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Can Parrots Have Separation Anxiety?

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

Pet parrots form strong emotional connections, meaning they can develop separation anxiety. This leads to acute distress when an owner leaves their presence, especially for prolonged periods.

A common sign of separation anxiety in parrots is screaming and squawking when you leave the room.

A parrot may also refuse to eat or drink and become visibly unhappy. It may develop anxious tics, stress bars on feathers, negative behaviors (like feather-plucking), and become more hostile.

Why Parrots Develop Separation Anxiety

Parrots are social animals that dislike being alone, especially if they lack fun things to do.

Separation anxiety isn’t as simple as a fear of being alone. Asking a trusted friend to keep the parrot company or adopting a second bird for companionship won’t necessarily resolve the problem.

It’s a complex physiological condition that relates to the absence of a specific person, usually the primary caregiver. This reaction is a consequence of the parrot imprinting on them.

Imprinting occurs when a parrot considers someone essential to its survival. According to Zoo Biology, this is common among hand-raised parrots. This person fulfills the role of the parrot’s mother.

Imprinting is irreversible, and almost all parrots have a favored human. To reduce the impact of your temporary absence, ensure the parrot recognizes, likes, and trusts your friends and family.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

The most common symptom of separation anxiety is screaming and squawking whenever an owner leaves the room. Other warning signs include:

  • Repetitive, almost OCD-like behaviors within the cage (toe-tapping, pacing, etc.)
  • Excessive activity, almost hyperactive.
  • Picking at the feathers to the point of damaging the skin and bones.
  • Refusing to eat or drink.
  • Displaying hostility toward pets and humans that take away from their attention.
  • Horizontal stress bars (horizontal lines across the feathers).

If a parrot has separation anxiety, don’t ignore the problem because it won’t go away.

How To Deal with Separation Anxiety

You can’t be by a parrot’s side 24/7 because you need to sleep, work, and socialize with others.

Here are some ways to resolve the problem:

Living Environment Assessment

Consider the size of the cage. Is it large enough for a parrot to extend its wings and move about while you’re away? If not, its stress and agitation will worsen.

Add toys and puzzles to keep the bird occupied. Switch one or two of them occasionally (not all the toys at once) so they don’t become dull and uninteresting.

Avoid changing everything in the cage or moving the cage to a human-free location. According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, parrots are neophobic (fear new, unfamiliar things).

Not being around to calm down a scared parrot can induce panic. Introduce new objects to a parrot slowly and in person, engaging with the bird and demonstrating that the toy is a source of fun.

Items a parrot can safely destroy are recommended. Parrots like to chew everything, especially when in a heightened emotional state. Chew toys and wooden blocks can be an excellent emotional outlet.

Find other ways to show a parrot that it’s not alone during the day. Leave the TV/radio on, or record your voice for the parrot to listen to while you’re away. It’ll find these things comforting.

Build Tolerance To Solitude

Building tolerance involves leaving the parrot’s room briefly before returning soon afterward.

Over time, you can steadily increase the time you leave the parrot alone, noting its reaction. Start by stepping outside the door for half a minute, a few minutes, 10-15 minutes, and longer.

Parrots have excellent long-term memories, so they’ll learn that temporary and permanent absences differ. Eventually, the parrot will be less distressed when you’re not around for a few hours.

Varied Routine

Parrots relish routine and knowing when to expect you home based on light levels and sounds.

Parrots have good memories and can recall information vital to their welfare. If you always return just after sunset, the parrot will grow increasingly agitated when night falls.

While we don’t recommend creating an unreliable routine, mixing up your departure and return times means the parrot can’t anticipate your arrival. However, it’ll realize that you always return.

Remain Calm After Returning Home

When you return home, the parrot will be very excitable. Don’t rush over to offer petting and attention.

Greet the parrot warmly from a distance while conducting your usual routine – taking off your shoes and coat, dropping off any bags, making yourself a drink, starting to prepare dinner, etc.

Approach when the parrot is much calmer and showing signs of happiness. Tell the parrot how good it’s being, rewarding its calmness with favored foods and petting/attention.

If you yell at the parrot for screaming when you leave the room, it’ll match your energy and grow more agitated. Instead, ignore unwanted behaviors and reward the parrot when it behaves rationally.

Having a parrot involves forming a complex bond with an intelligent animal capable of experiencing many of the same positive and negative emotions as us.

While parrots can develop separation anxiety, the severity of this psychological condition can be reduced.