Posted by Diane Burroughs on January 18, 2015
Customer Asks: My African Grey has picked up screeching upon someone leaving the room/out of his eyesight. I can't even go to the bathroom without his loud high pitched yells. It's almost like an alarm yell, asking where I am and if/when I don't respond after three seconds he repeats. It's not a constant screaming so I wouldn't call it a tantrum, but it's often and any time I or my roommate leaves his eye line. I've ignored him, I've tried a whistle to let him know I'm close, I've tried telling him to be quiet (which he likes to repeat back at me) and nothing has shown any improvement. What could I be doing wrong, or is there something I could do differently?
Answer: I wonder if he has a little separation anxiety coupled with inadvertent training to scream. Your bird is going to call you, but needs to learn a quieter "call." The first step would be to work on teaching your bird that he gets a reward for quieter "calling," a whistle rather than a screetch. I'd suggest some clicker training to teach the bird a quick, friendly whistle. I taught Smokey "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." We practice it a lot and it has turned into “our special call.”
If he is anxious, I am the first to call, and when he calls me with a tolerable whistle, I'm quick to reward appropriate vocalizations while focusing very carefully to not reward intolerable sounds. A parrot will associate any attention, good or bad, as a reward. Make sure to reserve the attention to appropriate behavior. It will take a while, and parrots usually try harder to do whats worked in the past before adopting a new behavior. In other words, it will get worse before it gets better. You'll need to break training sessions up into the tiniest, teachable moment and then add them together. A good resource is "Clicker Training for Birds" and GoodBirdinc.com DVD on teaching your parrot to talk.
1.Pick a tune that your bird uses in its usual communication.
2.Imitate the whistle numerous times a day, especially when you’re greeting your bird, entering a room, leaving the room, etc.
3.Now, start a whistle training program. Using Clicker Training for Birds principles, get a bird training perch, a clicker and your birds favorite, easy to administer treats.
4.Create a training schedule of 2-3 times per day that you can train your bird for 5-10 minutes.
5.Standing near your bird, whistle the tune. Start off by rewarding your bird for paying attention. Next, work up to rewarding your bird making sounds. As your bird gets closer to repeating the selected call, reward those sounds. Act very jovial when your bird makes any progress, rewarding it generously and calling back. Make sure that this turns into a predictable greeting several times throughout the day.
6.Now, every time that you leave the room tell your parrot that you’ll be back and whistle the greeting loud enough so that it can associate where you are at.
7.If you do a Functional Behavior Assessment to map what may be causing the screaming, and you determine that your bird has separation anxiety, you may wish to use some bird calming medicine, like Avicalm or King's Cages Shhh!. Next time that you take the bird to your avian vet, ask the Dr. to explore potential medical problems associated with the screaming, from nutritional imbalance to anxiety.
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