Several years ago, I was talking with another Parrot Behaviour Consultant and she commented that people complained to her about how Parrot Behaviour Consultants [PBCs] never agreed on anything.
My response was to suggest to those people to seek out books about teaching a child to read. As an ex-elementary school teacher, I knew there were multiple opinions about how to teach reading, and many totally disagreed with others.
My point was that we PBCs were all different people who had worked with different individual Parrots as well as different species of Parrots. After all, there was rarely only one way to accomplish anything.
This led me to ponder what sorts of things my colleagues and I do agree on, and with the help of my colleagues in the Parrot division of the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (www.iaabc.org) , we came up with this list. My thanks to the group with special thanks to Karen Webster, Jamie Whitaker, Hilla Niemann, Kashmir Csaky and Wade Plouvier for their contributions.
The list is long (and not in any particular order) so I have split it in to two parts. I have already covered Management Issues in PART 1. To read part 1 click here.
In PART 2 we we take a look at Behaviour Issues. My colleagues agreed on a number of behaviour issues, once again listed in no particular order:
The importance of training
Just like children, Parrots need rules to structure their lives and keep them safe. Some trainers will tell you that target training is the first thing any Parrot needs to be taught, as many behaviours can be built upon it – such as training a bird to step on your hand.
However you do it, teaching a Parrot to step on and off the hand politely is a fundamental of training. Parrots also need to learn manners and how to respond courteously to respectful strangers.
Get advice on training your Parrot here.
Preference of rewards over punishment
While Parrots need to be trained, that does not mean that they need to be forced to behave. With careful thought, it is not difficult to figure ways to encourage our Parrots to want to do what we want them to do.
For example, instead of getting into a tussle by trying to force a bird to go in its cage and accepting the resulting bite, why not teach the bird that lovely things happen – like a very special food treat – when it goes in its cage politely? That’s a win-win situation.
The importance of choice
Colleague Dianalee Dieter told a great story about dealing with her daughter when she was quite young. Dieter discovered early that if she told the child to “Put on your shoes” that she would have a fight on her hands.
However, if she asked her, “Do you want to put on your right shoe or your left shoe first?” that no battle ensued. (Notice that the option of no shoes was not offered.) However, there are some things that should not be left to choice. If my house is on fire, my Macaw has to step up to be put into a carrier and evacuated, whether she is in the mood or not. Period.
The potential dangers of shouldering
I have heard some “experts” denigrating the warnings from Parrot behaviour consultants about shouldering, and this dismays and depresses me. Allowing Parrots to shoulder can lead to serious problems with a lot of birds, and as always, the animal suffers the most as a result.
I have talked with dozens of people over the years who ended up having plastic surgery to repair the damage a Parrot did to their face, and in every one of those situations, either of two things happened: the Parrot lost its home, or the Parrot stayed in its home but was never handled again because the owner was afraid of it. To me, the latter was the worse fate for a social creature like a Parrot.
The biggest problem with shouldering is that you cannot see the body language that would warn you something is going wrong, and every behaviour consultant and trainer I know talks constantly about the importance of carefully observing a Parrot’s body language. After all, this is how a Parrot will communicate the warning signs of a pending problem. But how can you see that body language of an animal that is next to your ear?
If, for example, your Parrot startles and starts to fall, it will sensibly grab a hold of any part of your anatomy that it can – so if your face, ear, or eye gets damaged, PLEASE remember that you are the one who chose to put the Parrot there, so you should take full responsibility for your actions. PLEASE do not make your Parrot pay the price for your error.
Personally, I would not shoulder anyone else’s Parrot. (After all, how else can I protect my gorgeous face?). When I am interacting with my Macaw Sam and briefly need to use both hands, I might use colleague Sally Blanchard’s suggestion to step Sam onto my shoulder with a ‘down’. However, Sam is never allowed to scramble to my shoulder on her own. It is MY shoulder, after all. Also, she would never be allowed to shoulder again without more training if she was inclined not to step back onto my hand when requested.
Adaptability to change
Despite all the hype about Parrots being stressed by change, the worst thing a Parrot owner can do is protect their birds from life’s fluctuations. Change is a normal part of life, especially for long-lived animals like psittacines. After all, how can you keep everything the same for 50 years? Parrots therefore need to be taught to be flexible and adaptable.
Recognizing a birds’ natural behaviour
I am constantly amazed at how astounded people are that, for instance, their Amazon does not behave like their Cockatoo. After all, they are both officially Parrots, right? I respond by pointing out that a wolf doesn’t always behave like a fox or a coyote or a dog, and these animals are all in the same family of Canidae.
So there is no reason why members of the order Psittaciformes should be rubber stamps of each other. For that matter, my brother and sister are not only the same species as I, even sharing the same parents and early environment. However, were it not for our physical resemblance, we would agree I was adopted, as I am very different from my siblings!
But differences between types of Parrots can be wildly divergent. In our living rooms, one classic difference between Cockatoos and Amazons is that many Amazons are not comfortable on the floor and are therefore quite docile down there; in contrast, many Cockatoo species are ground feeders in the wild, and quite comfortable on the floor, and capable of extreme aggressive there (hence the common incidence of Cockatoos chasing people).
The best talking Greys in the world are usually silent around strangers, whereas someone new often pushes the ‘On’ button for Amazons to babble away. So we all need to learn as much as possible about the species and environment of the Parrots we own (however little there may be) so we can better understand their behaviours.
Full body petting or any other encouragement of reproductive behaviours
The last thing our confused Parrots need is for us to act like we are their mates, and we should not encourage any such behaviour from them as well.
When a Parrot is in reproductive mode, certain things need to be avoided, such as finger-feeding warm wet foods. For most physically affectionate Parrots, a good rule of thumb with petting is to stick to the head. When we stroke our psittacines all over their bodies, we’re actually making promises we cannot keep, and that is totally unfair to our feathered friends.
As one avian veterinarian put it, we make a nice meal, put on romantic music and light the candles … and then walk away! And we wonder why our Parrots might be biting, screaming and feather destructive? Their frustration levels must be astronomical. For more information about our inadvertent triggering of sexual behaviours, see my article.
I was dismayed when I heard a well-known trainer admitting that, even though she knew she shouldn’t, she could not help but laugh when a Cockatoo chased the husband of a client. She justified her response by saying, “But it was funny!”
Actually, this kind of aggression isn’t funny at all to any of us who have worked with Parrot behaviour problems for many years. Too many people are seriously injured by Parrots like large Cockatoos, often requiring emergency care. As a result, aggressive Parrots tend to be physically abused and then abandoned, and that is not funny, either.
It appals me how many Parrots have learned to bite and then replicate the sound of human laughter – meaning some human thought it was funny that the bird injured someone, and taught the bird to pair aggression with mirth. How sick is that?
The last thing we Parrot behaviour consultants totally agree on is the need for continuing education. It saddens me how many people tell me they used to subscribe to magazines like Bird Talk but they don’t, anymore. Apparently they have decided they have learned all they need to know about their feathered companions.
This is rather amazing, considering how much new information continues to surface about these amazing and complicated creatures, and there is still so much left to learn! I have lived with Parrots for about 40 years and I have learned a great deal about them over time. However, that does not mean I have sufficient knowledge! Indeed, I read every issue of Bird Talk from cover to cover, and I do the same with other Parrot (and wild bird) magazines.
After all, if new knowledge is discovered that can impact your Parrot, how will you know that you don’t know? And whose job is it to tell you?
The editors of Bird Talk were also interested in what we Parrot behaviour consultants did not agree on, and this led to another interesting discussion within the ranks of the IAABC’s Parrot division. We concluded that the most schisms within our ranks were cultural ones.
Our European members pointed out that wing clipping is seriously frowned on over there, with some considering it blatantly abusive. In North America, we tend to be a tad more flexible on this subject. In many countries, it is also not acceptable to have a social creature like a Parrot by itself; instead, they feel companion birds should caged together in pairs.
Lastly, we Parrot behaviour consultants were unanimous that we have serious conflicts with so-called “experts” who continue to encourage the use of obsolete training techniques (or “quick fixes”) such as squirting a screaming bird with water, or dropping a biting bird on the floor. Unfortunately, there is a lot of archaic information still in print and being expounded by pet store employees and other such pseudo ‘experts.’
When I hear antiquated advice such as reprimanding a Parrot for screaming by sticking it in a bathtub, I know that the speaker has learned nothing about Parrot behaviour in at least 20 years. Indeed, the old techniques many of us used decades ago have been replaced with more humane and effective alternatives. As I said earlier, we must keep expanding our knowledge. None of us will ever know enough and our birds deserve the best we can give them.
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