Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Holland America Cruise Ship "Veendam" Wide Eyed: Congo African Grey "Cressi"
Yes, this post really is about how I cured my bird’s racism… and towards African Americans. In the following video you will notice three adult men in the background at one point and how Cressi, my Congo African Grey parrot, flies near them and then quickly away and back to us. Those adults were practicing football and were African American men. We didn’t think anything of Cressi flying away from them – other than the fact that she recognized it wasn’t Dave or me. Well, little did we know she didn’t like black people! She was actually fearful of them because she had never seen one before – something we never took into consideration until we were faced point blank with it on a cruise ship.
I was carrying her in her travel cage on my way to my stateroom when I ran into the guest entertainer in the room next to me. His name was Bobby Brooks Hamilton and he was a singer on board just for three weeks. And he was also black. As I stood there introducing myself to Bobby, we both heard a low murmured growl. To my surprise, Cressi was throwing a fit in her cage growling and snarling and just backing away as much as she could while bocking at Bobby. I realized quickly she didn’t like him and was afraid. “Whoa, what’s going on with your bird?” he asked concerned. “Oh, um…” I stumbled, unsure of how to say what was really going on with her and made something up instead. “She is just hungry and tired.” I lied. As we parted ways I realized if I was going to do that meet and greet I volunteered to do later in the cruise, I better socialize Cressi to some black people or be ultimately humiliated by her outwardly racism!
After getting to know Bobby a little better (who thankfully had a great sense of humor!). I asked him bluntly about working with Cressi on a few training sessions. I explained that she was afraid of him because of his skin color and he had a good hard laugh about it, not believing it until he saw it! I brought Cressi into the theater and as I began to walk downstairs to where Bobby stood on the stage – she immediately flew the other way and refused to come down! So, I had to work slowly from upstairs to downstairs and eventually to Bobby’s hand where she successfully perched after just 5 minutes! Now, Cressi is used to desensitization to things (mainly objects and other animals). So she knew the process well and after two training sessions total with Bobby, she was fine with all colors of people. He could, after the training sessions, hold her on his hand with no problem.
It took going at her pace by starting from upstairs and making my way downstairs towards Bobby and rewarding her along the way for her progress and bravery. She had the option to fly away the whole time but I made sure to push her comfort level just enough to where she didn’t feel the need to leave the scene. I was able to read and feel her body language on my hand as I moved her closer with each step. I paused in place about four to six times before getting her to perch on Bobby. I paused more the closer I came to him and I also made sure it was always Cressi getting closer to him and not him getting closer to Cressi. If he determines the distance then that puts him in control and he becomes more threatening. But if she feels like it’s her choice to be closer then he isn’t so much of a threat as he becomes more curious to her. It’s just like introducing a new object to your bird (desensitizing) – you never bring the object directly to your bird, always let your bird check out the object.
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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