Avian Expert Articles

What Scares Your Pet Bird

cockatiel on cageA few of their scariest things …

Halloween is just around the corner. We are scared of zombies and ghosts, and perhaps even the thought of a whole community of children eating sugar. But what’s scary to your small companion bird? If something is scary to your bird, what can you do about it?

First, understand that our companion birds are wired with instincts that would keep them alive in the wild. Some things that are scary to a small, prey species are not obvious to us as a large predator species. Think like a bird in order to minimize scary moments.

Body Language

You will know if your small bird is scared by its body language. Frightened birds hold their feathers in close to their body. Cockatiels put their crests up. They might huddle in a corner or rock from side to side. Extremely frightened birds will threaten by snaking their neck out and hissing. None of these are good signs, and if you intervene by attempting to handle a frightened bird, you are likely to get bitten. Calm your bird down with kind words, turn only one eye to your bird (predators have eyes on the front of their heads, facing forward), and back off a little. Give your bird space and time to calm down. In the realm of “fight or flight” response to a threat, birds will want to choose “flight.” If a bird appears to want to fly from something, then that is something scary to the bird.


Something that scares a prey species is a predator, like the dogs or cats we also keep as pets. Be aware of your small bird’s safety, and don’t leave him alone, out of the cage with a resident dog or cat. If another pet is staring at your bird, find a way to separate the two pets. Imagine the stress your bird might feel if he believes he might become lunch.


Changes in your bird’s interior cage décor as well as outside the cage could give him the creeps. If, for example, you hang a colorful picture near the cage, that could be threatening. The addition of a ceiling fan or almost anything overhead can make a small bird feel like there is a raptor — a bird’s natural predator — hovering over him. If your bird exhibits new behavior when you redecorate, try to figure out what the issue is.

Hands or Handling

Some birds just don’t like hands, especially if those hands are in their personal safe zone —  their cage. Teach your bird to come out of the cage on a perch or ladder, or to come out on his own when offered a special treat outside the cage. Work on handling your bird away from the cage, in a small space. Offer your bird good things by hand, for example, by dropping a treat in a food cup as you’re getting to know your bird. Work up to holding the treat, and then using it to enticing your bird out of the cage. If you have a child in the house, it might be wise to create a rule about staying a certain distance from the birdcage to prevent bird fright or a bite to an inquisitive child’s finger.

Super Vision – UV spectrum

Simply wearing a new shirt around your bird could frighten him. Our companion birds not only see the colors we do, but they also see colors in the UV spectrum. To a bird, some colors fluoresce! If everything else is the same, but you get a frightened reaction when you approach your bird, it may be something new in your wardrobe.


Though not common throughout the country, birds are especially sensitive to earthquakes and might react with fright. Make sure you’re safe, and then calm your birds down by talking to them, and also checking for any injury. An earthquake or tremor might cause your bird to fly or fall off the perch, so try to gently help him back up his perch.

Night Frights

Cockatiels are especially prone to night frights. Keep a night-light shining near your cockatiel’s cage to prevent night frights. If a cockatiel does start flailing around the cage, turn on the light and speak to him soothingly until he calms down and goes back to his roosting perch.

New Toys

If a new toy invokes obvious terror in your small bird, re-introduce the item slowly. First, place it across the room, and play with the toy yourself. Move it closer after a week or two. Place it on the outside of your bird’s cage. Finally, put the new, now familiar toy inside your bird’s cage.

Vet Visits

Going to see an avian veterinarian can be a scary experience. Help your bird out by occasionally taking him on trips — around the house in his carrier  or around the block — in his carrier in your car. If you can, accustom your bird to being handled; such as touching his feet, restraining him, examining a wing. In general, make handling a normal and comfortable experience for your bird.


Speaking of Halloween, this is one day when your companion bird does not need to be at the center of things. Costumes, noises, parties and strangers can all frightening. Let your bird rest comfortably in a quiet, darkened room.

As many ways as there are to scare a small bird, fright should not be commonplace or routine. Be aware of signs that your bird is frightened and do what you can to prevent the occurrence of scary things in his life.

Click here for some Halloween Safety Tips so your feathered companion can have a safe night.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Click here to subscribe to our newsletter