“I’m sorry I’m late for class, but my parrot broke my bra,” I said to my lecturer as I slipped into a laboratory class 10 mins late. Naturally, this happened when the entire class was listening to the lecturer so suddenly hundreds of students were staring at my chest, trying to see through my top for evidence of a broken bra. It occurs to me that there may be a reason why out of hundreds of students my lecturers tend to remember not just me but my name. I’m getting a reputation for saying some very odd things. I suspect many of my classmates will now know me as the “parrot bra woman”. Once again I have earned the title “Crazy Bird Lady”.
So needless to say, this week’s crisis has centred on lingerie. My Blue and Gold Macaw, Fid has reached that fun stage of development of discovering that female humans wear items of clothing under their outer tops. These items of clothing usually have clips that slide to adjust the tightness of any straps. These clips are fun to get in the beak and snap in half (within a split second of course – birds are not allowed to allow humans any reaction time because that’s just wrong).
This means that if Fid sees a female (and not just me), he’ll fly straight to them and go straight down the head hole of their top in pursuit of any clips. There is no stopping him. It is a search and destroy mission and if the human happens to not like the idea, Fid doesn’t seem to particularly care about her feelings on the matter because all clips are HIS.
So there is an obvious solution to this: wear sports bras when near Fid. Sports bras usually don’t have clips, but instead make clever use of elastic. Fid has solved this little problem. Humans make great squealing noises when you snap elastic against their skin. It’s almost as much fun as snapping bra clips.
Obviously, I have a little problem with Fid and visitors. Ok a giant bird coming at my head and diving down my top isn’t something that frightens me because I can cue a different behaviour and handle it. To the average person or untrained guest – a beak like that coming at your face at full speed is a terrifying experience. In the face of that, I can’t expect visitors to remember any behavioural cues that I’ve told them to give Fid, it’s a pretty safe bet that ducking and screaming is the first instinct of most people.
Which brings me to the question of: What do you do to stop a bird getting into trouble when it is loose in the house and not every human in the house knows how to cue a safe alternative behaviour? Or in my case how do you stop a bird from going after every woman he sees in order to break her bra?
I am a huge fan of distracting rather than disciplining a bird. If bra-breaking is a game, then the obvious solution is to find a game that I don’t mind Fid playing as an alternative. The challenge is to find a game that is more entertaining than bra-breaking. The other challenge is to convince Fid that the game I want him to play is better than his idea of alternative games. (Such as breaking into the pantry, removing the lid off the cereal containers and then proceeding to throw cereal at the cat.)
Which brings me to toys. There are some great options for bird toys out there (check out the Birdtricks toy club). However, most commercially available bird toys are designed for in-cage use. Most of them hang from cage bars, which isn’t going to help distract a bird outside of their cage. The exception to this would be foot toys, but they tend to be pretty small and don’t compete with bra breaking in Fid’s eyes.
Fortunately, the rest of the pet industry seems to have caught on to the idea of foraging/enrichment. As a consequence, I think my local pet store is wondering if I’m some sort of weird animal hoarder? My solution to my distraction problems is to work my way through EVERY section of my pet store to look for bird-safe items. I find myself buying a lot of dog toys for my birds, but cat toys, ferret toys and rat toys don’t escape my purchase list. Many of these toys are designed to be left loose in a house, or resting on a flat surface, perfect if you want something to sit on a coffee table to attract a mischievous macaw.
I’ve found that handing my female guests a dog foraging ball to keep near them, works wonders. I tell them to show it to Fid and say “Oooooh MINE!” if Fid shows any interest in their cleavage (which apparently is the best location for a macaw’s entry into a female’s top). It seems if Fid hears “Ooooh MINE!” it translates to an adamant denial that a human can possibly possess something, as everything is HIS. Distraction achieved. Bra deaths are reduced and my household remains slightly less crazy than it might otherwise be.
How do you distract your birds? While not all birds are bra breakers, I know I’m not alone with birds getting into all sorts of undesirable trouble in a house. Leave a comment below if you have any ideas that you can share to help in these situations.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.