Parrots are intelligent creatures that boast an impressive repertoire of emotions. Sadly, this means that even the slightest changes to your parrot’s environment or routine can bring about feelings of depression and sadness.
Parrots become depressed due to poor living conditions, sickness, injury, or sudden routine changes. Parrots also become sad once their mate dies. Depressed parrots pluck out their feathers, make unpleasant vocalizations, and develop repetitive behaviors. Some parrots become angry and aggressive, while others lose their appetite.
It’s up to the owners to provide their parrots with the best environment possible, free from harsh and uncomfortable conditions. If you suspect that your parrot is feeling depressed, you’ll need to take steps to find out why.
Do Parrots Feel Sad?
Some scientists believe that parrots are capable of experiencing the same types of emotions as humans. There is such a thing called anthropomorphism, which is where human owners attribute our characteristics to certain parrot behaviors.
While this may be true to an extent, parrots have the ability to demonstrate their emotions through their vocalizations and body language. Many of these behaviors alert us to when parrots aren’t feeling themselves. For example, when calm, easy-going parrots suddenly become aggressive, they’re clearly unhappy.
For these reasons, it’s fair to assume that parrots suffer from sadness and depression, at least to some extent. Things that make parrots sad include:
- Changes to routine or cage position
- The death of a mate
- The loss of a well-loved toy
That’s why you must monitor your parrot’s behavior and provide optimum conditions to keep it happy.
What Causes Parrots To Become Depressed?
Depression is more common among parrots than you might think. Even the most minor things can trigger feelings of sadness and unhappiness, so owners must monitor their bird’s mood at all times.
Sickness or Injury
Illness is one of the most likely reasons for your parrot’s low mood. The most common health conditions include:
- Psittacosis (parrot fever)
- Fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis)
- Respiratory disease
- Internal parasites
In many cases, these health conditions are the result of not being cared for or fed appropriately. This isn’t always down to purposeful neglect – new owners don’t always know what their parrots need without gaining experience first. Similarly, painful injuries are likely to make your bird feel unhappy, especially if it goes undetected for too long.
Change To Routine
Parrots prefer a regular schedule and routine. If it changes without warning, parrots that can’t adapt to change become depressed and stressed. Significant changes to routine could include:
- A new feeding time
- You being away from home more often
- A different sleeping schedule
- New animals or people in the house
For your parrot’s mental wellbeing, it’s advisable to adhere to your original schedule as closely as you can. Unnecessary changes will wreak havoc with your bird’s mood and cause unwanted stress. If you do need to change your parrot’s routine, try to do it slowly and gently so that your bird’s eased in.
The position of your parrot’s cage could be causing your bird to feel depressed. For example, if it’s placed too near a heater or chilly draught, your parrot will feel uncomfortable, leading to feelings of depression.
Similarly, if your parrot’s cage is placed too near the window and the bird is prone to night terrors caused by car headlights, dog walkers, and other forms of frightening stimuli, it’ll eventually become unhappy. Prolonged exposure to things your parrot finds scary is bound to affect your bird’s wellbeing in the long-term.
Placing a cover over your parrot’s cage might help, as will moving it to a more suitable spot. If your parrot’s depression doesn’t improve, something else is likely making it upset.
Not all parrots get along like a house on fire. Some birds fight, especially if they’ve not been introduced properly. Jealous parrots are more likely to attack other birds if they’ve bonded deeply with their owners. This isn’t good news for new parrots entering the home.
Parrots are also creatures of habits, as we’ve also established. A new bird changing things is likely to make finicky birds depressed. As their owner, you must socialize your birds so that they can live in harmony with one another.
How Can You Tell If A Bird Is Depressed?
When parrots feel sad, they display several tell-tale symptoms that alert their owners to their low mood. Paying attention to the following signs can help you determine whether your parrot needs cheering up.
In some cases, an environmental change is all that’s needed. In others, your parrot is bored and requires more social interaction than what it’s getting. Either way, you’ll notice:
As described by VCA Hospitals, fluffed-up feathers are sometimes the sign of an illness. Other times, it’s caused by depression. Disease and depression commonly go hand in hand, and fluffed-up feathers are sometimes the only way owners can tell their parrot’s suffering from an illness. That’s because they hide sickness to stop themselves from appearing vulnerable. Unfortunately, fluffed-up feathers can also be the sign of other things, including:
- Mating readiness
As a result, it’s difficult to understand what you’re parrot’s feeling from its feathers alone, so monitor your bird for other depression signals alongside fluffed-up feathers to be sure.
Loss of Appetite
Parrots won’t stop eating unless there’s a good reason for them to do so. Loss of appetite is unnatural, especially for prolonged periods, and usually indicates that something’s wrong. Appetite loss is a common side effect of depression-causing health conditions, including:
- Kidney disease
- Intestinal problems
- Stomach pain
While your bird might be refusing to eat because it’s physically unable to, it could also be responding to something in its environment that’s not quite right. For example, the cage could be too small, or the bird’s frightened of other pets that make it feel vulnerable.
If you leave this untreated, malnourishment is likely to develop, and the parrot will lose too much weight in a short space of time. Parrots also have fast metabolisms, so not eating can cause a range of health problems.
Feather plucking is one of the most common symptoms of depression in parrots. As explained by Avian Biology Research, feather plucking suggests compromised welfare.
Feather plucking is much different from the molting process that all parrots go through. It’s also different from preening, where parrots remove dead feathers and coat them with oil to keep them healthy.
Instead of falling out naturally, parrots forcibly pluck out their feathers in response to something within their environment they don’t like. Feather plucking is commonly caused by:
- Environmental changes
- New cagemates
- Changes in routine
All of these things cause depression. Sometimes, feather plucking is the only way for owners to tell that their parrot’s not happy. Unfortunately, feather plucking can lead to extreme self-mutilating behaviors. In the worst cases, birds chew into their muscles and bones, causing long-term damage.
While some parrots become quiet and withdrawn when they’re depressed, others become angry and aggressive. This aggression sometimes manifests as unpleasant vocalizations, while other parrots lash out and bite.
Fear or traumatic experiences can bring on aggression. These things are directly linked to depression and will only get worse over time. As a result, you’ll need to remedy whatever’s causing your parrot’s aggression and train it to be more kind and gentle. Hopefully, in time, your parrot will feel and behave much better.
Parrots with depression display obsessive tendencies, such as:
- Head bobbing
- Body swinging
This is a form of self-comfort that parrots use to cope with their feelings. Seeing these behaviors for the first time can be alarming, but they’re one of the most significant signs that your parrot’s not well emotionally.
Long-term depression causes stress bars. That’s because feelings of stress damage the way feathers grow. While in the grip of depression, the parrot won’t be utilizing its nutrients, especially if it loses its appetite and refuses to eat. The body will instead use the vitamins it has stored to fuel its organs.
As a result, thin, horizontal lines appear across the feathers, running perpendicular to the shaft. Some of the lines are grey, while others are discolored. Stress bars aren’t an indication of a specific condition, but they indicate that something’s wrong with the parrot. It’s up to owners to find out what this is.
Change in Droppings
Any changes to your parrot’s droppings signify something’s not right. Heathy parrot feces should be green in color with white specks or streaks. If your bird’s droppings become:
Then a health condition or infection is likely to blame. Check for other signs and take your bird to the vet to treat its sickness. This should hopefully improve its mood.
Vocalizations are one of the most common indications that parrots are depressed. Happy parrots make gentle chirps and melodic sounds. Sad parrots tend to make unpleasant sounds, such as:
- Growing (which is exclusive to African greys)
If your parrot associates its depression with you, it will make these sounds whenever you walk into the same room or approach it. As a result, you’ll need to work on building your bond with your parrot to regain trust and show your parrot that you’re friendly.
Do Parrots Get Lonely?
Parrots are social birds. They live in large flocks in the wild, which offers protection and companionship. Lone birds are vulnerable birds, so parrots prefer to stick together in order to survive. Birds also live in flocks because:
- Predators find it difficult to attack a flock of parrots
- Parrots warn each other of dangers
- Flocks communicate with one another and look for food and shelter together
- Parrots solve puzzles and overcome obstacles in groups
- It’s easier to breed in groups
While life is different for captive parrots, they get lonely and depressed if they don’t receive enough social interaction from their owners or other birds. This is why it’s recommended that parrots live in pairs or small groups wherever possible. The most common signs of loneliness include:
- Destructive behavior
- Hiding from humans
If you can’t get another parrot, ensure you provide your bird with plenty of mental stimulation by playing with it outside of its cage and showing it affection.
Do Parrots Get Sad When Their Mate Dies?
Parrots form close relationships with other parrots. Most are monogamous and stay together until one of them dies. In rare cases, parrots go off to find another mate if their current partner can’t produce eggs, but it’s more common that parrots mate for life.
Parrots mourn just like all animals. A study published by Scientific American found that mated budgerigars call to one another using their distinctive sounds. Even after being separated for 70 days, they still recognized each other, suggesting that parrots distinguish their mates from all other birds.
Bereavement is a natural reaction to parrots no longer being around. Once a parrot forms a strong bond with its mate, it’s like to become depressed and withdrawn once the bird dies. This isn’t just because it misses its mate’s company, but because it’s feeling bored and lonely. As established, these are two leading causes of depression in parrots.
While it’s unpleasant to see your parrot depressed, you can improve its mood by checking for signs of sickness and pain. If it’s physically well, it’s likely an environmental issue. Take a close look at where your parrot lives to see whether conditions are comfortable enough. Doing these things should ease the symptoms of your parrot’s low mood.