Parrots need a lot of sleep, around 10-12 hours a day. Naturally, they tend to wake up around sunrise and fall asleep around sunset. Because parrots spend so much time sleeping, it’s easy to wonder if parrots can have dreams and nightmares.
Parrots do have nightmares. This occurs when they enter the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Here, they will drop their heads and remain very still as their brain enters a dream state. Research shows that parrots likely dream about their songs. However, nightmares can also happen, especially in young or stressed parrots.
Dreams happen to parrots and humans alike to consolidate memories and learn new behaviors. However, stressful factors like nearby pets, loud noises, or sudden lights can upset the parrot. If it’s scared while still asleep, the parrot may start having a nightmare. This could even escalate into a night terror, or night fright, which causes the parrot to wake up thrashing.
Do Parrots Have Nightmares?
Since parrots can have dreams, they can have nightmares too. After all, these are just scary versions of dreams. Many owners have mentioned their parrot moving, jerking, or making noises while asleep. These are all common signs of nightmares in parrots.
Research backs up these anecdotes. 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 the muscles are relaxed and loose.
However, birds higher muscle tone while sleeping than mammals. This allows them to perch and sleep at the same time. Despite this minor difference, birds still experience REM sleep. As such, parrots can have dreams, and sometimes nightmares.
What Do Parrots Have Nightmares About?
Even though research shows that parrots can dream, it’s harder to figure out what they have dreams and nightmares about. According to Nature, songbirds such as zebra finches dream about the songs they sang during the day. The going theory is that this helps them:
- 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 flock. Dreaming about the sounds they heard during the day could help parrots recall those sounds later on.
Parrots are also highly intelligent animals, with a knowledge capacity similar to a human toddler. Because of this, it’s reasonable to assume parrots use dreaming as a way to enhance their performance in the waking world.
No research has been done on the content of parrot nightmares. However, they may have nightmares about predators, since parrots are prey animals. In these scary, unpleasant dreams, parrots may be escaping from predators to heighten their daytime senses.
How Often Do Parrots Have Nightmares?
There is no official research conducted on how often parrots have nightmares. It also varies from bird to bird, depending on:
- Individual Parrot. Some may be more prone to dreaming than others.
- Its Living Situation. Stress often motivates nightmares, so the more uncomfortable your bird is, the more likely it is to have nightmares.
In any case, parrots shouldn’t be having nightmares very frequently. If yours is constantly distressed while sleeping, it may be the result of:
- Something in its environment that’s changed, stressing the parrot
- A person, whether they’re a new roommate or a visiting friend, is accidentally scaring the parrot
- A pet or other animal that is threatening or frightening the bird
- Sounds or activities are disrupting your parrot’s sleep, causing it to conjure up distressing dreams
The best approach is to evaluate your parrot’s environment. If you can’t pin down one stressor, try moving the bird to a quieter, less-busy room. This may alleviate how upset your parrot gets at night.
Parrots Having Nightmares
A parrot having nightmares is a concern for many owners. It may lead to night frights, or keep your parrot from resting happily. Nightmares occur most often in young parrots and recently adopted parrots. If they’re new to the home, they may be scared of all the unfamiliar sights and sounds.
These factors may remind your bird of predators, even if it’s hand-tamed. Parrots, being prey animals, are naturally skittish and wary. In the wild, they need to be constantly on the lookout for predators. This instinct doesn’t go away, even in your home.
Signs That A Parrot Is Having A Nightmare
It can be hard to figure out when your parrot is having a nightmare. The bird may not seem upset or distressed, even if it moves slightly and makes noise. The good news is, you can still identify if it’s dreaming in general.
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. You can use this as a sign that it is no longer dreaming.
When you see your parrot dreaming, with a drooped head, then you can look for other signs. These will help you identify the type of dream it’s having.
To spot a nightmare, listen for any specific noises that your parrot makes. Many owners notice that their parrots chirp or even say words while sleeping. If the sounds or words are peaceful, then your parrot is probably having a pleasant dream. If it begins screaming out or squawking, this could indicate it’s a nightmare.
However, these more obvious signs will wake up the parrot on its own, without your intervention. You may not be able to catch the nightmare in time to help.
Your parrot could also be having a nightmare if it jerks suddenly, shifts side to side, or begins flapping its wings. Like with distressed noises, this wakes the parrot all on its own.
If the dream was intense or the bird is still partly asleep, it may transition into a night terror. These are known as night frights. They cause the parrot to flap around its cage wildly. Unfortunately, the clearest way to know if your parrot is having a nightmare is when it escalates into night fright.
Night fright happens after a parrot gets scared by something at night. In response, it thrashes around in its cage and may begin screaming. That’s because, when a parrot detects a predator, its natural instinct is to fly away. Even if it’s a false alarm, this sudden thrashing is actually your parrot attempting to flee.
Parrots can hurt themselves during night frights, so these events can’t be tolerated. Instead, you should try to remove whatever factors are leading to panic. If you hear your parrot suddenly crashing around in the dead of night, immediately try to calm it down.
Why Do Parrots Get Night Fright?
Parrots get night fright because of their natural instincts. In the wild, parrots are prey animals, meaning several predators are seeking to:
- Eat the adults
- Raid their nests for eggs and chicks
Parrots don’t have an effective means of fighting off predators. They can use their talons and claws, but this is usually a last resort.
Even when a parrot is in the safe environment of your home, its natural instincts will still be in play. Anything from the lights of passing cars to the sound of a vacuum cleaner can scare your parrot. If the bird is sleeping while it hears a frightening sound, this may cause it to wake up and panic, leading to a night fright.
Parrots are susceptible to being scared while sleeping because, unlike most mammals, birds are capable of unihemispheric sleep. This is when one hemisphere of the brain is asleep at a time.
Unihemispheric sleep allows parrots to monitor the environment and detect predators even while resting. You can usually tell when a parrot is in unihemispheric sleep because it will 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 unexpectedly, 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 bird. Small noises could lead to a night fright, such as those from:
- Cockroaches seeking out food and water dishes
- Spiders climbing on or inside the cage
In the wild, cats and mice are natural predators of birds like parrots. If you have a cat, make sure it’s never left unsupervised with your parrot, especially at night. Your bird knows that cats are predators and will be unable to relax in their presence. Even if your cat doesn’t antagonize the parrot, it may be:
- Unable to fall asleep
- More prone to night frights
- More likely to have nightmares
Though less dangerous than cats, mice are predators that tend to go for a parrot’s eggs or chicks. In your home, mice will invade a birdcage in search of food. If you keep mice as pets, be sure they’re secured in their cage, especially at night. If your parrot detects one while half-sleep, it might go into a panic.
Even roommates, family members, and you yourself can scare a parrot into a night fright. Distressing actions around a sleeping parrot include:
- Moving around in the same room as your parrot
- Talking and laughing loudly
- Doing anything that makes loud, sudden noises
If you keep your parrot in the main living area, it’s best to move it to a quieter area at night to sleep. The distraction could lead to it having nightmares, or waking up in a panic.
Sudden Lights and Noises
The headlights and noise from passing cars is something that could scare your parrot at night. Additionally, don’t vacuum or use any loud machines near your parrot when it’s resting.
The average parrot will simply wake up at these sounds. However, if your parrot is sleep-deprived, young, or stressed, it may try to rest despite these noises and have its dreams affected.
What To Do If Your Parrot Has Night Fright
If your parrot is experiencing a night fright due to nightmares or external stimuli, you can help. The best approach is to:
- Go to the parrot, if you’re not in the room already
- Turn on the lights and uncover the cage
- Talk to the bird softly in a controlled tone of voice
- Don’t reach into its cage until after it has calmed down
- Help it relax with distractions, such as treats or toys
Once the night fright has passed and your parrot is docile, check it for injuries. If you spot anything severe, take it to the vet. Otherwise, you can let your parrot go back to sleep.
To reduce the frequency of your parrot’s night frights, you can take these steps. As a plus, the tactics can help your parrot enjoy better rest overall:
Parrot cages should not be placed in a room that’s bustling with activity well past sunset. For example, your living room or kitchen may not be an appropriate sleeping area for your parrot. The noise and movement could scare the bird into thinking there is a predator nearby.
Instead, it’s recommended that you move your parrot to a room that’s dark and quiet. If you can afford it, you can 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 help if you covered the cage with a blanket or towel. This can help prevent night terrors, since the parrot will not see all the activity outside of the cage.
In the wild, parrots are used to sleeping in a forest that is dimly lit by the moon and stars. Many parrot owners note that keeping a night light by the cage helps prevent night frights.
If your parrot is scared awake by something and sees complete darkness, it may begin to panic. It will be unable to see possible dangers or identify its surroundings. However, if there is gentle lighting, it can see there are no threats and go back to sleep.
In nature, there is no such thing as complete silence, unless danger is nearby. If your parrot commonly has night frights, it’s wise to play:
- Soft, classical music with the volume just about a whisper
- Nature sounds reminiscent of a forest, but without sharp animal calls
- White noise, such as from a large box fan, an air purifier, or from a white noise generator found online
This can improve your parrot’s sleep and help prevent nightmares. The constant noise will drown out any sudden bursts of sound that might otherwise scare your parrot awake.
Parrots do have nightmares. It’s difficult to spot when your parrot is having one, so you may not be able to intervene. Instead, you can look for signs of an incoming night terror or night fright. Once you calm the parrot down, you can help create a more relaxing environment.