We only attribute emotions like stress, anxiety, depression, etc., to humans. But studies are making it evident that several animals and birds also experience these emotions.
Talking about birds, they are extremely sensitive by nature and usually hide their stress and distress to the point where they can no longer be hidden. Sometimes, birds can even die of stress.
Given that, it is critical for all who keep birds as pets or look after them to recognize the signs of stress in birds. Here, we would talk about them and ways of dealing with them.
Why do birds get stressed?
Foremost, let us understand why birds experience stress. There are several reasons for it. A few of them are:
- Since birds are creatures of habits, any change in their routines, like a change in environment or schedule, can induce stress in them.
- If the pet birds are moved to a new home, environment, even new owner or people; they can become stressed. Simple things like an unfamiliar noise from the outside like that of construction, thunder, crackers, etc.; change in wall colors, etc., can induce stress in birds.
- Birds can also get rattled if they see any unfamiliar wild animals like raccoons, hawks, eagles, etc.
- Birds can also get agitated due to the change in the light cycle. For instance, if they are moved to a darker room, the cage covering is changed, daylight savings in areas where it is followed, etc.
Related Read: How To Cope With The Loss Of My Pet Bird
How do you know if a bird is stressed?
We already stated that birds would hide their distress until it can no longer be hidden. But they manifest it via both physical and behavioral changes. It is vital for us to recognize those signs. A few of those signs are:
Biting or lunging
A bird’s bite is often misinterpreted as an aggressive act, but more often than not, it is a strong sign of stress and fear in the birds.
Birds often bite for self-protection, especially when they are afraid. They might also bite when in physical discomfort and suffering from a medical problem. An examination by a vet is necessary to treat medical issues if present.
Crouching, flattening and trembling
Many a time, a frightened, anxious and stressed bird will flatten its feathers, widen its eyes and assume a watchful stance. They would often stretch their neck upwards or crouch slightly to assume the poise of flight mode.
Simultaneously, they would often tremble and flap their wings while keeping their beak open. It is a clear sign of stress and anxiety.
Generally, birds fall into the noisy pets’ category. They can vocalize just for the fun of it. Depending on the species, they usually make sounds in the morning and evening.
However, if they are constantly screaming for no apparent reason, it could be due to stress. They might be frightened, bored, or even lonely. All of these factors induce stress in them.
Like screaming, birds can also decrease their vocalization when under stress due to physical as well as mental conditions. They would retreat within themselves and can be unusually silent. Medical attention might be needed here.
Loss of appetite can be due to medical conditions as well as stress. They would often lose weight. It could be a sign of illness as well as stress. The bird would need both physical and mental support to come out of the trauma.
An overwhelmed bird might just retreat into a corner, avoid contact and exhibit complete unresponsiveness. It might be tiredness, anxiety, or sickness.
Another prominent sign given by birds that shriek of their stress or boredom is feather picking. It is seen in both large and small birds.
When stressed by any stimulation, the bird starts picking its feathers. It can soon turn into a habit and is a critical situation. Hence, a vet intervention is necessary to rule out any medical causes.
Sometimes, a bird continues to pick its feathers even when the initial stimulus is no longer present. It takes a more severe turn when the bird progresses to chewing its skin and then digging into its muscles and bones.
Consequently, a bird starts suffering from severe trauma. It is a critical situation where a vet has to give the bird an antipsychotic medication or fit them with an Elizabeth collar, a cone similar to what dogs wear. It prevents them from self-damage.
Few bird species like cockatoos show signs of stress via stereotypical behaviors like head swinging, pacing, toe-tapping, etc. They can mean boredom, unhappiness, or agitation. If left unattended, they can progress to self-destructive activities.
A complete topic by itself, it is the most evident physical sign of stress in birds. Also called stress lines, these are small lines that appear and run down the shaft of the feathers. The presence of these lines is a sure-shot indication that the bird is stressed.
Related Read: Can birds have down syndrome?
How to help or calm a stressed bird?
Once you are confident that a bird is stressed, several things can be done to help and calm it. Let’s check them out. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for stress but one can look into each stress- trigger and solve them to help calm the bird.
The first point of investigation is always a health checkup with an avian veterinarian. If the bird is sick and the proper treatment is executed, the bird can quickly become de-stressed.
Birds are sensitive, and any change to their immediate environment can stress them. Hence, you must address the environment change on priority and restore it back to the old version. It could be like cage placement, new furniture, or any other similar changes.
Also, make an extra note to see that no other pet animal or even wild one is bullying and terrifying the bird.
You can also strive to provide a bird-friendly environment that might include features like no overcrowding, multi-level perches, visual barriers to help the birds hide from threats, nesting areas, birdbaths, etc.
If a bird’s routine is changed in any way like you have moved to a new home and so on, you are likely to find your bird stressed. It could even be a simple act like the bird’s cage being moved to a different room.
If the changes can be reversed, it’s best. But sometimes, these changes are inevitable. In that scenario, it is best to increase one-on-one interaction and calm the bird as much as possible.
Alongside, ways should be adopted to help the birds acclimatize themselves to the new changes. For instance, the cage in a new room should be kept covered with a dark cloth and removed gradually as and when the bird is calming down.
Inadequate diet or malnutrition can also trigger stress in birds. Hence, it is imperative that you consult a vet and feed them a well-balanced diet.
More often than not, birds perceive any strange noise as a threat and danger and inevitably get stressed. You can keenly observe and infer which noises are agitating the birds. Eliminating them by various methods like cutting off the noise, moving the cage to a different room, etc., can reduce noise-related stress.
Stimulating the bird
Boredom is a major stressor for birds. From your side, you can keep the birds stimulated by offering them plenty of activities and toys that keep them engaged and let them have fun.
Apart from these, we can try a few things to help calm them like:
- Never yell at the bird but speak to them in a calm, soothing, and loving way.
- Never move away fast from a bird that is trying to attack you. Keep your calm and try to move slowly. It will reduce the perception of the bird that you are a threat and would soon calm down.
- Sometimes a simple act like holding out a stick on which the bird can perch will soothe the bird and help settle.
Finally, we address a few of the most common queries you might have regarding stress in birds.
Can a bird die from stress?
Yes, it is not uncommon for birds to die from stress. Be it trauma, shock, or stress-induced from any other reason, it can lead to death if not treated in time.
Are pet birds more vulnerable to stress than wild birds?
Yes, pet birds are more prone to stress than their wild counterparts. This is because they are often hand-reared by humans and miss imprinting with their own species in their natural habitat.
This impacts their brain development and makes them more prone to behavioral disorders and stress.
Stress in birds cannot be completely eliminated. However, if you pay attention to the cues provided by the birds, you can detect stress at an early stage and take the best course of action to alleviate it. It’s a happy bird that is a constant source of joy for all.