For the birds
March 20, 2006 2:38 PM   Subscribe

The family bird hates me, help!

We have a 12ish year old quaker parrot, and have had him since he was a baby. Everything's been fine and dandy up until about maybe six months ago. He will not stop screaming when I am in the room. I honestly don't know what I did to piss him off like he seems to be. He screams when I come into the house from school, as soon as the front door opens. Screams when I open the door to my room to come out. When I walk to the bathroom, etc. His cage is on the complete opposite end of the house, but he can see and hear me easily (our house is a ranch set up, all open). Basically any time I'm around, he's pissed off. Nothing about his environment, health or care has changed. My relationship with my family is fine. My main concern here, obviously, is getting this to stop! What can we do short of hiring a bird therapist?
posted by viachicago to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you sure he's angry? I had a conure for a few years (ended up having to give her to a friend because of allergies) and she was very, very noisy when she was lonely and wanted attention.

I'm not sure if Quaker parrots live as long as conures, but I was also warned that she would need a mate by age 10 or so, or she'd become extremely sullen and nasty.

So are you sure it's hate? And if it is, maybe you need another parrot?
posted by Malor at 2:46 PM on March 20, 2006

It's my experience that birds can be real bastards, especially once they get to be more than a few years old. There might not really be any way for you to get this parrot off your case.
posted by jenovus at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2006

What does it do apart from screaming? Does it attack you, try to bite, or does it just scream when you're near? If it really seems to hate you (tries to bite) then you have some various training options open. Check out some books on dealing with this, it's a common problem. If it just screams and wants your attention, but isn't trying to kill you, well... it may be in love with you and is trying to court you. In which case, I don't know what to tell you...
posted by Rubber Soul at 3:11 PM on March 20, 2006

Does it attack you, try to bite, or does it just scream when you're near?

For clarification, this bird absolutely tries to bite me when I walk past the cage into the room next to it.
posted by viachicago at 3:23 PM on March 20, 2006

Hmm, I'd want to check out some bird books on how to deal with this; birds are funny things and I know this problem comes up a lot. But you could try training the bird to accept you; you'll probably want someone else, who the bird does like, to actually be the trainer. When you're in the room, with the trainer near the bird, ready to reward it, let the bird scream until it stops (I assume it'll get tired eventually.) When it stops, reward it. Gradually, reward it for longer and longer periods of quiet, then for remaining calm while you're there, and so forth. Don't Shoot The Dog is a good basic "how to train" book.
posted by Rubber Soul at 4:26 PM on March 20, 2006

Um. I'll put this delicately, did anything change about you about six months, that the parrot could smell? (Parrot olfaction is thought to be less acute than that of predatory birds, but similar to that of passerine birds in general.)

(And try to remind it of the Quaker tradition of non-violence.)
posted by orthogonality at 4:45 PM on March 20, 2006

I was going to say "welcome to my world" but that wouldn't be very helpful.

I think this is a quaker thing. I have the exact opposite problem...mine won't stop screaming if I'm not around. This is a relatively recent development...we've had him|her for over a decade and are still learning new, personality features that weren't in the sales brochure. Things like arbitrarily deciding that he doesn't like left hands (today) and will aggressively attack any attempt at approach with a left hand. And then sometimes it's the right hand.

My initial guess, though, is that it's not pissed wants attention. How does it react to direct stimulation? Not just being in the same room, but actually talking/petting/feeding it? Does it quiet down or go for the attack?

With my bird, feeding it one of his favourite treats usually satisfies him for a time (or at least until I try to leave the room again). Do you respond to its screaming? Quakers are notorious attention whores and will do anything for it, whether positive or negative.

They're also deceptively smart, too. If I leave the apartment, it's bloody murder until I get back in. And I'm sure you're well aware that Quakers are not the most melodic nor the quietest of birds...I can hear mine outside, on the other end of the block. He screams constantly until I get back, but is smart enough to know that if I lock the door, I won't be back for a while. If he hears me lock the door, he doesn't scream. But he will sulk, and he'll be very angry with me for leaving him for the first few minutes of my return.

It's also worth noting that quakers, like most other parrot-type birds, tend to play favourite and bond with one individual. It may just be that you were chosen. In my case, the bird isn't even mine (he came with the boyfriend) but he ended up bonding with me.

Except when he's anry with me.

And orthogonality, that had me in stitches...mine not only bites to draw blood, but laughs about it afterwards. Clearly and repeatedly, complete with little intake-of-breath sounds in between laughs. Tormented my sister's cats to no end, too.
posted by geckoinpdx at 7:17 PM on March 20, 2006

I am relaying this response from a parrot-owning member of Monkeyfilter who doesn't have a MeFi account:

"Has the bird been especially keen on another member of the house? It may be that you're being perceived as a threat to the bird's chosen mate, and the bird is trying to assert himself. No more petting the back, that will just exacerbate things. Generally trainers suggest that you do nothing to enforce the behavior, but constant screaming is hard to ignore. You could try to work with the others in the house on some simple training, so that when the bird starts screaming you can cue a distracting behavior.

"I suggest you find a quaker or parrot specific group. I'd recommend the clickbirds group on Yahoo and checking out Barbara Heidenreich's book Good Bird.

"I can relate to sudden mood changes and nasty bites while laughing. it's all part of being a quaker slave."

Hope that helps!
posted by Melinika at 9:20 PM on March 20, 2006

Has the bird been to the vet? Screaming isn't always a behavioural disorder. It can be a symptom of a physical problem as well. The fact that the screaming centers around your actions says this probably isn't the case, but a thorough exam by a good avian vet can't hurt.

Quakers often become one-person birds and if it is closely bonded to another member of the household it could see you as a rival, as Melinika's post points out. This is a great article on discouraging breeding behaviour. It might be useful to see if anyone in the family has become your quaker's main squeeze, so to speak. That community, by the way, is an EXCELLENT one. If you can't get the help you need here, you might want to ask over there.

Is the bird like this only when in its cage? How does it react when out of the cage and interacting with other family members? Does it fly from them to attack you? Does it try to attack others when you are near? Displaced agression is pretty common among some parrots. If a threat is near and they can't attack the threat directly, they will sometimes bite the person they are with at the time. Did you interact with the bird a lot before?

It's critical to examine how you (or your family) reacted to the screaming when it first started. It's remarkably easy to condition some parrots to scream. Birds love drama and they love getting a reaction. If the first few times the bird screamed at you there was a fuss made (either by you or someone else) then what the bird learned was that screaming at you gets a reaction, and that can be mighty fun for a bird, even if the reaction is negative. "Oh, I scream at viachicago and someone laughs or yells or comes over and wags a finger or covers the cage. Goody! I think I'll do it again about four thousand times." It's a lesson they learn really, really quickly and one they take a loooong time to forget. How do you and your family react to it now?

I've known a few parrot owners with this problem and the only way they managed to solve it was by completely ignoring it.

Is there anything, anything at all, that has changed about your appearance in the last six months? Hair cut? Color? Anything? Sometimes birds can be phobic about the smallest things. I have heard stories about parrots screaming non-stop for no reason for weeks over something as seemingly harmless as new drapes. Some birds HATE certain colors and will act phobic or aggressive if exposed to something painted their most-hated shade.

How much darkness is your quaker getting at night. Too much light can lead to hormonal, cranky birds (in the wild, increasing daylight and diminishing darkness can be a sign that the breeding season is on its way). Try giving him at least twelve hours of darkness. It seems like a little thing but I've heard it can work wonders with a horny bird. Is the cage in the same place it's always been?

There's one more thing you might want to try, although it may involve braving a few bites at first: become the bringer of good things. Does your quaker have a favorite treat? Then you become the only person he gets it from. Every day, when walking by the cage, drop his favorite treat into his cage, treat bowl, playstand, whatever. No one else must give him his favorite treat during this time.Don't make a big deal out of it. Don't talk to him or even look him in the eye. Just walk by, drop in his fave treat and walk away. You want him to slowly start to associate you with good stuff.

Ok, this is much longer than I intended it to be. Good luck with the bird. A screaming parrot is no fun at all.
posted by LeeJay at 12:03 AM on March 21, 2006

Sell it.
posted by pracowity at 1:00 AM on March 21, 2006

viachicago, has any of this been helpful?

LeeJay has some very useful insight as well...on further thought I forgot to ask if anything (however subtle) changed with your relationship to the bird. Something such as a new love interest or anything could do it; it could even be something as simple as a new hairstyle or glasses. They're very jealous birds, and like things to stay the same. I'm still thinking that this is fairly standard quaker behaviour, especially with someone they've bonded to.

quakerville and may be helpful resources as well.
posted by geckoinpdx at 3:19 AM on March 21, 2006

Thanks for your responses! I will try to recap as best I can:

Nothing has changed about me that relates to how I smell (which is, I will have you know, so fresh and so clean (clean)

Nothing has changed about my appearance, either! I'm still the same via I've always been.

He's not particularly fond of just one person

He acts like he does while he's on his cage, outside of it or in. We rarely keep him locked up. He has free roam of his area, and I never intrude. No one really does.

I don't know what I did, but there must have been something to make him loathe me like he seems to. My father and I respond to it negatively, scolding and sometimes squirting him with a squirtbottle to get him to quiet down (these things do not often work, thus proving all y'alls theory of him loving this 'encouragement!') I will definitely do my best to ignore it from now on (I am the one who reacts the most). I came home from school today and he didn't scream like he often does. I gave my dogs treats after letting them in, and gave the bird a baby carrot. Not even to say "Thanks for not screaming like a rabid banshee," but just to try to make amends for whatever the hell I (or my doppelganger) did in my sleep. I am going to be careful, though, not to just give him a little treat every time I come home, but maybe once a day at any random time. I don't want him training me!

Again, thanks for your help! With your assistance I may be able to walk to the bathroom in peace again.
posted by viachicago at 12:42 PM on March 21, 2006

My father and I respond to it negatively, scolding and sometimes squirting him with a squirtbottle to get him to quiet down

I would definitely stop using the spray bottle. Physical discipline rarely works on parrots and too much with the spray bottle can sometimes cause parrots who formerly loved their baths to become phobic of water. Spraying him probably isn't helping him grow any fonder of you, either.

I will definitely do my best to ignore it from now on

Assuming there are no physical problems prompting the screaming, this combined with the treats is probably your best bet. It's important though that everyone ignores the screaming, not just you. He needs to learn that throwing a tantrum means no attention from anyone. At the same time it's very important to lavish praise on him when he doesn't scream. Positive reinforcement usually works a lot better on birds than other forms of behaviour modification.

I don't know what I did, but there must have been something to make him loathe me like he seems to

Some birds are really good at holding grudges. It was probably something completely minor that, for some reason, really freaked him out. Parrots are insane.
posted by LeeJay at 7:54 PM on March 21, 2006

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