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A Good Night's Sleep by Scott Stork

It is my belief that nearly all captive parrots may be suffering from sleep deprivation. I have often considered writing an article about this belief but was unable to find enough support to back up my opinion. I had the opportunity to talk with Sally Blanchard about this topic and with her opinions along with some other research I decided it was time to write that article.

All species of parrots commonly kept as pets are from the tropic zones of the globe, meaning they come from areas that are positioned closer to the equator than the north or South Pole. The tropic zones have less variation in the length of day and night then we have here in our more northern latitude. At the equator the sun is up for 12 hours and is down for twelve ours every day of the year. The closer you are to the equator the less seasonal fluctuation there is. The further away you are from the equator the more fluctuation. That is why in the summer time in Alaska the sun never seems to set while in the winter it barely rises. Enough geography, What this means is though we are used to 8 hour nights and sixteen hour days and parrots are used to 12 hour days and 12 hour nights. You might argue that we have only gotten our-selves used to 8-hour nights and that is no more natural to us than it is to parrots. However, this is not entirely true.

The areas of the world where humans thrived are in the temperate zones where the day/night periods range from 8 to 16 hours through out the year. We simply chose the period in that range that we like the best and chose to make that our standard day. So we have adapted ourselves to always living with an 8-hour night and 16-hour days. Parrots on the other hand come from areas where the lengths of day and night are much more constant and are usually very close to twelve hours each. Most wild parrots never experience a day or night longer than 14 hours or shorter than 10 hours. They have not yet adapted to our shorter night and longer day. What does all this mean? The average captive parrot rarely experiences a night longer than 8 hours. Many do not even get 6 hours of nighttime as we keep them up late and the sun wakes them up early. The average wild parrot never has less than 10 hours of nighttime. This difference may be causing harm to our pet parrots.

We don't know what if any affect this sleep deprivation may be having on captive parrots. It is possible that it causes many of the same things that lack of sleep does in people. Could it be that parrots are more emotionally unstable or irritable because they are tired? We really don't know for sure. Some parrot people I have talked to about this feel that their parrots nap during the day so the lack of sleep at night is unimportant. In people this isn't the case, our bodies need a certain sleep cycle and though naps may help a little, if we don't get to go through all of the periods of a sleep cycle in a row then we are not truly rested. Again, we don't yet know what sleep cycle requirements parrots have.

As any of you who know me can guess, I could go on about this subject forever. In the interest of brevity, however, I will keep this short. The truth is we don't know how much sleep a parrot needs but we do know that in the wild they would have the opportunity to get at least ten hours every night. Therefore it seems that we should try and offer our pets at least that minimum of ten hours every night. The best way to accomplish this is by using cage covers, sleeping cages, thick blinds and or light timers. I for one have to quit staying up late with the lights on where it can keep my two pet parrots awake.

When I asked Sally Blanchard about her feelings on this she agreed strongly but added a very good point. She feels that it is very important that your bird gets enough sleep. However, she doesn't want people not spending enough time with their bird because they are worried about them getting enough sleep. In this, as in all things, common sense and moderation are the way to go. If you can allow your bird to have 10 to 12 hours of dark-ness and still get in all of the necessary interaction time, great! If not, try and find an in-between that works for you and your bird. At the very minimum all parrots should have 8 hours of darkness every night, remember if they are not shielded completely from the sunlight they will wake up at dawn not when your alarm goes off.

This article was published on Tuesday 22 June, 2004.
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