How to tell if your bird is unhappy or stressed-and what to do

Author: Laurie Hess, DVM, ABVP Diploma (Birds Practice)

Although it is often difficult for bird keepers to judge whether their pets are sick, because birds usually hide signs of disease, most bird keepers have a harder time judging whether their pets are unhappy or stressed. Birds can of course feel these emotions and hide them until they become so extreme that they manifest themselves physically or behaviorally. Birds can express unhappiness and stress in several different ways.

How does the bird owner judge his or her bird is stressed or unhappy?Here are some Common signs of stress and unhappiness in pet parrots:


Although many bird owners misunderstand bird biting as an aggressive behavior, this behavior is usually a manifestation of stress and fear. Birds often bite and pounce when they are afraid to try to protect themselves. Since biting can also be a sign of bird pain or discomfort, parrots that suddenly start biting in large numbers should undergo a complete veterinary examination to ensure that this new behavior has no potential medical problems.


Normal parrots, depending on their species, will make a lot of noise. However, a sudden increase in screams and screams may indicate that a bird is stressed, unhappy, or bored. Just as biting can indicate pain or discomfort, so can screaming. Therefore, any bird that suddenly starts screaming should be checked by a veterinarian to ensure that there is no medical basis for this behavior.

3.Reduce vocalization

Although screaming can indicate potential stress or unhappiness in the bird, it also reduces vocalization. Birds that suddenly start to reduce their vocalization may feel stressed, unhappy, bored, or sick. Any birds that suddenly decrease their vocalization must be examined as soon as possible to ensure that there is no medical reason for this behavioral change.

4.Feather Picking

Feather picking is a very common external manifestation of stress and boredom, especially in larger species such as eclectic parrots, cockatoos, and African grey parrots, but it also occurs in smaller birds, including Quaker parrots and love birds. Some birds will start to eat because of an initiating reason, such as loud noise or construction work in the house, even if the initial stimulus disappears, they will continue to gather. Birds that pick feathers should undergo a thorough medical examination, including blood tests, to help rule out other causes of disease.

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Some stressed or unhappy birds will go beyond picking feathers to chew their skin, and even dig deeper into muscles and bones, causing serious trauma. Not only must these birds be checked by a veterinarian immediately, but they must also start taking antipsychotic medications and/or be fitted with Elizabethan collars (“cones” worn by dogs) to prevent them from trying to figure out what is happening with their owners and veterinarians.

6.Stereotyped behavior

Some species, especially cockatoos, exhibit stress with stereotyped behaviors, such as pacing, knocking toes, and shaking their heads. Usually, birds will perform these behaviors to stimulate themselves because they are boring. Although these behaviors may be harmless, they may be signs that the bird is unhappy. The owner should pay attention to these behaviors before engaging in more destructive activities such as feather picking or self-harm.

7.Decreased appetite

Poultry that is so stressed that they are depressed may eat less and may eventually lose weight. Since decreased appetite can also be a sign of disease, veterinarians should thoroughly examine birds with altered appetite to ensure that they are not hiding underlying diseases.

What causes bird stress?

No matter how they express stress and unhappiness, birds, like humans, may feel stress and unhappiness for various reasons. Many parrots, especially extremely social and intelligent species such as parrots and African grey parrots, require a lot of attention. When they are not paid attention, they become bored and stressed, and may scream, peck feathers, or injure themselves.

Usually, environmental changes, such as a recent move to a new home, new people or pets in the house, loud noises (such as from construction or thunder), even the position of the bird cage in the house or the color of the paint on the walls can make the bird feel stressed or upset . In addition, changes in the bird’s daily activities, such as changes in the owner’s schedule, can upset the bird. Indoor birds can also get nervous from the sight or sound of unfamiliar wild animals (such as eagles or raccoons) outside the window. Finally, changes in the photoperiod, such as if the birdcage is moved to a dark room or suddenly kept covered, may occur, and the bird can be thrown away. Basically, because birds are creatures of this habit, anything that changes their daily activities will put pressure on them or make them unhappy.

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The effect of long-term stress on birds

Chronic stress and unhappiness can affect the physical health of birds, just like humans. Birds that are often stressed and sad may eat less, may lose weight or be undernourished.

Feather-picking and self-mutilation of extremely anxious birds can permanently damage their hair follicles, prevent feather regeneration, and leave scars on their skin. In addition, female birds that reproduce actively, such as cockatiels, may have difficulty laying eggs if they feel stressed or unhappy. These birds may be constrained by eggs, so their eggs will get stuck in their bodies, and may require veterinary intervention with drugs or even surgery to get them to lay eggs. Finally, chronically stressed or upset birds may also suffer from impaired immune system function, making them more susceptible to infections and other diseases.

How to help your unhappy or stressed bird

If you suspect that your bird is stressed or unhappy, you can help in many ways. The key is to try to find out the cause of the bird’s anxiety or sadness in order to solve the problem and get the bird back on track.

It may be difficult to determine the exact cause of a bird’s sadness or stress, but working with a bird-savvy veterinarian or bird trainer can provide insight and may help the owner ease the bird’s suffering more quickly.

Birds that pick feathers, scream or bite because of boredom or lack of concentration should be provided with interactive toys, plus a TV to watch—or at least a radio. Their owners should try to give them extra attention and as much time as possible to get out of the basket.

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Pets who are frightened by loud noises or animals outside should move their cages to a quieter indoor location, away from windows. Compressed birds that have recently moved or covered their cages should move them back to their original positions or keep them uncovered.

If there is a new pet in the house or someone is stressing or disturbing the bird, the owner should seek the help of a veterinarian or bird trainer, through positive intensive training to help the bird gradually adapt to the new individual, including the vision or the voice of the new person, delicious food or favorite toys pair.

Birds are psychologically complex creatures because they are very smart and are very socially needed. If well adjusted and provided with enough attention and mental stimulation, they can become great pets for many years. However, bird owners must be prepared to adapt and change as their birds age and mature; they must be aware that, just like humans, their birds are living, thinking creatures, their needs and desires It will change over time, so it must be taken care of accordingly.

How to tell if your bird is unhappy or stressed-and what to do
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