Let me first say that people who re-home a parrot in need of a new home are the biggest-hearted people I know. Finding the patience and compassion that is needed to care for, work with and love these birds is a challenge, even for the most experienced people.
Some parrots have suffered years of abuse and come with medical and psychological issues. Some have been surrendered by people who just didn’t have the energy or knowledge to handle the species they chose (and likely didn’t research first). Some have had to leave loving homes due to the owner’s change in lifestyle or ill-health. Regardless of the reasons behind the displacement, a parrot is likely to suffer issues of anger, mistrust and fear of the unknown to varying degrees. They may mourn the loss of a loved human, or mate, if the flock has been dispersed. Many will transition beautifully into your home and flock.
Re-homing a bird is a tough job. When you have no idea what baggage they carry with them, problem solving can seem like a nearly insurmountable task. Just as you seem to reach one solution, another behavior might erupt from an unknown experience throwing you back to square one. One day your fridge is covered with photos of family and friends, the next, a single piece of paper containing one word: PATIENCE…just a reminder to breathe.
When I first brought Linus (my umbrella cockatoo) home, there were to be some tough times ahead. He was angry, mad at the world, just sick and tired of it all. Did I mention angry? When I picked him up at the airport, I immediately took him out of the cage to offer him water and to say hello. He stepped right up. Being familiar with a cockatoo’s body language, I could see he was a bit wary, and probably tired from his travels, but he seemed willing to interact. I took him home offered some food and treats, which he picked at. After a short visit, I put him to bed and he slept through the night.
The next day, a different, far less cooperative bird emerged. He began the screaming. He would lunge at me through the cage bars. If I tried to take him out of the cage he would bite. Hard. I still have residual nerve damage from some early wounds to my left hand.
He was so unhappy. I felt horrible for him. I decided to let him come around at his own pace. I would work on issues very slowly. The first one I tackled was the incessant, unwavering screaming. It is very hard to keep yourself from going over the edge when your ears are being assaulted in this fashion. Still, it is very important to realize that parrots pick up on and respond in kind to the energy YOU are putting out there. I made a vow to myself to remain calm in the face of whatever challenges were ahead.
So, where to begin? It occurred to me that I couldn’t correct a “problem” that I didn’t understand, so I made a list of possible reasons for the screaming: anger, frustration, fear, mistrust. Why would he be feeling these things? Well, DUH! He was sent away to live with a stranger, in a strange place with new smells and things he’s never seen before. Then there’s the other birds chattering away in another room. And a cat. The list went on and on. I scratched the plan to address the screaming and moved onto how to work with the issues behind the screaming. I started with fear and mistrust.
After he stopped lunging at me inside of his cage, but before he decided I meant no harm. You can see the wariness in his eyes.
I spent hours sitting near his cage, sometimes reading, often aloud. Over a period of weeks, I slowly moved the reading chair closer to the cage, but never close enough to cause him any discomfort. He stopped lunging at me after a couple of days. But the screaming continued. Even when he was at his brain-melting loudest, I would continue to read, still aloud. When I could take no more, I would calmly, and with no reaction that suggested I was affected by his noise level, leave the room as if it were always the intention. He had no need to know that I would go and hide in the closet with a pillow wrapped around my head. I went through a lot of aspirin in that time period.
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, it happened! I was reading, he was quiet AND he was hanging on his cage bars nearest to where I was sitting, just listening. He was starting to realize I was not a threat, just a nearly-deaf lady that reads too much. I changed up the routine. I started doing things around him, any things I could think of, and all the while chatting or singing. Soon he would accept treats through the bars of his cage and the door opened to a new beginning for us. Once we worked through some of his trust issues, others fell by the wayside. The need to bite began to decline and we were able to safely enjoy more out of cage time.
Here are some tips for re-homing a parrot:
*Have your new bird vet checked. Health issues will affect behavior and temperament. The plucking “problem” might be more than just boredom. Find out as much of your bird’s history as you can to aid the vet in diagnosis.
*If the bird had a poor diet, this is a great time to make changes. New beginnings, new diet. Introduce a variety of healthy new foods.
*Hang a sheet over a corner of the cage. This gives him a place to go for privacy and for when things become overwhelming to him in the household.
*For now, keep the kids and pets at bay – for the bird’s well being and theirs. Playful children and pets create a lot of energy that could cause the bird to be fearful. Allow the adjustment to be be gradual and cautious. Supervise your little ones while they stand near the cage and interact sweetly and calmly with the newest member of your flock.
*Introduce new toys and activities slowly and thoughtfully. These first few months are key to building a great relationship. Let the bird go at its own pace. You have a lifetime together to explore new things – no need to rush anything.
*Be the adult and understand that gentle guidance is sometimes necessary. I have learned over the years that there are three ways of compassionately handling unwanted behaviors:
By this, I don’t mean ignore the bird. Ignore the behavior. Parrots have a remarkable sense of humor. They find fun in just about any activity, especially when you react to it. Like children, they seek attention, negative or positive. A lack of response makes it pointless to continue. We have all heard of parrots who pick up naughty words around the house. We all say them from time to time. What makes them so noticed by our parrots is that they are usually uttered with a lot of emphasis and when repeated back, we respond with horror or laughter. This positively reinforces an unwanted behavior.
When my birds meander into an area that is off limits, instead of running after them yelling no, I calmly retrieve them and take them and take them into another area. Perhaps to the window, where we will discuss whether or not we expect rain. Out of sight, out of mind. Well, at least temporarily.
-Engage in acceptable activities
When your parrot is getting himself into trouble, give him something positive to do. When he is scaling the curtains in your living room, break out an old phone book and show how fun it is to shred it and play in the mess he makes. This is when training can be invaluable. The very act of training, regardless of what you are trying to accomplish, will be a fun bonding experience for you and the family to share with your bird.
*Have fun! Show your new parrot what a blast it is to be in your home. Sing and dance for him, read to him, let him watch a late night movie with you as a special treat.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.