Parrots are highly intelligent birds that experience intense, human-like emotions. While many emotions are positive, others are negative, like low mood, jealousy, anger, and fear.
A pet parrot can become sad and depressed due to unsanitary conditions, illness, injury, cage modifications, high/low temperatures, boredom, stress, loneliness, or grief.
The signs of depression in parrots include feather/skin picking, fluffing up feathers, irritability, hostility, vocalization changes, head bobbing, changes to poop, stress bars, and inappetence.
If a parrot becomes unhappy, you must find out why and take steps to resolve the problem.
Do Parrots Feel Depressed?
Scientists believe that parrots experience many of the same emotions as humans. However, we anthropomorphize, connecting our characteristics and behaviors with birds.
Although true, parrots show their emotions through specific vocalizations and body language. Many of these behaviors immediately alert us when parrots are unhappy.
So, when a high-energy or easy-going parrot becomes inert or aggressive, it likely feels dissatisfied.
What Causes Parrots To Become Depressed?
Depression is more common among pet parrots than we think. Even minor issues can trigger sadness and unhappiness, so the owner must be vigilant about sudden mood changes in birds.
Sickness And Injury
Illness is among the most common reasons for parrots’ unhappiness. Any sickness, disease, or injury that inhibits the enjoyment of life can negatively impact how a parrot feels.
Mood-reducing illnesses and injuries include the following:
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye).
- Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis).
- Respiratory conditions.
- Internal and external parasites (worms, mites, fleas, etc.)
- Broken blood feathers.
- Overgrown claws.
- Poisoning and toxicity.
- Bone fractures.
These health conditions can result from poor husbandry or not being fed appropriately.
Pet parrots need a consistent daily schedule and routine, so avoid the following changes:
- Different feeding times.
- Being away from home more often.
- New sleeping schedules.
- Unfamiliar animals, like cats and dogs.
- Unknown people near its cage.
Unnecessary routine changes wreak havoc on a parrot’s mood, causing stress and anxiety. If you need to change a parrot’s routine, it must be done gradually so the bird has time to adjust.
The position of a parrot’s cage could cause depression. For example, a parrot will feel uncomfortable if the cage is placed next to a heater or cold draught because its body temperature will be wrong.
If a cage is positioned near a window without curtains and the parrot’s prone to night terrors due to car headlights and noisy people walking by, it’ll feel afraid and sleep poorly.
Placing a cover over the parrot’s cage or moving the cage to a quieter room can be beneficial.
If a parrot doesn’t eat the right balance of foods, even if it eats often, it can become nutrient-deficient and malnourished. It’ll have dull and lifeless feathers, lack energy, and be unhappy.
For example, a deficiency in vitamin A (hypovitaminosis A) is common among captive parrots. It can lead to breathing difficulties, nasal discharge, swollen eyes, fluid balance problems, and low feather quality.
Parrots need a diverse diet featuring pellets, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some white meat. Also, avoid over-feeding pet birds so they don’t become overweight.
Not all parrots get along. Some parrots fight, especially if they’ve not been introduced properly. Territorial and jealous parrots are likelier to attack other birds if they’ve bonded with their owners.
Parrots are very social birds. They live in large flocks, providing protection, resources, and companionship for each other. Lone parrots are more vulnerable, so they prefer to stay together.
While daily life is entirely different for captive parrots, they still get lonely and depressed if they don’t receive enough social interaction from their owners or other birds.
The most common signs of loneliness in parrots include:
- Destructive behaviors.
- More noisy or quiet.
This is why it’s recommended that parrots live in pairs or small groups. If this isn’t possible, provide mental stimulation by playing with the bird outside its cage and offer affection.
Parrots form long-lasting bonds, especially with same-species parrots. For example, a pair of opposite-sex lovebirds are far more likely to get along than a same-sex macaw and an African grey.
Many parrots are monogamous and stay together for the entire breeding season or until one dies. Parrots rarely part company unless their current partner is infertile and unable to have offspring.
Parrots mourn the loss of loved ones in a similar way to humans. A study by Scientific American found that bonded budgerigars call to one another using unique and distinctive sounds.
Even after being separated for 70 days, they still recognized each other, suggesting that parrots distinguish their bonded mates from other flock members.
Once a parrot has a strong bond with its mate, it’ll become sad and depressed if that bird dies. However, a grieving parrot will eventually recover from its loss.
Parrots develop close bonds with their owners, especially if they lack a cagemate. If that individual meets the bird’s care and enrichment needs, it’ll feel deeply unhappy if that person is gone.
Some owners are survived by their long-lived parrots, while others can no longer care for a pet bird due to the tenancy agreement or a change of personal circumstances (allergies, finances, etc.)
How Can You Tell If A Bird Is Depressed?
When parrots feel sad, they exhibit symptoms that alert their owners to their low mood.
In some cases, an environmental change is all that’s needed. In others, the parrot is bored and requires more social interaction with trusted family members and friends.
You may notice the following signs of a depressed parrot:
As described by VCA Hospitals, fluffed-up feathers can signify illness. Other times, fluffed-up feathers are caused by depression because sickness and unhappiness go hand-in-hand.
Parrots hide sickness from others to prevent themselves from appearing vulnerable. Confusingly, fluffed-up feathers can also signify other issues, including:
- Mating readiness.
So, it’s difficult to understand how a parrot feels about life from its feathers alone.
Loss of Appetite
Loss of appetite is unnatural and unsustainable, especially for prolonged periods. Not eating is a common side effect of depression, causing health conditions like:
- Kidney disease.
- Infections (viral, bacterial, and fungal).
- Intestinal problems.
- Stomach pain.
- Reproductive issues.
- Bone and skeletal problems.
The parrot may refuse to eat because it’s physically unable to do so, but it could be upset due to something it distrusts in its living environment.
For example, the cage could be too small, or the parrot is frightened of another pet. For example, it’s common for pet cats to stalk and stare constantly at a parrot’s cage.
If that happens, the parrot will lose weight. Parrots have fast metabolisms to sustain their active lifestyles, rarely surviving for more than 24-72 hours without food.
Smaller parrots (like budgies, parrotlets, cockatiels, love birds, etc.) will perish sooner than larger parrots (like macaws, African greys, Amazon parrots, cockatoos, etc.)
Feather removal is among the most common symptoms of depression in parrots. As explained by Avian Biology Research, feather plucking is indicative of unsuitable avian welfare.
It’s not the same as the molting process that all parrots go through 1-3 times annually. It also differs from preening, where birds remove dead feathers and coat them with oil from the uropygial gland.
Instead of falling out naturally, parrots pluck out their feathers in response to something they dislike in their environment. Feather plucking can be caused by the following:
- Environmental changes.
- New cagemates.
- Predatory animals.
- Changes in routine.
Feather plucking is a leading indicator of an unhappy and depressed parrot.
While some parrots become quiet and withdrawn when depressed, others become angry and aggressive. This frustration can manifest as unpleasant vocalizations, while other parrots will lunge and bite.
Fear or traumatic experiences can cause aggression, which worsens over time.
Parrots with depression display stereotypies or obsessive tendencies, such as:
- Head bobbing.
- Body swinging.
Parrots use this form of self-comfort to cope with negative feelings.
Feelings of stress damage the way birds’ feathers grow. While in the grip of depression, a parrot’s body won’t utilize nutrients efficiently. It may even lose its appetite and refuse to eat.
Thin, horizontal lines appear across the feathers that run perpendicular to the shaft. Some lines will be gray, while others will be discolored and lack vibrancy.
Change in Droppings
Any changes to a parrot’s droppings signify something’s not quite right. Healthy parrot feces should be green with white specks or streaks. A depressed parrot’s droppings may become:
If the consistency of a parrot’s poop changes, an illness, disease, or infection may be responsible.
Vocalizations are among the most common indications that parrots are depressed. Happy parrots make gentle chirps and melodic sounds. Sad parrots make unpleasant sounds, including:
If a parrot associates depression with you, it’ll make these sounds whenever you walk into the room or approach its cage. If this is the case, you’ll need to work on building your bond.