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.
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.
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.
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.