Bites Be Gone! Solutions for a Common and Painful Problem

By Jenny Drummey

Bites are complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to say what’s more painful about a bite from your parrot: the physical pain, or the emotional upheaval and the trust it destroys. The scars that bites leave behind are certainly physical, but they’re psychological and emotional too.

Bite-BitsThe bite has power, its force often shocking. If they’re so unpleasant, and they may eventually cause us to stop interacting with a parrot at all, why do they persist? How can we remove this behavior from our bird’s repertoire? It’s vital that you solve this problem, as it is impossible to build a trusting relationship with your bird if you fear he will bite you.

Start by realizing that bites matter, they have meaning, and they are communication. The question is: Are we listening?

If biting is common in your home, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Biting is a behavior, and like all behavior, it has a function, a reason for happening. The biting behavior persists because it allows the bird access to something he wants or allows him to avoid something he doesn’t want. Bites serve Biting Edinburghnews 2013a purpose to the parrot. Examine what that purpose is, and make changes based on that.

Don’t take bites personally. It’s easier to say than do. But when a bird bites you, think of it as communication only. A bite is like the exclamation mark at the end of the parrot’s sentence “I am uncomfortable with this situation!” Employ methods that remove the possibility of the bite happening in the first place.

Change the way you think about why the bite happens. Have you ever heard that a bird bites because he is “jealous” or “grumpy” or “hormonal”? Have you ever attributed a bite to something that happened last week, or longer (“He bit me because we went on vacation last month”)?

This kind of thinking doesn’t solve the problem, but instead attributes the bite to an unverifiable source, because we can never know what an animal is thinking. To change behavior, don’t focus on what the parrot is feeling, but on what the parrot is doing.

Biting LovebirdsRespect your parrot’s personal space. Let your bird choose to come to you. Present food or a toy at least 6 inches away and let your parrot come to it. If stepping up, allow the bird space to come to you, instead of forcing the behavior by, for example, pressing your hand into the bird’s stomach.

Be flexible. The simplest all-purpose solution when a bird’s body language indicates a chomp is imminent: Walk away and come back again in five minutes.

Learn to recognize common bite triggers:
• An object, person, or situation that causes the bird to exhibit body language that we associate with fear or aggression
• Territoriality around the cage or another location such as a play gym
• Caregiver distraction, which can result in inattention to a bird’s body language
• Unwanted attention (or too much attention)
• Caregiver’s body language

Biting Senegal

Use the Trust Test. A simple and effective tool to evaluate any answer to the problem is to see if it passes the Trust Test. Will the proposed biting solution build or destroy trust?

If it will build trust, the solution is worth a try. If it will destroy trust, forget about it. You know if a solution builds trust if the bird can choose to participate (and is allowed to make that choice!). If the bird is forced to comply with the solution or if you ignore the bird’s reaction, it will likely destroy trust between you.

Offer objects, food or situations that motivate your bird. A bird’s ability to choose the behavior you want her to perform is directly related to your ability to motivate her. The key is knowing what your bird really wants to work for. Offer the bird something of value to her at that moment, and she will choose to perform what you want to get that reward.

In most cases, when you want to change a behavior, you ignore the problem behavior, and reinforce an alternative behavior (using the motivator) instead. You teach the parrot what to do in place of the problem behavior.

Bite-Bits2Keep a biting notebook. Collect the data and evidence you’ll need to understand the problem and to change it. Each time you are bitten, record the details. What can you do differently? The most important thing to do when you get bitten is something other than what you were doing when you got the bite.

Parrots do not crave the same kinds of interactions that dogs and cats do. Petting generally isn’t something parrots desire – or if they do, it’s usually because it is sexually stimulating. We are so hard wired to the pleasures of touch that we have a hard time seeing past this basic fact. Sometimes as we continually offer affection the bird can show frustration and eventually bite.

Be aware that your bird may see you as a predator. Sometimes it’s hard to see how intimidating we are to our birds, but recognize that it is a distinct possibility that you are approaching your bird in a manner that could set up the bite. Don’t interact when you are stressed or hurried. Approach a parrot with slow, confident movements. Talk quietly to the bird.

CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONSParrots aren’t children, dogs, cats, or soul mates. Parrots are fascinating, intelligent, wild individuals who we try our best to live with every day. Parrots have evolved to be social creatures, and we are part of their flock. But sometimes we expect our birds to fulfill roles that they cannot, or to behave in ways that are not possible. Having realistic expectations can help you to reduce or eliminate biting, because you won’t be asking your bird to do things that don’t make sense. Consider a bird’s true nature, what he enjoys from interacting with you, and what’s healthy between you.

For more information on biting, see Biting Matters, published by the Phoenix Landing Press.

Molts and Pinfeathers: A New Year for You and Your Bird

The start of a new year: time to make promises to yourself for positive changes in your life. As you sign up for a gym membership or purge Facebook friends, don’t forget your bird. What resolutions can you make to improve your bird’s life in the coming months?

Don’t get overwhelmed. Start small with an achievable goal for the first few months of the new year. Expand your parrot’s  world with new activities and enrichment items in January. Improve your parrot’s diet in February. March is the month to tackle a behavior problem.

January, when your family is stuck inside, is a great time to make a bunch of simple toys. Begin by re-purposing all of those (safe!) boxes that your holiday gifts came in as foraging toys for your bird, then continue toy making throughout the month. Toys are simple and cheap to make, and Kris Porter’s Parrot Enrichment Activity Book available from parrotenrichment.com  is an excellent free resource. The Facebook group The Parrot’s Workshop provides an almost endless supply of simple toys that are easy to make, often with instructions.

Though toys can be based on items you have in the house, you can also purchase bird toy parts online (a recommended site is makeyourownbirdtoys.com). Recruit your kids and their friends or other bird lovers in your area to have a toy making party. Focus on variety for maximum interest. Experiment with different textures, materials, and colors in the same toy. Toys don’t have to look pretty, they just have to be fun!

By increasing the number and variety of enrichment items, whether these be toys, a new play stand, a wicker basket to perch on, or branches made of safe wood, you offer your bird more choices and more opportunities for learning. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination (and what’s safe for your parrot!).

In February, focus on nutrition. Resolve to introduce a new healthy food item to your parrot each week. This could be food packaged  in a new way. Stuff kale leaves into a cored apple and hang it on a skewer, for example. Try serving fruit or vegetables before they are fully ripe. Split a papaya or cantaloupe in half and let your bird pick out the seeds. Use a food processor to finely chop new foods, then mix them in with a little healthy seed. Another option: slice fruit or vegetables thinly, cut a hole in the middle, and string on a toy.

Offer healthy food prepared in different ways. Your bird may prefer cooked, steamed or raw. See the Phoenix Landing cookbook Nourish to Flourish for a wealth of ideas, methods and information.

During this month, note the foods that your bird will fly through hoops for.

Use your parrot’s coveted treats during the month of March when you focus on behavior. Identify one behavior to train. It could be something as simple as training your parrot to target to a stick or teaching your bird to forage. Training is not difficult, so give it a try.  See the Phoenix Landing Press book Project Parrot for detailed information about training and behavior.

Instead of training a behavior, you could focus on resolving a behavior problem. Biting is a common one.

See the book Biting Matters for tools and techniques to reduce or eliminate bites.

Resolving behavior issues is so often about changing our expectations of our wild companions. An excellent resource for understanding how birds perceive the world is Leigh Ann Hartsfield’s book Birds Beyond Words. Once you understand a bird’s nature, it can be easier to resolve an issue by developing realistic solutions. Rosemary Low’s book, Understanding Parrots: Cues from Nature provides wonderful insight from her travels around the globe over decades to observe species in the wild.

These attainable monthly goals can greatly affect your bird’s quality of life, and the relationship between your bird and his flock, which is your family, in the first few months of the new year. Then, why not repeat this three-month cycle throughout the year?

Use the comments field to share your birdie resolutions!

Adoptable Bird Pairs

Birds will often make friends with other birds. When the relationship is safe (they don’t hurt each other), and they aren’t mating, we like to see them enjoy their lives together. After all, having someone else in your family that looks, thinks and acts like you can be comforting and entertaining. Can you imagine being the only human?

Here are just a few of our bird pairs/friends looking for their next good home through Phoenix Landing. While they certainly enjoy and benefit from each other’s company, they can enjoy a human family’s time and attention too. Since people cannot mate with parrots, and we shouldn’t over-snuggle, stroke or pet them anyway, having two birds that keep each other good company makes for a healthier and happier household for everyone.

Here are a few of our current adoptable pairs, and there are several others of various species waiting for our help.

TORI and GABRIELLE are nanday conures. Their age is unknown but they’ve been together at least seven years. They are dedicated companions, snuggling every night. During the day, Tori is pleased to fly around and spend time exploring. Gabrielle always stays on or in the cage, and has a more cautious nature. Tori will land on your shoulder if you’re a trusted person, but Gabrielle prefers her personal space. We think they’re adorable, especially their little red ankles.

Tori Gabrielle

QUORK, a scarlet macaw, and BETSY, a military macaw, came from a rather horrid place many years ago. Their ages are unknown. They were not companions then but now they are cage mates and best buddies. Their past was left behind long ago and all that matters to them now is that they have places to go and things to do, keeping them mentally and physically active. They are terrific eaters of a wide variety of healthy foods. Quork will chatter upon occasion, and knows his name. He likes to have his tongue touched at bedtime. GIZMO is a 24 year old blue and gold macaw that likes to hang out with Quork and Betsy, and these three go together to an outside aviary almost every day. Macaws are so enchanting. Just watching their antics is usually more than satisfying.

GizmoQuorkBetsy

PIP SQUEEK, a 14 year old sun conure, and SWEET PEA, an 18 year old nanday conure, are a charming pair. They very much appreciate their human family too, especially Pip. She’s the first to come out and seek family interaction and easily hops up hoping for a walk about the house and an adventure. Pea is a bit more of a homebody, but he adores Pip. You may wonder why Pip is so bald. We wonder too. The feather follicles have long gone, and she’s been tested for every possible medical problem.  Her medical workups are always excellent.  She is just unique!

Pip and Pea

OLLIE, an 8 year old blue and gold macaw and LAYLA an 11 year old scarlet macaw are entertaining to say the least. They have been together for almost 8 years. Ollie is a boisterous, happy and clever macaw. He loves to trick train and even knows when to say “good!” Layla is very attached to Ollie and doesn’t like for him to be out of sight. They will often bicker, or maybe they are just having a significant discussion, but they love a bit of drama. We’re glad they have each other to keep life engaging for both.

Ollie and Layla on Atom

ESSIE is a 17 year old greenwing macaw and URSIE is an 18 year old blue and gold macaw. These two would fit best into a home where they are allowed lots of time outside the cage. They love sitting on a tree stand, and especially enjoy looking out the window. They entertain and take care of each other while you enjoy and admire their beautiful parrot dynamics. They relish their Harrison’s pellets and most any fresh fruits and vegetables. Ursie and Essie especially love almonds and walnuts in the shell. Like many birds, they are not very interested in being touched, but that’s OK.

Ursie and Essie

If you’re fascinated by birds and interested in adopting a pair, please go to our web site at phoenixlanding.org where you can learn more about our adoption and education program.   And don’t forget, birds don’t have to be bonded pairs like the ones listed here to enjoy simply having another bird in the family!

Birds Need Bird Friends Too

“Young birds are easy” as Liz Wilson used to say, to make a point.  It’s true.  They are eager and generally compliant. When sexual maturity rolls around, behavior and relationships may start to change. Remember your teenage years?

For parrots, natural behavior changes can mean that a favorite person or bird must be fiercely protected; Amazons are notorious for this. Cockatoos, especially males, can be highly unpredictable or will clamp onto you and try to bite when you put them down. Macaws will raise their wings in defense of whomever they are trying to protect (maybe teaching the “eagle” trick is not such a good idea?). Other behaviors could include charging the perceived interloper, screaming for more attention and interaction, nesting, egg laying and yes, masturbation.

Harley

Oftentimes, people are not willing to adjust their own behavior and expectations in order to live with a sexually mature parrot. Sometimes the advice is to get the bird a mate, or find it a new home, or punish it (yikes). Other times, the parrot is relegated permanently to its cage or to a back room, both less than optimal outcomes for the bird that is simply following its nature. Don’t get me wrong, there are positive ways of coping with these behaviors successfully; however, the number of sexually mature birds is usually greater than the number of people willing to learn how to live harmoniously with them.

Jake Tink

As a rehoming organization that never has enough homes for the birds needing our help, Phoenix Landing does not advocate simply providing a mate for a sexually mature bird. If all captive parrots started making more babies, we’d have an even greater homeless problem.

Tiels

However, birds living in captivity certainly deserve to follow their natures to the greatest extent possible, and one very important part of a parrot’s nature is the desire to have other bird friends. Some wild parrots live in large flocks, others live in small family groups; but all wild parrots live with other parrots to some extent. These social groups help to keep them safe from predation, and maximize their ability to find food, nests and other important resources. For this reason, Phoenix Landing does advocate that birds not live alone in households (in most cases).

Fred (BGM) keeping Peter (GWM) company in the hospital

Fred (blue and gold) keeping Peter (greenwing) company in the hospital

Here then lies the problem – many people want a parrot because of their expectations of what the parrot provides in that relationship; and when a young, “easy” bird grows up, they start to express their needs in the relationship also. But we are not their mates or parents, so we have to learn to have an appropriate relationship with them, primarily as their friends. They probably deserve some bird friends too.

Ollie and LaylaHaving more than one bird can be a space, time and finance challenge, but it can also be easier for everyone. Birds learn from each other, often teaching their friends how to eat better food, shower or play with toys.  They entertain each other, taking some of the burden off of the humans.  They don’t need to live in the same cage to enjoy all the benefits of having birdie friends.  Since even the smallest parrots should live a long time, it’s important that we find ways to sustain a long-term relationship for everyone.  Stay tuned next month for some stories of Phoenix Landing bird friendships, including some of our adoptable birds!

Gardening for Parrots

Although we consider the parrots who live in our homes our companions, they are still biologically wild animals, designed to live in and among trees and plants. Researchers are finding that parrots in the wild eat an abundance of leaves, flowers, twigs and bark.

There are micro-nutrients and trace elements found in whole living plants, whose nutritional benefits are as yet not fully understood, and cannot be replicated in a pellet. Providing your parrot with as many natural materials as possible will enhance both their physical and mental health.

LIVE PLANTS PROVIDE:
Nutrition: vitamins, minerals, micro nutrients, trace elements and live enzymes.
Enrichment: climbing, chewing and shredding plants provide both physical and mental stimulation, which can help alleviate undesirable behaviors such as screaming or feather picking.
Air Quality: plants are natural air filters, removing pollutants from the environment and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, and help to maintain humidity levels.
Sound Control: both in the home and in the landscape, plants absorb and buffer sound.

HOUSE PLANTS
Safety First! Please make sure that all plants in your house are safe. If you find that you have plants that are on the toxic list, or that you are unsure of, give these to a friend or neighbor without inquisitive parrots in their home.

Always use organic potting soil. Use parrot safe containers. Never use pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Keep soil covered with plastic mesh or river rock if your bird has a tendency to dig in the soil. Mix some GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) into watering solution to inhibit the growth of fungus in the soil.

Some common SAFE houseplants include: Aloe, African Violet, Asparagus Fern, Boston Fern, Bromeliads, Coleus, Norfolk Island Pine, Prayer Plant, Schefflera, Spider Plant, Staghorn Fern, Swedish Ivy and Wandering Jew.

Some common TOXIC houseplants; Amaryllis, Dieffenbachia, Philodendron and Poinsettia.

ALOE is a houseplant that every parrot owner should have. Aloe contains powerful pain relievers, anti-inflammatory compounds; relieves itchiness; soothes the digestive tract; heals abscesses and cysts; kills E.Coli, fungus, mycobacterium, strep and staph infections, and salmonella; and treats respiratory infections, yeast infections and parasites.


NATURAL BRANCH PERCHES provide an endless variety of shapes, diameters and textures that enhance the health of your parrot’s feet. Placing branches at unusual angles can provide climbing and balancing exercise. You can make you own perches by selecting a parrot safe variety of wood, scrub well with an organic, nontoxic soap, rinse well, and dry in the sun. Ends can be wedged between cage bars, notched to fit around bars, or fitted with hanger bolts and wing nuts.

Chewing and stripping bark off of natural branch perches provide additional enrichment and nutritional benefits. Branches and twigs can also be bundled and placed in the cage for foraging enrichment. Try some with fresh leaves still intact too.

Some SAFE woods for parrots include: Ash, Apple, Aspen, Bamboo, Beech, Birch, Butterfly Bush, Cottonwood, Crabapple, Dogwood, Grapevine, Lilac, Magnolia, Mulberry, Pear, Poplar, Sassafras, Sweet Gum, Sycamore, Viburnum, and Willow. Remember to use only branches from trees that have not been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.

GARDEN IN A POT
If you don’t have the time or space for a big garden, consider creating a container garden. By choosing and a variety of textures and shades of healthy greens, and mixing in a few vegetables, berries, herbs and some edible flowers, you can have a container garden that is delicious, nutritious and beautiful. Choose a parrot safe container, such as plastics or unglazed terracotta. Avoid glazed terracotta, as many glazes contain heavy metals and other toxic substances. Use organic potting soil made specifically for containers (NOT garden soil) and organic fertilizers such as those made from seaweed. Whenever possible, choose organically grown seeds or plants. Gently remove the soil from the roots of non-organic plants, and replant in organic soil. Wait at least 30 days before offering it to your parrot. Avoid plants that have been treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Garden in a Pot_fixed

WHY GROW YOUR OWN?
Freshness: Vitamins and nutrient values found in fresh vegetables and other produce steadily decline as soon as they are harvested. In some vegetables their vitamin content may be depleted by as much as half, only minutes after being cut (harvested) and up to 70% or more by the time you see them at your grocery store.

Organic: You have control over the type of soil, fertilizers, weed and pest control.

Variety: There are far more varieties of a given plant available in a nursery or garden center than are available in a grocery store or even most farmers markets. There are even more varieties of a given plant available to grow from seed than can be found as plants in a nursery or garden center.

Dark Leafy Greens & Veggies are rich in vitamin A (critical to parrot’s heath and lacking in most diets), omega 3s (which support the brain, heart and immune system); calcium (for bone strength, and a variety of other vitamins, minerals & nutrients). Try Kale, Cabbages, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Broccoli Rabb, Arugula, Celery, Beets and Carrots.

Herbs add wonderful fragrance to your home, when chewed on by your parrot, making for a safe and healthy alternative to dangerous chemical air fresheners. Many herbs are known to have medical benefits as well. Try Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Fennel, Basil, Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Peppermint and it’s different flavored mint cousins.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Edible Flowers not only add visual appeal to any garden, but are greatly relished by most parrots. Many edible flowers contain nutritional and medicinal properties. Try Calendula, Chamomile, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Violets, Carnations, Daylilies, Petunias, Lilacs, and Butterfly Bush. Remember that the flowers of your dark leafy greens and herbs are edible too. NEVER give your parrots from a florist!!!!!

Bring the container garden into the house for brief foraging sessions for your parrot. You can harvest some plants and add to your parrot’s food bowl, stainless steel foraging basket, or weave between the bars of her cage.


If you’re lucky enough to have the money and the space to buy or build an outdoor aviary, the plants can be kept inside the aviary and available when the birds come outside.

Bring you parrot outside in a travel cage, or better yet, make your own Cageoller, carrier or travel cage mounted on a baby stroller base, which can be easily moved around the yard for a variety of plant chewing experiences.

SONY DSC

For more excellent information from Laura Ford about gardening for parrots, go to: https://abirdsbestlife.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/benefits-of-plants-for-parrots/

EcoTour to the Pantanal in Brazil

Do you think parrots are magical?  If so, then nothing compares to witnessing a flighted parrot in the wild.  This is where they best express a bird’s true magnificent nature and beauty.  It will forever change the way you view parrots, and the lives they so deserve.

hy_fly_nestbox

If you would like to experience the elegance of wild parrots, you can join us for another Phoenix Landing ecotour to the Brazilian Pantanal this upcoming September. The Pantanal is a unique place, completely flooded in the spring and summer, very dry in the fall and winter. Since September is the end of the dry season, it’s possible to move around the area and enjoy a wide diversity of wildlife, including parrots from small conures to the once endangered hyacinth macaws.

This tour starts with a visit to meet acclaimed scientist Neiva Guedes. She almost single-handedly brought the hyacinth macaw back from the brink of extinction. Thanks to Neiva, this majestic macaw is now flourishing in several parts of Brazil.   Neiva also believes that parrots and humans must learn to live side-by-side in order for parrots to survive. She and her volunteers monitor macaw nests in the heart of a major city, Campo Grande. We enjoy visiting those nests and watching her scientific team at work.

Neiva Guedes and Luiz Paiva Filho

Neiva Guedes and Luiz Paiva Filho

Next, the trip includes a stay at two fazendas (or ranches) where wild parrots often abound. In past trips we watched nanday conures gulping down dung from farm animals, a pionus eating cashew flowers, macaws and Amazons flying overhead looking for mates or nesting sites, and quakers fiercely protecting their extraordinary nests.

quaker (2)

Nanda conuress eating dung

Nanday conures eating dung

Blue front Amazon foraging and having fun

Blue front Amazon foraging and having fun

The trip ends with a visit to the indescribable Buraco das Araras, known as the hole of the macaws, where greenwings and other parrots fly below into a deep sinkhole. Here is a brief movie to give you a flavor for this enchanted home to greenwings, peach front conures, very rare yellow-faced Amazons, and much other wildlife.

While visiting in 2014, we actually witnessed a pair of greenwings take on a pair of unfledged vultures. As you can see in this photo, they had a brief encounter and the vulture was thrown into the 300’ deep sinkhole by the macaw. It was shocking!   The macaws clearly wanted the vulture’s nest hole for their own, and they were willing to fight to the death for it. What might this say for some of the macaw behavior you see in your own home?

Greenwing macaw takes on a young vulture

Greenwing macaw takes on a young vulture

Lastly, we have an amazing guide, Luiz Paiva Filho. He has a gifted knowledge of Brazilian wildlife, is fluid in English, and most of all has a herculean heart when it comes to the lives of parrots. We cannot imagine a trip there without him by our side. Luiz will often say “life is beautiful!” and you just know he means it. Life is indeed beautiful in the rugged floodplains of the Pantanal.

You can also read about our 2014 trip in two exceptional blog posts by Susan Orosz, PhD,DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian), Dipl ECZM (Avian). It was extra special to have her and Dr. Rhoda Stevenson, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian) with us on the last trip!

If you’d like to join us for the next tour in September 2015, you can find more information about it at phoenixlanding.org.  All our trips include a tax-deductible donation for conservation projects in Brazil. Helping wild parrots is very important too!

The Social Relationships of Parrots

In the wild, parrots have many relationships.  These are predominately either as parents, mates or friends in a flock.  Social relationships are so important to the life of a parrot, that it is the theme of our 2015 calendar.

2015 calendar

Some parrots live in large single-species flocks, and rarely mingle with birds of other species.    They will fly, eat and sleep in large single-species groups.  These are predominately Old World parrots from Africa, Australia and Indonesia – like African greys, cockatoos, cockatiels and parakeets.

The New World parrots of South and Central America –  like macaws, Amazons, conures, pionus and quakers – will mingle with other species while foraging in the same area, such as the clay licks, or while roosting for sleep.   They will also mingle in large groups, but tend to spend lots of time in smaller family groups as well.

Buracas Brazil
Buracas das Araras, Brazil.  Photo by Kevin Blaylock

So what kind of relationship should we have with the birds in our homes?  It is helpful to know where your parrot species originated, because this can provide some clues about their innate behaviors.  For example, macaws and Amazons will often develop human family relationships with one primary person.  Cockatoos and conures, which tend to group in larger flocks, will often be more sociable with a wider range of people.

Regardless of the species, parrots in the wild always have other birds of their species for constant companionship.  As prey animals, it is dangerous to live alone, because that makes them vulnerable.  Does your bird live alone most of the day, or is she sequestered in a room by herself?  This type of living arrangement can be very stressful for a bird.

Phoenix and Buddy April 2012Phoenix and Nutty, greenwing macaws.  Photo by Paul M. Howey

SOCIAL OPPORTUNITIES
Every parrot is an individual, so we never want to label them in a way that may restrict their possible relationship opportunities. This includes avoiding labels like “just likes women” or “doesn’t like men.”  People often make these judgments based on very limited interactions; however, birds are extremely resilient and adaptable.  They usually adjust quickly to a new environment, and will respond positively to those who earn their trust and treat them with respect.

Regardless of who has a relationship with the parrot in your household, you can be assured that the she is watching everything that happens around her, and is learning from everyone in the family. Like all living creatures, birds learn who they can trust, or who might require them to be defensive. They watch and learn how the others play with toys, or what everyone is eating (human and parrot).

LEARNING VIA SOCIAL ACTIVITIES
One way to teach a bird  a new behavior is to be a good role model.  As highly social animals, parrots are very attentive to what others are doing.  If you like broccoli, or enjoy having fun, your bird is likely to as well.  This type of learning serves parrots well in the wild, as watching what other birds do can be a successful tool for survival.

COMMUNICATION TOOLS
Our parrots see details that we often miss.  For example, they see color in full spectrum, which we can’t even imagine.  They see things at a much faster speed than we do, this helps wild parrots avoid predators and make a quick escape.  It is likely that birds sense things about us such as our moods or physical condition.  When we are communicating with our parrots, it’s good to remember that our physical actions are supremely important, probably more than our vocalizations. Consider how fast you move, or what mood you are in as you approach your bird to interact.  Are you talking one way and acting another?  Do you expect them to understand your words while giving them unclear body language signals? Birds often communicate with simple subtleties such as posture, change in feather position, eye pinning, movement of a foot, opening of a beak or color on their face patch.  Get to know your bird’s body language so you can appreciate and respect the information they are giving you about what makes them comfortable or what gives them concern.  These details will help you develop a more positive long-term relationship.

Do you allow your bird on your shoulder?  Some birds enjoy this position so as to be with us, other birds may simply prefer a position of height and safety.  Others just want to minimize uncomfortable hand touches.  If you allow a bird on your shoulder, make sure you already have good two-way communication and understand your bird’s body language very well.

 

Larry Cromwell
Larry Cromwell and Duke.
  Photo by Jackie Garcia Photography

MATE OR FRIEND?
Almost every parrot will develop a drive to mate and reproduce, once they reach sexual maturity.  It is very hard to avoid this natural desire.  What we can do is make sure that they do not develop a mate-like relationship with us.  We don’t want to give our birds the wrong signals because this can cause many possible physical and behavioral problems.  For example, if you stroke a bird below the neck, especially under the wings and down the back, you are giving that bird very “sexy” signals. This can cause a bird to eventually prolapse (where the sex organs fall out of its body) or more commonly, to scream for your continued attention.  Neither outcome is positive, so avoid these kind of misplaced signals.

Some birds, especially males, may become more demanding when they want to mate with another bird or be with their perceived human mate.  Female birds may start to lay an excessive number of eggs.  Both of these problems can be significantly reduced if you don’t give your birds the wrong impression about your relationship, and minimize physical over-stimulation.

 

Tee and Virgil
Tee Underhill and his adopted Meyers parrot, Virgil.

The most positive social relationship for humans and parrots is that of friendship.  Birds like to have fun, just like us.  They also enjoy a good meal, and they certainly need regular showers. These are all things we can do with our birds in a companionable way.  In the wild, birds are also traveling long distances to find food or a safe place to rest.  So giving our birds lots of time out of their cage, room and/or the house can be mentally and physically enriching as well.  These are all things that we can enjoy with our parrots, and don’t require us to give them the wrong “signals” about our relationship.  And since most parrots are long-lived, it’s in everyone’s interest to create long-term, sustainable and positive social relationships.