How To Change A New Bird’s Bad Habits

Congo african grey

If you follow this blog, you have often heard me explain how being a prey animal affects our companion birds. It is one of the most relevant aspects to consider when trying to understand parrot behavior.

Consider, for a minute, if evolution had turned out differently on our planet and we were lower in the food chain. If you had the sense that you were always being hunted, watched and stalked, how would it affect your daily behavior? Wouldn’t your eyes be everywhere? Wouldn’t things out of the ordinary give you pause?

As a caretaker, keeping your bird’s hyper-vigilence and sensitivity to its surroundings in mind will help you to make better decisions on its behalf.

Juvenile sun conure

Whenever we bring a new bird into our home, whether it is a baby or a rehomed or rescued bird, there is a short window of opportunity to make change that we should take advantage of.

I hate to suggest that you use your bird’s discomfort to your advantage, but that is essentially where I am going with this post – the ends will definitely justify the means.

Regardless of the origins of your bird, the one thing that all new birds have in common is, well, newness. For a bird that has been displaced, finding itself in a strange location, in a new cage and surrounded by new sounds, smells and people, the experience is unsettling on the best of days.

On a positive note, this is a period when your bird is very aware (because it feels it has to be) and will be watching and learning. Since birds learn what we each them, there are great possibilities here.

It will spend the first several days (sometimes weeks) assessing and evaluating its new environment. Its prey animal mentality will make safety the major issue and the need for amped up security will override any thoughts about how this used to be the time of day the junk food was delivered in the former home.

The thing that makes this so effective in establishing change is that with its life having been turned upside-down, your new bird has no expectations of you or anything else in its surroundings. With everything being so completely different from what was, there is no anticipation that the new environment would provide anything familiar. This is when old habits can be broken and new ones established: new house, new rules.

Military macaw

If the bird was on a poor diet, or had gotten set in its ways because its previous life was very structured, or if it had mastered the art of manipulation with its former owners, you will do well to make changes now.

With the baby birds, they are most often considered ready for sale once they are successfully weaned onto adult foods. Unfortunately, too many breeders do not work fresh foods into their new diet leaving it up to the purchasers, many of whom have no experience in these matters. The first weeks in your house will be the ones that get your bird on track.

I do understand that it is in most people’s nature to do what has to be done to end suffering where possible. It makes sense that you would think that the fastest way to make your bird comfortable and to win its affections is to offer the things that are familiar and taste good.

But if these things are not good for the bird, or lead to questionable behavior, why would you re-introduce them? Give your bird the chance to move past his bad habits.

I am not recommending that you approach this difficult interim period your bird faces with callousness, but do acknowledge that because it is your bird’s prey animal nature, this period is destined to be awkward at the very least. If something good can come out of it, it should.

You can use time this to turn around the health of a bird that lived on a poor diet with no exercise and you can make huge steps towards eliminating the unwanted behaviors that perhaps lost this bird his home in the first place.

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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