Babies and Parrots Making Contact: a Cuddly Controversy

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One of my sun conures on the door into my daughter's room.

I posted a couple photos recently, of a "breakthrough" I had with my african grey parrot, Cressi and my ten month old daughter, Sydney. To me it was a breakthrough, because it was a huge step in a positive direction. A step I wasn't expecting to happen so soon. My daughter loves seeing, being close to, and just being in the presence of any animal but especially our birds. (You know this if you follow my instagram at all) Her favorites are the sun conure girls, but she loves all the birds. She once woke from a nap and Rocko our toco toucan was the first thing she laid eyes on and all I heard was her murmur, giggle a little and just beam at him. She was sitting up happily smiling at him. I wish she woke up that way when the first thing she sees is me but alas, it's the toucan that does it. ;)

Rocko watching Sydney sleep.

Rocko watching Sydney sleep.

It will never cease to surprise me how people judge in all aspects of life. Ever since becoming a parent, I see it even more-so. Everyone expects you to do things the way they did them, as if it's the only way that is acceptable to them even though we all know there's not just one right way to do something.

The best advice I received for parenting was to do what feels right to me. That's how I go about it. If it doesn't feel right, I don't do it. If I get stuck, I ask what others did and see what feels right for me to do. I tell people this in the bird world all the time - you should be learning from everyone, not just one source, and then creating your own path from all that you learn into what works for you. What makes sense for someone with a cockatiel in an apartment isn't going to be the same for the family in the log cabin with a macaw, or the girl on the island with the toucan. I would use the expression 'more than one way to skin a cat' but I really hate the image that pops into my head when that's used...

Sydney excitedly looking up at a conure girl.

Sydney excitedly looking up at a conure girl.

We've been working on getting Sydney to pet nicely to our dog, Diesel (german shepherd) and our cat Ninja. Diesel is way more tolerant - he's about to be two years old this year so he's still a pup and likes to play rough so a harder pet or stepping on the tail doesn't even cause him to look in your direction.

But we still work towards it. Sydney recently began to pet our cat Ninja to where she actually enjoys the petting which is a huge step for us! From the cat that avoided the twitching kid that looked like she had no control of her limbs (which was pretty true during the time they are figuring all that out!) to now coming up for a petting is pretty awesome.

Sydney petting our cat Ninja.

Sydney petting our cat Ninja.

While changing cages and feeding birds, I sometimes have Sydney in the bird room with me "helping" (rearranging their dishes... on the floor... playing with the dog usually, finding pieces of fruit Rocko disregarded and the vacuum didn't find) you know, the things ten month olds specialize at. Which brings me to Cressi. I always try to share part of my day with our fans - through bird photos or videos. That day I picked up Sydney in one arm, and let Cressi out on the other. I posed us for a picture, though Sydney couldn't help herself but stare at Cressi rather than say cheese for the camera: Sydney staring dreamily at Cressi.

Sydney staring dreamily at Cressi.

Then something happened in literally a second. While I was still holding the camera trying to get a good photo of us where I didn't look so sleep-deprived (ha!), Sydney reached out and as I pulled her further away, Cressi responded with a fluffed head and bowed it down so that Sydney could more easily reach the proper spot that needed the most petting. Seeing this, I let Sydney's hand get closer after all and she pet Cressi on the head for the very first time ever.  Sydney petting Cressi.

Sydney petting Cressi.

The moment was a second. But it was an important, awesome moment. I was so excited that Cressi invited Sydney's petting - and that Sydney was able to do it gently as she had been working on. I'm all about short, positive interactions to build the bond and trust between my daughter and my birds. I figure short, baby steps (pun intended!) are the way to go.

Now, I don't share my moments to say "Go do this with your kid and birds!" I do it to share what I'm doing in the hopes that it helps someone have an ah-ha! moment along the way in their journey, and gives them an idea or what may work for them and any issue they may be currently having. Plus, I like to think I'm raising an animal lover. ;) Like I said before, I wasn't planning on this - but Cressi gave Sydney the opportunity and I decided to act on that moment.

That's what animal training is about - that is why it's so hard to film things, at least for me, because I always work on things when the bird presents the opportunity vs trying to plan anything. This was one of those special moments.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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