Stress in Pet Birds

A bird that acts out may be feeling anxious

A sad looking Indian Parrot

 shankar s./Flickr


Stress can play a large role in the overall health of both humans and companion animals. Because pet birds are naturally very sensitive creatures, they tend to be unable to deal with stress as easily as other types of pets such as cats and dogs.

Being able to recognize stress in your pet bird is important for maintaining an environment that your feathered friend can mentally and physically thrive in. It's a good idea for bird owners to learn how to monitor their birds' stress levels and make adjustments as needed to keep their pets healthy and happy. The points listed below will help you recognize common signs of a stressed bird.

  • 01 of 06

    What Does Stress Look Like in Pet Birds?

    Sun conure being pet
    Sun conure being pet with a woman. Getty Images/Sean Murphy

    One of the most common physical indications of stress in pet birds is the appearance of stress bars on a bird's feathers. Stress bars are small lines that run horizontally across the shafts of a bird's feathers. While it can be difficult to assess stress bars in feathers that are still on a bird, examining molted feathers can give a quick indication of whether or not a bird is having issues with a stressor in its environment. Stress bars can be caused by a variety of factors, so the presence of stress bars will not indicate exactly what is stressing a bird. Rather, they are a red flag that bird owners can use to start looking for potential sources of stress that their pets may encounter.

  • 02 of 06

    Stress in Birds Can Cause Aggression

    Gray Jay Attacking a Car Mirror
    Aggressive birds may attack their reflections in car mirrors. Photo © Gerry/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    The sudden onset of aggression in a pet bird can also be a big indicator that the bird is experiencing stress in its environment. Aggressive behaviors such as biting, hissing, lunging, and excessive screaming can manifest almost overnight when there is an environmental stressor involved. If you notice this sort of behavioral change in your pet, it may be a good idea to schedule an appointment with an avian vet to rule out any possible health problems. If your bird gets a clean bill of health, then you can begin to figure out exactly what triggers the behavior, and how you can adjust your bird's environment or routine to make it more comfortable.

  • 03 of 06

    Fearful Behavior

    Amazon Parrot in Cage
    Amazon Parrot in Cage. Getty Images/angelalourenco

    If a bird that is normally happy to be handled suddenly begins to act fearful of you or other family members, the person may be causing stress to the bird without even realizing it. It may not even be something that the person is doing directly to the bird; something as simple as a brightly colored shirt, a hat, or a new beard or mustache that can be a trigger for a bird's fearful behavior. Once you are able to identify a trigger, it is normally easy to remedy this sort of situation. However, if necessary, it is possible to condition a bird to eventually accept this sort of stressor through patience and practicing proper bonding techniques.

  • 04 of 06

    Loss of Appetite

    Winter Bird Feeder
    A good winter feeder will keep seed dry and have plenty of room for hungry birds. Photo © Sally Robertson/Flickr/CC by 2.0

    If a bird who normally has a healthy appetite suddenly begins to show less interest in eating, it can be an indicator of stress and/or health problems. A good rule to follow in this type of situation is to schedule an appointment with an avian vet to make sure that the bird is not sick or injured. If your feathered friend's health checks out, you can then begin to try and decipher possible stressors in your home that may trigger appetite loss in your bird.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Destructive Behavior

    San Jose, San Jose, Costa Rica, Central America
    Mark Newman/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

    Birds who begin to exhibit destructive behavior are quite possibly very stressed, and the most likely culprit in this scenario is boredom. Being the extremely intelligent creatures that they are, pet birds in captivity often do not receive a healthy amount of mental stimulation, which can lead to frustration, stress, undesirable behaviors, and even health issues.

  • 06 of 06

    Treatment and Prevention of Stress in Birds

    Happy Bird.

     Getty Images

    If there's a stressor in the bird's environment, removing it should cut down on its stress almost entirely. If the bird has started acting out due to stress, and you need to try to curb its behavior, here are a few things to try:

    • Don't yell at your bird. Whatever you do, don't yell at a stressed or frightened bird. Not only will it startle the animal at the moment, but it may also teach the bird that bad behavior gets attention.
    • Move slowly. If your bird attacks you because it's afraid or nervous, moving away quickly may agitate the animal further. Try to move slowly when approaching your bird, reaching into its cage or attempting to pet it.
    • Stick train your bird. If you have a bird who doesn't like being handled but who you want to help become more social, offering it a stick or a perch to climb on may soothe it.