Photo by Dave Location: Little Rock Zoo, AR Shown: Catalina Macaw
I recently got asked how to get a bird to enjoy being in its cage more, so to want to spend more time in there. Now, I definitely want my birds to enjoy being in their cages so that they aren’t miserable in their so-called “bedrooms”, and so that they won’t refuse to go back into them, but I also want them to enjoy coming out of their cage enough that they don’t feel like they never want to leave their cage. I’ve met a few too many parrots who refuse to leave the comfort of their cages and that just isn’t healthy for a pet parrot and it means you’re definitely doing something wrong because your bond with your bird isn’t strong enough. But is your bond too strong and does your bird enjoy being with you so much it hates going back into its cage? There’s a few different solutions for this. One solution is to time meals (or treats) around when you want your bird to go back into his cage. This way the bird will be looking forward to treats or his meal and won’t even care that it’s inside his cage. I had to do this a lot with a hyacinth macaw I worked with to get him to go back inside his cage during the day. I began teaching him at first that his toys were stuffed with macadamia nuts and in the beginning I really would cram as many as possible into this one toy by a perch that I’d set him on. Eventually I stopped putting as many nuts in there, but made it a bit random so he never knew how many would be there, but he always knew at least one would be there. This was the only time he got the nuts, and so it was enticing and reinforcing enough that he’d go into his cage without a fuss. Depending on how many times I wanted to take him out, is how much I put in the toy throughout the day. So working eating habits around interaction is a great way to smoothly live with your bird and not worry about putting him away periodically without a problem. Another method of getting your bird back into his cage is by using touch training, or targeting. This method is used a lot on horses to get them into travel trailers and distracts the animal from seeing it as, “I’m being put away back into my cage” to “I’m touching the end of that stick!” it’s become a task instead of a negative thing. Animals LOVE having tasks to do. The third way is less having to do with any sort of specific training and just is about making the bird’s cage a happy place to be, a fun place that it enjoys with lots of fun new toys and a constantly changing environment. You should be rotating toys your bird doesn’t play with and changing the toys up to new ones, moving perches around and re-interior-decorating the cage often so your bird doesn’t get bored with the same ol’ surroundings. Having edible toys is always fun like birdie kabobs or cuttlebones, coconuts, etc. Have a variety of shreddable toys plus puzzle toys, things your bird enjoys doing so he’s always having fun. I tend to be pretty high energy when I’m interacting with my birds. I’m almost always playing so they look forward to going back into their cages or aviaries for their mellow “down time”. It’s a nice balance, so find your balance.
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.