Parrot Behaviors That Indicate Boredom

A small green cage with a green wavy parrot in the room.

Because parrots are social birds and such intelligent creatures, they can become bored fairly easily, and they can show this in several ways, including feather picking, shredding paper, overeating, screaming, or destroying your possessions.

In some cases, parrot owners don’t do much to help the situation, keeping their birds in what is essentially solitary confinement.

Pet parrots like to be part of the action, so don’t put your bird’s cage in an isolated part of the house or a room that you use only occasionally.

Breeding birds may need privacy and some quiet, so they can be housed in rooms that aren’t used frequently.

But single pet parrots should be kept in the family room, living room, or den where they can be a part of family activities.

Here are some signs of a bored parrot.

Signs of a Bored Parrot

Chewing

Chewing and destroying things around the home are often the activities of a bored bird.

I know a cockatoo that showed how bored he was by destroying his owner’s television remote control and two cordless phones in the space of a few weeks.

By giving him some discipline and some boundaries for behavior, his owners channeled his energy away from these destructive behaviors.

They challenged his mental abilities with new and better toys, supervised his every move when he was out of the cage, and disciplined him when he looked as if he was going to chew on something that was off limits.

They gave him a wider variety of foods to entertain him and even made eating a challenge by offering him nuts in the shell that he had to open and peapods that he had to split to retrieve the peas.

Feather Picking

Boredom is one of several reasons that may cause a bird to pick its feathers.

If your bird suddenly begins picking her feathers and no medical cause for the picking is found, there is a good chance that your bird is reacting to a lack of interesting things in her life.

Feather picking is comforting to the parrot (although the behavior looks painful to us).

Some birds pick small areas of feathers, such as their legs, while others start on their chests and pick down to their vents.

If you suspect that your bird is lonely or bored, try spending more time with him or giving him new toys to play with.

This can help reduce or eliminate feather picking in some parrots.

Note, however, that your bird may also decide to pick his feather not because he is bored, but for some other reason.

So, the cause of feather picking must be found before the problem can be resolved.

You may need to work with your avian veterinarian and/or avian behaviorist to make this determination.

Overeating

Overeating is a common behavior in parakeets that have been neglected by their owners.

These birds never come out of their cages to exercise or interact with their owners, but their owners often ease their guilty consciences by offering the birds lots of treats, including millet.

Oil seeds such as flaxseed, niger seed, rapeseed, almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, etc are food that parrots love, but they are high in fat and can make a pet bird obese if she is allowed to indulge in them her heart’s content.

Note however that some species like the Hyacinthine Macaws thrive on high-fat diets as their natural diet is based on high-fat seeds such as palm nuts.

If you notice that your bird’s breastbone has suddenly disappeared into rolls of fat, she’s becoming overweight and needs to exercise and interact with you.

Some species, such as Budgerigars, Amazons, Galah cockatoos, and lorikeets have a higher risk of developing obesity.

Consider your bird obese if you can see bald patches in her feathers.

These are created by fat deposits under the skin that causes the feathers to part.

An overweight bird may stand with her feet wide apart, or you may be able to see rolls of fat across her abdomen, along her flanks and inner thighs, and around her crop.

A little fat in these locations is acceptable, but large amounts of fat are not.

Ask your veterinarian for more information on how you can determine if your pet bird is overweight.

Obesity can cause a bird to develop arthritis, heart disease, cancer, fatty tumors, respiratory distress during exercise, or egg binding.

Many obese birds develop atherosclerosis and hepatic lipidosis (also called fatty liver disease).

They are extremely susceptible to heart attacks and strokes.

Obese parrots have occasionally been known to die just from the stress of an examination at the veterinarian’s office.

Paper Shredding

Another common behavior associated with parrot boredom is paper shredding.

Parrots that have access to the paper that lines their cage trays often shred it because they have the energy to burn and nothing else to do.

You can make this paper shredding into a game: Provide your parrot with a variety of chewable paper items, including subscription cards from magazines, index cards, or the empty tube from a roll of paper towels or toilet paper.

Hold these up for your bird’s inspection and destruction.

It’s a simple way to spend time with your parrot and help her burn off some excess energy.

Your pet can perform this shredding routine while she sits on the arm of your chair as you read a magazine or watch TV.

Your bird will appreciate the attention, and you’ll enjoy watching her chew up the things you offer.

You might even be able to train her to shred things over the trash can.

If you do, make sure to keep an eye on your pet so she doesn’t fall in after an overzealous round of shredding!

If you have a peach-faced lovebird that suddenly starts shredding paper and tucking the strips into her rump feathers, she’s not bored.

This is an instinctive behavior in females that indicates an interest in nest building.

In the wild, female parrots gather twigs and small strips of bark from trees, tuck them into their rump feathers with both ends showing and fly off to a nest site.

In your home, your lovebird may gather strips of newspaper, toothpicks, or other small items in an attempt to build a nest in her cage.

Refusing to Eat

Although some bored birds overeat, others become extremely fussy eaters.

To help prevent this, you may need to be creative in how and what you feed your bird.

You may want to offer your parrot some tempting treats on a skewer or rod feeder, stuff goodies into the openings of a pinecone (some companies offer commercially made versions), or vary the food choices in her dish to encourage her to take an interest in eating again.

Some foods that most parrots find irresistible include the following:

  • Fresh peas in the pod
  • Peanuts, walnuts, or pecans in the shell (Crack the shells slightly to let your pet see the treat inside before you offer them the first time.)
  • Quarter-sections of fresh pomegranates (Be warned that the purple juice from the seeds becomes a permanent part of your wall color after your bird squirts it around her cage, so you may want to hang some clear plastic behind the cage to protect your paint before serving pomegranate sections.)
  • Sliced whole grapes with the seeds left in (These seeds are not poisonous to your pet.)

Take notice of what your bird enjoys eating so you can try tempting her taste buds if she ever decides to turn up her beak at mealtime.

Restlessness

A bird who is temporarily bored with a situation (for example, she’s had enough cuddling and wants to go play in her cage or play gym) will become fidgety and restless.

Your relationship with your pet will thrive if you pay attention to signs of restlessness and accommodate your bird.

If you don’t, she may even bite you out of frustration.

Now, to help your pet bird overcome boredom, you should be willing and ready to entertain him.

Helping Your Parrot Overcome Boredom

To help keep your bird from being bored and beginning some of these behaviors, you can play games with your parrot.

(Be sure to supervise your pet during playtime to protect her health and well-being.)

Energy expended in playing, either by itself or with you, is energy that your formerly bored parrot won’t channel into otherwise destructive acts.

The following games are particularly effective pastimes for medium-sized and large parrots, such as Amazons, African greys, cockatoos, and macaws:

Shell game

Play a variation on the old “shell game” from the carnival sideshow. In the avian version, you can hide a favorite treat under a nut cup or paper muffin cup and let your bird guess which shell hides the prize.

Great escape

Offer your bird a clean, knotted-up piece of rope or vegetable-tanned leather and see how long it takes your pet to untie the knots.

Give your bird extra points if she doesn’t chew through any of the knots to untie them.

Be sure to remove the rope or leather after playtime is over so your bird doesn’t become entangled in it later, which could lead to injury.

Mechanic

Give your parrot a clean nut and bolt with the nut screwed on and see how long it takes your bird to undo the nut.

Make sure the nut and bolt are large enough that your pet won’t swallow accidentally either one while playing, and take the nut and bolt away after your bird has finished her playtime.

Peek-a-boo

This is one of my bird’s favorites.

I put a beach towel loosely over her and her cage top, then let her work her way out from under the towel and to the edge of the cage top.

She’s come to expect the cuddling and lavish praise I use to reward her for being so clever as to find her way out every time.

Put the towel away after you’re done playing so your bird doesn’t become entangled in it, and watch her carefully if she “helps” you fold laundry.

She won’t know the difference between her peek-a-boo towel and the other towels in your home.

And if she tries to hide under your laundry she could get folded up with the rest of the clothes, or even sat upon if someone comes in to talk to you as you’re folding the clothes.

Tug-of-war

Give your bird one end of an empty paper towel roll and tug gently.

Chances are your parrot won’t easily let go, or if she does, she will quickly be back for more.

If your bird is naturally aggressive, you shouldn’t let her “win” too frequently, but if she’s naturally shy, let her “win” often to build her confidence.

Dance

In addition to these games, you can take your bird out of her cage and dance with her.

Your bird can dance by herself on her cage top or play gym, or you and your bird can dance together.

My parrot especially likes peppy, up-tempo oldies such as “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Your Momma Don’t Dance,” and “Rescue Me.”

You can also hold the bird out at arm’s length and let her flap her wings.

You may have to lift and lower the bird slowly a few times to give her a hint of what you want her to do.

Let your bird flap until she appears to be just a little winded, and build up her stamina by extending the exercise periods slightly each day.

This exercise is particularly good for Amazon and rose-breasted cockatoos, which can be prone to obesity.

Be sure you are standing away from ceiling fans, low-hanging lamps, and other objects that could harm your bird while she’s flapping.

Your bird may have some games of her own to play with you.

Many parrots enjoy “accidentally” knocking things off their cage tops to watch their owners bend over to fetch the dropped item.

My Daughter Edna’s parakeet, Andre, was a master of this.

After she taught him to drop coins in front of chosen people seated at a table, Andre modified the game by running to the edge of the table and dropping the coin over the edge.

His little eyes seemed just a bit brighter as he watched Edna pick up the coin and place it in front of him for a “do-over” on his trick.

She never scolded him for his antics, and he loved the attention she gave him by pretending to be exasperated with him for altering the trick.

Some birds entertain themselves by getting into apparently hazardous situations, such as hanging from their cage ceilings by a single toe, just to be rescued by their owners.

My parrot used to do this too when she was feeling particularly full of herself.

I soon accepted it as part of her normal range of behavior, but it was apparently a bit unsettling to the staff of the veterinary hospital where I used to board her.

They called me while I was away on a business trip to make sure this was part of her normal routine and not an indication of stress.

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