People often warn of the dangers of petting your Parrot. Usually they are referring to the kind of touching that leads your Parrot to believe you two would make lovely children together. This might include stroking under your Parrot’s wings or near the base of his tail.
This is often accompanied by your Parrot affectionately regurgitating some smelly gooey food to share with you. This then often leads to your Parrot attacking anyone who dare comes near the two of you…. a literal pair of Lovebirds.
Touching Parrots in a way that encourages courtship and sexual behaviour is “just asking for it.” In other words you are setting yourself up for behaviour problems that could include aggressive behaviour, chronic egg laying, territorial issues and more.
Humans are super tactile creatures. We just love to touch things. And touching our pets can be a magical experience. My friends who visit my house say they get to be Snow White when they are here. Birds land on their heads. Small furry mammals hop into their lap and snuggle up against them.
I love playing Snow White too and I could not imagine it being as much fun if I did not get to touch the animals. Therefore petting the Parrots and other animals in my home is a big part of life. However it is done with forethought. Especially when it comes to Parrots.
People tend to pet animals from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails. This does work for many mammals. Birds on the other hand…not so much.
Parrots can get used to being stroked this way. But I would say it is not their preferred method to be touched. Most Parrots prefer to have only the feathers on their head touched. And get this…they want you to stroke towards the beak, not the tail.
A Parrot who is enjoying having his head scratched will fluff all of his feathers up in response to touch. Check out Delbert, my Yellow - naped Amazon Parrot enjoying a head scratch.
A few favourite spots on most Parrots include under the beak, nape of the neck, over the ears and just above the nares. Parrots can’t reach these feathers to preen. Therefore they rely on other Parrots or their human companions to take on this task. I believe this is why they are more receptive to touch on their head’s as opposed to other parts of their body.
There are of course Parrots who do like having their bodies touched. Blu Lu the Blue - throated Macaw is one such Parrot. Even on her body she prefers the feathers are scratched opposite to the way they grow.
As mentioned earlier I do have to be careful that touching her body does not lead to sexual or courtship behaviour. So this is offered in moderation. I want her to be friendly with many people and encouraging a mate-like relationship with me will make that goal difficult to maintain.
Take a look at how your Parrot responds to touch. Is he tolerating it? Or do you have a magic touch and he is getting a tad over stimulated? Hopefully you have found the happy medium, just enough to make it fun for you both.
This article was originally published on Good Bird’s blog in May 2011.
Learn more about training and handling your Parrot here.
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training (www.BarbarasFFAT.com) provide animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara works with the companion animal community and also consults on animal training in zoos.
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