There are three phrases that I teach all of my parrots when they first come to live with me. None of them are meant to be repeated by them (although sometimes they are), I only wish for the words to be understood. They are in place mainly for the sake of convenience when I require patience, cooperation or understanding from my birds in certain circumstances.
“WAIT A MINUTE”
I don’t know what causes a parrot to be patient one day and intolerant the next. Sometimes when I am preparing dinner for the birds, one of them will begin hollering and carrying on as though he hasn’t eaten in a week. Of course, I happen to know that this isn’t true because I personally prepared his breakfast. This is when I pull out “wait a minute”. My birds all understand it means that I am acknowledging their needs and that something is forthcoming. Usually it inspires patience. Usually.
I mentioned my use of this term in a previous post. I use it a lot because I can be a klutz. I remember one time when I was rotating toys in Linus, my umbrella cockatoo’s cage, I managed to hit him with one and knock him completely off his perch. He looked at me with hostility from the cage bottom and started to make his way towards me with thoughts of retribution. I reached down, all apologies, and he stepped right up without incident. Forgiveness was instantaneous. I am very grateful for his appreciation of this particular phrase. Somehow my birds just understand that it defines the difference between an accident and an intentional act.
My birds trust me and often look to me for reassurance whenever something is frightening or amiss in their world. Whether a car backfires or a flash of lightning tears through the sky, my birds can remain calm as long as I use this familiar phrase. These are the words that get us through 4th of July every year. I try not to use these words unless things actually are okay. For instance, I never say “it’s okay” when one of my birds reacts to the sight of a hawk. Their instinct tells them clearly that things are NOT okay when a predator is in the vicinity, and I’d rather not get caught in a lie.
All three of these phrases get a lot of use around my house and have served me well in times of need. I have carefully selected the phrases I use and never vary them. I purposely avoid using phrases like “hold on” (in place of “wait a minute”) because that is what I say when I am moving cages around for cleaning and it has a totally different meaning to them.
You will notice that this list does not include the use of the word “no”. My experience has taught me that the word “no” is counterproductive with parrots, and especially cockatoos. Saying “no” to a determined parrot has the same effect as a yellow traffic light does on the motorist who is late for work. It simply means: hurry up because you are about to be stopped, and I’m pretty sure my cockatoos delight in escaping me when I tell them “no”.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.