Blue and Gold Macaws tend to love to chew and destroy, Cockatoos tend to scream the house down… some stereotypes with parrot species tend to be very true, that’s why they become a stereotype in the first place! I’ve been thinking about another kind of stereotyping or prejudice, though, which some of you might find you’re guilty of too.
When I first started working with birds, I was introduced to Barney, a male Eclectus. Unfortunately, with no prior experience with parrots, the horror stories I was told about Barney flying at people’s faces, biting for ‘no reason’ with ‘no warning’ absolutely terrified me, as it would anyone. Of course there were warnings and reasons for this behaviour, but I was fearful of Barney from the start, and after a series of pretty bad bites when I did try to handle him (again bear in mind I was inexperienced and really just blindly hoped he wouldn’t bite me!), I pretty much avoided contact with him. After reading Mel’s post on Birds Using Light to Communicate, I better understand how to read Barney’s body language and hope we can be buddies in the near future.
The point is, after this experience with Barney, I’m pretty sure I would be hesitant with another Electus. It’s like if there was someone you went to school with that really annoyed you, you tend to associate that name forever with that person and I think many of us probably do this with birds too. It works the other way as well; I recently met a friend’s Moluccan Cockatoo, Rosie, and totally fell in love with her! They’re such spectacular birds in terms of appearance, and Rosie had a lovely temperament – really friendly and calm and would step up to anyone. I found myself thinking ‘Wow I want a Moluccan!’ but just because Rosie wasn’t a hot-headed screamer, doesn’t mean another one wouldn’t be…
Another less than fun experience I had in my first couple of months of working with parrots was with a Black-headed Caique called Billy. Everyone said how cute and lovely this bird was so I didn’t fear him at all, so happily agreed when I was asked to put a branch in his aviary for him to play with and chew. Whilst in the aviary, he showed no signs that I noticed of aggression or fear, but I obviously annoyed him by intruding into his territory as a stranger because just as I was leaving, he flew onto my shoulder and bit straight through the top of my ear… flipping OW!! That has got to be the most painful bite I’ve had from a bird, he really meant it! At a parrot club I visited a few months ago, I met a lady with two Black-headed Caiques and felt this instant feeling of dread. Totally unreasonable, of course, and they were lovely. But it certainly shows how a negative experience can affect your perception of a particular species unfairly.
I think we all probably stereotype parrot species to a certain extent and have our favourites as a result; I have a big soft spot for Green-winged Macaws because I’ve had such a wonderful time training Bonnie and Alfie, the free-flying siblings.
The most important thing, I think, is to remember that some species have traits or tendencies but all parrots are total individuals with no two alike. Our interactions with birds can have a big impact on their behaviour too, with potentially positive or negative results. For help with overcoming behavioural issues, check out the Birdtricks courses.
P.S. In case any regular readers are wondering, I am unfortunately no longer off to Idaho this Summer to work with Dave and Jamie at Silverwood Theme Park as was planned; due to a series of delays and hiccups during the planning, it hasn’t been possible to arrange everything in time. I hope to meet the Birdtricks team in future, though, and for now I’m reeeeally happy that I’m not saying goodbye to my feathered friends!