How To Avoid Exceeding Your Bird’s Threshold Of Tolerance

Posted by Patty on


One of the things that most fascinates me about parrots is the differences in their personalities. Even within the same species, each bird is unique with its own demeanor and preferences.
We should fully research the species we keep, looking into both their captive and wild settings, so we are aware of traits that are typical for that species. But in the end, each bird is its own man, so to speak, and those intricacies will stand out.

Hyacinth macaw

I have owned two umbrella cockatoos at different times in my life – they couldn’t have been less alike. Abu, my first, was laid back and amicable. She was quiet and reserved and she would stay perched for hours, as long as she had something interesting to do and her favorite people were nearby – things unheard of with the vast majority of this species.

Linus, on the other hand, is temperamental and high strung. Nothing, but nothing, keeps him in one spot for more than a couple of minutes, and he will always pause to look over his shoulder as he wanders away to be sure that I notice that he’s doing things his own way. It’s as if the two birds came from alternate universes.

Congo african grey

One thing I have learned over the years is that despite the differences in temperament, most birds are very compliant and patient. Most will accept change and adapt well as long as we don’t let things become too uncomfortable for them too many times. Even Linus, by far and away the more challenging of the two cockatoos, would patiently wait for me to get things right before he showed the signs of reaching his threshold of tolerance with my human ineptness.

The problem is that being human, we have a hard time recognizing when we are pushing the limits at all. One day we will be going about our regular routine and everything will be fine, and then the following day the same routine is met with anger and mistrust. Everything we do is wrong. We stand there scratching our heads wondering if this is even the same bird because there’s no way your bird could have changed so much overnight.

Your bird has changed, but it didn’t happen overnight. It has taken a long time to get to this point. It is fed up and has put its little foot down and said: “That’s it!! I’m over this!” It refuses to cooperate with the same activities that were seemingly acceptable yesterday. It’s effort to communicate its unhappiness to you has ended in failure as we missed all the warning signs and persisted in doing things the same way – over and over again. Now the relationship is in jeopardy.

Rosebreasted cockatoo

As with every behavioral problem you face with your bird, there ARE warnings that preceed it. Here are three easy to spot signs that trouble is brewing. YOUR bird may display additional signs (back to each bird being an individual), but these signs are evident in all species when limits of tolerance are being reached:

  1. The stink eye: Most people who have had birds for a while see this right away – it is quite simply a dirty look. When birds are feeling happy, respected and safe, the shape of their eyes is perfectly round. When your bird is uneasy with what is going on around it, the eye shape changes to varying degrees of “squinty” Go to the mirror and give yourself an overly dramatized angry/warning look. That’s the look. Watch how your bird reacts to different things throughout the day and notice how the eye shape changes. It is a useful tool in reading body language – especially in cockatoos.
  2. The hesitation: Whenever your bird even slightly hesitates in doing the things it normally does without pause, it is something you should pay attention to. This is a clear sign that your bird is giving second thoughts to interacting with you. A good example of this is in the step up. When you reach to retrieve your bird and your bird thinks twice, even though it eventually does step up, it is a warning that something is going wrong in your relationship. It might be the result of you being too pushy and demanding in your expectations that the bird comply with your wishes.
  3. The “dis”: In the wild, when a bird does not wish to interact with another from it’s flock, it will simply turn its back on that bird as if to say “Go away. I don’t like you.” They do the same to us when they wish to relay that same message. It’s pretty rude by human standards, but a signal doesn’t get any clearer than that. However, I think it is also an effort on their part to avoid confrontation with us when they feel we have the tendency to be too pushy. Imagine how disrespected they might feel when we disregard that effort.

Quaker parakeet

We sometimes ask too much of our birds. They need to be respected and they need to be given choices. It can’t always be us telling them what to do and expecting them to cooperate. They have minds and ideas of their own and should be given the right to have things their way sometimes.  It’s only fair.

There are times where we need our bird’s immediate cooperation, such as when danger is present. I have learned over the years that when you show your bird respect, it will CHOOSE to show you respect by complying with your wishes on these occassions. If you observe and respond to the three warning signs above, you should be able to sidestep pushing your bird, and your relationship, over the edge.


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  • We are the third owners of an African Grey. I’m not sure about the first owners but the second never let her out of the cage. Since we read up on the breed, have been giving her plenty of
    out of cage time. If for some reason we have to put her back in the cage when we are leaving
    the house or if we don’t get her out soon enough to please her, she goes right to her water cup.
    She proceeds to splash it all over the cage, floor etc.
    This is where our problem comes in – I feel she is throwing a tantrum like a child & remove the
    water & place it at the bottom of the cage and keep her inside. My husband wants to let her out
    of the cage right away? Have you had this problem? What is the right thing to do?
    I would appreciate any input. Thank you.

    Lee Braun on

    Glenn Petteys on
  • I really like these blogs. They are helpful and to the point.
    Thank you!

    Chrissie Batten on
  • This to Carol & John Edwards – Regarding your plucking African Grey, of course the very first thing you want to do if you haven’t already is get him to a Board Certified Avian Vet and let them run tests and do a physical exam to make sure it’s not a health problem. I could be very easily and there’s no way you would know this without proper vet care.
    I don’t know where you live but if you have the heater on for winter this could be causing severe dry skin, which causes him to itch and scratch which can easily cause him to itch too hard and next thing you know he’s pulling feathers out. Then he gets in the habit and that’s hard to break.. So are you giving him showers? If not, start letting him get totally wet in the shower every day or at least every other day and see if that helps him. It really helped my macaw that was dropping feathers like mad. Every since I’ve increased her showers to everyday she’s fine!
    Even though the cage is open a lot he still could be getting bored. In the wild parrots spend 80 percent of their day just looking for food, so when a parrot can easily get their food out of a cup they can get easily bored. Even with lots of toys and and open cage.
    Foraging for food instead of putting his food in a cup to easily reach is not only better for your bird but it’s also fun! They eventually get so good at it that you really have to work hard to figure out ways to hide it so they have to work for it. In the beginning you want to make it very easy so they don’t get frustrated but I’ve been doing this now for years and both my macaws enjoy foraging for their food, plus it takes up a lot of time so they don’t get bored as easily.
    Assuming he’s not flight trained, clipping his wings and getting him outside on a regular basis is also really healthy for him so he can soak up some sun. A lot of people make a big deal out of clipping wings, but hey grow back, so what’s the big deal? If it keeps your bird safe from flying away from you while outside I think it’s worth it. I have 2 macaws, one can fly well the other doesn’t fly well at all. The one that can fly well however, is not trained well enough for flight recall yet, so I occasionally clip her wings. Nothing drastic just enough so she won’t fly totally away if she gets spooked.
    I hope these suggestions help. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to do everything right by your parrot just to have him pull his feathers out! I wouldn’t blow off the vet visit though if you don’t already take him to a vet. Please try to find a Board Certified Avian Vet if possible.
    Good luck!

    Bj Wallace on
  • Hi, I have noticed these traits with my three birds. It was my fault I was bitten as I could see my Lesser Sulphur Cockatoo did not want to “play” and yet I insisted and got a bite on the lip as his reply. Even though they may not be in a good mood they all come out, not together, as there would be a third world war break out in my kitchen, individually, and just sit on the top of their cages until they want to interact.
    Has any one else had problems with their Ecletus? Because of the “gap” at the bottom of the beak mine has had to be freed by two crews of firemen, I was on holiday in Florida at the time, and a neighbour had to call them out. He either hangs from a toy that is connected to his cage or just gets a toy stuck, by the screw on the bit at the top.
    My vet is used to seeing him for anti -biotic medicines. I have to be REALLY careful about toys and I must admit compaired to the cockatoo he has few toys. The Senegal also dislikes toys . He just keeps ringing his bell constantly which drives my husband mad as he works from home!!!

    Ginny Dobson on

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