Everyone, at one point, will experience a behavior problem with their bird. Everyone. Even us. Problems come in all shapes and sizes – from annoyances like begging for food while you are having dinner, to violent attacks on family members. Every owner, at some point, has to admit there is something about their bird they would like to change.
In past posts, I have said that it takes a village to raise a parrot. There have been times when we here at Birdtricks have asked each other for help in assessing a behavior. It is beneficial to have another pair of eyes to assist you.
We love our birds, and since you are here, I know that you do too. We all do everything in our power to provide for their basic needs, and we go to great lengths to give them a happy and fulfilling life. It is not enough that our birds merely survive in our care – they must thrive.
A funny thing happens when our emotions get involved in problem solving: we fail to spot the obvious. We do it with our children, and we do it with our birds. It’s part of what makes us human.
Blowing it with my umbrella cockatoo
A couple of years after I got Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, I was approached by someone at my vet’s office about a goffins cockatoo with feather destructive behaviors that needed a new home. I was reluctant because of a shortage of space in my home, but Theo was so precious that I agreed – there was still plenty of room in my heart for a needy bird.
I had hopes that I would be able to socialize the two cockatoos together well enough that they could share a common play space. Linus is a large umbrella and theo is small for a goffins and it would be a risky endeavor. Should there be an altercation, Theo would certainly lose.
After very careful introductions and with constant and vigilant supervision, I eventually let the two loose in the living room. Something very unexpected happened. They became inseparable, sharing meals and preening each other. They loved each’s company – or so I thought. After a couple months, Linus became increasingly aggressive towards me.
It was springtime, and I was constantly seeing the two trying to mate (something I wouldn’t allow because of my belief that we should never mix the bloodlines of endangered species). To my surprise, it was Theo who was instigating all of it and Linus would comply.
Linus’s aggression escalated and I was badly bitten one day. I consulted a friend with very extensive cockatoo experience. I explained what I had already tried – changes to the environment, each bird was getting plenty of alone time with me. I giggled while I told her about Theo’s shameless sexual behavior with Linus. And on the other end of the phone, there was dead silence followed by: “There’s your problem, you need to separate those birds immediately!”
“What?? You don’t understand …these birds are having a great time together. Linus and Theo adore each other!” I went on to make every excuse for why her recommendation couldn’t offer the solution. She made me promise that I would at least TRY her suggestion.
I watched the birds together closely for the next few hours that day – and, sure enough, there it was, plain as day. When Theo approached Linus, he would subtly move in the opposite direction. There was a look in his eyes that I hadn’t noticed before. He was merely tolerating Theo, and her advances, and was taking his anger out on me – the one who brought this persistent little woman into his life.
Theo went to visit a friend for a couple of weeks while I renewed my vows with Linus. Upon her return, she was kept in a separate room, and Linus’ behavior returned to normal.
If I hadn’t listened to my impartial friend, Linus’ patience would have worn thin and Theo would certainly have paid a high price for my inability to see what was right in front of me. I was shocked to find that I was capable of missing the clear signs – they were practically slapping me in the face.
This can and does happen to bird owners all the time, regardless of their level of experience. When our bird’s behavior changes for the worse, we can’t see the forest for the trees. We get emotional and we make excuses for their behavior, and our own.
In Birdtricks.com’s new DVD series, One Day Miracles, Jamie and Dave offer unique perspective to problems faced by 12 bird owners like yourself who have been unsuccessful in solving their bird’s unwanted behaviors on their own.
Each bird in the series displays a common issue, such as biting, and the Womachs set about teaching the owners (some were children!) how simple and basic training methods can combat behavior issues.
I know what you are thinking…
… what does TRAINING have to do with my bird’s problems?? Let me explain the association between the two…
Because birds are birds, and humans are humans, we start off our relationships on rocky ground. Birds communicate through the use of body language what we typically communicate through speech. As humans, we are not adept at “reading” what they are trying to say.
My failure to read my bird’s body language resulted in him biting me. He was trying to communicate to me that he did NOT want to Theo nearby, and he become increasingly frustrated with my lack of response. He resorted to forceful communication, the bite, because he was angry that I was disregarding his wants. His bites said: “LISTEN to me – I am trying to tell you that I don’t like this!!”
Training bridges the gap in the communication breakdown. It is a simple language all in its own: when you present the target stick, use a visual clue (such as a hand gesture) or give a verbal “command”, your bird knows exactly what is intended to follow. When he responds appropriately, he earns a reward.
It allows your bird to see you in a different light – you are no longer the human that repeatedly fails to react to what he is trying to say. There’s no guess work involved. You speak with your bird in a common language.
With training, you teach your bird how beneficial it is to work cooperatively and he will begin to see you as a comrade, a teammate, instead the human who disrespectfully ignores his feelings.
As you continue working with your bird in training, you will learn how to read your bird’s intricate body language with expertise, and you will continue to gain understanding of the things that are important to him – things that are otherwise easy to overlook.
As I said before – every bird develops an unwanted behavior at one time or another. In One Day Miracles, Jamie and Dave teach owners how to use training to solve their bird’s current problems and in doing so, owners are equipped with the tools they need to manage the future problems that might arise.
So, yes. It DOES take a village to raise a parrot. Sometimes it takes someone looking in from the outside to help us gain clearer vision of the problems at hand and One Day Miracles will teach you how to sideline them. Please click here to learn more: One Day Miracles.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.