28 Oct What’s the Matter with Bird Rooms?
If you share your main living space with a parrot, you know that parrots make noise as a normal way of life. Some parrots amp up a bit around morning and evening, and some (ahem, here’s looking at you, Quaker parakeets) can make a steady stream of chatter no matter what time of day.
For most of us parrot lovers, this is par for the course. As part of a long term relationship, we are aware of the pluses and minuses that come with any kind of commitment, human or animal. However, in any relationship, recognizing our pain points is an critical part of long term success.
In a family home, it may be that not everyone in the home finds the parrot as endearing or is as forgiving of the noise it makes. Even budgies, cockatiels, and green cheeked conures can put out chatter that can create tension in households that leads to rehoming. Stress in the household can put strain on all relationships, and when a parrot is centrally located, there are few ways to get away from the noise, and this also makes reinforcing unpleasant noises even easier. Thus, it’s a tall ask to put family members who aren’t crazy about the parrot in the position of complicated and sometimes tedious vocalization training once a screaming problem has established itself.
The tools that I have become a fan of are bird rooms and secondary cages for the benefit of both birds and humans. But not all set ups are created equally. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons and what makes bird rooms and secondary cages successful.
Definitions: What is a Bird room?
So first of all, what exactly is a bird room or a secondary cage? A bird room is a designated room for the parrot cages, play gyms and such. Often it is arranged for easiest cleaning, whether it is fully tiled or with throw rugs around the parrot furniture for easy pick up. Secondary cages are cages set up apart from the parrot’s main cage. They could be used for sleeping and are usually set up in a room that isn’t often used, like an office, solarium, guest room or the like. While there is no defined use, size, or set up for a secondary cage, we will go into what helps make them a successful part of you and your parrot’s life in this article.
Benefits of Bird Rooms
Having a bird room can make it much easier to contain the mess and noise of a parrot, because let’s face it, both of those things are an inevitable part of sharing your life with parrots. With flooring designed to make clean up easier, bird rooms can make it easier to give messy foods and enrichment to companion parrots, which in turn makes their lives all the better. It’s also easier to get them even bigger cages as they won’t be as intrusive on the family living space. Even if your parrot doesn’t spend a lot of time in the cage, getting the biggest cage you can afford always means more spaces to hang enrichment, climb and play.
If you can’t afford to tile the whole room (or even if you can and want to make clean up easier), one of my favorite tricks is to buy rag rugs on the cheap that you can throw around the cages and play gyms. You can even get a second set to throw down while the other set is being cleaned. Depending on where you shop, you can find multi-colored rag rugs for $5, and they hide mess really well! These are way better than putting down newsprint or butcher paper everywhere.
Adding in noise cancelling tiles or other noise mitigating items can help if you live in a townhome or with sensitive family members. More furniture and throw rugs on the floor will help to absorb sound.
Bird rooms can help encourage flight and other forms of exercise. By being decked out with multiple playgyms, swings, and perches that might otherwise be difficult to maintain in the main home, it will stimulate the parrots to leave their cage tops and keep moving. In some bird rooms, there are even mister systems and waterfalls set up in these special spots.
Bird rooms and secondary cages can also mean that the parrot isn’t centrally located, so everyone has their own space when they need it. No one is competing for volume when the television is on or guests are over.
What this also means is that it becomes easier to reinforce for good behavior because the environment can be more controlled. When the parrots live in a room that is directly part of our living space and they are making noise, it can be really challenging to ignore their sounds the way that the parrot perceives they are being ignored. Even just walking through a room or staying in a room with a screaming parrot but not making eye contact could still maintain the screaming behavior. Admittedly, it’s hard to achieve the level of ignoring that is needed to devalue the behavior. Giving parrots a safe space to make noise like they are designed to do but also where we can control the way that we reinforce their desirable sounds can make a huge impact on their baseline rate of vocalizations as well as both of our stress levels.
What’s great about these spaces, whether it’s a whole room or an extra cage in a room, is that they can be as engaging as you can possibly make them. When I talk to clients about a second cage, we make this extra cage fun and filled with enrichment that the parrot will actually enjoy, even if it’s just going to be used for sleeping. We want the parrot to have things to do here, it’s not supposed to be boring. Additionally, we can set up cameras, one way radios, French doors, more playgyms, and other accoutrements to make the space interactive and easy to reinforce good behavior or set the parrot up to offer desirable behavior on its own.
Having more than one living space for your parrot may also help reduce the expression of reproductive behavior. If you have multiple cages and playgyms set up throughout your house, you are changing the scenery up on your bird constantly. This helps reduce the way a bird would feel around a nesting space in the wild. There are lots of variables to reproductive behavior, as mentioned in our webinar on the Avian Behavior Lab site, but this is one major variable that is one you can control.
The Downsides of Bird Rooms
There are some cons to keeping our companion parrots in a bird room, so let’s take a look. For one thing, they are removed from the general family activity, so we must look at our environmental arrangement to make sure that we are benefitting both of us and supporting desirable behavior. For instance, if we just have one bird, we either want to make sure that the bird spends more time out with the family or has plenty to do and keep it engaged, or reconsider how removed we want the parrot to be.
This means that with our parrots in a bird room, we do have to make a greater effort to keep them engaged in family life, whereas when they are centrally located, they have ambient attention more readily. It is recommended that even if you have a bird room to keep some play spaces in the main house so that your bird can come and enjoy time with the family and has appropriate places to do so.
A bird room too far removed, too devoid of enrichment, and without parameters set around vocalizations can actually cause more noise issues. Without a proper plan in place for socialization, enrichment, and trouble shooting, you could end up with more problems than you bargained for.
Bird rooms can make challenges with flock dynamics more prevalent. If certain birds don’t get along or on the flip side, get along too well, being in close quarters could accentuate the problems.
The bird room or secondary cage is not meant to be a time-out cage like a naughty corner. If it is seen as such, and the parrot has to be picked up and moved to this location once the undesirable behavior has begun, then the behavior has been unwittingly reinforced and will continue or amp up. The below discussion will cover how these tools can be used instead to support good behavior and prevent undesirable behavior.
A secondary cage is just that: an alternate location for the bird to use aside from the parrot’s main cage. The uses that will help us support good behavior will be discussed in a later section of this article. Problems can arise if the parrot is left in isolation for too much of the day without enough to keep it occupied.
How to Set Your Parrot’s Space Up for Success
Like any companion animal, having alternative spaces is a key component for a healthy lifestyle. Just like having a yard for dog helps burn off extra energy and engage in games, creating multiple spaces can help parrots from developing hormonal behavior when applied with other hormone reducing activities because it offers them changing scenery and spaces.
As mentioned, creating an enriching environment, whether it’s an entire room or a separate cage in an unused room is priority number one for utilizing this space to its utmost potential. If your bird doesn’t know how to engage with enrichment, you can teach it to do so as well. We start with very simple foraging toys here. You can take our “Teaching Your Bird How to Play” course as a member in our online membership site, and this goes through a step by step process of helping to encourage your bird engage in enrichment as well as teaching persistent play. These skills are crucial for establishing beneficial, natural behaviors that in turn, lead to other useful natural behaviors.
Used as part of a system, the bird room or extra cage can be an incredible force for good. Like a dog only left in a yard by itself for the majority of its life, a bird left in a room sequestered from the family will develop a number of bad habits and patterns that will wear deep grooves into its repertoire if not addressed quickly and decisively.
If you would like to share your bird room or secondary/sleep cage ideas to help others, send them to us and we will share them on our gallery. Send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org
Solving Behavior Problems with Progressive Training Management and Positive Reinforcement Utilizing Secondary Cages and Bird Rooms
There are three parts that I look for in the behavior solution seeking process:
1) Can the problem behavior be prevented?
This is the easiest step and usually requires the least amount of energy. We want to set up the environment in some way that the parrot cannot do or will be less likely to do the problem behavior in the first place.
2) Can the problem behavior be replaced?
Is there something that the parrot already knows how to do and is good at that we can have him do instead of the problem behavior.
3) Do we need to teach the parrot new skills?
Sometimes, we need to expand the bird’s overall behavioral repertoire in order to help it achieve success. This may mean teaching it how to play, learn appropriate sounds, station on a perch, or other behaviors that can help it succeed.
Using a bird room or secondary cage can help us with all three of these concepts.
First, let’s look at how these tools can help us prevent problem behavior, and there are a few different ways of looking at how either one of these types of rooms or cages can help. If we know that our parrots are likely to get amped up and will scream problematically during a specific time of day or due to a specific and known trigger, we can set up our parrots’ day so that they retire to the bird room or secondary cage for another activity before the problem
For instance, if we know our umbrella cockatoo is going to get really excited and start squawking when the kids get home from school, we can schedule play time for prior to the problem antecedent, and then just before the kids get home, we set the birds up with a separate but engaging activity in the bird room or secondary cage.
Why This Works
This utilizes both prevention and replacement. We are preventing the problem antecedent from being so strong or even present. Even if the bird is exposed to the antecedent, it will be significantly diluted. Plus, we have just had the parrot out playing in the space doing a number of activities, perhaps satiating it on some social time for a little while so that when we set it up with other activities away from the problem space, our parrot is prepared to be engaged in them and thus won’t be inadvertently reinforced if it were out in the main living space.
Once things have calmed down and we are ready to keep the parrot focused at least at first on some behaviors that are incompatible with its problem behavior, we can set it up out in the main space with the family again.
Prevention can also be used in the case of strategically setting up one activity after another to encourage natural, mutually beneficial behaviors. Bath times naturally trigger preening and often quieter napping times. If your parrot enjoys misting and baths, we can schedule more energetic play times, then baths so that its quieter times fall during a time we might naturally be quieter also.
Prevention can also be used by playing music or white noise in bird rooms to mask ambient noise and sounds that would normally trigger problem behavior. This could be dinner parties, telephones, televisions, and so on. Replacement activities are also helpful in a two-pronged approach to preventing problem behavior.
Bird rooms can help us with replacement activities because we have a larger canvas to work with. When used with prevention, they help provide information that is necessary to tell the parrot what we want them to do instead of engage in the problem behavior.
Secondary cages, even if used just for sleeping, should have enrichment items that the parrot finds engaging in order to help the parrot succeed. We know that they can’t live successfully in a vacuum no more than a toddler could be expected to simply do nothing for an extended period of time. This will help it wake up and find things to do first thing in the morning rather than wake the neighbors.
Why It Works
Replacing problem behavior with activities that are equally or more valuable to the parrot are the best way to solve challenges sustainably. Utilizing tools like extra space can help us use replacement behaviors that are harder to accomplish in the main living space, like using bigger and messier toys. Again, the bird room and secondary cage is most effective as part of system rather than a stand alone resource. Parrots, like any living being, do best when given multiple tools with substantial information to help them stay successful. Playgyms interspersed throughout the living space with engaging items attached to create value to them allow for socializing with the family for intervals of time during the day and help provide periods for socialization when the family is best suited for the creative chaos that comes with parrots in the center of the hubbub.
Because parrot rooms and secondary cages are by nature removed from general activity, it can make the teaching portion of our behavior change strategy a bit more resource-intensive. As mentioned earlier, it’s important to remember that these aids aren’t teaching tools as disciplinary tools, like time-outs, but ways to support desirable behavior. It’s important to remember that if we pick up a bird to put it into a time out space for screaming, we have reinforced the screaming.
With this kind of awareness, we can be mindful of the behavior that we reinforce. For instance, this means realizing that showing up at the door when a parrot is screaming, clinging to the door frame, or otherwise carrying on will be an effective reinforcer. We can also get creative about the ways we reinforce from a distance. We can use contact calls, pet cameras, one way radios, remote feeders, and so on. In this age, it’s amazing how many great resources for remote training are at our fingertips!
For some parrot owners, utilizing bird rooms and secondary cages can be a relationship saver. To use these spaces effectively is to understand how they can support the behavior we want to see more of and foster natural behaviors in our parrots at mutually beneficial times. It may not be realistic to keep parrots in the main part of the home at all times, and in many ways, having a separate play space for the bird can benefit it, as well. Privacy, extra play space, and less opportunities to create a nesting space all play into the role that these spaces can provide for companion parrots.