My usual uniform is a green t-shirt and jeans (not very glamorous!) and all of the animal keepers where I work wear the same thing. Many of the animals have come to be very used to the green t-shirt and understand that it means it’s a person who will probably enter their enclosure, be near to them, handle them if needed, and provide food.
Most pet parrots are used to seeing their owners in different clothes and it’s no big deal. For our parrots, though, the green t-shirt (or green jumper… or if it’s really cold, the giant green fleece!) is the everyday norm. In the last couple of years, we have developed more ‘themed’ bird shows at the Tropical Butterfly House, often involving costumes – the first couple of times I attempted to handle the parrots wearing a different outfit or a wig, they were pretty freaked out!
Molly, our Citron-crested Cockatoo, is known for her big reactions to the slightest change or something new: “oh my god, that’s the scariest thing ever!!’ with crest up, screaming and flying around like a maniac, is usually the response. I’m pleased to say, though, that Molly has become much more chilled out and is more comfortable with new things now, she still has her moments, though… I cut my finger the other day and had a small bandage around it and, when I tried to give her a treat in the show from the hand with the bandage, she flew 6 ft away from me and took a couple of minutes to calm down and return to perform! If your bird has a similar reaction to what we would regard as the slightest little change or to new things in general; deliberately introducing new things on a regular basis AND rewarding them for a calm reponse, will help them to feel more relaxed about change.
The costumes have been very effective in socialising the birds of prey too, and desensitising them to bright colours and different clothes – this makes it easier to offer visitors the chance to have birds fly to them (supervised by us), without the worry of the birds freaking out because the person might be wearing a bright yellow raincoat or a leopard print hat!
It is worth bearing in mind, however, that very bright colours can be viewed as a sign of aggression to some birds, so you should not persist in trying to get your bird to be ok with an outrageous outfit if it’s provoking a negative response – see Mel’s blog post Does Your Bird Use Light to Communicate?
Our most recent show during the Easter School holidays featured Sherlock Holmes (or ‘Shirley Holmes’ when I was performing that role!) as well as a surprise appearance from the Easter Bunny. This is, by far, the most extreme costume the birds have had to deal with as our faces are not visible when wearing it. We haven’t attempted actually flying the birds whilst wearing it… but behind the scenes, the Easter Bunny does help to put the birds away and release them for the show (without the costume head on); Bonnie and Alfie were the best out of the lot and even when another member of staff filled in as the Easter Bunny, they willingly stepped up onto a fluffy bunny arm.
Bonnie and Alfie, the Green-winged Macaw siblings, are the most ‘well-socialised’ out of all of the parrots, they will even fly to a total stranger if we are present (to reassure them it’s safe) and willingly step up for a reward for pretty much all members of staff. I think you’d agree that it’s more than just a coincidence that Bonnie and Alfie are the ones who have been exposed to different environments, people and costumes the most, and from a young age.