"Do birds get bored in cages?"
Parrot boredom is a topic that is not talked enough about. Pet parrots do get bored, lonely, and even depressed. They need lots of enrichment, mental stimulation, exercise, and (of course) fun. In the wild, parrots get this experience through social interaction or foraging for food. Did you know that wild parrots can spend up to 18 hours a day looking for food?
18 hours is 75% of the day! Unlike their cousins in the wild, pet parrots spend only 1 hour...😲
This is not enough. No wonder we see pet parrots quite often get bored, especially while their owners are away or working from home. A bored parrot = unhappy parrot = unhealthy parrot.
So, how can you tell if your parrot is bored? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?
In this article, we’ll cover four most common signs of parrot boredom and eight effective tips to help you cope with it.
Watch out for these signs
Feather plucking or picking 🪶
It is always a terrifying feeling when you see your parrots pulling their feathers out.
Feather plucking is complicated and can happen for a variety of reasons. The first thing you should do is to take your parrot to the vet and get some tests done to check for any potential health issues that might be causing this destructive behaviour.
If your vet rules out any underlying health issues, then feather plucking might be caused by parrot boredom, stress, or lack of stimulation.
In the wild, parrots spend the whole day moving around, socialising, and searching for food. There is no time for wild parrots to get bored! On the other hand, pet parrots can spend a lot of time in the cage with ample food available with no effort. They can easily become bored when they have nothing much to do and can start feather plucking.
⚠️ Keep in mind that even well-cared-for parrots can sometimes pluck their feathers. It doesn't make you a bad “parront”!
If you've ever wondered why your parrot screams when you leave the room, then you should know that the first thing many parrots turn to when they are bored is excessive screaming.
The emphasis is on the word “excessive” because screaming is a natural behaviour for parrots. They scream when they are playing, fighting for their territory, or just chatting to their fellow parrots from the flock. No doubt, this makes them challenging pets.
Conversely, your pet parrots most likely scream because they want your undivided attention. That is their way of telling you “scratch me, play with me, give me seed!”. The best thing you can do is to … ignore them.
Yes, you read it right. During these scream sessions, make sure no one gives your parrots any attention. Otherwise, they will quickly figure out that the more they scream, the more attention they get and will keep doing that.
When your parrots start screaming, completely ignore them. Turn your back and keep doing what you are doing or just leave the room. No eye contact, no talking, no sign of attention whatsoever! We know it is super hard (because they are your babies and they need you!) but trust me, this is the only way to stop the naughty screaming habit.
That, and, of course, positive reinforcement. Every time your parrots make any pleasant sounds as an alternative to screaming, reward them by giving your attention or letting them out.
⚠️ Screaming might be very frustrating but please never punish your parrots by covering the cage up and leaving your parrots inside. This will do more harm than good!
If your parrots are normally vocal or loud and they go silent, that might be a sign of boredom or depression.
Aggressive behaviour like biting 🦢
Boredom and aggression are two different behavioural issues, and boredom by itself shouldn’t lead to your parrot turning into the Hulk. However, boredom can contribute to your parrot’s mood. Your parrot gets bored, which leads to stress and anxiety, and that leads to destructive behaviour like biting.
Apart from boredom, parrots can bite for a variety of reasons. They might be scared, they are forced to do something that they don’t want to do, they might be protecting their territory, and many other reasons. Learn how to read your parrot’s body language and you might save all of your fingers(😁).
Whenever your parrot bites you, try to analyse the situation and figure out what happened before the bite that could have caused it and what happened right after the bite. This will help avoid reinforcing the biting behaviour.
⚠️ Don’t punish your parrots for biting! It might make them more scared and aggressive, and they will never trust you.
Any other change in behaviour 🎭
As with any other changes in parrot behaviour, it is always worth checking with your vet first to rule out any health-related issues as birds are notoriously good at hiding how they feel.
Those of you who've had parrots for a long time should have a good understanding of the behavioral patterns of your flock—what is normal and what is not.
If your parrot is typically very active and bouncing around like an Energizer Bunny but then suddenly stops playing with the toys and starts sitting all the time in the cage, not doing much, this is a sign that your parrot might be bored and it’s time to ruffle their boredom up.
What can you do about it?
Let's go over a few tips that might help your flock avoid and cope with boredom.
Rotate parrot toys
Rotating and re-arranging a few parrot toys each week is a good way to keep your flock occupied and stimulated. You can find lots of interactive parrot toys out there like puzzles, wooden foraging toys with bird-safe ropes, or BeakBox. Keep in mind safety tips when choosing a new parrot toy for your flock.
Introducing new toys to your parrots might be a nightmare for you and your bird. You buy all these fancy toys, put them in your parrot’s cage and the next thing you know, your parrot is bursting out of the cage squawking in fear.
Parrots are often afraid of new things and that is completely normal behavior for them. Just imagine if someone brought a huge scary-looking alien-like object to your house and told you to play with it...you would be squawking too(😁)!
⚠️ All parrots are different and some might not be happy about drastic changes in their cage so start making small changes here and there and see how your parrot reacts.
The best way to encourage your parrots to play with the new toy is to show them how fun this toy is. The next time you bring a new parrot toy home, play with it in front of your parrots first.
Pretend (or not if the toy is really fun) you are having heaps of fun and let them see you interacting with the toy. Your parrots will be more likely to give it a try to find out what all the fuss is about.
Give your parrots out-of-cage time every day
“How much out-of-cage time should I give?”
It is hard to give a definitive answer.
There are some guidelines out there for the minimum amount of out-of-cage time for different parrot species. But they are only guidelines and what matters more is how your parrots spend their time out of the cage and what amount of positive reinforcement, physical and cognitive stimulation, or exercise they get.
They might be spending 15 hours out of the cage each day but still be bored if they don’t get enough stimulation and entertainment.
Try to keep the out-of-cage time between you and your parrot interactive—parrots do miss their owners! There is a myriad of ways to do so but here are some suggestions:
- If you are cooking, let your parrots “help” you in the kitchen
- If you are doing some chores like emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry, let them join you and watch what you do
- Read books to your parrots
- Sit on the couch and watch movies together
- Or sometimes just let your parrots decide what they want to do
⚠️ Don’t force your parrots to get out of the cage if they really don’t want to be out.
Give them something to chew on
Parrots are chewers.
It means things will get destroyed and you will need lots of toys to keep their need to chew and shred things satisfied. Giving your flock something to chew on will keep them away from boredom and anything else you don’t want them to chew on like cables, keyboards, or your fingers.
Wooden blocks are a good parrot toy option. Just make sure that the wood is safe and not treated or painted. One of the safest materials for wood chew toys is pine but some parrots might find it a little bit hard to chew on.
If your flock doesn’t seem to be enthused by pine toys, you could try parrot toys made of softer balsa wood or yucca wood that is very shreddable.
Get a bigger cage or aviary
Getting a bigger cage or aviary might make a huge difference for your parrot. If your cage is too small, your parrot might get bored very easily and, as a result, develop some signs of destructive behaviour like feather plucking.
You should always get a cage of the proper size to keep your parrots happy and healthy. Keep in mind that some parrot species, like Conures, are more active and need more room to spread their wings.
⚠️ Before buying a bigger cage, make sure that the bar spacing is not too far apart for your parrot. Smaller birds like budgies might escape the cage if the spacing is too big.
Parrot training will require a lot of your time, dedication, and patience. No one says this is going to be easy but it will help keep your parrots occupied. Spend some time teaching your parrots new tricks, e.g., target training when you teach them to touch a stick with their beaks.
Parrots are naturally curious so put a stick in front of your parrot and as soon as their natural curiosity overcomes their fear of strange objects and they beak it, click your clicker. Using a clicker will instantly let your flock know if their behaviour was correct. You’ll be surprised to see how quickly they can pick this trick up (😊).
If you are looking for some good parrot training resources, Bird Tricks have a few good target training videos and tips.
Change their diet
Switching your parrot’s diet might be a game-changer not only for their well-being but for their mood and behaviour too. Some parrots show signs of boredom like screaming or aggression if they are fed the wrong diet, like the “only seeds” diet.
Seeds are junk food for most large parrots and fruit-eating parrots. They are very high in fat and might harm a parrot if fed long-term. It is okay to occasionally treat your flock with seeds but your parrots need a variety of fruits and vegetables: apples, raspberries, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, sweetcorn, beans, or sprouts. The list is endless, just make sure that whatever you are feeding your parrot is safe.
If your parrot is a fussy eater (parrots are just like babies, aren’t they?), you can make a chop by mixing fresh fruit, veggies, and cooked grains. You can also freeze your mix so you don’t have to spend every morning in the kitchen and still give your parrots a good daily serving of healthy food (👍).
Parrots love foraging (that is what they do in their natural environment) so you can hide treats in the parrot toys to spark their interest.
⚠️ We highly encourage you to do your own research and consult with your local vet to find the best diet for your parrot.
Be in tune with your parrot
Spend some time getting to know your parrots and their behavioural patterns or habits. For example, you might know that your parrot is bored:
- When you don't see any toy debris on the bottom of the cage at the end of the day – it’s time to get new toys.
- When they don’t scarf down their food like usual but rather pick through it – it's time to change up the food routine and offer more variety.
- When they get snappy when they are out – it's time to teach them something new or start a new activity.
Sometimes your parrots might be suspiciously quiet – and you know it is not really boredom but the opposite – they are just chilling to avoid over-stimulation.
⚠️ It is important to pay attention and stay in tune with what is going on with your flock.
Lots of love and attention
Give your parrot something to look forward to every day (💜).
All parrots are different and show different signs of boredom. Some pull out feathers, some destroy everything around them, some get fussy about their food.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to keeping your parrots stimulated. Be patient, think of it as a challenge, try different things and figure out what your parrots' preferences are. When you see your parrot happy and healthy again, it will be the most rewarding feeling in the world.
Have other tips on how to keep your parrots away from boredom? Drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them here! Happy chirping (😊).