A common behaviour issue in parrots is squawking/screeching. Birds are noisy animals. When communicating to their flock, they need to be loud in order to be heard.
Why birds screech:
- Some species will celebrate the sunrise and sunset with squawking or singing; pet birds do the same.
- Other species, whether in the wild or as part of a human family, will make window-shattering sounds throughout the day or vocalize several times a day for 20 minutes at a time.
- Wild birds use vocalisation to warn others in the group about impending danger, such as a predator in the area. If a pet bird is afraid, it will do the same thing.
- Birds who find themselves away from the flock call to the group and find their way back when the group answers. Pet birds may produce short sounds with pauses in between, and is simply saying, “Are you there?”
Such means of vocalizing to communicate are normal. It is not normal, however, for a bird to squawk/screech in the same pattern for lengthy periods of time. This is not a happy bird and the bird does not have a happy family.
Information for the concerned resident
The most effective and successful way of managing a nuisance squawking/screeching bird is for the person affected by the problem (the complainant) to communicate their concerns directly with the bird owner. There is a chance the bird owner may even be unaware their bird is squawking/screeching excessively and causing a problem for neighbours.
You should carefully consider all issues and possibilities before deciding on an appropriate course of action. However, once you have decided the squawking/screeching is excessive and disrupting your way of life, please consider the following options to manage the situation.
- Provide sufficient time for the bird owner to rectify the problem.
- Approach the bird’s owner as soon as the problem arises, and state your case clearly and politely. They may not be aware of the issue. If the bird’s owner is unapproachable, or you are not comfortable approaching the bird owner, the notification letter and the fact sheet ‘Reasons why your bird may be squawking/screeching excessively’ which have been included below, should be placed in the bird owner’s letter box.
- If the squawking/screeching continues to be a problem after this period of time, provide written evidence to us in order for further action to be taken. The animal noise nuisance complaint form and diary sheet below must be completed and returned.
Using the 'Dear bird owner' letter
The ‘Dear bird owner’ communication letter below is designed to help you and your neighbour communicate anonymously, if you feel you are unable to approach your neighbour, and to prevent any possible escalation of the problem into a neighbourhood dispute. DO NOT leave it too long to try to convey your concerns as this can lead to a build up of frustrations and defensive attitudes from both sides.
The best way to resolve an issue with a neighbour—whatever it is about—is by talking with them face-to-face. Face-to-face is much better and far more effective than phone calls, emails, letters and messages. Before talking with the other person, think about what you want to say. It is important to state clearly what the problem is and how you feel about it.
The following tips can help.
Arrange a convenient time to meet
- Choose a good time to approach the other person to arrange a convenient meeting time so neither of you is rushed.
- Do not bring up the issue when the other person is on their way to work, or trying to get their children off to school, or are about to cook dinner. They will not be in the right frame of mind to talk if they are under stress or time constraints.
- Choose a time which is right for you too; do not approach them after you have had a bad day or when you are in a hurry to go somewhere. This will just add to the tension.
- Find a place where you can both sit comfortably and quietly for long enough to properly discuss the issue without interruptions.
- Explain that the problem has been worrying you and you would like to sort it out.
Meet with your neighbour and explain the issue
- A good way to start is to explain the issue from your point of view.
- Try to stay calm and avoid laying blame and name-calling.
- For example, say, 'When your tree branches hang over my roof, my gutters block up and overflow in heavy rain', rather than, 'You haven't bothered to lop your trees so my gutters are overflowing when it rains'.
- Try not to interpret the other person’s behaviour.
- For example, don't say, 'You're blocking my driveway on purpose just to make me angry'. Instead try saying, 'When your car blocks my driveway, I get annoyed because it’s difficult to get in and out'.
Let your neighbour tell their side of the story
- Give your neighbour a chance to give their views.
- Be prepared to relax, listen and take everything in.
- Do not interrupt when your neighbour is talking.
- Show that you are listening by maintaining eye contact, and acknowledging what they are saying with 'mmm's’ and by nodding your head.
- You might not agree with what they say, but there is nothing more frustrating than talking to someone who does not seem to be listening.
- Try working on the dispute together and work out what you both need to do to resolve the issue.
- Two or more people working on a problem together can get further than one person telling the other to change.
- Since you are taking the time to work on a problem, take the time to get a solution that is acceptable to both of you.
- Get the whole problem out in the open.
- Do not leave out anything that seems less important or is the hardest to talk about. Those are the things that will ruin any solution you come up with.
- If you can come to an agreement by talking together, that's great!
- It is a good idea to write down the details of what you have agreed to and each of you should keep a copy.
Meet again in the future
Agree to check with each other at a specific time in the future to see how things are going—and do not forget to do this catch up meeting.
If you can not reach an agreement
If you can not reach an agreement, do not worry. Discussing the problem may have helped you both better understand each other's point of view.
If you would prefer a formal mediation process to resolve the issue amicably, please contact the Dispute Resolution Centre, which can provide free mediation to work through the issue. Remember, the first step to resolving excessive animal noise nuisances is to discuss the matter with the people from your neighbourhood who are affected and to take decisive action to best manage it.
For more information on applying for mediation, contact your nearest Dispute Resolution Centre, or visit the Queensland Government website.
Information for the bird owner
The squawking / screeching behaviours of birds can often be resolved or minimized. This may take time and help from an experienced avian behaviourist, but if it allows the bird to stay in the house, it is worth it.
We understand you are not able to be at home all the time with your bird, and you may not be aware of the bird's behaviour while you are away. If you have received a noise complaint about your bird and/or are trying to fix the squawking / screeching behaviour of your bird, you can use the short letter we have designed for dropping into neighbours' letter boxes to monitor the behaviour of your bird.
Squawking/screeching by unhappy birds can usually be traced back to an underlying problem that is stressing the bird. These stresses could include:
- Illness, including nutritional problems from a poor diet, which may cause the bird to change the amount of vocalization or other behaviour. Rule out a possible illness by having your bird examined by a veterinarian.
- A change in the family makeup, such as a new family member or the loss of a family member (e.g., death, gone away to college).
- Loneliness or boredom, which often occurs if there is a change of routine (e.g., vacations, longer work day, holiday bustle).
- A change in the environment, such as a move to a new home.
- Fear, which can cause a bird to squawk/screech just as it would in the wild.
- Jealousy, resulting from the addition of another pet or paying more attention to certain individuals in the house.
- Inadequate sleep due to cage location, household noise (e.g., TV), too much light, or people moving around the house.
Remember that some squawking/screeching is normal behaviour for a bird. Your goal should NOT be to eliminate all squawking/screeching, but to reduce the squawking/screeching to a tolerable level. This will require patience and consistency among all family members.
Start to rehabilitate the bird by making sure its basic needs are being met, re-establish the humans as higher ranking (e.g., step-ups and step-downs), and keep a diary of all squawking/screeching episodes. In the diary, record all the information about the episode including but not limited to time of day, day of the week, phase of the moon, what is happening at the time, and the moods of the people and the bird before, during, and after the episode. With this information, hopefully, the cause of the squawking/screeching can be identified and eliminated.
The two questions which must be considered when trying to rehabilitate the bird are "What should I do when the bird squawks/screeches?" and "What should I do when the bird is behaving properly?"
When the bird is misbehaving, you do not want to inadvertently reinforce the behaviour, for this can make the behaviour problem worse. From the bird's perspective, getting any attention while it is squawking/screeching may be a reward. Some birds may actually like you to yell back since they love drama and the yelling becomes a reward. Yelling, hitting the bird or the cage, leaving the bird isolated, spraying it with water, or withholding food will only increase the stress on the bird and either make the squawking/screeching worse, or the bird will turn to another unacceptable behaviour such as feather picking.
The best way to improve the bird's behaviour is to give positive reinforcement, i.e. giving something good to the bird when it behaves correctly (e.g. sitting quietly on a perch). This could be a special toy, a food treat, and verbal praise. These are rewards. Do NOT use them to bribe the bird into better behaviour.
If a bird is exhibiting a bad behaviour in a certain circumstance, it is important to determine what it is you want the bird to do instead. Then you can teach the bird to substitute the desired behaviour for the undesired one. For instance, teach the bird to talk instead of squawking/screeching. Then reward the desired talking behaviour. Consistency is absolutely necessary; reward the good and desired behaviour and do NOT reward, in any way, bad behaviour.
Some bird experts suggest that if the bird continues to squawk/screech, give the bird a dirty look, cover the cage, or leave the room, returning when the bird exhibits an acceptable behaviour. Others suggest that this may actually worsen the problem, especially with birds who are squawking/screeching out of fear. This is why understanding why the bird is squawking/screeching is important. You can adjust your actions depending on the circumstances.
If the bird is squawking/screeching due to loneliness, you may need to think of other solutions. If the bird has a reason to be lonely because the owners can not give it sufficient attention, it may be helpful to get another bird for companionship. The new bird does not necessarily have to be a mate, and could even be kept in a separate cage. Think first, though. If you, the owner, do not have time for one bird, are you going to have time for two? Is it fair to the birds? You may want to seriously consider finding a new home for your bird until your life style changes and is better suited towards having a pet.
For many birds, an alternative outlet for the bird's energy needs to be provided. Exercise on play gyms, flapping sessions in the shower, supervising the bird while you take it outside, or leaving the television or radio on can all help relieve pent-up energy. Do not turn on nature shows on the television, though, as they may scare the bird into thinking a predator is in the room. Old phone books, natural, non-toxic tree branches with leaves, and paper cups can be given to the bird to play with (and destroy). Use foraging toys to hide their food, so they have to work to get it. This gives much-needed mental stimulation, and provides a way of feeding that more closely resembles what the bird would do in the wild.
Short daily training sessions should begin ideally from the first day the bird is brought home. Birds respond to facial expressions and verbal praise. This type of positive reinforcement should be used when an appropriate response is given by the bird and no response should be given for incorrect responses. No aggression or punishment is involved in the training. The daily lessons need to continue until the bird responds willingly to the commands. Once the commands are followed, discontinue the training but continue to use the commands during the daily handling of the bird.
Remember, birds use vocalizations as warnings and as ways to find the rest of the flock when separated from it. Squawking/screeching can often be prevented from starting by simply answering the bird when it calls to you, and letting the bird know when you are leaving and have returned.
African Lovebird & Foreign Parrot Society of Qld Inc.
Australian Budgerigar Society
- 07 55487674 / 0414 730551
Bird clubs in Australia: Australian bird clubs:
Downs Bird Breeders Association Inc.
Parrot Society of Australia:
Queensland Finch Society:
Recreational Wildlife Licence
In Queensland, a Recreational Wildlife Licence (RWL) is required if you want to keep certain protected birds, reptiles or amphibians at a residential property. This licence does not allow you to use the animals for commercial purposes.
The requirements for obtaining a RWL will vary depending upon the species you wish to keep.
A RWL can be for:
- Controlled, commercial and recreational animals—these animals are usually fairly easy to keep and you do not need a lot of experience to get a licence.
- Restricted animals (including restricted reptiles)—applicants need to be 18 years old or older. You will need to demonstrate considerable experience in handling and husbandry of wildlife.
- International wildlife—applicants need to be 18 years old. These animals can usually be kept without a lot of experience.
A standard RWL allows you to keep unlimited controlled, commercial and recreational animals as well as up to two restricted birds, reptiles or amphibians. If you wish to keep more restricted animals you will need to apply for a restricted RWL.
Examples of wildlife not requiring a licence
You don't need a licence to keep exotic (non-native) bird species. There are also 41 native species that you may buy, sell or keep without a licence. These species are:
- sulphur-crested cockatoo
- little corella
- long-billed corella
- western corella
- red-collared lorikeet
- scaly-breasted lorikeet
- musk lorikeet
- rainbow lorikeet
- Port Lincoln parrot
- twenty-eight parrot
- hooded parrot
- red-rumped parrot
- red-capped parrot
- princess parrot
- bourke's parrot
- elegant parrot
- scarlet-chested parrot
- Adelaide rosella
- eastern rosella
- pale-headed rosella
- yellow rosella
- western rosella
- bar-shouldered dove
- diamond dove
- emerald dove
- peaceful dove
- common bronzewing
- crested pigeon
- brown quail
- king quail
- stubble quail
- little button-quail
- painted button-quail
- blue-faced parrot-finch
- gouldian finch
- painted finch
- star finch
- zebra finch.
Note that these native birds are still protected and you are not allowed to trap them in the wild. It is illegal to trap protected birds, including exempt species.