About once a week I receive a long heartbreaking email from a parrot owner asking for help with a complicated problem. I’ll be honest, I often don’t answer. The truth is the answers would often involve several phone conversations and major problem solving. Even an encouraging email with a few helpful thoughts would take me an hour to draft. So they sit in my inbox while I hold on to my good intentions and hopes that I’ll carve out some time to answer. And I don’t. It makes me feel horrible.
There was a time when I had that hour to spare, it kills me, but that time is gone. I work full-time plus, write two blogs (admittedly intermittently) and am usually working on several writing projects at a time– and they are usually on deadline. The time I do have to dedicate to sharing training thoughts and helping problem-solve has to go into the blog and lectures, where I can help big groups of people all at once. If you are one of those people whose email went unanswered. I am SO very sorry.
You are welcome to pose questions to the blog. You will be more likely to get help that way. Ask something that can be answered in a 500 word blog post. It won’t be an intensive solution, but it may help and you may find out there are others battling the same issues. Send them through my contact page and I’ll answer them if I can. Otherwise here are some of the questions I get asked the most:
1) What is the best parrot species for me to get?
I couldn’t say. Personally I live with African parrots because their personalities speak to me and give me great joy. One of my best friends has a cockatoo and I think she is out of her mind, but she would never want to live my grey parrot. This is something you have to figure out for yourself. Even if you love all dogs, the breed of dog you love the most (Brittanys!) is personal and complicated. You are simply going to have to do your homework and follow your heart once you have.
2) How do I get my parrot to stop doing that annoying thing? (biting, screaming, attacking the coffee maker, chasing the dog, pounding on the wall, talking while I’m on the phone, and on and on)
Any behavior can be lessened if not eliminated. Sometimes it is a long incredibly difficult journey to do so, but it can be done.
It all boils down to a very simple concept. All behavior that has become consistent in its offering has been rewarded somehow. Your job is to figure out how to stop rewarding it and instead reward something else. The best thing to do is reward a behavior the bird cannot do at the same time as the desirable one. By this I mean, a bird cannot say “hello” and scream at the same time. A bird cannot go to its perch for a treat and run around on the floor attacking toes at the same time. This is applied behavioral analysis and if you want to get a better grasp of it attend a Learning and Living with Parrots seminar, a parrot seminar from Good Bird Inc or see if a parrot club nearby you can have me come out and help you learn.
3) My new parrot is terrified of me. What do I do?
Be patient. Don’t force yourself on the bird. Every parrot, person, animal is an individual and sometimes these things take time. Respect your parrot’s body language and try to keep every interaction positive. Hanging around outside of the cage cooing, while the parrot trembles and cowers at the back of the cage or lunges at you is only going to teach the bird that you will never heed his body language. And worse, that you cannot be trusted.
Parrots that learn you won’t pay attention to subtleties quickly learn that biting and aggression is the only language that works. And you have undermined a positive relationship.
Be patient with a frightened parrot. Figure out what treats it likes best. Drop them in the bowl and leave. Only interact when the parrot approaches when you walk toward the cage or perhaps when it begins to vocalize to get you to answer. Building relationships take time even with creatures that have been bred to want our company. –Imagine moving in with some good-looking guy (or girl) you just met at the bar the night before! Even as an animal trainer, I wouldn’t advise it! So, patience. Keep it slow, positive and steady.
4) I can’t keep this parrot. Can you help me?
I can’t take your parrot, not even if it’s going to be wheeled out on the street tomorrow. I made careful decisions about bringing parrots into my home. I wouldn’t compromise the care I give to the parrots I made a commitment to 19 years ago. And I even suspect there will be a time in my life when I might have to find them new homes. I may not always be healthy, young and financially stable. (Although if you know a way I can stay young, let’s talk!) I have a contingency plan for my parrots though. I am sorry that you did not, very sorry. And I understand.
Depending on what part of the country you are in, there may be a wonderful parrot re-homing organization near you. Check under the links for Parrot Foster and Adoption here on the blog for starters. Unfortunately they might be at capacity. There is no question about it; there is a crisis and not enough homes for parrots needing another place to stay.
Think about getting help to survive in the interim, learn about training and find emotional support from other parrot people. Please don’t put your parrot on Craig’s List and don’t drop it off somewhere. There are people out there who want to help you, but you may need to make due until they can.
5) I want to rescue a parrot from a pet store, breeder, bad owner. Can you help me?
I understand that we all have high expectations for the way parrots should be cared for, but with the exception of situations where parrots are starving, most situations where a bird is available for money are not a “rescue”. If you buy a parrot from someone to “rescue” it you are adding to the problem. Are you going to buy the next 10 parrots this person obtains? Because that is what is going to happen. As long as there is a market, items will be sold to make money — even animals.
I would love to see every single animal in the best possible situation, loved, exercised, given the best food and constantly engaged in enrichment. The best way to make this happen is to support those who are doing the right thing and don’t reward those who are not. Better yet, be a staunch supporter and friend to other parrot owners who are struggling with their birds. Let’s try to help people keep the parrots they love in their homes for as long as they can.
6) I know you’re not supposed to, but I bought/found/took in a parrot on a whim. Where do I start?
Oops. I did the same thing so I can’t really give you a bad time. Thankfully someone talked me out of a sun conure and into a Senegal parrot when I was 23 years-old. I got lucky! I’m not a conure sorta girl!
There are a lot of great resources out there and of course you should start with A Parrot for Life, but here’s a list get you started:
I have read pretty much every parrot book published and these are my favorites. (With the addition of my own, which I hope is an excellent book)
Good Bird: The Guide to Solving Behavioral Problems in Companion Parrots!, Barbara Heidenreich. This was Barbara’s first book and a really great introduction to training and behavior. This is a wonderful place to start.
The Parrot Problem Solver, Barbara Heidenreich. Barbara’s follow up book to her first addresses breaking down behavior and solving more complex problems. This is a wonderful book, especially if you have been introduced to behavior and need to refresh yourself of concepts and you work on solving your behavior issues with your parrot.
Parrots for Dummies, Nikki Moustaki. Moustaki is an excellent writer and this is a comprehensive book. With the exception of few of her thoughts on training (stepping up, taming), this is a great book for someone who is just getting starting with parrots and is looking for something comprehensive.
A Parrot for Life: Raising and Training the Perfect Parrot Companion, Rebecca K. O’Connor. This book was written to be a broad brushstroke book for the person who is first getting into parrots or wants to make sure all her bases are covered. It includes a great chapter on basic training.
All of my favorite videos are produced by Good Bird, Inc and I generally sell them at my lectures and workshops. People have an easier time learning when they can visualize.These are my favorites:
- Parrot Behavior and Training #1
- The Basics of Parrot Training A Live Workshop
- Understanding Parrot Body Language
Also look at all the websites linked on the blog under Resources. They are my favorites because of their content and value. I hope this helps!
Hugs and head scratches,