Ever wonder if a parrot can make itself go deaf from its own screaming? Do parrots hear better than humans? Do parrots have particularly sensitive hearing? Read on to learn about parrot hearing!
I'm surprised to learn that some people think parrots have sensitive hearing. I have observed this mindset a few times over the years so I would like to address it in greater detail.
For example in my "Shot My Parrot Dead" trick video on youtube, there have been numerous viewers objecting to me yelling at Kili when pretending to be mad. Vicky Abramowitz commented, "Cute trick aside. Why do you two knuckleheads have to shout? Parrots have sensitive hearing. Try to keep that in mind."
At least they don't think the parrot is actually dead like a thousand other comments but they are still misinformed about avian hearing. For those still questioning if the parrot really dies or not in the video, then be sure to check this analysis video.
I had researched bird hearing years ago when I began taking my parrots flying with me in airplanes. While it is recommended that people, and even dogs, wear hearing protection while flying in small piston airplanes, there is no option for parrots. I was interested in whether or not there was a danger to my parrots. I learned that it is not. However, with little information on the subject and continued discussions, I decided to share with you what I have learned.
So how does bird hearing compare to human? Not as good. First of all, birds lack a certain organ that helps funnel in sound waves into the ear cavity. What could that be? Oh yeah, external ears! Birds do not have those floppy things sticking out of their heads. I guess so much for my idea of making bird-earrings or glasses (birds have excellent vision so I guess they won't be needing them anyway). Birds lack external ears to be more streamlined for flight so that is already one hearing advantage that they lack.
Not only do birds lack external ears, their internal ears are actually covered by feathers. You can't normally see their ears and could almost think they don't even have any. However, when the feathers are parted, we can in fact see that birds do have ears. The feathers covering the ear openings help keep wind out while flying and reduce wind noise similar to a fluffy mic muff cover. However, this adds a further reduction in sound that reaches the bird's ear.
As we travel deeper inside a bird's ear, the next difference we can find is a more primitive ear structure. Like their reptilian ancestors, birds have just one inner ear bone called the columella (analogous to the stapes bone in mammals). One of the defining features of mammals that distinguishes them from reptiles is the evolution of a 3 boned ear structure featuring the malleus, incus, and stapes ear bones. This 3 boned ear structure allows mammals to have more sensitive hearing, particularly in the higher pitch ranges.
For this reason, parrot hearing is limited to the 200 Hz-8.5 kHz range while humans can hear in the range of 31 Hz-19 kHz. That means your parrot won't hear the deep bass notes and high pitch cymbal crashes in your music. However, they can hear just fine across the human vocal range.
Ornithology 3rd Edition Frank B. Gill, Page 193
What this chart shows is that birds, with the exception of owls, need sound volume to be louder in order for them to be able to hear it in the first place than humans do.
This means that a parrot cannot hear a watch ticking, a pin drop, or leaves rustling because they simply are not loud enough for them to be able to hear. Since their hearing drops off precariously in the high pitch range, this also means that high pitch sounds have to be very loud for them to hear them at all. But don't worry, before you start speaking loudly to your parrot like it's your grandfather, parrots can hear normal human speech at 70db just fine! A quiet whisper just meets their minimum hearing threshold.
Now what about noise, how much does it bother them? Not nearly as much as it bothers us! Besides the somewhat reduced hearing ability in birds, they are better equipped to handle noise. This should be no surprise to parrot owners. Why is it that when a parrot screams in your ear, you can go temporarily deaf in that ear while a parrot can scream all day without causing hearing damage to itself or the other parrots near it? It turns out that it has to do with the inner ear hair cells.
Hair cells detect the transmission of sound vibrations and turn them into an electrical signal that gets processed by the brain. Extreme noise or prolonged exposure to loud noise in humans damages these hairs and causes hearing loss. However, in birds these hair cells regenerate and return full hearing ability! "Most NIHL [Noise Induced Hearing Loss] is caused by the damage and eventual death of these hair cells. Unlike bird and amphibian hair cells, human hair cells donít grow back. They are gone for good." (National Institute on Deafness).
And this all makes perfect sense. Humans as all mammals, evolved from small nocturnal ancestors who relied heavily on hearing for navigation and predator avoidance. This explains why birds have superior vision but mammals have the better hearing.
But what about parrots being able to hear and learn to mimic sounds so well? Just because parrots learn to mimic speech and sounds exceptionally well does not mean they have the best hearing apparatus. This is mainly coming from their brain. Parrots live in a different time scale than we do. They can see and hear quicker than we can! They can distinguish more sounds or sights per second than we can. Similar to how blind people can learn to listen and distinguish sounds better, parrots can take the lesser sound they hear and do more with it!
If loud noise bothered our parrots, they would try harder to evade that noise and also wouldn't be so noisy themselves. If my yelling act bothered Kili too much while making the Shot My Parrot Dead video, she would have simply flown off to a quieter part of the room. People don't give the animal enough credit for having the sense to be able to take care of itself. Saltyspirit made a good observation in the video, commenting "It's amazing how he doesn't mind him yelling."
But before you get the impression that I'm suggesting that you yell at your parrot, think twice! Not because I'm worried for your bird's hearing. No, it will be just fine. Because of your hearing! Giving your parrot the impression that you're into yelling too could encourage the parrot to join in. You on the other hand will experience hearing loss and unlike your parrot, your hearing won't restore itself.
In conclusion, parrots have less sensitive hearing, less hearing frequency range, better hearing perception, and innate protection against hearing damage. So use the Parrot Wizard approach to quieting your parrot down or invest in a good set of ear plugs.
Rachel, my wife's Blue and Gold Macaw, has been going through terrible twos for the last few years. This is the adolescent period where much changes in a parrot's life. It grows up from being a naive baby to an independent adult. Most parrot owners are quite surprised by the changes that happen when the parrot stops being cooperative during this stage.
The age at which adolescence hits will vary by species. Roughly speaking it's around 1-3 years old in the small parrots, 2-4 in the medium, and about 3-6 years old in the large ones. During this period, the parrot's behavior can change unexpectedly. The bird will be more testing, bold, fearful, and all around cranky. Allegiances with other birds and humans can also become reversed. It's an all around jumbled, confusing, unpredictable, and unpleasant experience.
The once sweet baby now bites the hand that feeds. It might prefer someone it didn't like before or seem all around intent to hunker down in the cage and not even come out. When asked to step up, the bird runs away, bites, or just flat out ignores so what to do?
Predicting that Rachel will go through this, I began preemptive training early to help combat the worse of the symptoms of parrot adolescence. I trained Rachel to step-up using clicker and target stick, taming, harness, and some tricks beforehand. But as the age started to come, Rachel's behavior was still in a slow decline. It is difficult to realize an imperceptible downward slippery slope until it jumps out and bites you. Sometimes literally.
My wife Marianna, who raised Rachel since she was a baby, learned about parrot adolescence the hard way. It wasn't until she got bit by the baby she raised that she got a full grasp of what the "terrible" in terrible-twos means. She actually got to a point where she was uneasy around Rachel because the bites seemed to be random and unexpected. So, to help her out, I decided to do some step up re-training with Rachel to get her to be more reliable at stepping up and off again.
Rachel already knew exactly how to step-up from previous training so it was more of a matter of rekindling motivation for stepping up and lots of practice. It seems strange having to go back to such basics with a parrot that knows complex tricks. But, when hormones are causing the bird to be edgy and bite, it's what you gotta do.
If Rachel forgot how to step up entirely or would entirely refuse to, I would start the initial step-up training all over again from scratch. However, since we caught it in time while she was still stepping up but not as reliably, it was a much easier fix. I just literally went to giving Rachel a food treat every single time she would step up. She got back into it quickly once she realized she was getting food for such easy stuff.
Normally we begin to take step-up for granted because the parrot is usually reinforced in other ways for participating. For example, step-up and you get to come out of cage. Step up and I'll give you attention. Step up and get a head scratch. Step up so you could do a trick and earn a treat. There is usually a subtle bit of positive reinforcement on an intermittent reinforcement schedule built into the parrot keeping lifestyle that I share. However, when the biological changes that the parrot is going through cause it to suddenly dislike things it normally likes and people it normally trusts, you have to go back to much more basic operant conditioning to remind it what to do.
This came as no shock to me as I had already gone through the same with Kili, Truman, and countless bird owners I have coached. However, it always pins you harder when you were the one that raised your bird and you second guess yourself. This is why a clear mind, good attitude, right approach, and persistence really matter. It's all an uphill battle while slowly slipping downhill when the bird is going through this. With good training and the time for the bird to grow out of the age, everything will settle in place.
Toys and perches are very important for your parrot's health and well-being. They're more than just for your parrot's entertainment, although that is a very important role as well. They provide necessary exercise to your bird's beak and feet!
Having a huge cage for your parrot is great. But if that huge cage isn't extensively filled with perches and toys, it is just as well a tiny cage. The main advantage of a huge cage is that there is an opportunity to put a lot of perches for your parrot to move around on and many toys to motivate it to come to. Without them, you'll just have a parrot sitting in one part of the cage all day doing the same as it would if it were in a smaller cage.
Perches are the foundation of your parrot's living space. The bird spends all day on its feet. Having a good variety of different perches provides diversity and comfort to your parrot's feet by allowing it to change and choose its perching. Forget about dowel and plastic perches. Throw them out. They are no good for your parrot. Take caution of natural perches that are straight and smooth as a dowel. Just because they are natural, doesn't do any good if they act the same way as a dowel.
The four typical kinds of perches are:
Natural Rope Cement NU Perches
I would strongly encourage you to offer all four types so that your parrot has the most variety and choice. Wood perches should be the Natural perches are fun because each one is different. The diameter, texture, and shape will vary. This is great for your parrot. Unfortunately, you don't always know what you are getting when ordering online and some natural perches don't offer all of the advantages of being natural. Sometimes it isn't possible to make wildly wavy perches properly fit the rectangular orientation of a bird cage. For this reason, I came up with and patented the NU Perch. These perches offer the maximum amount of variation, choice, and comfort while also being totally safe and affordable. Provide a variety of different lengths, thicknesses, and hardness of perches so that your bird can experience different perching techniques as it moves about the cage.
Rope perches and cement perches are good additions to wood perches but only in moderation. The cement perches can help keep your parrot's claws trimmed and it's a different texture than all other perches. However, excessive use of cement perches can greatly irritate the bird's feet. Never put a cement (or other sanding type) perch where your parrot sleeps. In other words, don't put the cement perch up high or where your parrot goes a lot. Ideally, place a cement perch in a place your parrot visits just a few times a day. For this reason, a cement perch serves very well by the bird's water (bottle or bowl). It only takes a few drinks a day but otherwise does not spend an excessive amount of time in that area.
Rope perches are the exact opposite of cement perches. Instead of being hard and harsh, rope perches are smooth and comfy. This is a good thing but in moderation. Rope perches can provide relief from firmer perches. But if used excessively, they may cause the bird's feet to be too sensitive on harder surfaces. Also, extreme caution must be taken if the bird chews on the rope perch. Two major hazards can be caused by chewed rope perches. First of all, some birds ingest the rope and can develop a crop infection. Another hazard is that the bird can get its foot or claw caught in the chewed strands of rope and get stuck. So, to avoid either case, inspect the rope perches regularly and replace preemptively if there is any sign of damage.
Just as perches are to your parrot's feet, toys are a health requirement for your parrot's beak. Parrots use their beaks quite extensively in the wild for feeding, nest cavity making, and playing. We won't be providing nesting opportunities to our pet parrots but we should nonetheless give them lots of chances to chew. Toys are a good human alternative to the chewing challenges that parrots would encounter in the wild. Abundance of toys is very important. Different shapes, textures, materials, and challenges will keep your parrot and its beak busy in different ways. Some materials such as plastic are tougher and will require harder chewing than softer materials like wood. Providing variety and abundance will improve your parrot's activity and provide the pleasure of choice.
Perches can also be a source of chewing pleasure and beak exercise. My parrots love the NU Perches in their cages not only because they are comfortable on their feet but also because they provide a reasonable chewing challenge. On one hand, the perches are soft enough that the birds can chew them if they choose to. On the other hand, they are tough enough that it takes them a while to really destroy them. I don't know why sometimes they leave perches alone and chew only toys and other times focus on the perches instead of toys. But by providing them the abundance and variety, I can ensure that they are kept busy, happy, and healthy in any case.
Keep in mind that the best deterrent against developing a feather-plucking problem is keeping the bird busy chewing things that are not on its body. Just because there are toys in the cage doesn't mean they are serving much useful purpose if they don't end up in a pile of splinters on the bottom of the cage. Looking, touching, and playing with the toys is only a small portion of their purpose. Getting the beak and mind exercised in the process of chewing them up is the biggest purpose. In the case of most parrots, something is going to get chewed up at the end of the day be it the bird's toys, perches, your furniture or stuff, or its feathers. In order to avoid it being the feathers or furniture, it is best to focus on toys and perches.
Some toys are just too difficult, thick, hard, or boring for your parrot to chew up. Offering a variety of different kinds of perches is a good way to improve the likelihood of the toys working out. However, sometimes the parrot just won't chew any of it up. The best way to get it started is to get smaller or easier toys that are meant for a smaller species than what you have. Letting the bird have success with a toy that is too easy can give it the motivation to tackle some of the tougher toys that are meant for its size. The toys gotta get chewed up in order to be serving their purpose.
Every parrot is different so what works for some parrots may not work for others. Let your parrot exhibit its own personality and develop its own preferences. Provide abundant variety of perches and toys so that it can make the most of them and grow its choices.
Here's a video of Marianna getting some new perches and toys for the flock and then rearranging their cages with the new goodies:
It has been a tumultuous few years between adopting Santina, inheriting Rachel through marriage, and having sick birds all over the house. But now, for the first time in over a year, Truman gets reunited with the flock.
The last time Truman had seen Rachel (not counting a brief distant encounter at the wedding), was while I was birdsitting Rachel after the NYC Parrot Adventures Group outings at which I met Marianna. When Marianna moved in with Rachel, we opted to keep Rachel separate while the original three (including Santina) were dealing with health problems in the bird room. Every time we medicated the three, it would appear that Kili and Truman would do better but Santina's condition would return and then some weeks later, everyone else was back to square one.
We decided to experiment with quarantining every bird from each other. This was very difficult and time consuming with hand washing or showering between visiting each bird. After several medications and a lot of time passing, Kili and Rachel improved. Santina was still doing badly and Truman was a bit questionable. So, we had to juggle birds around and do a lot of sanitizing in order to get Rachel and Kili together in the bird room and Santina and Truman quarantined separately.
This September, I rehomed Santina to Lori in Pittsburgh. This was an effort to harmonize my own flock while getting Santina and Lori a wonderful pet situation. Mostly, Truman was doing better but now and then he was still symptomatic. We ended up giving him one more round of medication before going any further.
Without contact with Santina and since medication, the birds appear to be doing well so now it is time to have Truman united with Kili and Rachel. We thoroughly cleaned and sanitized Truman's cage, replaced all of his toys/perches with new ones, and were ready to move him in with the other birds. Just one more thing to do, to give Truman a really thorough washing. Marianna got him really soaked and clean before reintroducing him to the flock.
This is not the first time Truman was reunited with Kili. There was the time Truman was lost for a few days. Also, there were times that Marianna would take Truman to her home for some days at a time. So, it was not a massively surprising situation for Kili, but after going so long without him, she certainly displayed a lot of excitement. Rachel was curious but mainly indifferent. For now he will stay in the same room but a little bit separate during the adjustment period. Check out this video of the Trained Parrot flock reunion:
I have some good news to share, I'm rehoming Santina. It's a hard thing to talk about so I'm glad I got that off my chest. Read till the end and watch the video to understand the situation, how the rehoming went, and how a win/win situation came out of it all that really is good news.
I adopted Santina from the rescue on December 23, 2013. She's been a great bird and a wonderful pet. However, from early on we ran into issues. I'm not talking about behavioral ones because those we solve through training. I'm talking about Santina's health problems.
From the beginning, it was clear that she had some issues, but I was optimistic that veterinary medicine could cure her. I spent a small fortune getting Santina tested for everything under the sun, yet the results were inconclusive. It was a wild goose chase because results would contradict each other and no specific cause could be found. I treated Santina with antibiotics and kept her quarantined from Kili & Truman for triple the normal quarantine period. In the absence of a specific diagnoses and under the impression that the treatment helped, I went ahead and put all of the birds together.
It wasn't long until Kili and Truman began exhibiting similar symptoms to Santina. It was not clear at first because they were all close together. But as Marianna started borrowing birds for a few days at a time, in the isolation of her room, she discovered that Kili & Truman had the same things going on. All the birds went on antibiotics. While on medication, things would seem to improve. But, once off, things would go right back to before.
Marianna moved in with her Blue and Gold Macaw, Rachel. Rachel got sick too which made things even more clear. We started by keeping Rachel in a cage in a separate room and treating her.
Over the course of the last two years it has been a nightmare of juggling treatments and quarantines. We went so far as keeping each bird in a separate room and showering between birds. This has led to a few things. First of all, it led us to discover that antibiotic treatment appears to cure all of the birds but Santina. After several different medications and a long trial of isolated treatments, we have concluded that Santina's condition is most likely incurable. The curable bacterial infections that she has been spreading to the other birds may be a symptom and not the cause. When removed from Santina's presence, after a course of antibiotic treatment, the other birds have been infection free going on for over half a year.
The other thing we had come to realize was that Santina's condition has been taking a toll on our bird and family life. Instead of focusing on making new training videos, taking the birds places, writing articles, and doing the sorts of bird things I usually do, I have been plagued with vet visits, quarantines, and depression. We could not travel with multiple birds, could not keep the birds together as a family, nor spend time with more than one bird at a time. The wedding was a distraction and kept us busy. We had to jump through hoops to make arrangements to get the birds involved in the wedding without impacting their quarantine.
Since the time I introduced Santina to the other birds, my entire bird life has become stagnant. I stopped training Santina because I was afraid to risk her illness becoming worse. The other birds, I could not get to training because much time was being spent on work and handling all of the birds separately. Marianna has made all of the quarantine efforts possible by splitting the tasks of caring for each bird. Life had become a rut. There was no motivation or pleasure from doing bird stuff and thus a giant set back in the online realm as well.
We never planned things to go on as long. It always seemed like there would be an end in sight. First it would be a week of medication, then two, then a month. When we split the birds into different rooms, it was just going to be a trial to see how they do separately. But, weeks turned to months and months to years. Nothing was changing. We were exhausting all ideas and possibilities. The conclusion was becoming more and more apparent that Santina would not be able to be kept together with the other birds.
All of the birds were short-changed throughout the whole process. Instead of spending one collective time taking care of them all, time had to be spent on separate feedings, separate cleanings, and quarantine procedures. Although more time was being spent on birds than the normal situation, individually the birds were receiving less time. What started as a health problem and temporary solutions was turning into a long term problem. We were getting nowhere.
This summer, I was contacted by a lady that had seen my picture used in a bird sale scam. These things happen left and right and there's nothing I can do about them (most of them are overseas and create a new page every week). She was looking to get a Green-Winged Macaw. We got talking and before long, Lori and my wife became great friends. Lori read my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots, and discussed the finer points of owning macaws with Marianna.
Lori was still trying to decide if a Green-Wing was right for her or not, so Marianna and I paid Lori a visit with Santina. After meeting Santina, Lori told us she would like a bird just like her. Coming home from that visit, we realized that there was a strong potential here for an ideal situation all around. We stayed in touch with Lori and helped her develop her understanding of parrots. Then there came a point where I asked Lori if she would be interested in adopting Santina. She was ecstatic beyond words and the answer was yes.
Lori is the ideal candidate for adopting Santina. Lori has a house but no other people or parrots living there. She can afford the upkeep for a macaw which is quite expensive. She loves animals, has time on her hands, and has no plans for adding any other birds. She is patient and willing to follow the training methods for developing trust. Also she is willing to give up an entire room in her house to give Santina the lifestyle she has become accustomed to. Likewise, Santina is just the kind of birds that Lori was looking for.
We spent the rest of the summer making preparations for the rehoming process. There was no rush to get it done and no deadline. However, due to conveniently overlapping summer schedules, it worked out to be easier to do things more quickly than to wait for the fall. It just so happens that the more you are willing to take your time, the more quickly things end up actually happening.
Lori put up plastic sheeting on the walls, replaced the flooring with vinyl, repainted the ceiling, removed all loose wiring, and prepared the room to be bird safe. It was a lot of work but best done before having a bird in the home.
We took another trip to Pittsburgh to help Lori prepare the bird room for Santina. We built a custom NU Perch stand and hung it from the ceiling. Also, the ceiling light was upgraded to a bright LED fixture and the light switch was replaced with a timer. We brought over some of Santina's old and new toys so that things would be as familiar as possible. We even used her old food bowls and Training Perches.
The room was ready but there was one more thing to prepare: Santina. Santina is a great bird with people she is familiar with but can be a menace to anyone new. I've done a fair bit of socializing her over the years, particularly using the Aviator Harness to take her outside. However, Santina still would not be at the point like the other birds to just step up for someone else for sure.
There was no way I could fully prepare Santina for the exchange. So instead I focused on preparing Lori and Santina for the training process to build a relationship. I spent time reminding Santina of the training exercises I had already done with her initially to teach her to be good with me. I wanted them to be fresh in her mind so that Lori could use them. I emphasized target training and stepping up onto a handheld perch so that Lori would be able to use those tools to move her about in the first few weeks without contact. I also spent a lot of time talking to Lori about the steps to follow to win over Santina. To put it simply, don't try to touch her or force her to step up, use the training tools she knows to relearn to do those things for you.
On August 21, 2016, nearly 3 years since adoption from the rescue, I rehomed Santina. I flew Santina out to Pittsburgh to see Lori again. Santina seemed to recognize her and was in a great mood. We moved slowly in the introduction stage and Lori did a great job. I know it took effort to hold back some of her excitement but in reality it made things go much more quickly than expected. We stayed the weekend and got to witness progress in the making.
Santina went from just barely taking treats from Lori to jumping on a Training Perch to get treats from her. Santina was becoming more at ease with Lori's presence. Otherwise, Santina was perfectly at home on the familiar NU Perch stand I built her. We practiced Santina's feeding/cleaning routines a few times with Lori doing it more and more on her own. Although the rehoming process only lasted two days, it felt like weeks of progress because we made a gradual transition. Santina had the chance to get used to her new home and new owner with me around so she actually felt quite at ease.
We would leave to go get lunch, then come back and work with her. Then we would go out for dinner and come back. This coming and going got Santina more relaxed, and when I left without coming back, she already had a new friend in Lori. And this is really great news. Santina has been taking to Lori very quickly. They have a wonderful understanding and connection developing. Lori adores Santina. The dedicated passionate attention that Santina is receiving is definitely uplifting to her.
Santina was always a one-person bird before. She grew up as an only bird and I have found her to like attention as an only bird. The group environment was not ideal for her and she did not deal so well with the little green guys buzzing around so much. On the other hand, with Lori, Santina can be the center of all attention.
As I left Santina with Lori, I was actually quite happy. Certainly there was a feeling of sadness in going home without her. However, seeing how well she is doing with Lori and how happy Lori is to have her, I knew it was all right. Kili, Truman, and Rachel are for the better. They will be able to recover their health and get back to training. Santina will be in a home environment that she actually enjoys best. Lori got the exact kind of macaw that she was looking for. And Marianna and I have a wonderful new friend. This just goes to show that a rehoming situation, when done right, can have an all around happy ending!