Author: Pauline James
"Cockatiel Night Frights!" BirdsUSA Annual 2009
Although this article is written about Cockatiels, the same information applies to budgies as well.
What is a night fright?
A night fright is when a bird is spooked and startled while asleep. They immediately start to panic and will flap their wings and they appear to be thrashing themselves around their cage.
What are the causes of night frights?
Any sort of disturbance, whether it is a shadow, a noise, a bright light or a sudden waft of cool air, can send a single bird or an entire aviary of birds off into a mad frenzy.
A wild ... flock spends a good portion of the day on the ground foraging for food. Because of this potentially hazardous practice, nature has had to provide them with the perfect survival technique to enable them to get airbourne fast... This makes them well equipped to react to and flee the clutches of predators stalking them on the ground.
Top 8 Causes
1. Nocturnal animals, rodents and insects flitting about in the darkness
2. Cats and dogs moving around or suddenly meowing or barking close by
3. Shadows moving over the cage or aviary
4. A draft or a sudden stream of cool air
5. Thunder and lightning
7. Flashing lights, such as those from car headlights
8. A member of the household coming in late after everyone else is in bed
Why do they thrash themselves around the cage?
It is not surprising, therefore, that darkness and silence, followed by a sudden disturbance, can seriously spook a companion, too. This is compounded by the fact that a pet ... housed in a cage might feel especially panicky and tormented, because it cannot "escape" this percieved threatening situation, thus sending it into a frenzy.
Companions ... that becme spooked are simply responding to their deep-rooted natural instinct to fly upward in an effort to get airbourne. But, as aconsequence, they often crash into the cage bars at the top, and then flap around wildly, knowing into the perches and sides of the cage in total panic.
Why do the other surrounding birds get night frights too?
Even in the wild, a certain level of noise is maintained during the night by the other inhabitants of forests, which offers a degree of comfort to a dozing ... flock. The muted lighting provided by the moon and stars add to this reassurance. Once such occasion when a "blanket of silence" descends over the area, it often indicates acute danger. A flock ... will instantly become fearful and anxious, as their responses become intensely heightened.
If others ... are housed nearby, either indoors or outside, they can suffer from the domino effect; all quickly become panic-stricken, thrashing around in their cages or aviaries, not even knowing the source of the scare.
What do I do after my bird has a night fright?
The first thing you will need to do is turn on the lights, calm down your bird, and check for any injuries.
The quickest way to calm a severely stressed, but uninjured, bird in the middle of the night, is to turn on the light. Approach the cage calmly, talking to the bird in soothing tones. Remain by its side and talk or sing softly until the bird is gently nudged back to reality and visibly begins to relax.
The sight of a companion bird in shock can be quite alarming to its owner. its chest heaves up and down as its heart beats out of control. Its feathers are noticeably fluffed-up, and the bird's eyes are wide. A bird in this state should not be handled or let out of its cage. Instead it should be quietly left in the cage to fully recuperate from the trauma.
If the bird is still obviously suffering from stress in the morning, place its cage in a quiet and warm spot immediately. Offter it a millet spray, moist egg food and plenty of water to encourage it to drink and feed itself.
What happens if my bird becomes injured during the night fright?
If your bird is found injured after a particularly horrific episode of night fright, do a "head to toe" check. Head injuries are a common occurence. If the bird is found bleeding from a wound to the cere (where its nostrils are) or from the base of a broken-off or lost blood feather, the flow of blood needs to be halted immediately. A quick way to stem the flow of blood is by dabbing it with a good covering of corn flour or, if not available, flour. If this action does not halt the bleeding, it is time to seek the assistance of an avian vet.
Birds might accidentally break their wings during a night fright. This can be checked by spreading each wing carefully, or by watching the bird closely to see if it is spreading and stretching each wing as it would normally do. If the wings can be fully extended, with no obvious discomfort to the bird, then the wing is not broken.
How can I prevent night frights?
The best preventative action that can be taken to avoid night fright is to provide a low-level lighting at night.
8 Prevention Tips
1. Do not "plunge" birds into complete darkness at night; provide dimmed lighting
2. Give some food or a regular treat about 30 minutes before the lights are dimmed. It give them something to look forward to at the end of the evening, rather than dread the approach of the night
3. Do not cover the cage completely with a "black-out" cloth. A covering on three sides and partially over the top can provide security but still enables them to view their surroundings
4. A baby monitor placed near to the cage and linked to the bedroom can give peace of mind by alerting you to a problem quickly so that you can attend to your bird immediately and defuse the situation
5. Do not move the bird's cage to an unfamiliar location at night
6. If the bird is being introduced to a new cage or toy, do it at the beginning of the day, so it has maximum daylight hours to become accustomed to it.
7. Ensure the curtains in the room are properly closed so light from passing cars don't spook your bird.
8. Ensure that your bird is getting adequate sleep and is housed in a peaceful environment
These measures will not guarantee to stop all "traumas of the night" from ever happening again, but they can help pacify a bird when a potentially harmful situation occurs. The problem lies in the bird not understanding the source of a sudden movement, noise or light.
Night fright happens to most birds at some time or other. The best we can do is to put in place as many preventative measures as possible. The more prepared the owner is for such an event, the greater chance that the birds suffering will be minimized, and it's recovery will be rapid.