Peachy, my 14 year old Moluccan Cockatoo has taken up a new hobby. SCREAMING! Of course, Peachy is a healthy, normal male M2 so we are used to “parrot talk”between flock mates. Peachy has several hours of bird stand play time each day.
But this is not the usual and expected morning screaming. Nor is it the “Mom just left the room” screaming. Peachy has recently started loudly vocalizing gritty, harsh screams at about 30 second intervals during his routine bird stand play time.
My first step to extinguishing this screaming parrot behavior is to recognize what has changed for Peachy. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint. We’ve had some family challenges lately and Peachy is well aware of the tension. This makes him uneasy and agitated. Secondly, I went on vacation with my son to for a week recently and Joe, my boyfriend provided reinforcement to Peachy the screaming parrot. It was all in good faith, as Joe knew Peachy missed me, but Peachy learned he could get attention with most irritating parrot scream in the world. Thank goodness this is a new problem which we can solve. Neither of these changes are Peachy’s fault.
So where do we go from here. Two words. Good Bird (by Barbara Heidenreich). If you haven’t stumbled upon this professional avian trainer and educator let me introduce you! She is an extremely valuable resource for all things parrots. Bird behavior issues, parrot enrichment and more.
Now that I know that Peachy is screaming as a reaction to household attention and recent reinforcement for screaming, I’m ready to extinguish what I’ll call Reactive Screaming.
- Actively reduce tension in the home.
- Everyone in the home will use the same extinguishment techniques.
- Ignore screaming. Whatever it takes, we all need to NOT RESPOND to Peachy when he screams.
- Reward quiet behavior. For me, that would be whistles, singing, talking and silence. Since Peachy had been screaming at extremely frequent intervals, I decided to reward silence of 10 seconds to insure results. Peachy LOVES fresh banana’s. I just happen to have a couple on hand! He also loves sritches, which is not a problem at our house.
- Model appropriate vocalizations. Peachy loves to sing with us. If I whistle a tune, he can repeat it. As I make appropriate vocalizations it plants a seed in Peachy’s mind that that is how I want him to communicate with us.
UPDATE: I only started using Ms. Heindenreich’s Good Bird recommendations yesterday. But, even today, I notice a drastic improvement in Peachy’s screaming. Of course, Peach had not internalized his need to scream and our little household crisis has diminshed in size, but never the less, the techniques described in Good Bird really work! (As a clinical social worker, I had no doubt; hence, I seriously advocate Ms. Heindenreich’s work.)
Peachy is now using words to yell at the dogs again as opposed to screaming in an irritating pitch at me. He is singing, whistling and talking. I can’t say that I love that hip hop stuff that my son teaches him, but it is a heck of a lot better than screetchy screaming. He just said his favorite phrase; “Whatcha doin’ doin’?” The dogs got a good chewing out every time the door bell rang today. But, Peachy’s inappropriate and unacceptable screaming was SIGNIFICANTLY less today. Thanks Good Bird! And, gosh, thank goodness for banana’s!