Using “The Drop” To Promote Exercise

Blue and gold macaws

Q: I recently read that a good way to give your bird exercise is to hold its feet and drop your arm to make your bird flap its wings. I’m afraid my bird will bite me if I try this. What is your opinion?

 – Sarah G., Great Neck, NY

A: It is very important that your bird gets plenty of regular exercise. This can come from climbing, walking and flying. We will often notice our birds flapping their wings wildly inside the cage while gripping onto the bars. Exercise is something they both want and need and we should do everything we can to promote activity and provide the means for it.
However, “the drop”, as it was once known, is detrimental to your relationship with your bird. This method of forcing movement will only serve to cause mistrust.

When we offer our hand to our birds, they will eagerly step up knowing we are providing them a stable place to perch. They utilize our hands for travel between one place and another. And our hands are a place where they feel safe in our care. Your birds looks to you for its security.

Blue and gold macaws

If you suddenly and deliberately cause your bird to lose its footing and scramble to hang on because it believes it is falling, you can bet that you will simultaneously cause it to lose its confidence in you as a risk-free place to be. Using the drop says that the human hand, yours in particular, is unreliable.  It says to your bird that YOU can’t be trusted with its well-being. And yes, it could result in a bite – even if it is one that results from your bird having to use its beak suddenly to right itself.

The drop can make your efforts to step your bird up in the future uncertain and diminish the possibility of success in training recall. If you do not represent a place of comfort and safety to your bird, he will choose to be elsewhere.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987. 

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