While the title of this article is a little “tongue-in-check” I do want to discuss how people train their birds to scream and also how at least one internet marketer suggests you do that … although they actually claimed the method would stop screaming, “… in a few days” of course.
I received a number of free “training” newsletters from an internet source this last week. One of them offered a way to stop your parrot screaming. Loud vocalizations are indeed a common behavioral issue for companion parrot owners so I read with interest. The advice started out quite well by suggesting one keeps a journal to indentify the times when the bird was vocalizing loudly. This is good advice and is for sure the first step in any attempt to modify that behavior. However, having started out so well and identified that the example bird screamed when someone was in the kitchen the following advice was then offered:
To solve this problem you can keep the pet near the kitchen and when he starts to scream throw a little bit[e to] him and keep him happy.
Hmm, now let me see what just happened; the bird started making noise so the owner gave him some food … sounds like the potential for positive reinforcement to me and that means that the probable future behavior is that the bird will scream when the owner is in the kitchen. So, if you want to train your bird to scream I think this is a very good technique.
Now, my guess is that the reason you are reading this is because what you really want is to have your bird not scream loudly, too much. I say too much because it is a fact that parrots can be loud, all parrots can be loud. It is simply a part of their nature and from time to time even the quietest bird may get a little “out of control” vocally. To get started trying to control this, just like the example above, we need to identify when the noise occurs. For example, if it is when you leave the room the noise may be your bird making a contact call. This is the function of the behavior; the need to make contact with the rest of the flock. Stopping this behavior is one of the most difficult things to do and can take a very long time. In fact if your goal is to stop the contact call you may be wasting your time trying! Probably not what you wanted to read right? However there is hope …
As I said the behavior has a function (making contact) so the best strategy is to try to replace the loud noises with a more acceptable vocalization for the function of contact. This is not something that can be done overnight, it takes time and patience on the part of the owner. Start by choosing a vocalization already used by your bird, one that is not so loud or high energy as the scream. Every time you hear the chosen vocalization reinforce it by responding in kind if you are out of the room or by offering a treat if you are near your bird. When the loud noise occurs ignore it, do not respond and for sure do not enter the room. What we are trying to do is to make the new sound more rewarding than the old sound. The old sound may never go away; indeed it may resurge from time to time, however by keeping the reinforcement for the “good” sound high we can hopefully keep it at the top of your bird’s preferred list of contact calls.
As you can imagine when we bring home a new young bird it is very important that we are aware of how we may easily train him to be a loud, obnoxious adult. Should your new bird start making a loud noise be careful how you respond.
Tossing a treat may well make him go quiet at that moment … however when he sees you near the treat jar …
When you are on the phone and he makes noise … hand over a treat and the phone may become the cue for making noise in the future.
By ignoring these loud vocalizations when the bird is young and by reinforcing acceptable communication we can hopefully avoid some of the really loud vocalizations in the future. The reinforcement of acceptable noises is really important; we need to give the bird a means of fulfilling the function of contact. If we simply try to stop the contact calls we are probably setting ourselves and our birds up for failure.