While my cockatoos were showering today, I took the opportunity to do something that I haven’t done in a while. I took out the grates and trays at the bottom of their cages, and stepped in. I went to the back of the cage and turned around, facing out. I stood there for several minutes enjoying the view, pretending to be a bird.
I stand up. I crouch down. I walk to each corner of the cage and just look around. I haven’t lost my mind. I have been doing this for years. I find it to be a most effective way of witnessing your bird’s environment from their point of view. We will never be able to see things exactly as they do because of their enhanced vision, but observing from this vantage point can lead to some important insights.
From this position, you see the cage layout differently and may choose to place toys and accessories in another fashion. You can see if house lights might be shining too harshly inside of the cage. You can see what they see when they look out the windows.You see how clean the cage is or is not. (With smaller cages, I squeeze behind them and look through the back bars. It’s important not to move the cage from its original position in the room.You want everything to appear to you exactly as it does to your bird.)
One of the easiest solutions I ever found to a bird’s behavioral problem came from this practice. I went to the house of someone who had an African grey that was perfectly happy and interactive outside of the cage, but was fearful and would bite and scream when going back in. Since the bird was also happy to be on a play stand playing independently and didn’t seem overly attached to the family, I had to assume the cage or living room was the problem.
The family’s teenagers had the bird in the next room and went about their business while I was there. I didn’t see anything in the living room or outside the windows that might be objectionable to a bird, so I started pulling apart the bottom of the cage. I’m pretty sure the lady who called me thought I was crazy.
I had been in the cage for a few minutes when I saw some brief movement out of the corner of my eye.The sounds that accompanied the movement were coming from the other room. I couldn’t understand how I saw movement in a room that the cage placement didn’t allow me to see.
I stood there feeling confused. Finally, I saw more motion and noticed a mirror that was placed on the wall that the cage faced. I had seen it earlier when I looked around the room, but it was easy to pass over as a potential problem because it was small and was placed on the wall far to the left. It just happened to reflect some of the activity in the adjacent room from this angle inside the cage. It showed fleeting glimpses of motion. It was easy to see how this might be unnerving to a bird.
I asked how long the mirror had been there and it was estimated that it had been put up just a month or so before the behavior began.The lady seemed embarrassed that she hadn’t connected the two events, but I assured her that it was easy to overlook something so seemingly unsubstantial. The mirror was taken down and within about a week the fearfulness subsided.
Standing outside of the cage, looking around, I could never have reached that conclusion. A few feet changed the view completely.It’s important to understand that sometimes even the smallest changes to your bird’s environment can cause discomfort. This gives us something to think about when trying to determine the causes of unwanted behaviors.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.