How to Treat Parrots That Aren't Your Own

Photo by Missi Bellande Location: Ft Myers, FL Preshow parrot: Congo African Grey "Cressi" 

I really love the all access preshow we do for the circus; it's a great way to socialize our parrots. But there is something I've noticed when it comes to people... and specifically bird people that I wanted to tap on.

Because most of the people I meet in the preshow are NOT bird owners or "bird people", I've learned to handle my birds with them all a certain way. Most non-bird people are very intimidated by birds and more willing to listen to me and do as I tell them because they don't know anything about bird behavior.

My favorite people are the parents who tell their children, "Listen to the woman and do exactly as she says, okay?" before letting them come over to me and whichever parrot I have out for that particular show. That immediately tells me that they are going to have respect for me and my animal, and not try to do something I don't tell them to do which makes my job a lot easier. I've literally had kids jump out of the conga line and try to grab Jinx, my macaw, or run up and grab his tail while I put him on someone's arm. I even had a little boy run up and punch Jinx across the face while I was kneeling down taking a picture with someone else. People will do things you wouldn't believe and that's why as bird owners, it's our responsibility to RESPECT our fellow bird owners and their birdie companions as much as we can.

This means... don't treat someone else's bird like it's your own.

Photo by Missi Bellande Location: Ft Myers, FL In the conga line: Blue throated macaw "Jinx" 

Things I've heard from bird people, "Oh, I've had a bird before, I know what I'm doing." or "I have a bird at home." these are like huge warning signs to me that you're going to think you know my bird better than I do, or that you're giving off a false confidence that is going to make my bird uncomfortable from the second you take him from me. These people ALWAYS approach my bird rather than letting me give my bird to them.

This is huge in training. I've socialized Jinx intentionally so that he is ok with anyone I put him on, but he is NOT ok with just anyone coming up and trying to take him from me. Those situations are EXTREMELY different. My reasoning is that I want him to be nice to people and well socialized, but I do not want someone taking him home or thinking they can walk away with him. This goes for freeflying outside, and socializing inside. I'm surrounded by thousands of people, and my attention can be diverted easily, the last thing I need is someone walking off with my bird. I like Jinx being social enough to sit calmly on anyone's arm for a picture, but unfriendly enough that the person assumes they can't handle him by themselves.

Some tips for when you meet new birds: 

Tip #1: Let the bird come to you, don't ever force yourself on any animal.

This means let the bird approach you, or let the trainer/owner tell you what to do. Don't assume you know. Bird people always want to hold my birds how I hold them, or how I tell them to hold their own birds. But because most people aren't bird people, I don't tell people to hold my bird that way because they are so uncomfortable, and I need to be able to get Jinx back in a split second for that time that someone gets scared and pulls their arm away. It's my job to keep him safe and feeling comfortable while I socialize, so it's always a fun experience for him. And at the very least, not negative in any way.

So I've taught him to stand on people's arms like the next picture shows. The person can't grab him, and they can't hold him there with their hands holding his feet. This is how non-bird people feel most comfortable, and this is how I can help support the arms of people that may be a bit more nervous than others. It ensures the arm is going to stay up supporting the bird (notice my left hand keeping this girl's arm up).

Photo by Missi Bellande Location: Ft Myers, FL Shown: Blue throated macaw "Jinx" 

For this I use "forcing yourself" loosely. Wait for the person to tell you what the bird likes, how to do things, what's okay and what's not. This makes the bird like you more, because you're abiding by what it likes and not assuming anything about the bird that you don't know.

Tip #2: Ask first.

Always ask the bird owner first. Ask if you can pet him, where he likes it if you can, how to do it. Birds are different just like people and prefer different things. I can't let people pet Jinx in the preshow, as badly as I know they all want to, because that would be being pet by over 1,000 people every show and he'd get sick of it SO fast! The last thing I want to do is accidentally train him that petting sucks because I overdo it every show.

Tip #3: Never assume.

Don't assume the bird is okay with things your own bird is. Just because you have a bird at home, or have had a bird in the past, doesn't mean you know birds so well you can handle any bird that comes your way. Always be on the defensive and act like every new bird hates you so that you never push boundaries and you're always earning respect and trust from the bird. This makes things much easier, and never starts you off on the wrong foot when meeting a new bird.

I'm always cautious when meeting a new bird, and even being around my friends' birds that I know better than others, I still realize their owners know them best and I never just walk up expecting friendship from a bird. Always observe first, and assume the bird is going to bite you unless you listen to the owner.

These tips aren't to scare anyone, but they are characteristics I've seen in bird owners with my own birds (not to say all of you by ANY means, and I LOVE meeting you all in person!) but these are definitely good things to be aware of, and things to tell your friends and family so that they don't get their feelings hurt when your bird doesn't respond to them the way it responds to you. Respect is so key with our pet parrots - and it's never necessary to show off or impress anyone. I love you all for being the caring and compassionate bird owners you are, I don't need to be shown that you know what you're doing. I'm more impressed when you act like you don't and you always have something to learn. Because we all always have something to learn. Thank you all who come out and support us, and constantly teach me new things. I look forward to all of you that I've gotten to meet and hopefully get to see again in the future along our route. 

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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