Following a recent blog article, there was a comment from someone who had just gotten her first bird. She had done research, but said: “Once I got him home, I realized there were some serious gaps in my knowledge, and I feel like I can already see some problems cropping up after just a few days.” She requested a blog post that discusses the first month with a new bird. Thanks for the great post idea, Ashley!
Your bird’s behavior in the first few days…
It is always highly recommended that anyone considering getting a bird deeply research the species they are interested in before bringing her home. It will help you make the right decision about which bird will work best in your home. However, this information will not be helpful in the weeks immediately following your bird’s arrival. For the time being, you should throw any expectations out the window.
Whether you have purchased a young bird or have re-homed or rescued an older bird, your new bird’s behavior will be in reaction to their displacement. We know that new things in the environment can be unnerving to a parrot. Imagine how frightening it might be when not just the “things” in the environment change, but the ENTIRE environment has been replaced with a new one. For a hyper-aware prey animal, such as a parrot, that can be beyond terrifying. We are at the top of the food chain, and this could be the subject of OUR nightmares.
How you respond to their behavior will be a key factor in what opinion your bird forms about you. During these first few weeks you are laying a foundation that will need to support this relationship forever, and you don’t want to start out building on a shaky foundation.
YOUR behavior in the first few days…
I feel very strongly that a new bird should remain in the cage for at least the first few days while she adjusts to the sights and sounds of her new home. Birds that are let out of the cage before they are comfortable with the comings and goings of their family are often frightened into flight by something unfamiliar.
Envision this scenario: Your new bird is out of the cage. Your child suddenly runs into the room and the bird takes off into the air. Your attempts to catch her fail. She finally comes to rest behind the couch. You try reaching for her from different angles but eventually you have to move the couch, scoop her up and return her to her cage.
Even with your best intentions your bird has undergone a horrific ordeal. She has been frightened, stalked and captured forcibly by the same human she is expected to come to trust. You are already off to a terrible start.
Regardless of the demeanor of the bird you selected, the one that is now in your house might be anything from amiable and interactive, to wary and standoffish, to terrified and aggressive. Most often, the bird showing the fewest signs of aggression is the one that suffers the most in the early days. We, in our excitement, tend to over-handle the bird we are least afraid of.
Always remember that trust is earned. Let your initial interactions be hands-off. Don’t force physical attention. Talk quietly to her with your hands by your sides while she is in the cage and instruct your family to tread softly. Give her a gentle introduction to your home. You want her to adapt to the energy level in your house, but she does not have to do it the first day.
After a few days you can open the cage door and let her make the decisions about when to come out. She will do so when she feels safe and not a moment sooner. When your new bird eventually comes to you for attention, don’t make assumptions that she is inviting your hands to the party. Let her sit with you and enjoy your company with no stress. Keep in mind that humans are predators, and your bird knows that.
I promise that your show of respect in these earliest days will be remembered and that respect will be returned.
Starting Good Habits Early
In the early days, your bird will probably not have much interest in playing with toys you have provided. Part of the reason is that her concerns will be more about her safety than her entertainment. The other part may be that she has not had much exposure to toys and may not understand their purpose. For many birds, toys are just one more thing to be concerned about in the new environment. For this reason, fewer toys are better in the beginning.
Many birds are very fond of paper and cardboard products and sometimes these make good choices for early toys. Depending on your bird, who may not be the explorative type, you might find yourself needing to show your bird the merits of toy play. An emotionally healthy bird knows how to entertain herself with toys. They will keep her mind AND her body active throughout the day whether or not you are there. You can add foraging to her world down the road. Learn how to make good toy choices for your bird.
Before you head home with your new bird, you should be made aware of the diet she has been on to date. If you don’t have that information, get on the phone with the place you bought your bird and ask them what she was fed while there.
You want to initiate a good diet in your home, but if your bird has not been introduced to the foods in a proper diet, you can’t just put a new food in the cage and expect her to eat it. She will starve if you simply try to replace her seed with a bowl of vegetables, which she won’t identify as food.
Do you know how to safely convert your bird to a healthy diet?
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The introduction to the foods in her new diet should start on day one. Remember her early days are all about becoming acclimated to her new home, and good food is going to be a large part of her new life with you.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to win her heart by over serving snacks foods early on. Not only will this interfere with her willingness to eat the diet you want her to eat, but she will develop expectations about your delivery of the snack foods.
If you start your relationship with her by bribing her for her affection with snacks, how do you suppose she will react when you try to stop? You could wind up with a screaming bird early on or a fat and unhealthy bird down the road if you give in to her demands. Win her affection by being a trustworthy human, not with food.
Snack foods can have a part in your bird’s life (it is part of what makes life good) but use them wisely. Especially in the beginning of your relationship, it is a good idea to use treats only when…wait for it…
Training Your Bird
Training is the fastest way for you to get to know your bird and to show her your intentions. It will give you both a close up opportunity to observe each other and learn body language. Target training can persuade a reluctant bird to take that first trip out of the cage, and it will quickly teach her that it is safe to be near you. It will also speed up her willingness to have physical contact with you.
Pre-training DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO determine what your bird’s favorite treat is by offering a choice of a few small pieces of different nuts and take note of the first one she eats. That will be the treat you use for training, and she will only get that treat when you train.
- DON’T freak her out by suddenly presenting a target stick. You need her to willingly come over and touch it which won’t happen if she is afraid of it. Gently introduce it by keeping it passively in your hands whenever you approach her cage.
- DO encourage her to come to the side of the cage when you visit with her early on, and entice her to accept a treat from your hand.
- DO begin training while she is in the cage once she has begun to show relaxed behavior in your presence. There is no time frame to impose on her readiness to begin training. She will be ready when she trusts you enough to approach you.
- DON’T ever force training on your bird! That is the best way to ensure she never participates in it willingly.
Check out our One Day Miracles course to learn how to use training to fix or avoid problems with your bird.
Other General Tips
- Be sure to name your bird right away and use the name often. Because birds mimic our language and come to associate items with their labels, their name is your verbal connection to them. You will likely have nicknames for your bird at some point, but for now make a choice and use only that name.
- A very good method of getting your bird to relax around you is to sit quietly nearby and read. This will give your bird a chance to observe you being relaxed and non-threatening. You can, every now and again, quietly address her, calling her by name.
- You are going to be anxious to learn about your new bird and you will best learn by watching her. Try not to stare at her, though. You are a predator. Your staring will be highly creepy to your new bird.
- Your bird, no matter what her species, is an individual and will act according to her own nature. She will not have read her manual before coming to live with you. Her success or failure will be determined by how well you do your job as her guardian.
- You may have heard about a “honeymoon period” with your new bird. With humans, that term is generally a reference to a time frame prior to when one person starts taking another for granted. With birds, this is the period before a bird decides he is not happy and begins to rebel OR has learned how to effectively manipulate his human’s behavior with his own actions. At this point it will be apparent that the bird’s behavior has changed. However, the honeymoon never really needs to come to an end, and it won’t if you are paying attention to details.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.