The purpose of desensitization is to get your bird use to as many different things as possible as a way to reduce the impact of change so it doesn't cause your bird stress. For example, most birds would scare from the sound of dropping books but if you get your bird used to loud noises, you can get him to the point where he doesn't get scared from those types of noises and therefore won't get stressed. Stressed birds develop problems plucking, biting and screaming. The more desensitized your bird is, the better off you and your bird are.Desensitization applies to everyone, even you and me, and definitely all other animals. Above is an example of desensitization training with dogs. For more learning on desenitization training, follow the following resources:
- How Sea World Uses Desensitization Training
- The Humane Sociey on Desensitization
- How it Works with Large Cats, Too!
A great example of this is when birds are fearful of new toys you put in their cage. Because YES, you are supposed to change up their toys but how do you do that and not feel evil for scaring the heck out of your bird, too? A great example is Bean. He is a 13 year old Congo African Grey parrot who was adopted, previously (and still partcially) a feather plucker. We really wanted him to learn how to use food finding toys (AKA foraging toys) so that he would start spending more time looking for food and less time picking at his plumage.
The problem was, Bean was very scared of foraging toys and would start shaking wildly when one was put into his cage. Bean was also scared of people so there was no one he could turn to for the utmost comfort and say it was OK. He didn't trust anything or anyone! He even had a hard time with new PERCHES in his cage at one point!
So, we found the easiest foraging toy possible. One with large openings to make it easy to get food out and one that we could even set food on top of. We took his food dishes away and instead, put his food plus treats all over, in and out of this new foraging toy. At first, Bean wanted nothing to do with it and sat on the opposite side of his cage. As far away as possible from this new scary toy he was being given. But then... later in the day, his tummy began digesting his breakfast and he started getting hungry again... but there were no food dishes for him, only that clear looking foraging toy with all those goodies inside. But it was still too scary to risk it and he wasn't hungry enough to have the food as motivation. So he waited, still. Here are some "starter" foraging toys for timid birds:
These are simple foraging toys that introduce your bird slowly to the idea of working to find their food. It makes it easy because they can see the food and it's simple for them to get to and eat. Other than those, plastic ones are best because your bird can see what goodies await his hard work! And a plastic one is what we used for Bean.
So use desensitization with your bird daily. It's not that hard and it takes a minimal amount of time and effort on your part depending on what you're using.
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.