Parrot looking scared

Night Fright In Parrots: Causes, Signs And How To Deal With It

It can be alarming to see your parrot thrashing and panicking in its cage in the middle of the night. If you observe such behaviors in your bird, it is probably having an episode of night fright.

The reason why parrots have nightmares is not known but it is believed that it occurs when an outside stressor startles the bird. Loud noises, sudden movements, lights, and shadows are some of the causes of night frights in parrots. 

It can be dangerous if your parrot has nightmares frequently because of the way they react to it. During a nightmare, a parrot might flail around, and flap its wings aggressively in an attempt to fly away.

This can lead to serious injuries from bumping into the cage again and again. That is why it is so important to create a comfortable space for your parrot where they can sleep peacefully. 

What Is Night Fright In Parrots

Night frights in parrots are episodes of sudden fear that occur during their sleep.

Parrots have two types of sleep: slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During SWS, parrots have only one side of their brain active, helping them stay vigilant while at rest. 

In REM sleep, however, both sides of the brain are at rest. This is the stage of sleep where parrots dream.

During deep sleep, the eyes and other senses do not send any information to the bird’s brain, so they are completely unaware of what is happening around them. 

Night frights can be triggered when parrots are in REM stage of sleep. The exact cause of night frights is not fully understood, but research suggests that it can result from the parrot’s natural instinct to react to perceived threats when they are in a vulnerable state during sleep.

How Often Do Parrots Have Nightmares?

Night frights are generally more common in smaller species of parrots. Cockatiels are probably the most susceptible to having night frights. Many cockatiel owners have reported incidents of their birds suddenly waking up at night and thrashing all around the cage. Cockatiels can have very frequent episodes if the underlying issue is not addressed.  

However, night frights aren’t rare in larger parrots either. My African Grey used to have night frights at times when it was young. And I’ve heard stories from many of my friends about their parrots getting out of control at night.

The likelihood of night frights can vary between species of parrots and individual birds. As responsible owners, we should take steps to identify the causes of the issues and make sure the sleeping area is safe and peaceful for our parrots.

What Causes Night Frights In Parrots?

There isn’t one cause for nightmares in parrots. Daily stressors such as noises, and flashing lights, are some of the common reasons why a parrot may have nightmares.  


Loud or sudden noises can potentially trigger nightmares or night frights in parrots. Parrots have sensitive hearing, and they can be easily startled or frightened by sudden sounds especially when they’re in NREM sleep. 

Parrots do not typically sleep through the night. They wake up at certain points and that is where they can be vulnerable to being frightened by sudden movements and sounds.

Sounds like a loud thunderclap or a dog barking continuously can make a parrot stressed. The sudden jolt or fear experienced during sleep can manifest as night frights, where parrots exhibit signs of panic or distress.

Shadows And Objects

Parrots do not see that well at night, so they can easily mistake normal objects in their surroundings for threats and get scared. In partial or dim lighting, they can also get frightened by their own shadow.

Bright Lights

A parrot’s vision can be sensitive in the dark, so any unexpected bursts of light such as flashing lights can startle them during their slumber. If you have your parrot’s cage set up near the window there can be a number of things that can cause flashes of light such as police lights, flickering bulbs, etc.

Pests And Insects

The buzzing noise insects and small pests make can bother parrots all night and make it hard for them to fall asleep. But they can also be a reason for night frights.

Parrots usually spill their food around the cage which makes for a great buffet for the rats. At night when the parrot is sleeping, mice may come near its cage to collect bits of food strewn in the area which can frighten them.

Signs Of Night Fright In Parrots

Night frights in parrots can be triggered for many different reasons. Since it is not possible to know what parrots dream about, we can only speculate why they experience night terrors. Here are some common signs of night terrors in parrots: 

Fright Molt

According to the Scandinavian Journal of Ornithology, fright molt is a defense mechanism birds use to escape predators in the wild. It usually occurs in response to being caught by a predator.

It involves the bird shedding its feathers as a way to escape. In situations where the bird is being chased by an aerial predator, it creates a cloud of feathers behind it to distract or confuse its hunter. 

Something similar may happen when a parrot is having a nightmare. It may lose its feathers to escape the predator in its dream and try to fly away.

However, It ends up hitting itself against the cage bars uncontrollably. When your parrot thrashes in its cage during a nightmare, you may find feathers lying in the cage. These are not broken feathers as the parrot loses them on its own.  

Thrashing On Cage Floor

In addition to fright molting, parrots may also lose feathers by wildly flapping their wings on the cage floor. This can lead to serious injuries when the parrot actually breaks one of its blood feathers. 

Flapping Wings Frantically

As a natural response, parrots flap their wings to fly out. Sometimes they may flap their wings simply out of fear. It is not because they want to get out.

Falling Off The Perch 

Parrots often fall off their perch when they’re having a nightmare. This is probably because of a disruption in their brain activity. Parrots have the ability to partially control their muscle while at rest even during REM sleep. But during the nightmare, this balance can be suddenly lost and they may fall off. 

How To Deal With Night Frights In Parrots?

It is common to get scared yourself when you see it happening for the first time. But don’t worry, there are certain steps you can take to help your parrot calm down.

Turn On The Lights 

After waking up from a nightmare, parrots can get even more scared due to the darkness surrounding them. Parrots do not have very good night vision which can make them perceive objects around them as threats. So the first thing you should do to calm your parrots is to turn on the lights and let them see that the object they’re worrying about is just one of their toys. 

Comfort Your Parrot 

When a parrot is having a nightmare, it can be difficult to control them. They may flap their wings in an agitated manner and try to escape the cage. Firstly, you should talk to them in a calm voice and reassure them that everything’s okay. 

There is nothing to worry about. Try to give them some water. After the parrot has calmed down, take it out of its cage and let it spend some time in the open.   

Managing Injuries 

It can be deeply upsetting to see your parrot go through such a horrible experience, especially when you cannot do much about it when it is happening. When a parrot is frantically hitting itself against the cage, it can break its blood feathers and sustain injuries. 

If your parrot breaks a blood feather, it must to removed so that new feathers can form. You can either do it yourself at 4 a.m. in the morning or take it to a vet. 

I recommend that you let a professional take out the feather because you do not want to mistakenly damage the follicle. 

Also, I always recommend having size-appropriate cages for birds. If the parrot’s cage is too small, the chances of it getting injured can be much higher. 

Address The Underlying Cause

The most important step you can take to prevent those nightmares is to figure out what is causing them in the first place. Nightmares typically happen when something is bothering or stressing your parrot during sleep.

Since we know little about what they are dreaming about, we can’t make judgments based on that. However, it is possible to control the external factors to a great extent. It could be loud noises, changes in their environment, past bad experiences (if the parrot has been rehomed), or feeling stressed.

How To Prevent Night Frights In Parrots? 

It is far better to prevent night frights than to deal with it. If a parrot has nightmares too often, it can hurt both mental and physical health. 

Provide White Noise 

White noise can be helpful for sleep because it provides a consistent and soothing sound that masks other noises in the surroundings. External noises in the household such as voices, or even a ticking clock can be disruptive for parrots. 

White noise is a steady sound that covers a wide range of frequencies and helps to drown out these distractions. This can help your parrot reach deep sleep quicker by focusing on the calming sound. 

Some examples of white noise include: 

  • Fan whirring
  • Air purifiers
  • Nature sounds 
  • Soft music

There are many apps available that you can use to play white noise. You can keep your phone near your parrot’s cage or in the same room.  

Put The Cage In A Corner

The best practice in deciding on a location for your parrot’s cage is choosing a place that is snug and secure. That is selecting a spot where the cage fits well and feels protected like a corner of the room. It should not be in direct exposure to sunlight or near a window.

I have mine set up in one corner of the room right in front of the door. It does not let the parrots see outside during the night and I can also watch over it from my room. 

Ensure Darkness In Their Room  

Parrots require darkness to go into a deep sleep. Bright light can bother parrots and keep them alert. If there’s too much light, especially during their normal sleep hours, it can mess up their sleep routine. Some parrots do well in dim light. Placing a night light near their cage can provide a soft glow without disturbing their sleep.

Don’t Cover The Cage Completely

Some parrots prefer complete darkness while others get uncomfortable when you block their vision. I’m not against covering the cage especially when it can help the bird sleep peacefully. 

I find that when I cover the cover the bird is more calm because it cannot get spooked by seeing weird things in bad lighting. But of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. 

Whether or not to use a cover depends on your bird’s preferences, so notice how they react and make sure they’re comfortable during sleep. 

Consider Baby Cam

If you keep your parrot’s cage in a separate room at night, installing a baby cam to watch over them might be a good idea. You do not want to leave your parrot on its own when they’re having an episode. And in case your parrot is prone to having nightmares frequently, it is better to keep its cage with you in the same room. 

Sumit Negi
Sumit Negi

Sumit is a passionate writer and a full-time animal lover. He has a degree in Zoology and is currently working at a national wildlife sanctuary pursuing what he loves most. He is also a parent to a 6-year-old Indian Ring Neck - Dojo.

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