Cockatoos are weird. I’m sorry, but they are. It is this fact that makes them such a challenge, so interesting and my favorite species of bird. I understand what mine like and dislike. I know to avoid what makes them nervous or over-excited. I get it that they are high strung sometimes and that their moods can turn on a dime. One minute I can be a valued flock member; the next I’m at the top of their ten most wanted list.
Over the years I have tried to compile a mental list of strategies to employ during times when the mood shifts in the blink of an eye from happy playtime to defcon 1. I have found that the most effective responses are usually the spontaneous ones.
One example comes to mind: I was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher one night and Linus, my umbrella cockatoo, was preening peacefully on the back of a kitchen chair about 10 feet away. He climbed off the chair and walked up behind me wanting to be lifted to the counter, as he often does. I was rinsing a dish and couldn’t reach down to him right away. So, he left the room and wandered towards the living room out of sight.
I knew his destination was a particular doorway that he liked to visit and remodel. So I dried my hands and was prepared to head out to stop him. Just as I turned around, I saw him coming towards me with wings out, beak open and eyes focused on my ankles. I had to think quickly before there was bloodshed. I grabbed the silverware out of the dish drainer tray and dropped it all on the floor in front of my feet. In an instant the mood was broken. It was hilarious because the change happened so quickly! “I’m gonna kick your…SPOONS!!”
There was one day when Theo, my Goffin's cockatoo, was on her playstand when a red-tailed hawk decided to pay a visit. It landed on the patio railing about 6 feet from where she was. She was in the house, and the slider doors were shut, but the poor little thing had a total meltdown. I shut the blinds, and she managed to step up onto my arm, but I don’t think she was even aware that she did it. She was running up and down my arm, spinning in circles looking all around her. I could come up with nothing that would calm her, so I put her in the refrigerator. Yes I did! Of course, I kept the door wide open, but the minute her little feet hit that cold shelf in that weird little room with all those strange things; she completely forgot about her bad experience and went about exploring instead- Diversion.
There have been many times that I have had to come up with something in a pinch to change the course of a bird’s mood. Exploring the closet is a favorite. The utensil drawer in the kitchen is the ultimate which is second only to my underwear drawer. Just a chat about the weather while standing at the window will get the job done on most days.
Once, when I was unable to get Linus to quiet down with my usual methods, I grabbed a newspaper and stood by his cage and began shredding it into strips that I let fall to the floor. He kept screaming, and I kept ripping until I had a very big pile. Eventually, he stopped screaming. He probably stopped because it was just so strange to him that I was making a mess all over the floor: a job usually reserved for him. I opened his cage and left the room. He spent the next hour playing in the paper pile quietly.
Yes, I had to wash all the dropped wooden spoons and spatulas and clean up the newspaper that covered the entire floor. On top of that, Theo pooped in the fridge, but that’s no big deal when you consider what got accomplished. There is no end to the ideas you can come up with to stop your bird "mid-hissy" or to turn an angry bird into a playful one if you use your imagination.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.