The #1 most effective strategy to prevent screaming for attention

The #1 most effective strategy to prevent screaming for attention

So first of all, parrots can scream for a number of reasons. Because it’s fun, because they are scared, because they’re trying to get someone to leave… Same behavior, different reasons.
But specifically screaming for attention is a very common problem, since parrots are the social animals that they are. In fact, calling to each other to keep in touch is one of the reasons they developed those loud voices to begin with!

A quick internet search will give you a lot of advice on how to deal with unwanted screaming. Some of it okay, some… not so much. One thing we really need to get in to our heads before we try anything at all is that screaming serves a purpose. Knowing where the rest of the social group is at makes birds feel safer. In the wild their life could depend on it. Not knowing, especially when you are trapped in a cage and can’t really go anywhere to find them, or do anything about anything at all, really: well, that can give rise to -a lot- of stress.
So what to do about this? First off, we should of course minimize the need for contact calling by making sure that the parrot gets it’s social needs met. Preferrably with a bird friend of the same or similar species when possible, and a lot of human contact. We should of course also make sure the bird has a lot of room even when we’re not there, and can choose to spend it’s time doing meaningful parrot stuff, like foraging for food, to prevent frustration and boredom.



But even with all that, excessive screaming for attention can develop.
Obviously, we shouldn’t try to get the bird to –stop- calling to us, because that calling fills a very important need for the bird. So what can we do?

Replace it!

Make sure that the bird can fill the same need, but with a different behavior – one that is easier for us to deal with. In learning science, we call this a DRI – which basically means that we replace one behavior with another, incompatible behavior. A parrot can’t talk softly and scream at the same time, right?
How we do this is pretty simple. From the moment a bird enters your house – any time it makes noises that you feel you can live with, reinforce them! This can be with your attention, talking back to your bird, or even food treats sometimes. Whatever the bird likes, really. Screaming, on the other hand (if we can be sure that it isn’t because a bird is thirsty, injured, hungry or anthing like that, of course) is just ignored. Parrots quickly learn what pays off and what doesn’t, and will consequently do more of what leads to the (for them) desired consequences.

 For Echo, the most effective way to ask for attention is to initiate a game of “Bop!”. No screaming required, and It’s fun for me, too. 🙂

Now, if you already have a screaming problem, it might not be this easy. Before you do anything you need to figure out why the screaming occurs. like I said, there can be a lot of reasons other than attention-seeking, or it can even be downright separation anxiety, which requires a lot more to deal with. Sometimes it’s a very good idea to find a behavior consultant that can help you figure out why the bird screams, and what to do about it.

So, when it comes to preventing screaming for attention, I’d say nothing beats this strategy. Just ignoring the bird rarely works, and also isn’t very nice, since it obviously lacks something and we aren’t providing any alternatives. Trying to reinforce them when they’re quiet rarely works, because it’s simply too unclear. They aren’t really doing anything, so how are they to know what we’re reinforcing them for? How can they use ”quiet” to achieve a goal (getting attention) when –they- want to?


Hopefully this was helpful to you.
Good luck!


About the author

Stephanie Edlund administrator

Stephanie is the owner of Understanding Parrots. She works professionally as a zookeeper and bird trainer and is a certified parrot behavior consultant with the IAABC, where she is also the chairperson of the parrot division.

1 Comment so far

Tina HearyPosted on5:47 pm - May 1, 2017

My cockatoo screams for me when I leave the room and go into my office to do some home-based work. It is difficult for me to figure out the best approach. If I ignore him, it can go on & on for quite some time. His volume will increase.
It’s obviously quite challenging when I need to concentrate on my job as it is very distracting when I’m trying to do reports, research, etc. And it’s also difficult to engage in work-related phone calls with such screaming in the background.
It doesn’t seem to matter if we’ve had a good morning of play and grooming, etc. He knows I’m elsewhere and hollers for my attention.
I may try to train him to sit at a perch in my office so he still has the companionship of being near me. But I wonder if this will contribute to his inability to self-soothe and just be OK in his own company.
Right now, if I bring a perch into the office it’s still too distracting for me and hard for me to be productive with work.
I’ve tried to put a TV on for him but that doesn’t stop his screeching.
I’ve also tried to offer him a nice new wooden hanging chew toy for his own exploration but that hasn’t worked.
I feel as long as he knows I’m in the other room, then he will screech.
I’m at a loss for how best to curb this unwanted behaviour.

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