My male Eclectus Pepi, has been a flying nightmare lately. He has gone from being sweet, affectionate and talkative to being moody, unpredictable and often downright nasty. It happened overnight and hasn’t been accompanied by any of the usual signs of sickness.
Of all of my birds, it’s Pepi who seems to have the nastiest bite. He has this knack for getting a tiny bit of skin pinched in his beak. When something is wrong – he goes for my upper arm and the bruises that he can inflict make people look at me funny when I go to the shops. It’s a little scary.
So I have been somewhat frantic to work out what I’ve been doing wrong. I’m noticing the warning signals (Pepi uses light to communicate), but they’re coming so fast and frequent that working out what the trigger has been very difficult.
That changed when I spotted him throwing a tantrum on top of his cage. I was nowhere near – so nothing I had done had triggered it. It can be very interesting watching an eclectus chuck a tantrum. They growl, stomp and flap their wings at whatever is annoying them. They also give the world’s best stink eye, glaring at the offending person/thing, raising their shoulder feathers up – Pepi has a real look about him when he’s cranky! In this case, he was glaring at a photo of my father that was hanging on the wall near his cage.
The picture was new. It had been a gift from my brother to my mother. My father is dead and the photo meant a lot to my mother. It had never occurred to me that Pepi would find its presence offensive. The timing however was perfect. He’d started being aggressive right at the time the picture went up. I can’t believe it took me a few weeks to work that out!
Looking closely, I could see a faint aggressive Pepi reflecting back at the real bird. The more Pepi glared at the reflection – the more the reflection glared back. I had a problem. I didn’t want to be in the same room as myself when I explained to my mother that the picture had to go. It meant too much to her. I was already in enough trouble for starting to teach Pepi to sing the Batman theme song (if you ever want to annoy someone…)
So I took Pepi back to basics and brought out the chopstick. I made him touch the stick within the vicinity of the offending picture. He loves the touch the stick game (it equals almonds!). I started far enough away from the picture to avoid triggering a fear response and did the training in 5-minute bursts. Each session I brought him closer to the picture.
I extended the training to ALL pictures in the house and found that he was afraid of any picture with glass over it. I also made him do the same thing in front of mirrors. Pepi actually knows about mirrors and likes them, so this was to help him see the similarity between a mirrored reflection and the glass reflection.
Within 3 days he was back to his normal self and no longer giving the picture stink eye. He stopped biting and the grumpiness was gone. Now when near the picture he was more interested in how to smash the nearby glass door with the pole used to close the blinds. I believe pole banging on door is a fun noise. Sigh.
So to sum up, there are a couple of things that I’ve learned from this:
Firstly, if your bird starts acting strangely, maybe it’s not illness or something you’re doing but something that you have changed in the room. Secondly, it isn’t a waste of time to teach your bird to touch a stick (even if it isn’t a behaviour you particularly like) – it’s a step in a process that could potentially help you solve problems.
If you want to try this technique, touch training is covered in detail in the Total Parrot Transformation BirdTricks course.
Oh and just so you can all share my pain – after all of this mum decided she didn’t like the picture being there anyway and moved it. So for revenge, I’m going back to yelling out “Na na na na na na na na BATMAN!” at the top of my lungs at random moments. I think Pepi will have that down by the end of the week! My mother is going to kill me…
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.