I saw this comment on someone’s Facebook page recently:
“My bird is biting me EVERY DAY. I literally have a new wound every day and I went to Birdtricks to get some advice and they recommended TRAINING????? Can you believe that??”
I can completely understand why that would be confusing and frustrating to a person experiencing a biting problem. Their bird is tearing into their flesh, causing pain and drawing blood, and Birdtricks recommends “the wave” as a solution. It must have seemed like a flippant response to someone looking for serious help.
But guess what? It is the right recommendation. So is the “spin” – or the “high four”.
You may have no interest whatsoever in teaching your bird a neat little trick to perform for your entertainment. Many people really don’t care about having a trained bird at all. But I think I can safely say that everyone wants a bird that doesn’t bite them. So what is the connection between training and unwanted behaviors?
Training is about much more than the routine your bird is learning. With a bird that has a behavior problem, it is not about the result, it is about the experience – the journey.
Even though biting and screaming are behaviors, they are not so much a behavioral problem as the result of a communication problem. Birds resort to these behaviors when they have exhausted all other avenues of communication. Birds are a species that communicate largely through body language and when we fail over and over to respond to their body language that tells us something is wrong, they have no choice to but to deliver their message in a way that cannot be overlooked.
That message might be: “I am afraid of the view of the back yard” or “I don’t like it when you force me to step up”. As humans, we often miss the signals that say a bird is uncomfortable – and that a bite is coming.
What you need to understand is that while your biting issues are mounting, your relationship with your birds is declining. Your bird did not just decide one day, for no good reason, that you are not to be trusted and deserve to be bitten every day.
The decision to bite came gradually as your bird felt more and more disrespected by you – whether that is justified or not. Then once that bite happened, and had the desired effect of making your hand go away, it became your bird’s default move because it worked.
It makes sense, then, that to fix the biting problem, you should repair the relationship, right?
That’s where training comes into the picture – it opens up a line of communication with you and your bird. Since birds are so adept at reading body language, even ours, and we are so bad at it, we really need something that bridges that communication gap.
Training is an adventure that you and your bird take together. You learn about each other and you learn how to work together towards a mutually beneficial goal. As you go along, trust builds and suspicion fades.
To my Facebook friend (who apparently forgot I was a friend when she posted that comment), I hope this helps to make you understand that Birdtricks was not making light of your situation when recommending training as the solution to your problem. Please give it a try and I will wait for your post that says: “Holy crap! They were right!”
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.