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.
I often get asked what Cape Parrots are like because I have one. So for everyone that wants to know what a Cape Parrot is like, here is my review of the good, the bad, and the ugly. In case you read no further, let me just say that Truman is a great bird and I love him, but I wouldn't recommend a Cape Parrot to virtually anyone. Now to understand why, read on.
When I mail ordered Truman from a Florida breeder, I knew very little about this species. Based on my good experience with Senegals, appreciation of the Poicephalus genus, and fear that an African Grey may be too neurotic for my lifestyle, I decided to go with a Cape Parrot. I heard nothing but good things about them and unfortunately that is most of the information that is out there. That kind of information does not help an owner make an honest well thought through decision. But a decision like this must not be made lightly as these birds live for a very long time.
Before I got Truman, I heard Cape Parrots described as "gentle giant," "cuddly," "playful," "adaptable," "non-aggressive," and other high marks of praise. I heard that they are good at playing with their toys, independent, and social. Furthermore, I was impressed that they are considered less prone to common parrot problems like biting, plucking, or screaming. After nearly 3 years of Cape Parrot ownership, I can say that these descriptions are very true. BUT, the typical descriptions leave out the real problems with Cape Parrots.
While the Cape Parrot is very good on paper and on quick comparison to other parrot species, this is is very misleading about their quality as a pet. The best way to put this is that Cape Parrots are very difficult in a way unique from other species. This part is missed on comparison because it is hard to describe and unique. So for a beginner it is tempting to think that a parrot that doesn't bite, pluck, or scream must be easy and suitable. But instead, their unique difficulties are far more difficult to remedy than the more common and understood problems that other parrots may engage in such as biting.
Simply put, Cape Parrots have a very difficult and unmanageable personality. They are extremely stubborn and it is impossible to change their mind when they are set on something. Capes tend to get very moody at times and good past relationships are challenged. Cape Parrots don't take very well to normal taming and training.
For spans of time Truman may be well behaved and easy to handle but every once in a while out of nowhere he will throw a tantrum. Suddenly he decides he doesn't want to go in the cage or doesn't want to be handled by me and he'll be flying all over the place to avoid it. If I manage to get my hands on him, he'll be throwing his beak all over the place and biting like crazy. Under normal circumstances he has never bitten anyone, however, when he is throwing a fit he bites very hard. These moody spells seem to happen every several months and keep coming back. Even with great efforts on my part to resolve these matters (and even to do preventative training when things are normal), things will be bad for up to a week at a time. During this span Truman generally doesn't want to hang out with me, doesn't want to be grabbed, does a poor job at training, and I'll be lucky if he steps up without any fuss.
While my Senegal Parrot, Kili, can go through hormonal periods or get upset on rare occasion, it is far easier to work things back to normal with her and this is all extremely infrequent. So while a Cape Parrot isn't likely to bite when being stubborn, they go through extreme lengths to have their way and resist yours. Shortly I will get to why hunger and training don't sufficiently help like they might with other species. Maria Brinson from The Purring Parrot says of her Cape Parrot Jupiter (who happens to be Truman's older brother), "Overall this a not a good bird for someone that has no bird experience. I have learned that if Jupiter sees me coming for him and he doesn't want to interact he will start grooming and ignore me. If I push the issue I will get bit." Natacha the Poicephalus Lady doesn't mind so much but has a similar experience with her female Cape Lea, "Lea is also quite into drama reaction, making things seem bigger than they are...again, not something I mind but some people might find irritating. But yeah..very very very stubborn, when her mind is set on something, it's hard to redirect her attention towards something else."
If a Cape Parrot is set on doing something you don't like, virtually impossible to make them stop. Either they will keep on doing it anyway or they'll hate you for interfering. It's a very fine line in between and almost impossible to manage even with extensive parrot keeping experience.
Cape Parrots are also very injury prone. Since he was a baby, Truman frequently falls off his perch in the cage. Less so now than before, but even after 2 years I occasionally hear the "Cape Cannon Ball" when he thuds down on the cage bottom. Truman always has some kind of scrapes, bruises, or broken feathers. Whether in his cage or out he tends to knock into things and get a cut between the ceres, break feathers, or bust the tip of his beak. If in 4 years I have only seen Kili bleed once or twice, I see Truman bleeding at least once every few months. When Truman isn't hurting himself, he's getting hurt by Kili. But the unfortunate thing is that he puts himself in her way more often than she comes after him. A few ripped out feathers and a bloody cut later, he's still landing on her cage asking for it. This is that Cape Parrot stubbornness at its max. They never learn.
Maria sums up the trouble by saying that Cape Parrots "can be very stubborn, prone to light injuries from too much rough play with toys. Can be a bully with other birds, will hold grudges for a least a few days, bites can be very bad since beak is so large, quick temper." Her Cape, Jupiter, once flew into something and busted the tip of his beak and was bleeding badly. Truman goes through the same and then is mad at me for a week even though I had nothing to do with it.
Not only does my Cape Parrot hurt himself a lot but he also gets very dirty. All parrots are messy, but that doesn't mean they let the mess affect them. Sure parrots will throw stuff out of the cage and make you clean the floor and things like that, but Truman will take a poop on a perch, walk around in it, get it on his beak, climb all over the cage wiping it everywhere, and then have bits sticking on his back. I've noted my Cape Parrot to be pretty smelly right from the very start. And it's not just that he's a bigger bird. I've been at a rescue with 8 Senegal Parrots and all those birds combined did not make the kind of smell a single Cape Parrot does. And all these birds eat the same foods. Truman is messy, gets dirty, and worst yet is completely shameless about it. I've had to put up with countless poopscapades with him where he'll poop on some vertical surface and manage to hit everything on the way down.
When it comes to their voice, Cape Parrots can be fairly good talkers. It is still debated if they are as good as an African Grey or not but this isn't particularly important. Personally I don't think they are. Unlike smaller parrots, Truman talks in entire phrases rather than individual words. However, the downsides are far worse than the infrequent nice bits of talking. For everyone one word he says, Truman has to let off several dozen honks, screeches, and whistles. He is extremely shy about talking in front of people and only does it when no one is looking. Truman tends to spend at least an hour a day on a screaming fit. He screams a lot when I come home and even more when he wants something. Despite the fact that I ignore screaming, he still has it in him to let off a bunch each day regardless. I encourage Truman to talk when he wants to come out and he does. But he alternates saying things and screaming just to be sure. The worst part is that if I give in to his talking or quiet and let him out, he'll come out and then start screaming but really close to me. Here is an example of Truman screaming but to get the authentic experience, turn your volume up to full, sit close to the speakers, and put it on loop for an hour:
When it comes to training, it is much more difficult with a Cape Parrot. The way I'd best describe it is that he's too smart for his own good. It's not so much that it is difficult to teach specific tricks to him as his mindset in general. When it just comes to simple things like practicing flight recalls or maintaining what he knows, he is always trying to come up with ways to cheat the system. This may seem smart but it's not because I never give in. In fact I usually am less generous with treats when he's pulling these kinds of things, yet in his stubbornness he won't give this up. However, I know that he's not stupid because when I get a good motivation day out of him, he will do everything exactly right which only indicates that he is purposefully screwing around the other times.
For example even after years of the same going back in the cage routine, he still does it all wrong. The idea is that I recall fly the parrots back and forth across the room a bunch of times and at some point put them away for their meal. Kili has this down perfect and will fly any number of times I request her to and gets to have her meal. Truman will either jump the gun and try to fly over when he wasn't called or refuses to come when I do call him. I bet he thinks that if he just stays put while I make Kili do all the flights, that he can just come once at the end and get his meal. What the smart aleck doesn't realize is that I'll just put Kili away and then make him fly as many if not more flights by himself until he gets to eat.
Managing Truman's motivation with hunger is quite problematic as well. When overfed, he's extremely stubborn and unresponsive. As he gets progressively hungrier, nothing happens for a while and then it quickly jumps to the flip side where he is too hungry and troublesome in other ways. Truman seems more likely to scream a lot when he is hungry (not that I ever feed him because he's doing this, so I still can't figure out why he thinks that's a beneficial thing to do). Also when he becomes too eager for food, he'll jump the gun and fly to me when uncalled and then be too tired to fly when I do call him. So across the spectrum of hunger, there seems to be no middle ground where he can train well without effects of being too hungry. With Kili this is no problem and there is in fact a pretty good range of weights where it works well.
So in conclusion, even though Capes have many desirable qualities and seem to make pretty good pets on that basis, they are extremely difficult in ways that are not well known. Except for people with extensive parrot experience, no one should even consider them as a companion because they will run into difficult issues. Clipping a Cape Parrot is about the stupidest thing someone could do, so forget that as an option. They are clumsy and get hurt flighted as is, if they can't catch themselves they'll get even more hurt. Worse yet, a Cape Parrot that cannot fly away when upset will turn to biting and that is not a beak you can afford to get bit by. Little is documented or known about Cape Parrots so if you get one, you're pretty much on your own. Basically if you rely on books, videos, help from other people, etc, you will be in deep trouble with a Cape because that sort of information doesn't exist for them and you'll have to figure it all out on your own. Like I said, their stubbornness is like no other and I don't know anyone who has found a universal and successful way to manage it (except putting up with it). While for example a Senegal Parrot may be prone to known problems such as aggression and be a one-person-bird, I find those issues to be simpler and more probable to solve. When it comes to the Cape issues, it's not only that I haven't been able to solve them yet but I don't even have a solution/approach on the horizon. For now it's just something I have to put up with and keep trying.
I hope this article will help people understand that even though Cape Parrots can be fun and exciting parrots, they should be avoided as pets by anyone that is looking for anything but an extreme challenge.