One of the things that most fascinates me about parrots is the differences in their personalities. Even within the same species, each bird is unique with its own demeanor and preferences.
We should fully research the species we keep, looking into both their captive and wild settings, so we are aware of traits that are typical for that species. But in the end, each bird is its own man, so to speak, and those intricacies will stand out.
I have owned two umbrella cockatoos at different times in my life – they couldn’t have been less alike. Abu, my first, was laid back and amicable. She was quiet and reserved and she would stay perched for hours, as long as she had something interesting to do and her favorite people were nearby – things unheard of with the vast majority of this species.
Linus, on the other hand, is temperamental and high strung. Nothing, but nothing, keeps him in one spot for more than a couple of minutes, and he will always pause to look over his shoulder as he wanders away to be sure that I notice that he’s doing things his own way. It’s as if the two birds came from alternate universes.
One thing I have learned over the years is that despite the differences in temperament, most birds are very compliant and patient. Most will accept change and adapt well as long as we don’t let things become too uncomfortable for them too many times. Even Linus, by far and away the more challenging of the two cockatoos, would patiently wait for me to get things right before he showed the signs of reaching his threshold of tolerance with my human ineptness.
The problem is that being human, we have a hard time recognizing when we are pushing the limits at all. One day we will be going about our regular routine and everything will be fine, and then the following day the same routine is met with anger and mistrust. Everything we do is wrong. We stand there scratching our heads wondering if this is even the same bird because there’s no way your bird could have changed so much overnight.
Your bird has changed, but it didn’t happen overnight. It has taken a long time to get to this point. It is fed up and has put its little foot down and said: “That’s it!! I’m over this!” It refuses to cooperate with the same activities that were seemingly acceptable yesterday. It’s effort to communicate its unhappiness to you has ended in failure as we missed all the warning signs and persisted in doing things the same way – over and over again. Now the relationship is in jeopardy.
As with every behavioral problem you face with your bird, there ARE warnings that preceed it. Here are three easy to spot signs that trouble is brewing. YOUR bird may display additional signs (back to each bird being an individual), but these signs are evident in all species when limits of tolerance are being reached:
- The stink eye: Most people who have had birds for a while see this right away – it is quite simply a dirty look. When birds are feeling happy, respected and safe, the shape of their eyes is perfectly round. When your bird is uneasy with what is going on around it, the eye shape changes to varying degrees of “squinty” Go to the mirror and give yourself an overly dramatized angry/warning look. That’s the look. Watch how your bird reacts to different things throughout the day and notice how the eye shape changes. It is a useful tool in reading body language – especially in cockatoos.
- The hesitation: Whenever your bird even slightly hesitates in doing the things it normally does without pause, it is something you should pay attention to. This is a clear sign that your bird is giving second thoughts to interacting with you. A good example of this is in the step up. When you reach to retrieve your bird and your bird thinks twice, even though it eventually does step up, it is a warning that something is going wrong in your relationship. It might be the result of you being too pushy and demanding in your expectations that the bird comply with your wishes.
- The “dis”: In the wild, when a bird does not wish to interact with another from it’s flock, it will simply turn its back on that bird as if to say “Go away. I don’t like you.” They do the same to us when they wish to relay that same message. It’s pretty rude by human standards, but a signal doesn’t get any clearer than that. However, I think it is also an effort on their part to avoid confrontation with us when they feel we have the tendency to be too pushy. Imagine how disrespected they might feel when we disregard that effort.
We sometimes ask too much of our birds. They need to be respected and they need to be given choices. It can’t always be us telling them what to do and expecting them to cooperate. They have minds and ideas of their own and should be given the right to have things their way sometimes. It’s only fair.
There are times where we need our bird’s immediate cooperation, such as when danger is present. I have learned over the years that when you show your bird respect, it will CHOOSE to show you respect by complying with your wishes on these occassions. If you observe and respond to the three warning signs above, you should be able to sidestep pushing your bird, and your relationship, over the edge.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.