4 Big Ways I Desensitized My Cockatoo

I really don’t like the word “desensitizing”, it sounds so…insensitive. It is an appropriate term, however, and sometimes necessary. If you’ve read some of my recent posts, you know that Theo, my goffins cockatoo,  is often overwhelmed by new things, sometimes by old things, and that I have been concerned about how she would handle the changes in Florida.  In no particular order, these are some of the bigger concerns I had and how she actually responded to them:

1) the chaos of packing up the house – didn’t care…….

2) the actual trip to FL – no biggie……

3) being in the company strange and bigger birds – bring it on……..

4) being in a different house/cage – yawn

Theo fell in love with Jamie and Dave right away (another first).  On the first day following our arrival back in Florida, they took their two galahs, Bondi and Bandit, and their African grey Cressi into the house for a fly around.  We brought Theo in as well.  I figured she would be interested, but kept a watchful eye for any signs of stress.  Within minutes, Theo joined the party and was actually enjoying being tossed into the air with the others.  Who IS this bird??

Dave has suggested to me that I baby Theo.  I can’t disagree.  While I would not handle things differently than I did when she first came to live with me, the very slow, tedious adjustment to just about everything, Theo is obviously ready for some challenge now.  I wonder how long I might have waited to open this door for her if I were still in Austin. And then I think about the recent incident with the purple flip flops and the terror I saw in her eyes and I have to wonder if someone switched Theo out with another goffins during the trip to Orlando.  I have no idea what’s going on, but I LIKE it!

All of the Womach’s parrots are unusually open to new things and experiences.  In fact, it blew me away.  Events that send most parrots screaming and scurrying for cover signal playtime here.  I know a lot of that comes from specific training in that area.  Dave and Jamie have put a lot of energy into seeing that their parrots are desensitized, able and willing to fly to different props under varying circumstances.  Part of their birds eager acceptance is likely because Dave and Jamie have raised them since babies, which is not the case with me.

We, meaning myself on the one hand and Jamie and Dave on the other, do many things very differently.  For one thing, I haven’t trained my birds in the traditional sense. I focus more on behavioral training.  Since most of my birds are re-homed, I have a different level of expectation from my flock because they have had problems to address.

This is especially true of Linus, my umbrella cockatoo. While I don’t have much background on him, I suspect he has been bounced from home to home.  Notable is the fact that he was wild caught, which means that his first contact with humans was as bad as it gets.  That he was willing to give our species a second chance says a lot about him, but he is downright stubborn when, in his opinion, pushed too far.

Linus has been trained but doesn’t necessarily benefit from it in the same way other birds do.  He does not like to be told what to do and I believe he regards training as a showdown – the force of his will vs. yours.  It’s a shame because I really think he would be happier if he could feel content with relinquishing some control and allow himself to walk away with a feeling of accomplishment and a full tummy.  Instead he resists.  He is not food oriented, in fact I worry often about his diet, and he is uncooperative.  So, with Linus, I have only the requirements that he be happy, healthy and handle-able.

Jamie and I have bounced thoughts back and forth regarding this subject.  We think that both Libby, my quaker, who has shown some signs of aggression here but not in Austin, and Theo, who has shown fearfulness in Austin but not here, are the two best candidates for training and the the food management necessary.  They both have shown a willingness to work for food.

Both Jamie and Dave can easily retrieve Theo from her cage.  She really likes them both and seems to flow with the way they do things here.  It’s so wonderful to see her so relaxed in a situation that I expected to be traumatic for her. 

Jamie took her into the shower with her this morning, let her check out the makeup brushes and experience the hair dryer and everything seemed to meet Theo’s approval.  I am very proud of my little girl and expect to find her missing following Jamie and Dave’s departure from Orlando.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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