Cooper 2.0

Written By: B.D. Butler - Oct• 11•12

I got a message on Facebook from a Parrot Earth reader named Jay.

Jay wrote the following:

Greetings! I have been reading your blog for some time now. I discovered it not too long after I adopted my Congo African Grey named Charlie. Charlie is about twelve years of age and I got him from an older married couple. I have a good feeling that Charlie was abused by the couple’s grandson that lived with them. Charlie gets mean and shows aggression around his cage, and bites out of fear. I cannot hold him without him biting me and drawing blood. I followed your advice, and bought several of the books that you have recommended on your blog. I understand that it takes some time, but I am starting to get a frustrated. I know that you have written about your Congo Cooper, and was wondering how he is doing? I have had Charlie for about a year now. Do you think that Charlie can become the parrot that I have always wanted?

keep up the good work


After reading this, I decided that it was time for a Cooper Update!

I found update here.

Cooper has been the subject of hours and hours of reading, research, emails, phone calls, and even a friend coming to the house to observe his behavior. Not to mention, gallons of blood, tubes of Neosporin, bottles of rubbing alcohol, boxes of band-aids, and did I mention the scars on my arms?

I do not know all the things that happened in Cooper’s past, in fact after all of the research and reading that I did in trying to “solve” his problems, I actually might have made things worse. I am one of those people who has a problem with “getting it right” and I put undo pressure on myself. This comes across, your bird is going to sense your insecurity, nervousness, and most of all fear. This can cause interactions to become episodes of “I almost didn’t survive” and “I can’t believe I’m alive”.

I couldn’t figure out why he and Dexter (Timneh) were so different (besides the obvious), and why Dexter adored me, while I was sure that Cooper was plotting my assassination. Why was Dexter so easy to interact with and Cooper was just the opposite. Not once did I think about what was different about my approach, and what I was bringing to the table.

Eric (my husband) nailed it when he said, “you talk to them differently, you speak to Dexter in a loving sweet tone of voice, and you are more authoritative with Cooper”. Of course that echoed in my head. My friend Pam also asked me a very honest question, “do you really enjoy Cooper?”. I actually had to think about that for a second. Every fiber of my being wanted to say yes, and make it true. Alas, I had to honestly answer with “no”.

What kind of bird owner was I? I felt horrid. Did I truly in fact even enjoy having Cooper in our home? Did I want to continue this any further? Did I want to subject myself to more biting and blood shed? I beat myself up over this topic for a few weeks. Pondered, and reread all of my behavioral books I had bought, and watched my Barbara Heidenreich DVD over and over. Still no answers shot out of the dark, and no giant book of answers landed in my lap. What the hell was I going to do?

I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, telling my readers to make the commitment of giving their birds “forever” homes, and not walk the walk. I was truly at a loss. I however made the sound decision, it didn’t matter what anyone thought, I had to make the right decision for Cooper.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “so what did you do?”.

The truth is, it was a combination of things and the most important detail, we did the work. I noticed a change in his behavior after starting clicker training. He began to relax a bit, after he knew what behavior I was asking of him, and so did I. Bridging gaps in communication can do wonders, and I am a firm believer that it helps your birds self-esteem. Think back to when you were a kid trying to learn something, when you were doing something right, a little praise inspired you to keep going and made you feel like a million bucks.

Debbie Goodrich came over and groomed the birds before we went to our beach cabin, she noticed some behaviors, and thought it might be related to cage placement. I was willing to entertain anything at this point.

I then made a conscious effort of how I was interacting with Cooper, and praising him. I had seen him blush a few times with our old groomers Andrea, and I thought it was very cute, but I had never been able to get him to do it. Then one day, out of the blue, I told him (in a higher excited voice) how pretty he was and what a good boy he was being, then the blush came. He lifted his little talon, put his head down, and tried to hide his face whilst turning a pleasant shade of “blush” or “bashful”. “Why I do believe you are blushing”, in a very gentile southern voice is all I could say. One word, elation.

Its been months since he has bit me, of course I do know his little perks here and there, but for the most part his aggression issues are gone. I of course pay attention to his body language and watch his eyes for those “I’m going to bite” you pin head pupils.

I let some walls down, and I think he did as well. Cooper has shown me that a little patience, some hard work, and love can get you worlds and worlds away from where you started with a parrot. Cooper trusts that I am going to take care of him, and I trust that he won’t try to use my arm as a sheet of paper to shred. Its great watching the progress he is making! I know, just like kid’s parents, parrot owners say “my bird is a genius”, but Cooper actually is highly intelligent, and I can’t wait to see what else he is capable of! Of course he may take over after watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes so much, and in that case I apologize in advance.

Cooper’s Come A LONG Way!


I hope this update inspires you to look at all the angles before you get too frustrated. Cooper and I’s success actually came down to me changing what I was bringing to the table during our interactions and that truly made all the difference. Ask for an outside point of view (it’s important to ask questions, and more importantly, ask for help if you need it) Look at also his environmental factors, moving his cage to a more low traffic area could make a huge bit of difference. Working on some “bridging” exercises like clicker training may bring you to a common ground, build both of your self-esteems, and show you just how smart and sweet Charlie can be… remember as my favorite Otis Redding song says, “try a little tenderness”. Good Luck, and thanks for writing to me!

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Great blog post. First and foremost, we have to change OUR behavior before we try to change our bird. Our bird is just being a bird. Usually, we are missing the subtle signals they send us: a pinned eye, raised nape feathers, a slight bow. They are autonomous creatures and deserve to be treated as such. I certainly don’t want someone standing too close to me, insisting that I eat something or get up every time they command. Our birds feel the same way. When trying to establish a trusting bond with your bird, never use any kind of force – that even means stepping away and coming back later when the bird refuses to step up, being respectful of a bird that doesn’t want to be pet (as a side note, petting is not natural for a bird. If they like being pet – score!)

    Respect, patience, acceptance. By shifting the focus to our own behavior we not only become better parrot owners, but better people.

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