I have been asked by so many people how Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, is doing since his return home from his vacation in New Mexico that I think an update is in order!
To recap: Circumstances made it necessary to send Linus away for about 4 months. He was with a friend who is probably the only person I know who is capable of handling the bird that Linus might have become when he arrived. Fortunately, her skills were never put to the test.
You can only imagine my concerns about sending him away for any period of time. However, he handled the visit very well (not knowing, of course, whether it was a visit or a new home) and I kept up on his behaviors while he was gone. Still, I had no idea what to expect when he returned home.
On my way to pick him up, following what was a VERY long day of travel for him, I had to pull over into a parking lot when I realized that my own tension level was very high. I was actually nervous! I knew it was possible that he would return to me in the same state that I had received him so many years ago and I questioned my ability to handle it with the same calm and resolve as I had before. Knowing that my tension would certainly effect his response to me, I pulled myself together before I continued to the airline cargo facility.
As apprehensive as I was, I was even more excited with the idea of having him with me again and I calmed myself as I drove with memories of his funny behaviors and tender moments we had shared.
They brought his carrier out from the back and set it on the counter in front of me while I signed off on the paperwork. Linus started blowing kisses and greeted me with as many creative versions of “hello” as he could muster. It was adorable and everyone laughed. Always the entertainer.
He certainly seemed happy to see me, but I also know from prior experience with him and other birds that it is the next day when things tend to derail if they are going to. Today, he was tired from his journey. Tomorrow, once he assesed his new situation and decided on an appropriate course of action, would be more telling of what could be expected.
Some birds, upon arrival in a new location, will start off being very quiet and non-confrontational. It is a period of observation and does not give insight into the birds true personality or motivations.
I woke up the following day and went into the bird room wondering what version of Linus was going to greet me: the one with the abandonment issues or the one who had relearned to trust and love. It was the latter. He positioned himself in his cage in the same place he always did in the morning so that I could kiss his feet through the cage bars and tell him how wonderful he is. But things are not always as simple as they seem…
As of today, he has been home for a week. In many ways it is as if nothing happened at all…with one notable exception: he is hesitant when he steps up. I know that sounds like no big deal, but it actually is. It tells me that when I reach for him, he thinks twice before interacting. It tells me that he questions my trustworthiness, even if just for a split second. It tells me that on some level, I am under suspicion. It is a huge clue to a mounting problem.
This is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately so that it doesn’t escalate. At it’s worst point, birds that refuse to step up are eventually forced or toweled by their owners which sends the relationship spiraling downward.
The plan with Linus is to work on our relationship, looking past the slow step up. The problem lies in a lack of trust – the reluctant step up is merely a symptom of that. Once he is reassured that I am the same person with whom he felt so secure prior to his trip, I feel certain he will come around.
For the moment, we are taking things slowly and I am allowing him to call the shots when it comes to interaction. I stand at the cage door and wait for him to come to me and express a wish to physically interact. If it doesn’t happen, I let it be. But more often than not, he finds his way to the front of the cage and his little foot starts rooting around for my hand.
Years ago, when I first got him, I used a version of this technique with him that ultimately did not work. I would open his cage door and allow him to leave the cage in his own time and seek me out. It seemed like a good trust building plan at the time but the result was that he would then ONLY come out of his cage when the door was left open. It did nothing to solve the first problem and actually added a second.
I was beyond surprised because this method had been very successful with other birds. I had to start over using different methods with him but also correct the new unwanted behaviors.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.