At home, Storm was allowed on his owner’s shoulder by choice. He wasn’t put up there, he was LET up there to put himself there. This is a huge problem over time and it’s best to always PUT your bird on your shoulder if you want it there, and not let it put itself there.
The reason for this is because your bird will know that it’s only OK to go there if you put him there, and otherwise will stay on your hand. It can also be super tough to break the habit of a bird who immediately lets himself onto your shoulder and if he does it to you, it is likely he will do it to everyone else, too. Such was the case for Storm.
I did my best to avoid the situation and left my arm as far away and low from my shoulder as possible. I even twisted and curved my arm to get Storm a little uncomfortable and off balance so he would be more willing to step off and onto the table… but instead, he hung on tight and ended up on the back of my arm from all my twisting.
Obviously, there comes a point where one can’t twist any further… and Storm walked himself up the back of my arm onto my shoulder. I threw the hood of my sweatshirt on and bent over so he was more on my back than shoulder – far, far away from my face was the goal. I’d been told by his owner that he would bite the nearest thing when he felt danger was around and I didn’t want that being ANY part of my head.
After several minutes of trying to lean my body one way or another to encourage Storm to step off, while saying “step down” which he knows from his other owners… he refused. I could feel him just barely rubbing his beak on my back which meant he was feeling a bit more aggressive than usual and I became very uncomfortable. Dave was watching through the sliding glass doors and I looked at him helplessly like I was never going to get him off me without Dave’s help.
When Dave walked in, Storm flew at him from about 2 feet away or so and landed on his arm, flailing with anger. I never got hurt, but this only made Dave more of a negative in Storm’s mind again. I hated putting Dave in this position in order to save me from having to sleep standing up all night.
This all happened on day 11, and on day 12 he got up to my shoulder without wasting ANY time. I had been making more attempts to let him step up at least once a day, if not more, and in doing so Storm was working on getting to my shoulder faster and smoother.
I started telling him, “No, please don’t, Storm,” because I found he knew what “no” meant from his other owners. I found a way to make it impossible for him to get up my arm by using my finger to gently push his beak off my arm for grip…but then he started reaching for the FRONT of my sweater where the zipper is and really getting himself up there that way. It was much more intimidating having him come from the front. He only had to do it once on day 12 for me to realize I had a real problem. Once on my shoulder, he refused to come down and I wasn’t willing to try THAT hard because I didn’t want to be bit out of forcing him to do something he didn’t want to. I’m not 100% perfect on reading his body language yet and I felt at a very big disadvantage when he was at a spot where I could only see him in the window reflection.
I decided to brainstorm with Dave and Chet to see what the next move should be. The only other problem was that they weren’t available until after the drama that happened on day 13…
Tip to take home: Get in the habit of never allowing your bird to put himself on your shoulder, but actually placing him there if you want him there. This will avoid problems in the future and make your bird more likely to be easier to handle by other people.
Jamieleigh Womach has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots with whom she shares the stage.