Learning to Trust Your Parrot Radar

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Huntington, West Virginia Pictured: Rose breasted cockatoo "Bandit"

Sometimes when I'm with my birds, I give them excuses that I really shouldn't. Like if one flies at me head, instead of to my hand... sometimes I will literally say in my head, "Oh, he probably didn't mean it, afterall, he hit my hand first, maybe he just messed up on his flight..." Or, "He didn't mean to bite me, he was just holding himself or playing and didn't realize how hard he pushed down..." It's all bull, really. It's a way of making myself feel like my bird doesn't hate me at the time. And he doesn't, but he has a reason for doing those things that I haven't figured out yet - but either way, no matter how you look at it - it was my fault.

I've learned to trust my "birdie radar" on things. Sometimes I can look at my birds and know if they're going to fly to me, or at me. But a lot of the time I ignore the radar and give the bird a chance to show me... and it's through ignoring my radar that I've developed it SO well! Sometimes you gotta just trust yourself... don't push your bird one more time, know that the flight he is about to take it not going to be friendly and don't ask it. This advice is really from me, and to me. I need to listen to my radar more because I ignore it so much. Just recently Dave was training with Ace, and I thought that was the better idea rather than me doing it. It was going really well when I decided to jump in. I had a feeling I shouldn't, but I ignored it and sure enough Ace ended up flying at my head. Well, I had to then work on something different to work through it with him and ended up learning how to get him to step up and how to know when he was ready so I wouldn't get bit. He actually tells me now, "Step up" which his previous owners taught him. But I know if he doesn't say step up, that he doesn't me to pick him up, so I don't push it. Of course we always learn something from ignoring our radar, but it can also backfire.

Cressi, my African Grey, was hanging out with me and Dave in our dressing room. She was having a great time but the way Dave was interacting with her, caused her to get horny. I knew from the puffed up feathers and the way her body language was that it wasn't a good idea for me to try to interact with her - but I did anyway and I ended up getting bit by her pretty hard. If once wasn't enough for ignoring my gut, I ignored it again with, "Oh she was playing and she didn't mean to bite me..." it was no accident I found out as I tried to pick her up again and she lashed out at me. Dave left the room and said, "You better work through this on your own." I ended up offering her some water from a bottle cap, waiting a little while while she did her thing hanging out outside her cage and then asking her to come onto my hand so I could put her away to do my next number. She refused, so I persisted (another note: try not to work through things when you're in a hurry) because I had to get her inside her cage before leaving the room... she stepped up but resentfully and letting me know it wasn't her first choice but she would do it this time so not to cause a scene. But if I would have listened to my gut feelings, my first instinct, my parrot radar... I would have avoided all those messes with my birds and saved us both some hard feelings.

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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