Parrots sleep for 10-12 hours a day, waking up at sunrise and falling asleep at sunset. Because parrots spend so much time sleeping, we may wonder if parrots have dreams and nightmares.
Parrots have nightmares in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep, which happens about 90 minutes after initially falling asleep. Scientific research suggests that parrots are likely to dream about singing songs, while young and stressed parrots can experience night terrors.
Stressful factors such as predatory pets/animals, loud noises, and sudden lights can unsettle parrots. If a parrot is scared while still asleep, it could experience a nightmare, which could escalate into a night terror or night fright, which causes the parrot to wake up thrashing.
How Do Parrots Have Nightmares?
Since parrots can have dreams, they can have nightmares, which are just scary versions of dreams. Many owners have mentioned their parrot moving, jerking, or making noises while asleep.
All birds can dream because they experience REM sleep, similar to mammals. According to Frontiers in Neuroscience, birds have two phases of sleep:
- REM sleep
- Non-REM (NREM) sleep
NREM sleep, characterized by slow brain waves, is the stage where the body repairs itself. REM is characterized by dreaming and low muscle tone, meaning that the muscles are relaxed.
However, birds have more muscle tone while sleeping than mammals, allowing them to perch and sleep simultaneously. Despite this minor difference, birds still experience REM sleep.
Subject of Nightmares
Even though research shows that parrots can dream, it’s harder to understand what they commonly have dreams and nightmares about.
According to Nature, songbirds such as zebra finches dream about the songs they sang during the day. The theory is that this helps birds to do the following:
- Improve their memory
- Learn from their experiences
- Sing better songs in the future
Parrots likely dream about similar topics since they rely on vocal mimicry to blend in with their flocks. Dreaming about the sounds they heard during the day could help parrots recall those sounds.
Parrots are intelligent animals with a knowledge capacity similar to a human toddler. So, it’s reasonable to assume parrots use dreaming to enhance their performance in the waking world.
No research has been performed on the content of nightmares in parrots. However, parrots may have nightmares about predators because they’re prey animals.
How Often Do Parrots Have Nightmares?
There is no official research conducted on how often parrots have nightmares.
If your parrot is constantly distressed while sleeping, it may be due to the following:
- Something in its environment has changed, stressing the parrot
- A person, whether they’re a new roommate or visiting friend, is scaring the parrot
- A pet or other animal that’s threatening or frightening the parrot
- Sounds or activities are disrupting your parrot’s sleep, causing distressing images
To identify the stressor, evaluate your parrot’s environment and remove any problems.
Parrot Nightmare Signs
Nightmares occur most often in young parrots and recently adopted parrots. If they’re new to your home, they may be scared of all the unfamiliar sights and sounds.
These factors may remind your parrot of predators, even if it’s hand-tamed. Parrots, being prey animals, are naturally skittish and wary, and this instinct doesn’t go away, even in your home.
Here are some signs that a parrot is having a nightmare:
In REM sleep, a parrot’s neck muscles relax, which may cause its head to droop.
When it returns to NREM, it often raises its head suddenly without waking up. This is a sign that your parrot is no longer dreaming.
When you see your parrot dreaming with a drooped head, check for these signs:
To identify a nightmare, listen out for any specific noises your parrot makes. Many owners notice that their parrots chirp or say words while sleeping.
If the sounds or words are peaceful, your parrot is having a pleasant dream. However, if it begins screaming out or squawking, this could indicate that it’s having a nightmare.
Your parrot could also be having a nightmare if it jerks suddenly, shifts side to side, or begins flapping its wings. As with distressed noises, this wakes up the parrot.
If the dream was intense or the parrot is still partly asleep, it may transition into night terrors or night frights. Consequently, they cause the parrot to flap around its cage wildly.
The clearest way to know if your parrot is having a nightmare is when it escalates into night fright.
Why Do Parrots Get Night Frights?
Night fright happens after a parrot is scared by something at night.
In response, it thrashes around in its cage and begins screaming. When a parrot detects a predator, it will seek to fly away, so this sudden thrashing is your parrot attempting to flee.
Parrots can hurt themselves during night frights, so problems can’t be left unresolved. Instead, you should remove whatever factors are leading to panic.
Anything from the lights of passing cars to the sound of a vacuum cleaner can scare a parrot. If it’s sleeping while it hears a frightening sound, this may lead to a night fright.
Parrots are susceptible to being scared while sleeping because birds are capable of unihemispheric sleep, which is when one hemisphere of the brain is asleep at a time.
Unihemispheric sleep allows parrots to monitor their environment and detect predators, even while resting. You can usually tell when a parrot is in unihemispheric sleep because it’ll sleep with one eye open.
Nightmares can cause night frights, as well as external stimuli, such as:
Even though parrots eat instincts, they may be startled by the sudden presence of another creature in their cage. You may find that bugs fly around near your parrot, such as:
These can jar a parrot awake and cause it to overact. Even bugs that scuttle around on the floor of the cage may distress your parrot.
Cats and mice are natural predators of birds.
So, if you have a cat, ensure that it’s never left unsupervised with your parrot, especially at night. Your parrot knows that cats are predators and will be unable to relax in their presence.
Though less dangerous than cats, mice are predators that seek out a parrot’s eggs or chicks. In the home, mice will invade a birdcage in search of food.
If you have mice as pets, keep them secured in their cage, especially at night. If your parrot detects one while half-sleep, it could panic.
Even roommates, family members, and yourself can scare a parrot into a night fright.
Distressing actions around a sleeping parrot include:
- Moving around in the same room
- Talking and laughing loudly
- Sudden noises
If you keep your parrot in the main living area, move it to a quieter area at night to sleep.
Sudden Lights And Noises
The flashing headlights and sudden noises from passing cars could scare your parrot at night. Additionally, using the vacuum cleaner near your parrot or a bad storm could be unsettling.
If your parrot is sleep-deprived, young, or stressed, its dreams could be adversely affected.
What To Do If Your Parrot Has Night Fright
Strategies that can help your parrot enjoy better rest include the following:
Sleeping Cage Environment
Parrot cages shouldn’t be in a room that’s bustling with activity well past sunset.
For example, your living room or kitchen may be an inappropriate sleeping area for a parrot as the noise and movement could scare them into thinking there’s a predator nearby.
Instead, it’s recommended that you move your parrot to a room that’s dark and quiet.
If possible, have two cages for your parrot:
- One in the main living area, where it spends the day
- One in a dark, quiet room, where it spends the night
Additionally, it would be beneficial if you covered the cage with a blanket or towel.
Wild parrots are used to sleeping in a dimly-lit forest. Not surprisingly, many owners note that keeping a night light reduces the number of night frights.
If your parrot is scared awake by something and sees complete darkness, it may panic as it’ll be unable to see any dangers or identify its surroundings.
However, if there’s some gentle lighting, it can see that there are no threats and return to sleep.
If your parrot commonly has night frights, consider playing the following music:
- Soft, classical music with the volume just above a whisper.
- Nature sounds reminiscent of a forest, but without any animal calls.
- White noise from a large box fan, air purifier, or white noise generator.
These relaxing sounds will drown out any sudden noise that would otherwise scare your parrot awake.
Parrots do have nightmares, but it’s difficult to tell when it’s having one until it starts thrashing about. The most effective thing you can do is create a quiet and relaxing sleep environment.