How to know when your bird is scared and ways to calm it

Your bird is displaying strange behavior, and you know it’s not positive. You suspect your bird is afraid of something, but you aren’t sure what. You probably want to calm your bird, but you could make things worse without knowing for sure what’s happening.

Birds use body language to tell us what’s going on, and displaying fear is no different. It’s time to learn the signs of fright in a bird and what to do to calm things down.

Yellow bird on perch in its cage
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How do birds show fear?

Birds show stress in a number of different ways — feather picking, loss of appetite, repetitive behaviors, etc. Fear is another way birds tell you that they’re experiencing stress about something.

When a bird is afraid, they pull their feathers close to their bodies. Showy birds like cockatiels may put their crests up or spread out their wings close to the ground. Some birds will stand in a corner and rock from side to side.

Extremely frightened birds may up the ante by hissing or snaking their heads and attacking a person, toy, or another nearby animal. Vocal birds may display distress sounds and hesitate to settle on any surface.

If you suspect your bird is afraid of something, it’s time to do some detective work to figure out what it is. If your bird is experiencing signs of prolonged stress, it’s time to consult your veterinarian.

What scares birds?

Yellow bird on finger of woman
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Birds have natural enemies in the wild and have evolved fear tendencies to keep them safe. Here are a few common things pet birds may find frightening:

  • Other birds: Predatory birds can cause a fear response if noticed from a window. Eagle or hawk shadows appearing on the ground outside may send some birds into a stress response, for example.
  • New items in the cage: If a bird isn’t familiar with a toy or new item, it may show a fear response until it’s sure that the item won’t cause harm.
  • Other pets: If your bird lives with cats or dogs, your bird may never get used to them. If your other pets have attempted to play with or catch your bird, that could make things even worse.
  • The dark:Birds often fear the dark, and some pet birds may require lights at night to sleep peacefully.
  • Change: Birds often treat change as something to be feared. It’s essential to introduce new things to your bird slowly to help reduce some of the stress response.
  • Color: Birds don’t see color exactly the way we do — they see more! If a new shirt is causing your bird to panic, it could be a UV spectrum color you don’t even know is there. Changing shirts may help. Or, introducing your bird more slowly to your new shirt is also an option.
  • Being held or touched: Birds must acclimate slowly to their owners and anyone else who wants to handle the bird. Gradually desensitize your bird to being touched, which will help make caring for your bird, vet visits, and having visitors more comfortable for both of you.

How do I calm my stressed or frightened bird?

bird sitting on perch in bird cage
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Calming your bird is important for ensuring health and well-being. You may not be able to eliminate fear completely, but you can help make your bird’s life easier.

  • Remove the source: If you can figure out what your bird is afraid of, taking it away is the first step. This may also mean moving your bird away from a window if the fear source is currently outside.
  • Introduce new things slowly: If your bird shows fear for something new, gradually and slowly desensitizing your bird can help. Use treats and keep a careful watch over your bird’s stress signs to know when it’s too much.
  • Provide stimulation: In some cases, fear is a sign of overall stress, something that could be relieved by allowing your bird to experience its favorite activity or providing a distraction through a familiar puzzle toy. Again, watch for signs of stress in your bird, but a distraction may help.
  • Move slowly: If you need to move the location of the cage, start by moving it just a little at a time instead of into a different room all at once. Approach your bird mindfully, and introduce new things with time.
  • Allow your bird to recover: Sometimes, the best thing to do is remove all outside stimulation. Place your bird in its cage (which is hopefully already in a quiet spot) and place the cage cover over it. This can help your bird to calm down and refocus.

Pay close attention to your bird

Learn your bird’s unique body language and preferences to help reduce stress and the chance of fright. Some birds may only have the standard triggers and be happy overall, while others tend to be more anxious. Your knowledge of your bird can help sort it out.

Spending time with your bird, allowing it to bond slowly with you, and providing a healthy environment with plenty of enrichment will give your bird the foundation for healthy behaviors. Taking action to remove stressors and keeping an open line of communication with your vet can help you handle fear as it arrives.

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