Owners sometimes hear loud squawking and screaming or observe panicked behavior in a parrot’s cage at night. If so, something in the bird’s environment has likely triggered a night terror.
Nightmares occur when parrots fear their life is in imminent or immediate 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 of sleep, which happens about 90 minutes after falling asleep. Young and newly adopted are most vulnerable to bad dreams.
Stress-inducing factors, like animals, loud noises, shadows, and flashing lights, can terrify parrots.
How Do 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 while asleep.
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.
However, birds have more muscle tone while sleeping than mammals, allowing them to perch.
Subject Matter of Nightmares
Although scientific 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 their memory.
- Learning from experiences.
- Singing better songs.
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 during the day could enable parrots to recall them.
Parrots are intelligent animals with mental capacity similar to a human toddler. So, we can safely assume that parrots use dreams to enhance their day-to-day performance in the waking world.
Parrots may have nightmares about predators because they’re vulnerable prey animals, especially because they’re locked inside a cage and can’t escape.
How Often Do Parrots Have Nightmares?
If a parrot is constantly distressed while sleeping, it may be because:
- Something in its environment has changed, stressing the parrot.
- A person scares the parrot, whether a new roommate or 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.
To identify the problem, evaluate the parrot’s environment and remove possible stressors.
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, especially.
Parrots are naturally skittish and wary, and this instinct doesn’t go away, even in the relative safety of the home. They’re neophobic birds who dislike change, especially if it happens suddenly.
Here are some common signs that a parrot is having night terrors:
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, signifying the parrot is no longer dreaming.
Many owners hear their parrots chirp or say certain words while sleeping. A parrot is having a pleasant dream if the sounds or words are relaxed and peaceful.
If a parrot begins screaming or squawking, it’s likely having a nightmare.
If a parrot suddenly jerks, shifts from side to side, or flaps its wings, it’s likely experiencing a bad dream.
If the dream is intense or the parrot is still partly asleep, it may transition into a night fright. Consequently, it causes the parrot to flap around in its cage wildly in a desperate attempt to flee.
Why Do Parrots Get Night Frights?
Night fright happens when a parrot is scared by something (real or perceived) in its environment.
In response, the bird will 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 a passing animal can scare a parrot. If a parrot’s sleeping when it hears a frightening sound, this can lead to night terrors.
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 sleep with one eye open.
External stimuli can cause night terrors in parrots, including the following:
Although parrots eat instincts, they may be startled by the sudden presence of a bug in their cage. You may find that bugs fly near or inside a parrot’s cage, including:
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 more significant threat.
Even the sound or sight of bugs scuttling on the cage floor can distress a parrot.
Some household pets, like cats, dogs, mice, or rats, are natural predators of birds.
So, if you have a cat, ensure it’s never left unsupervised with a parrot, especially at night. A parrot knows that cats are a threat and won’t be able to relax in their presence.
Although less dangerous, rats and mice seek out a parrot’s eggs or chicks. In the home, mice will seek entry to a birdcage for 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.
Even roommates and family members can cause night fright in parrots.
Distressing actions around a sleeping parrot include:
- Moving around in the bird’s 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 at night.
Sudden Lights And Noises
The flashing headlights and sudden noises from passing cars could scare a parrot at night. Additionally, using the vacuum cleaner near the cage or a bad storm could be unsettling for captive birds.
What To Do If A Parrot Has Night Fright
Ways to help a parrot get more restful sleep include the following:
Sleeping Cage Environment
Parrots’ cages shouldn’t be in a bustling room with activity well past sunset.
For example, the living room may be an inappropriate resting area for a parrot because the noise and movement could scare them into thinking a predator’s nearby.
Instead, move the parrot to a dark and quiet room. If possible, have 2 cages for a parrot:
- One cage in the main living area, where it spends its day with you.
- One cage in a dark, quiet room, where it can get restful sleep.
Also, it may be beneficial to cover the cage (fully or partially) with a blanket or towel.
Wild parrots are used to sleeping in dimly lit forests. Unsurprisingly, many owners have observed that switching a night light on 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 quickly identify the source of potential danger in its surroundings.
With gentle lighting, the bird can tell its life isn’t in danger and return to sleep.
If a parrot regularly has night frights, consider playing 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 sudden noise that would otherwise scare the parrot awake.
Parrots can have nightmares, but it’s difficult to tell when it’s having a bad dream until it starts thrashing about and vocalizing. The solution is to create a quiet, relaxed sleep environment for pet birds.