Earning Trust for Behaviors: Bird on Back

Jamieleigh hugging macaw

Photo by Dave Location: Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands Hugging: Blue and Gold Macaw "Chayko"

Earning your bird's trust can be hard depending on your bird's situation. One of my favorite behaviors to train is based on trust and that is getting your parrot to lay on its back; whether it's on a hard surface or in your arms. It's important to get your bird used to being touched all over when you first get it. Handling it in all sorts of different ways and touching all over its body is a great way to get your bird used to being handled and touched. Some birds don't like their tails being touched, or their backs, but if you get your bird accustomed to being touched everywhere, they will think nothing of it and it will become easier to handle your bird yourself as well as allow others to handle your bird, too. The first steps to getting your bird to lay on its back comfortably and willingly is to create a bond with your bird to where he enjoys being loved and showed affection from you. Once you have this relationship and your bird is comfortable with being touched all over, you start by getting it used to your hand being placed on its back. I hold the bird close to my chest and slowly tilt forward with one hand holding his feet and acting like a perch and the other supporting his back. It's important not to just fling yourself forward with your bird as this will startle him and most likely result in you getting bit. You want to make sure to ease into it very slowly and at the pace of your bird. I always use the reward of being cuddled and held, but a food reward can also be given if that is what your bird responds best to.   Eventually, you get to the point where you are completely parallel with the floor and your bird is comfortable as he is close to your body. When your bird is comfortable with this stage, this is when you begin slowly moving your body away the same way you eased down to become parallel.   Slowly but surely your bird will become comfortable laying on its back in your arms without your chest having to be there for support.  

Training Macaw on back

Photo by Dave Location: Saipan, Mariana Islands On back: Blue and Gold Macaw "Chayko"

This process needs to be worked over days and days. I did little by little with my blue and gold macaw, Chayko. I worked it every day until it morphed into the behavior I was looking for.

It's also a process of finding out which position is most relaxing for your bird. Some want to be facing you straight forward, others want to be to the side, others need to be cradled like a baby.

The last step is removing your hands which are playing the role of your bird's perch. This can be difficult as sometimes hanging onto your hand is the only reason your bird is comfortable on his back in the first place. This must be done very slow! I've found that taking away one finger at a time works best with getting the bird use to holding onto less and less. The last finger will be the hardest but if you can get him down a finger every training session, you're doing amazingly well. Remember to always go at the pace of your bird and do not force him into moving too fast. This needs to be a positive experience and turn into a behavior he enjoys doing. Praise and affection are great rewards for this type of behavior. 

Jamieleigh and Chayko smiles

Photo by Dave Location: Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands On back: Blue and Gold Macaw "Chayko" 

Eventually, your bird will easily ease into this. When I went to visit Chayko at David's place, I handled him and talked to him. It had been months upon months since I had seen Chayko last and I was nervous he wouldn't remember me. Sure enough, after about 5 minutes of reuniting with him, he went on his back for me and laid in my arms. It meant the world to me to know he still loved and trusted me as he always did.

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.

9 comments

Jamieleigh

Are you just holding them in your hand til they calm down? If they are fighting the whole time you’re just ruining your relationship. Forcing an animal to cuddle will do the exact opposite. If you build a relationship based on trust and bonding then you can still check your bird’s keel and not upset it enough to ruin your relationship. I recommend watching this course; www.birdtricks.com/miracles.

Jamieleigh
lekorany

Hi, I have been attempting to get my two budgies used to being held so I can check their muscles, keels, etc and my own selfish want for them to like cuddling eventually. How long should these sessions last? I can sense them stressing, even when they appear calm. Thank you so much!

lekorany
Jamieleigh

You should be able to touch your bird all over – if I am to be more specific I would say don’t start this type of training during hormonal seasons (usually fall and spring but also anytime your bird exhibits hormonal behavior) – but just because you should be ABLE to touch your bird everywhere (comes in handy for vet exams, medicating, etc) doesn’t mean you should practice doing so often. There’s a huge difference between having the ability to when you need it and doing it all the time.

Jamieleigh
Dale Brooks

Doesn’t his type of handling stimulate some birds in a sexually undesirable way, making them possessive and mean? I used to be able to touch my blue fronted Amazon this way. When spring came he started getting possessive, aggressive and would fly at my face and bite me every chance he got. I read that in birds that become aggressive like this, you should limit touch to the head and neck area.

Dale Brooks
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lekorany

Thanks for the suggestions and the course link! I would hate to ruin years of trust by stressing them out.

lekorany
Doggalicious

Reblogged this on Doggalicious Rhinestone Doggy and commented: Good bird information to share!

Doggalicious
Jamieleigh

There is another method taught in Taming Training and Tricks here; www.birdtricks.com/store.

Jamieleigh
Angela Wonder

I am trying to get my TAG to lay on her back. She’s only 6 months old and has already learned 2 tricks…she’s amazing. I have tried what you recommended and it is not successful. I am able to touch her all over, and we have a nightly cuddle time when she nestles in my arm and puts her head into my hand and falls asleep while I do homework or watch tv. I believe that she trusts me since she does this, so I am trying to figure out what other methods might work for her to learn to go on her back…If you have any suggestions I would greatly appreciate it

Angela Wonder

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