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Fearful Parrot

By: Mattie Sue Athan

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Some parrots fear nothing - even the tiniest birds challenge huge rivals over territory. Other birds fear almost anything - falling or flapping in panic if a shadow crosses the ceiling. Caution and fearfulness ensure survival in the wild. In captivity, fear contributes to the following: biting (the "fight" part of the fight-or-flight response); redundant calls; thrashing; falling; inability to regrow repeatedly knocked-out wing or tail feathers; and even feather-chewing.

While young parrots learn more quickly, even a mature bird's behavior changes as new responses appear and are reinforced into habits, and old behaviors become obsolete. Every parrot goes through periods of trying new behaviors. By the time he's six months old, a healthy parrot is curious, active and exploratory. If a bird isn't curious and doesn't develop some sense of independence during the first year, he's at risk of developing behaviors that progress beyond caution to fearfulness.

In unfamiliar or challenging situations, a wild parrot's first instinct is to fight or flee. Companion parrots cannot do that. A fearful bird might bite a human, cage or perch; throw itself to the floor or cage bottom; or improvise behavior intended to replace the option to flee. These responses can easily be accidentally reinforced. Whether the response is to bite (fight) or escape (flee), once a behavior has been repeatedly reinforced, it becomes a habit.

Vulnerable Parrot = Fearful Parrot

Fledgling parrots that have their wings severely trimmed before learning to fly may not develop timing and balance needed for active play. Nails and wings trimmed too short in a young parrot - combined with perches that are too large or too hard - can lead to frequent falls. A parrot repeatedly knocking feathers out is at risk for developing fear responses associated with pain, feather cysts and an inability to regrow those feathers. If your parrot is partaking in repeated efforts to knock out his feathers, your avian veterinarian should evaluate him.

A parrot with new wing feathers growing in becomes protective of his wings and will avoid situations that stimulate flapping. He may protect himself from pain by refusing to come out of his cage, because he can fall easily. His preference to avoid handling should be respected. As he becomes even more evasive, he might automatically jump or thrash when he sees a human. This sets up fear of falling and fear of humans. As strategies to restore confidence progress, you might sometimes trick your shy bird into choosing to come out by removing the cage tray and grate and turning the cage upside down.

Like most baby animals, young parrots have a little clumsiness to them. A cage that is too large or difficult to climb can also contribute to repeated falls. An overly cautious parrot might gradually become less interested in diverse activities and more easily frightened.

Inactive Parrot = Fearful Parrot

Inappropriate or under-stimulating toys can lead to inactivity, which can stimulate fear responses. A bird that doesn't play is more likely to exhibit increasingly introverted behaviors, including skittishness or fearfulness. Additionally, a parrot kept in a poorly-designed or poorly-located cage with insufficient light, inadequate diet or insufficient sleep might be inclined to revert to fear responses.

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