects of Parrot husbandry that each bird has their individual preferences and one size fits all does not work for Psittacines. Not only does each species require slightly different maintenance but within each species individual birds show great variation in their personalities and behaviour.
Results of Night Frights
What To Do About Night Frights
When an attack happens to your birds, turn the lights on immediately in the room. I find speaking softly to the birds in a calming voice of reassurance, helps a tremendously. Do not try and reach inside the cage and grab your birds, this may scare them more.
One owner of a Cockatiel states that they feed their bird about a half hour before lights out and cover their cage half way to help eliminate night frights.
I find by having a dim light or night light on helps immensely. The birds are able to see and feel more at ease, but still be able to sleep comfortably.
You may also try leaving soothing music on, not hard rock, during the night in the background.
If your bedroom is far from the birds, several people have purchased a transmitter, like a baby monitor and place them in the same area of their birds so they could monitor the sounds in the bird's room during the night.
So, be prepared to help if a night fright happens. Remember to talk softly and watch for any injuries. A bird can be seriously injured and can even be killed. You can lower the chances of night frights by following the helpful hints that have been shared here.
For more on training and behaviour please click here.
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