The Basics of Living With a Parrot

Photo by Dave Location: Moab, UT On my shoulder: Blue throated macaw "Jinx"

So, I'm going around with my husband Dave in January and doing "at home" consults with him for needy bird owners.  And today I was going through the many emails we received about people begging us to come to their home and help them with their parrot problems... trying to pick the lucky 10-12 people that we could go see in person.

I read some pretty horrible situations and I'm reading over the emails many times over before picking out the perfect candidates.  It inspired this blog post.

By the way, if you want an in home consult, check out this link.

Onto the basics of living your life with the company of a parrot, or two. Or three, or more.


BASIC RULE #1 OF LIVING WITH A PARROT: Don't boss your bird around. 

Step up. Step down. NO! Don't do that! Ouch! Go back to your cage! Don't touch that! You can't eat that! I can't believe you destroyed that! Get off! Get down! Shut up! Stop screaming! Don't bite! That hurts, don't be like that! I'm putting you away! You're going in time out! You're going back in your cage for that! Come back here! Get out of there! STOP!

Do you talk to your spouse that way? Your best friend? Would you want someone talking to YOU that way?

I get that a bird is an animal, and it doesn't speak English like you or me so communication can be hard. But just because you are a human and the bird is an animal doesn't mean that you have to control everything the animal does. Most people take control of their birds by clipping their wings - you've already stolen enough by doing that, that you should be understanding when your bird is frustrated about not being able to do things for itself. Think about if someone made your mobility 10x harder than it is right now, wouldn't you think "Eh, why bother? Too much work."

Demanding or commanding your bird to do things on a daily basis is just annoying. I would get mad at someone doing that to me all day, and if the only way for the person to get the point that I was mad was to bite them, well, I'd do it to get MY point across, wouldn't you?

Think about everything you ask your bird as a question, or request. Think about performing tricks as 'cues' rather than demands. Think about 'step up' as a QUESTION, not an ORDER. "Would you like to step up? Would you like to spend time with me?" rather than, "STEP UP. Come here! Get over here. Step up!" we hear it in marriage and relationship books all the time... the more you nag the man, the less he will want to do with you. The more you respect him and give him the option, the more likely he is to come to you and want to do anything he can for you because you're now making yourself deserving. 


BASIC RULE #2 OF LIVING WITH A PARROT: Punishment is useless.

Time out and spankings might have worked on your kids in some way or another but they WILL NOT work on your parrot. If you stand up to your bird by hitting it back when it bites you, smacking its beak, or putting it back in its cage for "time out" after he has been bad... you got it all wrong and are damaging your relationship with your parrot.

It is natural for us to get hurt and react, and I've heard from a lot of guilty faced bird owners that they hit their bird in reaction to being bitten but if you're actually using that method to stop biting, screaming, lunging, or any other unwanted behaviors... you are making things MUCH worse for yourself and your bird.

Even though your bird can inflict enormous amounts of pressure (equalling pain) you have to remember it's MUCH smaller than you and over all, you are the one that can do more damage. Even in my case - 300 grams vs. 110 lbs? Not fair. You don't FIGHT with your parrot. Not physically anyway, and not in a screaming fit either.

Parrots don't understand punishment. When it bites you and you yell at it, that's exciting. When it bites you and you put it back in its cage, that might just be what it wanted. When it bites you and you hit it back or spray it in the face, it either wants to take you on 10x more now, or does not understand why bath time has because so un-fun. You develop phobias in your parrot, aggression tendencies, reactionary behaviors and unpredictability.

Think about how every interaction with your bird can be something positive, vs negative even if it has to be a shorter amount of time. If your bird is biting you after a few minutes of scratching the back of its neck, scratch for shorter amounts of time more often. Learn your birds limits and don't push past them so far.


BASIC TIP #3 OF LIVING WITH A PARROT: It's not the bird's fault. 

I'm not saying it's your fault either but don't blame the bird for everything. The bird is just doing that which is instinctive. What are YOU doing? Are you reacting emotionally? Think it through. 

If you know me, you know I truly don't believe in clipping a bird's wings and I feel that wing clipping leads to a ton of behavioral problems. When you take away flight, you get a lot of other behaviors that are compensating for the bird not being able to get away. I'd much rather work with a fearful bird which whom you can build confidence, than a pissed off bird who just wants to get at you any way possible. Being able to fly builds confidence in a scared bird, while it feeds aggression to a mean bird who will the use it to fly after you and attack. But if your bird is clipped already, you can work through the issues while it's clipped until the feathers come back in... do you know how long that even takes? In macaws it can take 6 months or even longer! It's a long process to get those feathers back which gives you plenty of time to work on the relationship side of things while it's happening. 

Your bird needs to have a way to communicate with you. If you think your bird is randomly biting you without warning, you are missing the warnings. In some species they can be harder to read than others, but it's always possible.


BASIC RULE #4 OF LIVING WITH A PARROT: Never use positive things in your bird's environment as negative.

What I mean by this rule is if your bird enjoys bathing with a spray bottle, don't use that same spray bottle to shut him up when he goes into a screaming fit. 

If your bird loves new toys but is nervous about one at first, don't use it to scare your bird into stepping onto your hand.

If your bird loves one person in the house, don't use that person to the point of the bird not trusting them for what could be seen as negative situations for your bird like always putting it away or taking things away it wants or has. Everyone in the house should be taking the bird out, putting the bird back and feeding and caring and loving on the bird to keep a 60-40 balance.


BASIC RULE #5 OF LIVING WITH A PARROT: Always seek help, admit your mistakes and help others without judgement. 

Be open to help, influence, guidance. Don't believe everything you read online, sometimes it isn't updated. I probably have posts on this blog that I should update as I put out newer and newer opinions I have gathered. Take everything in and use what your gut and feelings tell you to use for your situation. Everyones situation is different, one thing won't work for everyone.

Don't be afraid to say you need help, to admit what you've done to get you to the situation where you do need help and to take it and offer help to others based on what you've learned from. Just like you don't want someone jumping down your throat and making you feel worse than you already do for your mistakes, don't make someone else feel bad or stupid for the mistakes they have made or are currently unaware that they are making.

For advice from other bird lovers, check out the BirdTricks facebook. I am constantly on there replying to fellow bird owners and lovers, and working hard to keep it judgement free.

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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