Stress is one of the most basic emotional responses, and it acts as a survival technique in small quantities. Short bursts, called acute stress, enable parrots to avoid danger and escape predators. However, chronic, long-term stress can harm parrots’ health and cause them to become ill. In some instances, routine stress can even be fatal.
Parrots can die from stress. If your parrot feels threatened or afraid, its body will be flooded with adrenaline. If your parrot has too much adrenaline, this can lead to adrenal gland fatigue, high blood pressure, and obesity. These are very unlikely to kill your parrot immediately, but they can cause premature death.
This occurs when a parrot is exposed to a constant threat. For example, if you own a cat that stalks your parrot, it will feel overwhelmed. In most cases, a parrot gets worn down over time. This may include overstimulation, a changing environment, loud noises, yelling, aggression, and heat exposure.
Stress In Captive Parrots
Wild parrots are surrounded by threats and dangers, which leads to a heightened sense of awareness. They have frequent bursts of adrenaline that give them the energy and reaction time necessary to survive.
Captive parrots rarely face these threats. However, they’re still equipped with all the evolutionary, psychological, and physical tools needed when faced with danger. This can make parrots jumpy, suspicious, and resistant to change. It can also mean that, when exposed to stress long-term, parrots can die from stress.
Parrots lack control over their home environments like they do in the wild. They cannot:
- Fly away from danger
- Choose different food
- Avoid predators
- Avoid loud sounds, such as TVs, radios, sirens, and car noises
- Find cleaner environments
- Choose companions or mates, since they’re not a part of a flock
- Choose their own sleeping patterns
These expose domesticated parrots to different kinds of stress than wild parrots.
How Are Parrots Affected By Stress?
Unless a parrot has heart complications, issues with its adrenal gland, or other health issues, it’s unlikely to die from stress suddenly. Also, if a cat stares the parrot down, jumps at its cage, or stalks it, the parrot is likely to grow sick. Parrots that are chronically stressed are more likely to develop illnesses. The negatives of stress include:
- Weaker immune systems
- High blood pressure
- Less willing to eat
- Difficulty processing nutrients
- Inability to sleep
- Adrenal gland issues
- Heart complications
- Breathing difficulties
- Slower recovery from illnesses
A parrot that’s routinely frightened will have a much shorter lifespan.
Is My Parrot Stressed?
To reduce a parrot’s stress, you need to recognize when it’s feeling stressed out. There will be indicators in its body language and habits. However, a glance at a parrot’s feathers and body can reveal problems.
Physical Signs of Stress In Parrots
Parrots are good at hiding injuries and fear. However, these signs will be difficult to miss in a stressed parrot:
Stress Bars On Feathers
If a parrot experiences long-term stress, this will damage the way it grows feathers. It won’t process nutrients optimally, taking them away to sustain its vital organs.
You’ll also notice stress bars. These are thin, horizontal lines that form across its feathers, running perpendicular to the shaft. The stripes may appear as discoloration or gray blemishes across several feathers.
A parrot that’s stressed might begin plucking its feathers. This is preening behavior taken to the extreme. As the parrot attempts to self-soothe by preening, it will remove feathers.
Eventually, it will develop into a compulsive habit and a desire to destroy things to relieve fear or frustration. The parrot will take this out on its cage, but it might also target its own body. You’ll notice the parrot is bald in certain places.
Weight Loss or Lack Of Appetite
Stressed parrots might refuse to eat or struggle to process nutrients. Consequently, your parrot will lose weight.
You may not be able to tell if your parrot is 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 too close to your parrot’s chest.
Behavioral Signs Of Stress
In some cases, only your parrot’s behavior will tell you it’s stressed. This includes:
Parrots aren’t naturally aggressive. If they’re poorly socialized, spoiled, or hormonal, you may see an increase in aggression. However, if your parrot was friendly before, sudden aggression can be a warning sign of stress.
You may also find that your parrot fights with other parrots or pets, biting or rebuffing other members of the household. It could also hiss, scream, and growl at others.
When a parrot shows aggression, it feels scared, threatened, and in need of protection. It will defend itself by trying to be scarier than the threat.
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 click its tongue, this is a bad sign.
Parrots that are stressed may suddenly scream and shriek. If flapping wings and hissing accompany this, it’s a sign that the parrot is terrified. Even if there is no obvious threat or danger, it may begin screaming at all times.
Nervous And Repetitive Behavior
Stressed parrots will repeat behavior as a nervous tic. This will verge on obsessive, with the parrot constantly:
- Rocking its head back and forward
- Pacing back and forth
- Knocking on items
If this is paired with aggression or a refusal to eat, your parrot is stressed out.
How To Reduce Stress In Parrots
If your parrot exhibits some of the above symptoms, you’ll need to find out the cause of stress. Here are common stress points for parrots and how to resolve them:
It’s possible that your parrot feels overwhelmed by the people or animals in its space. If you recently introduced a new parrot to its cage, your original parrot may feel crowded and stressed.
Likewise, if you invite guests who talk loudly, interact with the parrot, or move about a lot, it can unsettle your parrot. 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 socialization, they can get overwhelmed. If the parrot keeps trying to leave or hide, let it spend time in its cage by itself for a while.
In the wild, parrots interpret sudden sounds, movement, and touch as a threat. It usually means a predator is about to catch them. Because of this, parrots seldom react well to sudden frights. In fact, these are the most damaging forms of stress parrots can be exposed to. Parrots could be startled by:
- Barking dogs
- Screaming from a child
- Honking cars
- Dropped objects
- Pet activity
Keep your parrot away from windows that are near the street. Don’t put the parrot in with the home theater if you’re playing loud or busy action movies. If you have an energetic toddler or pet, 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.
New Toys Or Cages
Parrots are easily upset by change. If you place a new toy in its cage, your parrot might think that it’s a predator. This can cause your parrot to retreat to the far edge of the cage, scream, or even attack the toy.
A new cage can stress out a parrot because this is a place of retreat where it feels unsafe. 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 feel frightened while inside of it.
Even if you keep your parrot’s items steady and familiar, parrots can get upset about changes around it. For example, painting a wall a different color, changing furniture, or rearranging your home is enough. The reaction may be more severe if you move house or if the parrot has just been adopted.
The parrot will not recognize its surroundings and may see it as an unsettling change. This can leave your parrot disturbed and uncertain. In the wild, such drastic changes rarely occur.
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 animal is cats. In the wild, cat species, such as jaguars, are a natural enemy of parrots.
A cat may sit a short distance away from the cage and stare at the parrot. This may seem benign as the cat is technically not doing anything wrong. However, this harms 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 cat may attack at any moment. A cat can stare a parrot to death if this situation is left unresolved.
Yelling And Aggression
Parrots don’t react well to loud human voices. Even though parrots live in large, noisy flocks, these sounds register differently. Even budgies, which have near-deafening flocks with thousands of birds, can be stressed by humans yelling loudly.
This is partly because parrots are adept at reading body language and tone. That’s why speaking in a comforting voice is encouraged when interacting with parrots. A caged parrot will be distressed by people shouting and arguing.
Staying Caged Or Limited
A parrot shouldn’t be left in its cage constantly. Also, if you live in a small apartment, your living space may be insufficient for the parrot to explore. A parrot may grow stressed if it can’t:
- Stretch its wings
- Move from place to place
- Spend time with you
- Mimic foraging behavior
- Engage in new activities
The University of Guelph noted abnormal behavior in captive parrots. Even if parrots were given some freedom, they’d rebel if it didn’t match what their instincts demanded. In contrast, wild roaming parrots showed little abnormal behavior. A parrot that wasn’t given enough space to forage became so frustrated that it resorted to self-mutilation.
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 bored and depressed, resorting to destructive behavior.
Too Little Sleep
Parrots need to sleep often and consistently. If they don’t, they may become stressed, frustrated, aggressive, and prone to self-destructive habits. For the most part, night lights and sudden noises keep parrots awake.
The only reason a parrot needs light in the darkness is if it’s prone to night frights. This happens when the parrot awakens from a nightmare or is startled by outside noise. At this point, having a light enables the parrot to 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 sleep, but it won’t sleep deeply.
High temperatures cause undue stress on a parrot’s body, especially larger birds that have more muscle mass to keep them warm. Since parrots don’t have sweat glands, they cool off with:
- Fast respirations
If parrots are constantly exposed to high temperatures, they’ll grow stressed. Parrots thrive between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a much warmer climate, monitor your parrot for signs of overheating.
Parrots can die from stress if their owners don’t provide support soon enough. Parrots are hyper-aware and very cautious of their surroundings. By resolving any stress points, you can keep your parrot healthy.