Overcoming a Parrot’s Fear of Something New


The new bird stand that my flock got for Christmas

So I bought the world’s coolest parrot stand as a Christmas gift for my birds. I’d been looking for something like it for a long time. It’s a one-off find; there will never be another exactly like it again. It’s natural wood, well weathered with lots of nooks and crannies to hide things in. There are several places at different heights for birds to sit and it’s on wheels. There are plenty of bits that I can hang toys off. If I need to, I can add extra perches to it. It has this sculpted quality to it that makes me liken it to a work of art. My mother informs me that I’ve wasted my money on a hunk of wood, but what would she know? I love it. It’s awesome.

I was so excited and couldn’t wait for Christmas to give it to my birds. I was dying to see their faces light up when they saw it. I just knew they’d be as excited as me. I had this image in my head of them all fighting over it, of them begging to get out and be on it. I did the disinfect thing, added toys and showed it to them. Who cares if they get their Christmas present early, right?


From this angle you can see how it resembles a Pelican... 

So apparently I bought the world’s scariest parrot stand. Clearly it resembles a giant skeleton zombie bird and it is going to EAT us all. We’re all going to die. It’s going to take over the planet and KILL EVERYTHING. I mean wow, it’s obvious. Just look at it. The top part is shaped just like a pelican’s head. Pelicans are evil harbingers of doom. Just ask my macaw, he’ll tell you that with an ear-piercing girly scream if he ever sees one. Run, fly, walk, WADDLE away if you can’t do anything else. PANIC if it happens to be in the same room as you because we’re all going DIE… 

Well I was shattered, devastated and insanely depressed. It was obvious I was going to have to work through their fear with some serious touch training. The worst part was it was Fid (my macaw) that started the fear thing. The others are generally pretty fearless but if the big bad bird with the massive wingspan is afraid then clearly we all should be.  Fid wouldn’t allow it in the same room as him. With his damaged tail and tendency for blood feathers I couldn’t risk him panicking and crashing around. I had to put the stand away in the shed for a few months. His feather condition needed to improve before I could even think about starting training this fear out of my flock.

Cocky Boy

My elderly galah "Cocky Boy" liked the stand until Fid told him how scary it was. 

So I tried the gentle ‘get used to new things’ first while I waited for Fid’s tail to regrow. Small things seemed safe enough. The genius in me thought an ice block would be a fun new thing for a bird to play with in a heatwave. I placed one on top of the roof bars of Fid’s sleeping cage when he was in it. I had this image in my head of him pushing it around and playing with it. He cowered in the back for a second, then gradually snuck up on it. He finally got up enough courage to go directly underneath it and look up at it. Fid was about to touch it when it reached that melting level that would allow it to drip. Yup, so a drip got him right between the eyes. He squealed like a little girl and ran away. Then he sooked for the next hour because the big bad dripping ice block had got him. Yup, I’m a genius.  Way to get rid of his fear!

Fid watching through Window

Fid watching Pepi play on the stand. He is sitting as far away from the stand as he could get. (Pepi is on the other side of the window playing.)

Meanwhile, Fid’s tail has finally grown out after his illness. It’s about 75cm now and nice and thick. Blood feathers are no longer a major concern. So I have finally been able to bring out the stand again and begin the whole touch training process around it. Within 24 hrs, every single bird in my flock was happy enough to get on the new stand with the exception of Fid. He remained convinced that the stand was a zombie pelican whose sole aim in its afterlife was to eat him. He’d take flight if he saw it was in the same room. You can’t touch train if the bird won’t even stay in the room.

Pepi next to window

Learning from observation. Pepi is foraging on the stand which is located right next to the window (Fid's cage is on the other side of the window).

So I cheated. I used observational learning. I let all of the other birds play on the stand while Fid was sitting in the distance (so that he could watch them). I was working on the theory that if one animal saw other animals having fun picking hidden treats out of the stand, then that first animal would want to play on the stand too. This worked well – but not on the animal of my choice. Instead of Fid watching the others play and wanting to do so himself, the cat was watching and decided zombie pelicans make great scratching posts. Not the outcome I was looking for!


That awesome moment when you think you've been training your parrot to use a bird stand but realise you were actually training your cat to use it.

On the bright side, the cat was the final straw for Fid. Seeing the cat play with the stand seemed to change the stand from a zombie killer to just a zombie in Fid’s eyes. The stand was finally allowed to be in the same room as him and I could finally get on with the touch training to try and get him to actually use it.

Pepi close to Fid

Getting closer. Pepi on the stand just in front of Fid's sleeping cage.

Eventually I got Fid to step on to it. The problem was he  just wasn’t motivated to stay on it. So I took a break and put him back on top of his sleeping cage (next to the stand). I left my chopstick resting on the zombie stand and went away to turn on the kettle to make myself a coffee. When I came back to resume training, Fid was still sitting on his cage munching on a walnut but my chopstick was on the new stand in splinters. He’d snuck over onto the zombie when I wasn’t looking, then snuck back.

Fid next to stand

Fid quite comfortable about the proximity of the stand to his sleeping cage. You can see how his tail has improved.

So I’d love this blog to end with a picture of Fid sitting happily playing on the playstand because I had this image in my head of that being the outcome of all of this training. I’m beginning to realise that having any image in your head of a bird doing something is like daring the little monsters to make sure the opposite outcome is the result. I’m reasonably sure I’ve got the fear thing under control with the whole flock including Fid, as a sneak attack on my chopstick tends to suggest that.

The thing is, even if Fid wants to play on the new de-zombified playstand – he can’t. For now, my galah Morgy has decided it is hers and only hers. When she decides something, her beak becomes this sharp evil weapon and no one is inclined to argue with her about it.

Morgy 2

Morgy quickly worked out that the zombie bird's face/beak is chew worthy.

Morgy is a bird I haven’t talked about a lot. She’s an odd one. Morgy is a very quiet bird that doesn’t tend to ask for much. It has taken a long time to get her to play with toys because I don’t think she had them for the first few years of her life. She was a classic case of learned helplessness. So if Morgy wants the zombie playstand, I’m inclined to let her have it. In fact, I suspect getting a bird that has suffered from learned helplessness to play on and take possession of a new stand is an even better outcome than getting the bird who is scared of big bad ice blocks to do so. Clearly I just need to find room for even more stands so that each bird (and cat) has their own?


Morgy fluffed out and dozing on "her" stand.

Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.

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