Learning to understand your bird’s body language is one of the most important parts of becoming a bird owner. The better you understand your bird, the smoother your relationship will be and the happier and healthier your bird will be. One important thing to watch for is signs of stress.
Knowing when your bird is stressed and how to address it will save you frustration and pain and protect your bird’s long-term health and wellbeing.
Birds exhibit stress is several ways, but you will have to pay attention to catch these symptoms before they become too serious. A stressed bird may crouch, bite, hide, flap, stop vocalizing, vocalize more, pace, or pluck his feathers.
Just like people, birds can suffer serious physical and mental effects of stress if it is left unaddressed.
The earlier you can catch signs of stress in your bird, the easier it will be to deal with it. Hand in hand with this is the fact that the better you know your bird, the easier it will be to note signs of stress.
This said, there are a few signs of fear and anxiety that are common to most birds.
Crouching, Flattening And/Or Trembling
Many birds that are frightened or anxious will flatten their feathers, widen their eyes, and assume a watchful stance. They may stretch their necks upward or crouch slightly as if they’re about to take flight.
This type of behavior may be accompanied by a tense trembling, flapping wings, and/or an open beak.
Biting Or Lunging
Reasons why a bird may bite could make up another post entirely, but stress can be a large factor. A bird that feels unsafe, anxious, or unhappy is very likely to bite at an unwelcome hand, even if your intention is to offer comfort.
Many bites that are taken for aggressive actually spring from fear or uncertainty.
Screaming Or Decreased Vocalization
Birds are noisy pets. Sometimes a parrot will vocalize loudly just for the fun of it, often in the morning or evening or when those around her are also being loud or silly. Screaming can also be a sign of stress, however.
A bird that is constantly screeching for no apparent reason may be frightened, bored, or lonely—all unhappy feelings that play into stress.
On the flip side, a stressed bird may also retreat into herself and stop vocalizing as much as normal. If a talker suddenly stops talking, a budgie stops singing, or you just notice that your bird is generally less vocally interactive, you should consider whether she may be stressed.
Although it can also be a symptom of illness or a hint that your bird could use some fresh food, a bird also may show a decrease in appetite if he is stressed. You can catch this issue early if you pay attention to how much your bird normally eats and keep track of his weight.
Feather-picking Or Self-mutilation
A stressed or bored bird may take to plucking his own feathers or picking at her skin. This type of behavior can also be caused by illness or parasites, so it’s important to make sure physical illness is not a cause.
Whatever the cause of the feather-picking or self-mutilation, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible. This type of behavior can quickly become habitual, causing your bird to harm and disfigure herself.
A bird that has been stressed for awhile may develop stereotypical behavior—repetitive actions like head bobbing, toe tapping, or pacing. Like feather-picking, this type of habit is one you’ll want to catch as early as possible so the underlying cause can be addressed before it becomes ingrained and decreases your bird’s health or mental balance.
A bird that has been completely overwhelmed may retreat into a tired unresponsiveness, choosing to sit in a corner and avoid contact. The bird may just need a good night’s rest and a chance to acclimate, but this can also be a sign of illness, so be sure to watch for any further symptoms and check with your vet if they are present or your bird doesn’t soon become more active and interested.
Birds can be stressed by both large and small changes in their schedules or surroundings. Even your own stress or conflict among family members can affect your bird’s anxiety level.
A move, new furniture, a new cage placement or wall color; the death of another family pet, a change in the family—all of these can potentially be stressful for your bird.
A bird may also be stressed by too much noise or unusual activity. If her cage is too close to a window, she may become anxious because she sees hawks or unfamiliar animals outside.
Other birds being pushy or bullying can also cause stress for your bird.
Overwhelming circumstances are not the only thing that can cause stress in a bird. Conversely, a bird may become stressed if she is left too long on her own or doesn’t have enough to interest and entertain her.
A too small cage or too few toys can cause a bird to become anxious. Lack of interaction is just as likely to cause stress in a bird as overstimulation.
If you notice stress behaviors in your bird, think about what has changed recently. Look around and try to think like your bird.
Is there something near her cage that could potentially be frightening her or causing anxiety? Examine your interactions with your bird to be sure nothing you are doing or failing to do is adding to your bird’s anxiety.
If the early signs of stress are overlooked and a bird suffers from it long term, serious issues can arise. First, your bird’s health will be seriously compromised. Prolonged stress increases the risk of disease and can even be fatal.
Your relationship with your bird will also suffer from prolonged stress. An anxious bird may have multiple behavior issues such as biting and screaming.
It is difficult to build or maintain a relationship with a bird that is too anxious to interact with you.
Once you have determined the source of your bird’s anxiety, you should immediately take steps to alleviate it. If you are still having trouble determining its cause, you can consult an avian veterinarian or animal behaviorist that specializes in birds.
As with any behavior issue, it’s important to rule out health issues first.
- Health Checkup—Be sure your bird gets a clean bill of health from an experienced avian vet. This will allow you to rule out the possibility that your bird’s stress is traceable to illness or disability.
- Immediate Surroundings—Address any issues like cage placement, new furniture, a loud tv, etc. that you suspect are contributing to your bird’s stress. Make sure she is not being bullied by other birds or pets.
- Routine Changes/Family Issues—If you suspect that your bird’s stress is related to how your schedule affects him, loneliness, or family changes, do your best to alter his situation to reduce these stresses. Make sure he’s getting enough sleep and one-on-one interaction. Try to acclimate him more gradually to new additions to the family or routine changes.
- Acclimation—Things change. That’s life and birds can learn to accept changes that may stress them at first. Do your best to help your bird through these changes with lots of attention and positive interaction. If your bird is easily stressed, introduce new objects or routines as gradually as possible. Encourage her to be curious and confident by regularly introducing new toys, foods, games or places that she can learn to enjoy.
As with anything else, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid any acute or long-term stress, it’s essential to know your bird’s needs and meet them to the best of your ability.
A bird that is understood and enjoys a balanced lifestyle is much less likely to succumb to anxiety.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Does your bird eat a nutritious, varied diet? Does she get enough sleep?
Does she feel that she is a part of the family and enjoy generous amounts of attention? Does she have a large enough cage and toys to stimulate her mind and encourage play?
Is her relationship with you positive and trusting?
If you feel that any area of your bird’s life could be improved, start working toward that immediately, but remember that even positive changes can be somewhat stressful to your bird at first. In some cases, a bird may be moved immediately into a large cage or switched to a better diet.
In other situations, gradual acclimation is important.
Addressing Stress in Daily Life
Your own stress levels are very likely to affect your bird’s. Decreasing personal stress can decrease your pet’s anxiety. Make sure you are setting aside time to relax and enjoy time with your feathered friend.
No matter how you are feeling, keep interactions positive, patient, and enjoyable.