Try A Little Tenderness With A New Bird

Use patience and positive reinforcement as part of your training tools with an insecure, newly adopted bird.

From the pages of Bird Talk magazineThe road to love is not always smooth, and several readers have written that they are having difficulties with birds adopted from previous owners.  Since there are many similarities in improving relationships with new bird friends, I have included two of these letters.

Q: I’m 13 years old and I adopted a timneh African grey parrot from a family friend who moved and could no longer keep the bird. Brisco is an extremely hostile bird that doesn’t like to be handled. If you try to pet him, he’ll attack you. He won’t step on to a flat surface off your finger, like a counter – he’ll only step onto a perch. I’ve contacted local bird farms, and everyone I’ve talked to said that, by the way he acts, Brisco had to have been physically abused by the former owner.

A few trainers said that an African grey parrot isn’t meant to be handled, but only bought for talking purposes. I don’t believe a word of this because I see people handling and cuddling African grey parrots in BIRD TALK all the time. Please give me a plan on how to make my hostile African grey a pettable, handleable, loving bird that is as enthusiastic to see me as I am to see him.

Another reader wrote:

Q: I came across Cisco at a yard sale a year ago. He was filthy and kept in a 2-foot [long] rabbit cage – with no toys – for 15 years. They wanted $200. I paid it on the spot and bought Cisco a big cage with plenty of toys. He never played with the toys, and I began to think that maybe he was threatened by them, so I took them out. I hoped that over time, with kindness and gentle handling, he would turn into the affectionate parrot that my Eclectus is. Yet, he remains hostile and terrified of any handling.

I read your article about T-Bird (“Saving T-Bird,” October 2004) with interest. I will try moving him to the bedroom where he might enjoy the serenity. I usually watch television and cuddle with [my Eclectus] Romeo, but I find it hard to believe that anything will bring Cisco back from the mental state he’s in. He’s just terrified of everything – handling, baths and toys. His only pleasure appears to be food. We love Cisco and want to help him.

A: I would like to thank both of you for adopting previously owned birds. There are many wonderful birds out there that need to be loved and cared for. However, the transition is seldom completely flawless, and one of the things that I stress to all of my clients is to understand the world from their birds’ points of view. 

Just because we are thrilled to have a new avian friend, does not mean that the bird is as enthusiastic about being with us – it may actually hate it, at first! This is not personal. Why should a bird trust anyone, especially a stranger, when it has been given up by its primary people? Even if it will be better off in its new situation, how does the bird know that this will be so, or that it can trust the new person? Consider things from a bird’s point of view – in the wild, a mate or flock member that does not return is usually deceased!

So, although Brisco and Cisco may seem hostile or aggressive, they may actually be going through feelings of confusion, fear or abandonment. After all, it is common for people to remain in bad relationships rather than risk the uncertainty of new ones, and most birds don’t like change any more than most humans. We cannot demand that a bird immediately love and trust us. We must earn the right to that type of relationship. It will take time and patience to do this, especially with a second-home bird. 

What is the bird accustomed to? If he has never been snuggled or cuddled, he has no idea what you want from him! Some birds never really enjoy being touched, but they are still wonderful, interactive companions.

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Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Birds