Many parrots are neophobic, meaning that they fear new things. In fact, maybe most parrots instinctively fear new things. Since parrots are undomesticated, and bring many of their natural behaviors into our homes, they often display alarm towards things that are unfamiliar to them. This makes sense from a practical standpoint when you consider that they have to be on high alert in the wild to guard against predators. A watchful bird is a smart bird, and a safe bird. It’s the level of fearfulness that takes this naturally defensive behavior over the edge from guarded to phobic and stressful.
My goffins cockatoo, Theo, sometimes walks that line. When she first came to live with me, toys were the enemy. So was the light fixture in the dining room and pretty much all of the furniture, including her new cage. She has settled down nicely and comfortably since that time. She now eyes new toys with mild concern rather than sheer terror.
Still, she occasionally surprises me with an out-of-nowhere, over-the-top hysteria over an object that either has been there all along (like the toy wooden dogs mentioned in an earlier post), or this past week, my new flip flops. I’ve been wearing them around the house for two weeks when all of a sudden, she is staring at my feet. Screaming.
It took me a couple of minutes to put the pieces together and see where her eyes were directed. I hoped it was the flip flops and not my feet causing her distress – that would be a problem. I went into the bathroom, took off the flip flops, and threw them in the trash (they were cheap). When I came back out with bare feet, she was greatly relieved and so was I. But when I took her into the shower the next day, she saw the flip flops in the trash. Oops. Even though the trash has long since been emptied, she still regards the basket as the criminal that harbored the fugitive flip flops.
I admit that Theo’s kind of strange, but she makes up for it with total cuteness. I worry, though, about what horrors she might invent once we get to Orlando. I have been reading about and researching parrot’s stress for a while, knowing that there is likely to be some level of it experienced by all of my birds with the move. I expect that the stress will result in some runny poops, lowered appetites and perhaps interrupted sleep. It’s something that I want to be able to manage quickly because while these symptoms are brought on by stress, they also cause additional stress.
One good way to manage stress in your parrot is to provide predictability. When you create a routine, and follow it, the parrot knows what is going to happen and what comes next after that. It is a great way to ensure his stability and comfort. It can begin with a morning greeting, a typical breakfast, and a quiet chat between the two of you. A bedtime routine can be very helpful in quieting your parrot for the night. If he knows the routine is followed by sleep time, he is not likely to be surprised or angered when the lights go out.
Comfort foods, like oatmeal, scramble eggs, or warm, soft vegetables can be very soothing to an uptight parrot. Think how nice it feels to you to sit down to your favorite meal after a hard day. People tend to overeat when they are stressed, and there’s a reason for that. Feeling satiated is comforting. As long as the bird is eating nutritious foods during a particularly stressful time, comfort feedings are a great tool for anxiety relief. Plain chamomile tea is a natural stress reliever.
Perhaps the most important way to keep your parrot from being fearful is to include him in what goes on. We all know that parrots are social creatures and need and want to be a part of our daily life. The parrot that is comfortable being around an active family is less likely to be phobic towards strangers. A parrot that experiences new things is more likely to be comfortable in new surroundings, more likely to try new foods, and more likely to know that a particular thing is okay because you gave it to him. Experience is the the way that you learn that some things are really not that scary after all.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.