We have all heard the joke about the Parrot owner who goes to a psychic. The young man was totally amazed at how talented the psychic was, as she was able to read his mind and tell that he had a beloved Parrot …
until someone pointed out that he had bird poop down his back …
But why do we Parrot people tolerate such behaviour? (After all, aren’t the holes chewed in our clothes enough proof of our Parrothood?)
The reality is that any Parrot can be toilet trained. No magic is required – only patience. Years ago when I still boarded Parrots in my home, a teeny little Blue Streak Lory stayed with me that was potty trained – and if any of you have experience with Lories, you know that is quite an achievement for a creature who eats a nectar-based diet and poops liquid every 43 ½ seconds!
The first thing you need to do is identify about how often your Parrot needs to go to the bathroom, which is quite easy. Simply observe the bird and time how often it produces a dropping. Do this multiple times so you get a range of times, then average the numbers. For obvious reasons, some foods go through the psittacine gastrointestinal tract faster than others, so you just need an approximation.
#2: Body Language
While you are timing the frequency of your bird’s toileting, also pay close attention to its body language. If you are paying attention, you will always know when a dropping is on its way, as most birds crouch down in a very particular way. Once you have identified that posture, you will always recognize it.
#3: Location/ Whatever
While you are figuring out your bird’s own personal timing and learning to recognize the body language, also figure out how you wish to handle this training. Some people like their birds to associate certain locations with producing droppings, such as inside the cage or on a favorite playgym. Others prefer to teach their birds to “go on command” but there are some drawbacks to that method that I’ll describe in a bit.
My Blue and Yellow Macaw Sam will only poop when she is on something she considers to be a perch – and that does not include any part of the human body unless she is very upset (such as in the veterinary exam room). Since she is flighted, she will simply fly (or climb) off a person to something she considers a perch, expel her dropping and then return. Very easy. (I can take no credit for this as I did not teach her.)
When she and I were interviewed extensively for a video a couple of years ago, I explained how she was potty training. So during the discussion if her body language so indicated, I would toss her up in the air and she would fly back to her tree. Once she had produced her dropping, she would climb down to the floor and amble back over and we would resume the interview.
#4: Timing & Intervention
Once you are confident about the frequency of your bird’s droppings, set a timer. If your bird poops on average every 10 minutes, set the timer for 7 minutes. After 7 minutes, place the bird where you want it to learn is an acceptable bathroom and wait until a dropping is produced. When that happens, tell the bird it’s wonderful and reset the timer for the next round. If you want to use a verbal cue, use it while holding the bird over a piece of newspaper or trashbasket and again reward when the action is accomplished.
Under NO CIRCUMSTANCE should you punish or reprimand the bird if it has an accident. We want this toilet training to be fun, not scary. Mistakes will happen occasionally, but all is not lost. And as always, with the time-tested premises of positive reinforcement training, you reward the behaviours you want and ignore those you do not want. So accidents are ignored.
As I’m sure you’ve already realized, most Parrot droppings wash out quite readily. However, you might want to hold off on feeding brightly coloured and staining foods like raspberries and blueberries during training!
Pooping on Cue: Possible Problems
There is anecdotal information that teaching a Parrot to “go” on command is not a good idea. Some avian veterinarians have made a connection between toileting on cue and prolapsing cloacas, as the bird strains so hard to produce a dropping when the owner asks that it can actually push out or evert cloacal tissue out of their vent.
As far as I know there is no science to back up this theory, and the cloacal prolapse is also anecdotally linked strongly with Cockatoos that have formed a sexual bond with their humans … which is another subject in itself.
The other possible problem regarding pooping on cue was a story told years ago by a well-known and highly regarded avian veterinarian here in the US. A client had brought in her Scarlet Macaw to board for a couple of weeks and the next day the staff reported there were no droppings in the bird’s cage.
The veterinarian phoned the owner at her vacation location and she instantly apologized, as she said that in the excitement of going on vacation, she hadforgotten to tell them the bird was toilet trained. She told the veterinarian the magic word and he rushed to the bird’s cage and gave the cue.
As he described in lecture, “The Macaw instantly produced one of the largest piles of droppings ever recorded at [his] hospital.” It also apparently gave a tremendous sigh of relief! So with a little patience and consistency, no psychic you encounter will have blatant evidence by which to conclude you own a Parrot!