Top Behavior Concerns with Our Companion Parrots

Building or rebuilding the relationship with a parrot is very accomplishable.
Building or rebuilding the relationship with a parrot is very accomplishable.

Yesterday I gave a webinar on Taking The Aggression Out Of Living with Your Parrot. One of the attendees was a volunteer at a shelter on the east coast and she is also a parrot behavior consultant.  We were all discussing the top three behavior concerns we are contacted about. By far, the number one reason I am contacted is for aggressive behaviors such as lunging, biting, and chasing. The number two reason I am contact is for screaming. The third reason I am contacted is probably cage-bound birds. By this I mean, the owners or caretakers cannot get their bird out of the cage because it doesn’t want to come out.

I was discussing with them one behavior issues I am least contacted about is feather destructive behaviors (fdb’s). I’m not necessarily sure why this is. I’ve talked to several people who have birds with fdb’s. The first thing I will ask is if they have ruled out medical conditions. If they have, the chances are highly likely this is a behavior issue. We also talked about something called ‘the history of reinforcement’. Undesired behaviors can be easily reinforced. These undesired behaviors exist because they are being reinforced. If they weren’t being reinforced, they wouldn’t exist. They key is finding out what the reinforcer is and many times it isn’t one event in particular.

One of the first things I will suggest is getting your bird to forage. On my list of behavior approaches in changing a behavior, foraging is a must! You can teach this behavior and it is taught to wild birds by their parents. Foraging is getting them to search for their food. There is an approach to teaching this.

The second on my list is start training the bird. You can teach an old bird new tricks. Absolutely! I do it here all of the time. You are training your bird each time it can see you or hear you whether you realize it or not. The key question is “What are you training it?” Make sure you do you research on your approach to training. I am consistently approached by people who have tried training from things they’ve read or watched on the internet. Please be extremely careful with this. Search for people willing to help you using positive reinforcement. I would also find someone that studies Applied Behavior Analysis. If you are using force or taking choices away from your parrot, this may work, but not without its consequences.

Third on my list is exercise. If the bird can fly, I will begin recall training immediately. Recall training is getting the bird to fly or come to you when you ask it to. Make sure there is something in it for the bird when they give you the behavior, otherwise they may not voluntarily do it again. Remember, we only use food here about half of the time as a reinforcer for requested behavior. If the bird can’t fly, I still begin the training on getting it to run to me when I ask. The bodies’ of most parrots have evolved to fly for several miles a day. Keeping these awesome animal in our care, we need to find a way to expel some of this energy. I will encourage flight or running by their choice and making sure they are completely comfortable with what I am asking them to do.

These are the three steps I begin with every bird. Forage, train, and exercise. It is easy for behavior issues to exist where other behaviors are not present or known. So, teach these alternate behaviors.

Let us hear your feedback. Ask us questions and let us know what you would like to see in future blog posts. Thank you for following along and feel free to share this post with other parrot lover’s you know.

Fireworks and Our Birds

RockyThe 4th of July, a time of celebration but for whom? This can be a very scary time of year for the birds in our care. I see the concern in posts all over social media. It is a common concern with so many animals. I’m writing this blog post to tell you what I do with my animals, but will focus this just to the birds, to help them prepare for the sounds that are out of our control.

Not only do birds have a great sense of sight but they also have what is called Herbst Corpuscles and they are found in their beak, their feet, and their tongue. These help them pick up vibrations through where they are perched or in water. This is why birds are long gone before a natural disaster. They can feel it before they see it. Their opportunity to flee is restricted in our care.

Following are some immediate steps you could take. Cover the cage. You could cover the cage to help with the lights and even the sounds. I know with the wildlife volunteer work that I do, we always cover a bird in a carrier to induce the least amount of stress possible. This won’t take all of the stress out of the bird’s environment but it will help.

Another would be to turn up the tv in the room or turn it on. I’m not advising to crank it up but I would put it at a volume that would help drown out some of the noise of the fireworks. Again, this may not alleviate all of the stress but it could help.

Another thing you could do is stay home with your bird. Stay home and try to distract the bird’s attention while the fireworks are going off. Just as with dogs, don’t make it a big deal and dote on the bird and keep asking if it is all right. Try acting like its not a big deal and praise your bird and continue to distract its attention by training it! Now that’s a great idea! Seriously, continue to redirect its attention by playing a favorite game. Believe it or not, if you do this, you are training your bird. You are training it to be more calm during loud noises and an environment that is partially out of your control. This is exactly what I do with my birds.

When there is a loud noise here, I use it as a training opportunity for the birds. If I look and see them all on alert, I would say something like “What was that?” in a common tone of voice that I usually use and then call one of their names and say “Good job!” and start clapping. This usually works here and I will immediately see them all start interacting and showing behaviors that correlate with being comfortable. I intentionally take moments where loud noises are happening and turn them into training opportunities for the times when the unpredictable is beyond our control.

So what will I be doing this evening? Nothing. I believe staying in the birds’ room after dark with the lights on trying to comfort them would be more stressful for my birds because they aren’t used to this. Also, because I do the above training all the time, my birds seem adapted to the unpredictable. I will write my next blog post on how I do this with my birds. Happy 4th of July!