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do parrots have nightmares?

Can A Parrot Have Nightmares? (Night Terrors in Birds)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Owners sometimes hear loud squawking and screaming or observe panicked behavior at night. If so, something in the parrot’s environment has likely triggered a night terror.

Night frights occur when parrots fear their life is in imminent danger. Consequently, the parrot will wake up in a state of panic, thrashing about in a desperate attempt to escape.

Parrots experience nightmares in the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, which happens about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Young and newly adopted birds are most vulnerable to bad dreams.

Stress-inducing factors, like animals, loud noises, shadows, and flashing lights, can terrify parrots.

How Parrots Have Nightmares

Parrots can have pleasant dreams in the REM stage of sleep and endure night terrors. Many owners have observed parrots flying into cage bars or making terrified vocalizations.

According to Frontiers in Neuroscience, birds have 2 phases of sleep:

  • REM sleep.
  • Non-REM (NREM) sleep.

NREM sleep (characterized by slow brain waves) is when the body repairs itself. REM sleep is characterized by dreaming and low muscle tone, so the muscles are relaxed.

Birds have more muscle tone while sleeping than mammals, allowing them to perch.

Subject Matter of Nightmares

Although research shows that parrots dream, it’s harder to determine the subject matter.

According to Nature, songbirds like zebra finches dream about the songs they sing during the day. It’s believed that these dreams help them in the following ways:

  • Improved memory.
  • Learning from experiences.
  • Better singing.

Parrots likely dream about similar things to zebra finches since they rely on vocal mimicry to fit in with their flocks. Dreaming about the sounds they heard would enable parrots to recall them.

Parrots are intelligent animals, and some have the mental capacity of a human toddler. We can conclude that parrots use dreams to enhance their performance in the waking world.

Parrots may have nightmares about predators. Also, they’re locked inside a cage and can’t escape.

parrot having nightmares

How Often Parrots Have Nightmares

If a parrot is constantly distressed while sleeping, it may be because:

  • Something in its environment has changed.
  • A person scares the parrot, like a new house guest.
  • A pet or other animal is threatening or frightening the parrot.
  • Sounds or activities disrupt a parrot’s sleep, causing distressing images or shadows.

Consider what’s new in the parrot’s environment, as that’s the likely trigger.

Parrot Nightmare Signs

As mentioned, nightmares most commonly occur in young and recently adopted parrots. If they’re new to the home, this could be because they’re scared of unfamiliar sights and sounds.

Parrots are naturally skittish and wary. This instinct doesn’t go away, even in the relative safety of the home. They’re neophobic and dislike sudden change.

Here are some signs that a parrot is experiencing night frights:

Drooping Head

During REM sleep, a parrot’s neck muscles relax, causing the head to droop. When it returns to NREM, it often raises its head suddenly without waking up. This signifies the parrot is no longer dreaming.

Distressed Noises

Many owners hear their parrots chirp or say certain words while sleeping. If the sounds or words are relaxed and peaceful, the parrot is having a pleasant dream.

If a parrot begins screaming or squawking, it’s likely having a nightmare.

Distressed Movement

If a parrot suddenly jerks, shifts from side to side, or flaps its wings, it’s likely having a bad dream.

If the dream is intense or the parrot is still partly asleep, it may transition into a night fright. Consequently, the parrot may flap around in its cage wildly in an attempt to flee.

Why Parrots Get Night Frights

Night fright happens when a parrot is scared by something (real or perceived) in its environment.

In response, it’ll thrash around in its cage and begin vocalizing loudly. When a parrot detects a predator, it’ll seek to fly away, so this sudden thrashing is a parrot attempting to flee.

Parrots can hurt themselves during night frights (head trauma, bone fractures, sprains, and injuries), so any triggers must be identified and removed.

Anything from the lights of passing cars to the shadow of passing animals can scare parrots.

Unihemispheric sleep allows parrots to monitor their environment and detect predators, even while resting. You can tell when a parrot is in unihemispheric sleep because it’ll have one eye open.

External stimuli can cause night terrors, including the following:

Insects

Although parrots eat instincts, they may be startled by the sudden presence of a bug. You may find that bugs fly near or inside a parrot’s cage, including:

  • Flies.
  • Moths.
  • Wasps.
  • Bees.
  • Mosquitoes.
  • Hornets.

These can jar a parrot awake and cause it to overact. Sometimes, the wiring sound coupled with the enlarged shadow can make an insect appear a significant threat.

Even the sound or sight of bugs scuttling on the cage floor can distress a parrot.

Animals

Some pets, like cats, dogs, or rats, are natural predators of birds.

If you have a cat, ensure it’s never left unsupervised with a parrot. Although less dangerous, rats and mice seek out a parrot’s eggs or chicks. In the home, rodents will seek food.

A parrot that detects a mouse while half-sleep could enter a state of panic. If you have mice or rats as pets, keep them secured in their cage in a different room from the parrot.

People

Even roommates and family members can cause night fright. Distressing actions include:

  • Moving around in the room.
  • Talking and laughing loudly.
  • Watching TV or listening to the radio.

If you keep a parrot’s cage in the living room, move it to a quieter area so it can sleep peacefully.

Sudden Lights And Noises

The flashing headlights and sudden noises from passing cars could scare a parrot at night. Also, using a vacuum cleaner or a bad storm could be unsettling.

what do parrots have nightmares about?

What To Do If A Parrot Has Night Fright

Ways to help a parrot get more restful sleep include:

Sleeping Cage Environment

Cages shouldn’t be in a bustling room with activity well past sunset. The living room may be inappropriate because the noise and movement could scare them.

Move the cage to a dark, quiet room. Alternatively, set up 2 cages in different rooms:

  • One cage in the main living area, where it spends its day with you.
  • One cage in a dark, quiet room where it can sleep.

Also, it may be beneficial to cover the cage (fully or partially) with a blanket.

Night Light

Wild parrots sleep in dimly lit forests. Unsurprisingly, some owners have found that switching on a night light reduces the incidence of night frights.

If a parrot is scared awake by something and is in complete darkness, it may panic as it can’t identify the source of potential danger in its surroundings.

A parrot can quickly assess if its environment is safe with a night light.

White Noise

If a parrot regularly has night frights, play the following soothing sounds:

  • Soft, classical music with the volume just above a whisper.
  • Nature sounds reminiscent of a forest but without animal calls.
  • White noise from a large box fan, air purifier, or white noise generator.

These relaxing sounds will drown out noises that could scare the parrot awake.

Parrots can have nightmares. It’s difficult to tell when they’re having a bad dream until they start thrashing about and vocalizing. The solution is to create a quiet, relaxed room.