is my parrot stressed?

Can Parrots Die from Stress?

Parrots can feel stress. It is one of the most basic emotional responses, and it works as a survival technique in small amounts. Short bursts, called acute stress, enable parrots to avoid danger and escape predators. However, chronic, long-term stress can harm your parrot’s health and cause it to fall ill. In some instances, routine stress can even be fatal in parrots.

A parrot can die from stress. If your parrot always feels threatened, confused, and unsafe, its body will be flooded with adrenaline. If it gets too much adrenaline, or is already sick, this can result in various health issues. These include adrenal gland fatigue, high blood pressure, and obesity. These won’t kill your parrot right away, but can cause a long-lived parrot to die at a much younger age. In certain cases, if a parrot is heavily overwhelmed, then it may die on the spot.

This occurs when a parrot is exposed to a constant threat. For example, if you own a cat that stalks your parrot, then your bird will feel overwhelmed. In most cases, a parrot gets worn down by a combination of troublesome issues over time. This may include overstimulation, a changing environment, loud noises, yelling and aggression, and heat exposure.

Stress In Captive Parrots

Wild parrots have far shorter lifespans than captive parrots. They are always surrounded by threats and danger, which creates a heightened sense of awareness. They have frequent bursts of adrenaline that gives them the energy and reaction time necessary to survive.

Captive parrots rarely face these threats. However, they are still equipped with all the evolutionary, psychological, and physical tools they need to be on the lookout for danger. This can make pet parrots jumpy, suspicious, and resistant to change. It can also mean that, when exposed to stress long-term without help from their owner, captive parrots may die from stress.

After all, parrots do not have control over their home environments like they do in the wild. They cannot:

  • Fly away from danger, since they’re stuck in cages
  • Choose different food, since they’re reliant on their owners
  • Avoid predators, especially if cats and dogs are kept as pets in the home
  • Avoid loud sounds, such as TVs, radios, sirens, car noises, and loud talking from members of the household
  • Find cleaner environments, like moving to a different nest or a tree as they would in the wild
  • Choose their companions or mates, since they’re not a part of a flock and rely on owners to introduce new parrots
  • Choose their own sleeping patterns, as artificial lights can make it daytime all the time

All of this exposes captive parrots to different kinds of stress than wild parrots. It also exposes them to more constant stress, in a way. In the wild, everything may be trying to eat them, but in a human home, parrots have no say over how to react. All they can do is sit and be afraid.

Even if they’re well-cared for and this stress is limited, frustration and low-level stress can build over time. All of that can make captive parrots more vulnerable to death from stress.

How Are Parrots Affected By Stress?

Pet parrots are unlikely to die on the spot unless they are routinely frightened. For example, if a cat stares the parrot down, jumps at its cage, or stalks it often, the parrot is likely to grow sick over time. Unless it has heart complications, issues with its adrenal gland, or other health issues, it’s unlikely to die suddenly.

However, parrots that are chronically stressed as more likely to develop illnesses. These include, for example:

  • A lowered immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • An unwillingness to eat
  • Difficulty processing nutrients
  • An inability to sleep
  • Adrenal gland issues
  • Heart complications
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Getting sick from bacteria or viruses more easily
  • Taking longer to recover from illnesses
  • The onset of age-related disease

At the minimum, a parrot that’s routinely frightened will have a shorter lifespan. If it was expected to live for 70 years, it may lose a few years or decades along the way.

stressed parrot behavior

Is My Parrot Stressed?

To reduce a parrot’s stress, you need to recognize when it’s upset. There will be clear indicators in its body language and habits. However, just taking a glance at the parrot’s feathers, body, and health may also clue you in.

Physical Signs of Stress In Parrots

Parrots are very skilled at hiding injuries and fear. However, these signs will be difficult to miss in a stressed parrot.  

Stress Bars On Feathers

If a parrot undergoes long-term stress, this will eventually damage the way it grows feathers. The parrots will not be processing nutrients correctly. Its body will take vitamins away to fuel its traumatized organs. You will notice a parrot developing stress bars.

These are thin, horizontal lines that will form across its feathers. They run perpendicular to the shaft. The stripes may appear as a discoloration or gray blemish across several feathers. If you notice this, your parrot could require medical attention recoup.

Feather Loss

A parrot that’s stressed will begin plucking its own feathers. This is preening behavior taken to the extreme. As the parrot attempts to self-soothe by cleaning, it will pull too hard and remove the feathers.

Eventually, it will develop into a compulsive habit and a need to destroy something to relieve fear or frustration. The parrot will take this out on its cage, but may target itself.

You will notice the parrot is bald in several places. It may also have feather thinning in certain areas. If the plucking goes on long-term, damage may cause the skin to become:

  • Red
  • Inflamed
  • Infected
  • Disfigured

The parrot may eventually start picking at its own skin when feathers can’t be easily reached. If it doesn’t resort to feather-plucking, it may also go into a premature molt. This will cause the feathers to become frail, slightly ashy in places, and fall out.

If your parrot is healthy and feels safe, molting will be a natural, healthy process. If it’s because of stress, the parrot will struggle to regrow its feathers.

Weight Loss Or Lack Of Appetite

Stressed parrots may refuse to eat or struggle to process what nutrients it does eat. Because of this, your parrot will lose weight and become frail.

You may not be able to tell it’s too thin at a glance. Some parrots have thick feathers, while others are naturally thin. You can check the keel bone and test if it’s protruding too far from your parrot’s chest. It should be flush with the breast on either side.

Parrots have a fast metabolism and need to stay well-fed. If the parrot seems to be losing weight, has lost weight, or has stopped eating, you should take action.

Behavioral Signs Of Stress

In some cases, only your parrot’s behavior will tell you it’s stressed. This can actually be good news, serving as an early warning. Take action before the damage becomes too severe or physical.

Aggression

Parrots are not aggressive by nature. If they’re poorly socialized, spoiled, or hormonal, you may see an uptick in aggression that just needs training to fix. However, if your parrot was cuddly, affectionate, and friendly before, sudden aggression is worthy of concern.

You may also find the bird starting fights with other parrots or pets, trying to bite, or rebuffing other members of the household. It could also hiss, scream, and growl at others.

When the parrot shows aggression to anyone it’s closely bonded with, it’s a bad sign. The parrot may feel scared, threatened, and in need of protection. It will try to defend itself by being scarier than the threat. No matter how much it trusts you, it’s too upset to care.

Changes in Vocalization

There is no such thing as a silent parrot. Even the relatively stoic pionus will squawk, click its tongue, and make other sounds. If you find your parrot refuses to speak, sing, or even click its tongue, this is a bad sign. It may have an issue with its throat, but it may also be highly stressed.

If the parrot often talked and then stopped, then pay attention. Even if you own a small budgie that never talked, it shouldn’t go completely silent for multiple days.

On the flip side, parrots that are stressed may suddenly scream, shriek, and wail. If this is accompanied by flapping wings and hissing, it’s a sign that the parrot is terrified. Even if there is no immediate danger, it may begin screaming at all times.

This could be part of a contact call, where the parrot is telling you it wants your comfort. However, it could also be a way for the parrot to relieve its frustration, anger, fear, or general stress.

Nervous And Repetitive Behavior

Parrots have many habits they use to keep themselves entertained. Don’t be surprised if it bobs its head, swings on ropes, or sticks out its tongue now and then. With that said, stressed parrots will repeat behavior as a nervous tic. This will verge on obsessive, with the parrot constantly:

  • Toe-tapping
  • Rocking its head back and forward
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Knocking on items

If this is matched with aggression or a refusal to eat, you can be sure the parrot is stressed. It may even refuse to do other habits it once found entertaining. For example, dancing and interacting with toys are given up for the sake of pacing.

How To Reduce Stress In Parrots

If your parrot exhibits any of the above signs, it’s time to figure out the root cause of its stress. You should try to solve it immediately. The longer your parrot is exposed, the more danger it’s in.

With that said, there are a lot of reasons your parrot could feel upset. It may be caused by changes in your home, the actions of others, or accidental mistakes that you made. Parrots are emotional creatures, and damage to your shared bond will not easily be forgotten. Here are common stress points for parrots, and how to solve them.

Overstimulation

It’s possible that your parrot feels overwhelmed by the people or animals in its space. If you recently introduced a new parrot to the cage, your original parrot may feel crowded.

Likewise, if you invite many guests over that talk loudly, interact with the parrot, or fill the house with movement, it can unsettle your bird. Even forcing the parrot to dance, talk, and interact with you for too long can stress it.

Although parrots are used to being in flocks, and need plenty of socialization, they can get overwhelmed. If the parrot keeps trying to leave or hide, let it spend time in its cage by itself. You can also move the cage to a different room, so it can have privacy away from others. 

Sudden Frights

In the wild, parrots interpret sudden sounds, movement, and touch as a threat. It usually means a predator is about to pounce or catch them. Because of this, parrots almost never react well to sudden frights. In fact, these are the most damaging forms of stress they can be exposed to. Parrots could be startled to a dangerous degree by:

  • A radio or speaker that blasts noise when you turn it on
  • A barking dog
  • A child screaming
  • A honking car
  • Sirens
  • Dropped objects that bang on the ground
  • A pet that leaps nearby
  • Sudden explosion or gunfire sounds from the TV

Try to keep your parrot away from windows that are near the street. Don’t put the parrot in with the home theater if you’re going to play loud or busy action movies. If you have an energetic toddler or pet, try to keep them separate from the parrot and its cage. Even something that whizzes by, like a dart fired from a Nerf gun, could unsettle your parrot.

In small doses, none of this is deadly. However, if a parrot is kept in a high-paced, loud, startling environment like this at all times, it does add up. At the least, the parrot may become aggressive and destructive from the stress.

New Toys Or Cages

Parrots are easily upset by change. If you place a new toy in its enclosure, it may not understand what it is. It may even interpret it as a predator or intruder. This can make your parrot retreat to the far edge of the cage, scream, or even attack it.

In a more extreme sense, a new cage will also stress out the parrot. Its cage will always be somewhere it can retreat to and feel safe. If you suddenly transition it to a new space, the parrot will feel unsettled, insecure, and uncertain about its surroundings. The parrot may be unable to sleep, unwilling to go into the cage, and be frightened while inside of it.

For both situations, be sure to introduce your parrot to new things slowly. Try placing the new toy outside of its cage and let it warm up to the plaything. Before putting your bird in a new cage, let it observe and play atop the cage for several days. Don’t take away old toys or old cages until the parrot has adjusted properly.

Changing Surroundings

Even if you keep your parrot’s items steady and familiar, the bird may get upset by changes around it. For example, painting a wall a different color, changing furniture, or even rearranging furniture is enough.

The parrot will not recognize its surroundings, or it will notice an unsettling change. This can leave your parrot disturbed and uncertain. In the wild, such drastic changes do not happen often or for no reason.

The reaction may be more severe if you move to a different house, or if the parrot has just been adopted. It’s best to limit how often your parrot is exposed to change. If you are going to redecorate, try to do it in portions, or limit it to areas your parrot doesn’t spend much time in.

Pets

Pets, in general, can stress a parrot. A dog that barks, a puppy that runs around at high speeds, or other birds that screech and dance may stress a parrot. However, the most stressful pet of all will be a cat. In the wild, cats are a natural enemy of parrots. Even a well-behaved cat that ignores the parrot will move, smell, and act in ways that can set the parrot on edge.

At the minimum, the cat may sit a short distance away from the cage and just stare at the parrot. This may seem quite benign to you, as the cat is technically not doing anything wrong. However, this has a profoundly negative impact on a parrot’s mental well-being.

The parrot doesn’t understand that it’s protected by the cage. All it knows is that it cannot fly away and that the feline may attack at any moment. A cat will literally stare a parrot to death if this situation is left unattended, so no matter how tamed or friendly.

Yelling And Aggression

Parrots do not react well to loud human voices. That’s especially true when they sense aggression in them. Despite the fact that parrots can and do live in massive, noisy flocks, these sounds register differently. Even budgies, which have near-deafening flocks with thousands of birds at a time, can be highly stressed by people that are yelling.

This is partly because parrots are very adept at reading body language and tone. That’s why speaking in a comforting voice is highly encouraged when interacting with your pet. A caged parrot may become distressed if it’s screamed at, either by children or from abusive owners.

Staying Caged Or Limited

There are times when any parrot must remain in a cage. However, the bird should not be left in a cage at all times. Likewise, if you live in a small apartment, your living space may not be enough room for the parrot to explore. Your parrot may grow stressed if it cannot:

  • Stretch its wings
  • Move from place to place
  • Spend time with you
  • Mimic foraging behavior by exploring or finding toys
  • Engage in new activities, such as games or playtime with you

According to the University of Guelph, abnormal behavior was observed in captive parrots when deprived of the chance to:

  • Forage
  • Socialize

Even if parrots were given limited freedom, they would rebel if it didn’t match what their natural instincts demanded. In comparison, wild roaming birds showed little to no abnormal behavior. A parrot that was not given enough space to forage became so frustrated that it resorted to self-mutilation. The same behavior was observed in the most sociable species.

As such, your parrot cannot be left in its cage or a small living space constantly. It needs to move around, see new sights, and spend time with others. Otherwise, your parrot may get depressed, bored, and resort to destructive behavior.

stress in captive parrots

Too Little Sleep

Parrots need to sleep often and consistently. If they do not, they will become stressed, frustrated, aggressive, and prone to self-destructive habits. For the most part, night lights and noises are what keep parrots awake.

The only reason a parrot needs light in the darkness is if it’s prone to night fright. This happens when the bird awakens from a nightmare or is startled by an outside noise. At this point, having a light helps the parrot assess outside danger and calm down. However, if your parrot has no such issue, the night light may keep it awake.

According to the University of Antwerp, night lights can disrupt a parrot’s sleep cycle. It may get to sleep, but it won’t sleep deeply.

Excessive Heat

High temperatures will cause undue stress on a parrot’s delicate body. That’s especially true for larger birds that have more muscle to keep them warm. Since parrots don’t have sweat glands, they cool off with:

  • Water
  • Shade
  • Wind
  • Quick respirations

In fact, panting is one of many ways that a parrot dispels heat, according to the University of Adelaide. However, if the parrot is constantly exposed to high temperatures, it will grow stressed and ill. Parrots thrive between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a much warmer climate, watch your parrot for signs of overheating.

Parrots can die from stress if their owners don’t provide help soon enough. These birds are hyper-aware and very cautious of their surroundings. By resolving its stress points, you can ensure your parrot remains healthy.