I am sure you have heard it said before that there is a huge difference between dogs and parrots. Yes, the feathers and the wings should be the first hint. You have probably also noticed that squeaky toys and dog beds are cheaper than even the tiniest budgie toy and cage. But what about behavior, are the two really so different?
Let me tell you a story… Years back I worked for a major upscale retailer – I was an assistant manager. When the store’s general manager went home or had a day off, the department managers would be put in charge on a rotation. It never failed that when my number came up, something weird would happen. The power outages, system crashes and loss prevention issues seemed to wait for me.
One such shift provided for a particularly strange evening. I got a call from the shoe department. Apparently, one of our more, shall we say “eccentric” customers had arrived with her new puppy in tow and was looking for shoes. This would not have been an unusual situation because we did allow animals in the store even with its expensive merchandise, because in this establishment, it was the customers who actually ran the place. It was the manager’s job to find a way to say “yes” to whatever they requested.
Things took an interesting turn, though, when I discovered that the customer was actually shopping for shoes for the dog. (I swear this is a true story!) Technically, she was shopping for SHOE – she only wanted one (and, yes, for a regular customer we would do that…not that it would come up often.)
Apparently, her puppy got into her closet and annihilated a pair of Jimmy Choos. Her solution was to give the puppy its own shoe so that it would leave hers alone. She chose a Cole Hahn after letting her dog “sample” many of our most expensive options.
Of course, there was error in her thinking because this would ultimately teach her dog that shoe destruction was acceptable. A dog would not distinguish between the Cole Hahn and Jimmy Choo – it was shoe and shoe chewing was allowed in this house. (I know I am missing the Choo chew-ing joke opportunity here).
Interestingly, though, this WOULD be an appropriate solution for a chewing parrot, not because a parrot could be taught to be selective about the things it destroys, but because a parrot has different intentions for the things it does destroy.
I was asked once how someone could get their bird to stop flying onto the bookcase and chewing on their books. They were very surprised when I suggested giving the bird a book of his own to chew on. He asked how that could possibly teach a bird not to chew on books. I explained that the goal was not to teach the bird not to chew on books, but to keep the bird from targeting HIS books.
The fact is that your bird is going to chew because it is in his nature to do so, because he is driven to do it. Even though chewing may be gratifying, it is a task that a bird is compelled to perform, and your bird will chew regardless of whether you approve or not and he will not feel bad about it. Parrots in the wild are required to do an enormous amount of chewing to create and line their nests. It is pointless to expect anything less from YOUR parrot.
The good news for the book-eating bird owner was that it was a very clear clue about his bird’s chewing preferences and it helped him find things for his bird to chew of a similar material that kept his novels out of his parrot’s crosshairs.
Trust me when I tell you that you cannot control your bird’s chewing – he will not respond to your attempts. Even if your bird hesitates when you say “NO!” it is only because his experience has been that you always step in to stop him at this point. It is not because he is concerned with your opinion about his actions – how could you reasonably consider that he stop doing his duty as a bird? You might cause a temporary set-back, but the job WILL be completed at a later date.
The puppy above was probably teething and a shoe is the right size, shape and consistency to relieve the discomfort. Grown dogs will also chew, but one item can be substituted for another: either a tennis ball or rawhide toy would be satisfying in the absence of the other. One might be preferred but the end goal is simply having something to chew on. The remains of the toy are not expected to serve another purpose, such as it would to a bird.
Parrot behavior seems very complicated but is actually very, very simple: birds only know to do what birds are supposed to do. Once you figure this out, you will never again feel persecuted by your bird’s behavior.
You can be walking along with your dog and every so often he will look up at you as if asking “am I doing this right?” – and 20 feet later… “are we still good?” This is typical of dogs.
You can be walking with your parrot on your shoulder and he will be turning around in circles getting his tail in your mouth, batting you in the face with its wings and biting your earrings. This is what you should expect from your bird. It is exactly how it is supposed to be.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.