We have gotten several questions in the past couple of weeks from people asking for help in handling their bird’s persistent behaviors. Calling a bird persistent is almost an understatement. When they get an idea in their head it is difficult to get them to part with it. Sometimes it turns into the ultimate battle of wills between a bird and their human.
We have all been there: the bird tries to walk off with the TV remote. You move it to another location. The bird goes there and tries to take it. You try move it “out of reach”, but there is no “out of reach” for a bird. You hold it in your hand and wind up playing tug of war. You put it in your shirt. You know the rest...
One discovery I have made over the years is that when a bird refuses to let go of a plan of action, the problem usually begins with us.
One of the questions this week is a very common one: How do I keep my bird from climbing onto my shoulder?
I asked him to describe a typical interaction, and he explained that his bird would try anything to get to his shoulder, such as climbing up his arm, grabbing his sleeves or flying. Any time he picked up his bird there would be that battle. No matter how many times he would take him off his shoulder, his bird would go all out to get back there.
I carefully chose my next question because I wanted him to reveal information that he probably would not have offered on his own.
Q: What is the longest period of time your bird has spent on your shoulder?
A: I don’t know…an hour maybe.
Q: So you have ALLOWED your bird to be on your shoulder in the past?
A: Yes, but I don’t want him there most of the time.
This made it clear that the problem was not with the bird but with him.
It is your shoulder. You have the right to choose whether or not you want your bird there, and you have the right to deny him access to it. However, all of your assertions about your shoulder’s rights are pointless if you can’t make your bird understand that it is off limits.
Your bird will never understand that something is not allowed if you sometimes allow it.
Communication with our birds is limited. There are some words they comprehend. They are also able to read our body language well, but they are not psychic. The majority of their learning is accomplished through past experience.
During occasions when the bird was allowed on his shoulder, even if it last happened a year ago, it established that the shoulder was allowed.
Unlike children whose ability to comprehend variables increases with age, your bird is limited to certain levels of understanding, This fact will never change. A child can be made to understand the concept of “sometimes”. You can break a rule or vary a routine “just for today” and explain that they should not expect it to happen again. A child will test you several times to see how firmly you stand on your “just this time” statement before they back down.
Without the understanding of sometimes, the bird being allowed on the shoulder one day and not another makes the human appear wishy-washy and unreliable. Birds will continue to try to achieve something they want until they have exhausted all possibilities without any hope of success. When they see no fruitfulness to their actions they will move on.
Giving in to their persistence ONE TIME is all that is necessary to give them hope for future attempts, and they will continue to try for what they want because today might be the day you give in.
Your failure to be clear and consistent with your bird will not only make your life together harder. It will confuse your bird and complicate other aspects of your relationship as well.
If something is not allowed, then it must never be allowed.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.