November 1996 Magazine
Another bad technique is the "earthquake" in which you drop the hand/arm the bird is sitting on several inches and wobble him when he is doing a forbidden thing. Once again, the bird will not feel safe or secure if you "earthquake" him. We have overcome the inborn reluctance to feeling safe on the floor with our domestic babies. Using a technique that leads your bird to think he is falling does nothing to build trust. Your clipped bird can't fly away to avoid injury.
A good technique for controlling birds who go after buttons, zippers, rings, etc. is to place your bird on your knee. Be persistent in discouraging this behavior. Rather than a bird hearing a steady stream of "No" "No" "No", it's better to ignore what he's doing. Move the forbidden item from his reach and instead, offer him a hand toy. The connection between the hand toy and the forbidden activity should not be obvious or the bird will perceive the hand toy as a reward for the forbidden activity.
Fingers are always forbidden. Even when the babies are just exploring, I seem not to notice but gently remove my finger from their beaks and offer a bit of food, a toy, a kiss or a rub on the outside of the beak. Beaks are very sensitive and birds often enjoy this type of touching.
NEVER strike a bird no matter the provocation. They will neither forgive or forget. Birds' bodies, with their hollow bones throughout, are equipped for flight, not fight. A domestic baby who has known only love and gentleness may never recover from physical punishment or punitive aloneness. It may break the spirit of the more fragile - in most it will produce an aggressive biting bird who fears that he will die with each confrontation.
Never tease your bird. No roughness, no rowdy behavior, no tug-of-war or ruffling the feathers the wrong way except on the head, nape, under the jaw.
Stepping Up and Down
Most domestic baby birds have a rudimentary awareness of concept of the "Up" and "Down" commands learned from the breeder. Teach your bird to step up by using the "Up" command and gently pushing your hand into his lower belly. If he doesn't step onto your hand, you can pick up the two front toes on either foot, support his weight with your hand and lift the bird slowly and gently straight up. Repeat the "Up" command and praise him when he raises his other foot onto your hand. Command "up" firmly but not loudly or sternly. Don't say "up" in a coaxing or questioning way.
Never allow your bird to come out of his cage by himself. Always command "up" and bring him out. The cage is his home but you as the parental figure have a right to enter his "home" at will and without any objection from him.
When he is returned to his cage or placed on a play area or a stand, command "down". Place the bird's tail behind the perch and never let go of the second foot until the first foot is securely on the perch. He will step off in a backward fashion and he depends on you to see that he is safely on the perch before you relinquish your hold.
The bird must learn that his territory is defined to be: on you, on his cage, in his cage, or on the play area. The young ones will have to be returned to these areas 10,000 times the first year. It may be inconvenient at times to enforce this rule, but it must be done for safety's sake. A bird only needs to be electrocuted once. Be matter-of-fact but replace the bird unless he comes directly to you - no side trips to chew on the baseboards. The bird is coming to you because he loves you and this must not be discouraged. The young one explores because his instincts tell him that his survival depends on knowing his environment.
A bird perceives all he can see as his territory. A bird who is exposed to all areas of the house is intelligent enough to realize that he cannot "defend" the whole house. The territorial imperative can be significantly reduced by using this strategy. A bird exposed to many new safe experiences, locations, and people will be a self-confident unafraid bird.
When you begin touching, do so very softly and gently. A bird fears and is intimidated by a heavy touch. Birds must be gently led to accept touching on the back and the long feathers on the wings because they are helpless to escape (fly away) from a predator while being so constrained.
I begin touching the babies from the first feeding - I use a very gentle touch, barely touching the body. In the beginning, I gently cup the bird's body while holding the sides of his jaws when he is being handfed. When they are a little older, I stroke them from above the nares in a soft gently cupping motion over the back of the body down to the tail. Even then they squirm and wiggle and it takes many weeks for them to accept this touching. When the birds are a little older, I begin placing both palms on the sides of the body under the wings, raise the wings and kiss the back between the wings. I also raise the wings and kiss the side of the body.
Don't attempt these intimacies at first but begin to let the bird know through soft words and a reassuring attitude that he can come to expect pleasure from you. Go a little past his comfort zone. Then stop, still talking and reassuring him. Return to the touches he accepts readily. Don't touch the areas he's uncomfortable with for several hours. Go slow, as you won't regret the time taken later. Pay very close attention when you go beyond his comfort level - stop before he reacts. Done correctly with attention to his body language and comfort level, you will have a loving, confiding, responsive companion.
When the bird bows his head and ruffles his head and nape, he can be petted from nape to forehead (against the way the feathers grow). The head,nape, and jaw area are the only areas the feathers should be petted against the grain.
"Peek-a-boo" games with a towel on a bed can be beneficial. The towel should cover the owner's face rather than the bird's head in the first phase of the game. This game should initially be from the front and can progress to the bird standing on the towel and the towel being brought up over the bird's head - first from the front and then from the back. The towel should be opened slowly so the bird can see the owner's face and hear the cue "peek-a-boo".
TOUCHING BY OTHERS
No one may touch or hold your bird unless they are instructed in the proper manner. Trusted friends and adults in your home can sit in a circle on the floor so the bird may be passed from one to another. Before each is passed the bird, that person should speak reassuringly in a low coaxing voice that promises safety and pleasure. Each should speak softly but firmly using the up command and make soft eye contact. Explain to each of them how to pet a bird. The more informed gentle humans a bird is exposed to, the more likely he is to be a friendly bird who expects pleasure from strangers. He will willingly go to strangers if he has been socialized carefully in this manner. "Pass the bird" and the "peek-a-boo" games were first articulated by bird behaviorist Sally Blanchard.
ADOLESCENCE - A TIME OF TRANSITION
The first two years are critical. At about 18 months of age, the bird will begin pulling away somewhat. Be consistent and gentle with him at this time. Emotional separating is a natural milestone. He is no longer a baby and his relationship with you will change slightly. He may not be as accepting of the intimate full body caressing. Give him a little space but under no circumstances lessen your time or attention.
Some species are less interested in physical intimacy but all species should be offered the chance to enjoy the pleasure many birds get from such intimacy. Birds are individuals - some will enjoy more touching, some less.
This may last a couple of months - he may be more interested in having you preen him. Choose a group of nape feathers, get down to the skin level and gently pull a separate feather through your thumb and forefinger - go to the next feather and do the same thing.
If the bird has been lovingly and correctly managed, by the time he reaches 18 months of age, he will be a well-behaved, loving, confident, gentle companion for the rest of your life.
At this time, some birds begin to refuse to step "up" to come from the cage. A bird at this time should be offered the choice of coming from the cage on the "up" command or being brought from the cage in a towel. This toweling should be done calmly, gently and in a matter-of-fact manner. Offered the choice, birds will choose to step "up" after a time or two of being brought from the cage in a towel. When a bird next refuses, show him the towel. You will find he will come out on the "up" command - by his own choice - when shown the towel.
Don't feel rejected at his temporary change of attitude. In the wild he would be part of the juvenile flock and interested in assuming his rightful place in it (at the top of the pecking order, of course!) This short period is analogous to the terrible twos one experiences with human children but isn't as bad as the awfulness of puberty in human children. It passes quickly and your loving relationship will resume, deepen and become richer with experience and time.
RECOMMENDED READING AND OTHER SOURCES OF HELP
Read "My Parrot, My Friend" by Doane & Qualkinbush frequently. This is an important and significant book on bird behavior.
Sally Blanchard's "Pet Bird Report" details many innovative methods relative to socialization, behavior modification, and understanding companion birds.
My other articles including the Grey Parrot series may be helpful to you at this time.
A pet bird ezine, pet bird e-zine, for pet parrots & exotic birds. Cockatoo Parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises
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