A Tired Parrot is a Grumpy Parrot - - - by Liz Davies (aka "Mom")


Pakshi (a Hahn's Macaw) came to live with me at the age of 9 months.  For the first 6 months or so, all was well - but then suddenly he started biting me... HARD!  Suddenly he was drawing blood on me nearly every day.  He's always been a little high-strung - a bird with a short fuse - but oh-my... it was getting to the point where I was having trouble offering him a finger to climb up on.  It didn't' take long before I was prettty sick of having the flesh stripped from my hands, and friends and co-workers were starting to ask about my hands ("What HAVE you been DOING?").

There was an article in Bird Talk magazine about that time suggesting that birds with behavior problems might not be getting enough sleep.  They pointed out that if you look at the average daylight/nightime for the wild relatives of many of the parrots we keep, and then compare that to the amount of time they spend in lighted rooms in our homes, you begin to realize that they might not be getting enough shut-eye.
He's not very big, but that beak packs a wollop!

I have a small-sized "travel cage" for Pakshi.  I got it so that I would have a light-weight cage to put him in for trips to the vets office and so that I could take him out on my deck in the warmer months with me (he loves to accompany me when I am pulling weeds).   I put that in a spare bedroom and started putting him "to bed" at about 8 p.m. every evening, and then getting him up at 6 a.m. with me in the morning.  This gave him a full 10 hours of quiet, dark, and uninterrupted privacy.  Within 3 days, he stopped biting me and returned to the sweet tempered little guy I'd known before.

Pakshi's ancestors (macaws) come from Brazil - very near the equator.  There they don't get the seasonal swings in daylight time that we see here in Ohio.  There they have pretty much 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night.  Covering Pakshi's cage with a dark cloth or cage cover wasn't sufficient.  From his point of view, there's always the danger that some marauding raptor is going to swoop from the ceiling (as long as there is any light or noise) and eat him.  That's pretty scary stuff - and there's no point in trying to reason with a macaw; you're bucking eons of successful DNA encoding!

The further from the equator a species lives, the more they can deal with periodic swings in daylight time.  But for macaws, at least, 7 hours of shut eye aren't enough.

So now... every weeknight evening between 8-8:30, I take Pakshi to the stairwell and he walks himself up the stairs (saying "up, up, up, GOOD BIRD" to himself as he climbs the stairs).  When he reaches the top, he stops and waits patiently for me to offer my hand.  Then he steps up on my finger and I take him to his sleep cage.  I tell him "nighty night" and that he was a good bird, and then pull a dark terrycloth towel over the cage (for warmth and assured darkness).  Weekends he sleeps in his day-cage (so that I can sleep later if I want and not have to worry about getting him out of bed).

When we adopted Jesse, one of the first things I did was purchase a sleep cage for her.  Having lived through "grumpy sleepy parrot" with Pakshi (who is a very small fraction of Jesse's size), I wasn't about to take any chances with her.   She's so large that her sleep cage isn't remotely "portable", but it is much smaller than her day-cage.  It's about 24"x24" width/depth and tall enough on the inside so that she can sit on a perch and not have her head or tail touching the top or bottom.  The cage is built with wheels at the bottom, so it's easy to move around and clean behind. There's not enough room to stretch her wings, but this isn't a concern because she only sleeps in it - she doesn't spend time in it beyond that.

So far, my conures and the cockatiel don't seem to need special sleep accommodations.  Bubba and Aussie's cages are in the dinette, which is outside the family room, and not directly lit when we have the lights and TV on in there.  Even so, if we get too rowdy, Bubba will holler out and scold us.  Forte's cage is in the family room, but she's got a "sleep tube" (made out of cardboard and fabric) that she crawls into, and we cover her cage with a dark cloth.  Although I know she's not really "asleep" until we leave the room, she seems to get enough rest and has not exhibited any behavior problems.  But if she does.. .the first thing we'll do is get her a sleep cage.

The one "downside" I've seen to all of this (other than the obvious effort made each evening putting the birds to bed), is that the macaws are VERY reluctant to defecate where they sleep.  The tend to try and "hold it" until they are away from their cage.  This is a natural, instinctive behavior of parrots in the wild and is not associated with potty training.   With this in mind, we are very careful not to leave them in their sleep cages in the morning, but get up and take them someplace where they can "go".

For Pakshi, I have a PVC pipe perch in the master bath, and I keep a couple layers of toilet paper under it for him.  When he gets up in the morning, I take him straight there so he can make his morning poo.  For Jesse, if I am not going to go downstairs right away after getting up, I put her in the showerstall (on her bathing perch) and give her the potty command (the shower stall is the easiest place to clean in the whole house).  For both birds, we've learned to look for that "morning dropping" when we take them out - and if we don't see it (and we usually don't), we know not to dilly-dally on the way to the next station, since we're holding a "loaded bird" (if you know what I mean... grin...)