Ah, that moment when you bring you new re-homed parrot into your household. You buy the right cages, the right food, a delightful collection of toys and a wide selection of fresh fruits and veggies to offer your new companion. You’ve done all the research and read/bought every book you can get your hands on and feel confident in making a lifetime commitment. You take a breath of fresh air after putting your treasured new buddy in his cage, covering him and letting him get acquainted with his new environment. You diligently check on him to make sure he is “okay” and eventually after a bit of time you want to start interacting with your “dream bird”. You open the cage door and offer a dehydrated banana as a treat. Your new friend comes out of his cage and gives you this adorable look and comes towards you, “aw look how sweet he wants a treat”, you say to yourself. He then leans in for the banana and WHAM, instead of taking the sweet offering of a banana from your pinched fingers he has decided to chomp down on your finger, cutting through the skin like paper and drawing blood. It’s a case of “Attack of the Killer Parrot”.
This ladies and gentlemen is a much more idealistic and realistic view on what can happen in your household when you introduce a parrot into a strange environment. Most of the time a person will have their idea of what will happen or should happen, instead of going with the flow. I should know, this very scenario happened to me with my Congo African Grey Cooper. Does this happen with every parrot? No, in fact my Timneh African Grey Dexter was just the opposite. Essentially, just like humans, each bird is unique and different and carries their own set of baggage with them when they pack up and move. When you re-home an older parrot, or like I did re-homing two greys in their teens, it is almost impossible to know how they are going to get along in your home. There are no guarantees, but that is also not a “get out of parrot free card” either.
Cooper really taught me a lot about my patience level and myself. You see I grew up on a Barley farm with horses and other animals. I was taught that you dominate and be the master of your domain and that includes your animals. I won’t go into details, but I saw some horses mistreated as a child and I knew that I didn’t agree with it, nor would I be that person.
Even though parrots can talk and understand wide variety of human arenas, they still are not fluent in English. They cannot say, “I’m having a bad day and I really don’t feel like target training today, maybe tomorrow”. The only way that they can convey “NO!” to you, is in body language that later will turn into a bite, if pushed. Imagine something thirty times your size cornering you and demanding you “step up”. I don’t know about you, but that would flip my switch and I too would come out biting.
So, how do we handle our aggressive birds? Take a step back and try to figure out where the root of the problem is, instead of the symptom. For example; his previous owners husband mistreated Dexter, and wore hats almost every day, so we figured out quite quickly that we could not wear hats when we first brought Dexter home. Eventually we started wearing hats and dropping a treat into his bowl. Therefore making it a positive experience, as opposed to the terrifying ordeal he went through with getting swatted at or hats thrown at his cage. Now he does not care who is wearing a hat, just as long as you are not handling him.
Also look around at the environment, you would be very surprised what toy and cage placement can do. There may be a “looming evil plant” too close to the cage; they may have too much interaction with outdoor elements. Seeing too much stimulation walking down the street can panic a bird. My greys are in their own nook with a very large picture window and because we live on a busy street we keep the curtains gathered in the middle. This offers light and a glimpse of outside, but cuts out the many people walking their dogs or parking to take a bus downtown. We had to do this because of alarm beeps, panic behavior and calls every time someone walked down the street. I always say, who needs a watchdog when you own a parrot, they can see twice as far and will alert you twice as fast.
When you interact with your bird, take a second to realize what energy you are bringing to the table. Because Cooper used to use me as a chew toy, I realized that I was bringing fear and apprehension to the table. I didn’t look at it as a new interaction; I was the one bringing the past with me. A parrot’s behavior can be affected by their past, but we as humans remind them of it. It is our job to help abused parrots, but also allow them the dignity to heal from their previous abusive experiences and enjoy better quality of lives, not remind them every moment that they were abused or broken in some way. Animals are like kids; they crave structure and a sense of security. When you have those in place, you would be surprised what you can accomplish.
What are your reactions to getting a bite? Do you yell, flail, or yank your hand away? This could also be reinforcement and your parrot may find this absolutely hilarious. Parrots are smart enough to create their own entertainment and if they can control you in the process, well then “Game On”. Hey I know parrot bites hurt like the dickens, but sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and bear it. Cooper and I eventually had a “come to Jesus meeting” and I let him bite the crap out of me, and I refused to back down. This changed the narrative in our relationship. I no longer would react to his prompts and he now realized that I was no longer his puppet.
Body language is another tool you can use. Parrots are prey animals and are keenly suspicious, that’s how they have survived thousands of years on this planet. Eventually you will gather enough personal information on your parrot that will enable you to identify when they are going to strike. Some parrot’s pupils will pin and others will puff their feathers in order to look as large as they can. Whatever way your bird likes to express that it is hocked off, it’s important that you know how to identify it, because this is going to help you eliminate pushing the envelope. Humans want animals to respect them, but there is a fine line between respect and fear. Respect will get you a lifetime bond from an animal, including your parrot. Fear will do just the opposite.
Your bird’s body language will also help you know when your bird is up to participating or is not feeling it. Either way, it’s a matter of you allowing your bird to make decisions. This will not only make for a happier bird, but it will make for a more trusting bond between you.
Just because you have gotten some good bites, does not mean that your bird hates you. Get back on the horse and try again…don’t rush it take your time. Trust me, your bird has a lot of time and you will be spending a lot of time together. Do your research, read books and articles. Remember that you are not perfect. And remember that you have to do what is best for you and your bird(s).
Copyright 2014 – Parrot Earth – Attack of the Killer Parrot