This post is probably not going to make me popular. However, my popularity in the avian community has never been a driving force in anything I have said or done here. I don’t use Birdtricks to gain personal affirmation in the form of shares and likes. My only interest in this community begins and ends with your birds.
I will be speaking my mind in this post and saying what I feel needs to be said. I want to point out though, that when I say “we” throughout this article, I don’t mean YOU, I mean “we”. I have made mistakes with my birds. Jamie and Dave have. Anyone who says they have not is lying.
Let me tell you a secret: the unfortunate and regrettable truth is that WE cause our birds' problems. Even if our birds suck up to us in a way that makes it impossible to walk away from them, WE made the decision to bring that bird home. WE have done or have not done whatever it is that has caused the screaming, biting or plucking. WE either do something about it, or WE don’t. Our birds are at our mercy.
You can travel far and wide in this community, and you will find NO ONE that has a magic pill that can fix your bird’s problems. If your bird has a behavioral problem, you will have to put effort into fixing it. If you are unwilling to do that, just bring your bird to the rescue it will wind up in anyways so someone there can do the work you are unwilling to do. There, I said it.
So let’s get to the meat of this post…
I was looking at a Facebook page a week or so ago, and I read something that concerned me. One person, whose name I recognized from our Facebook family, was politely complained when she asked for help with a biting problem that I recommended training as the solution. Others agreed with her that it made no sense. I completely understood the complaint.
I understand that not everyone wants to train their bird. I know that some people couldn't care less about having a bird who waves on cue. I know there are still some people out there who think of training as a bad thing. They see it as forcing a bird to bend to your will for food or using a bird for your entertainment. I completely understand this thinking having been there myself at one time. However, I PROMISE YOU, this is not what it’s about. Training WILL HELP YOUR BIRD!
As I stated above, WE are the reason our birds are in trouble. The majority of companion parrots are doing poorly in human care. We are failing, and there are packed rescues with powerful evidence of this.
Having a bird with problems does not make you a bad person, nor does it make you a bad bird owner. It simply makes you human. In a way we are destined for this to be a bumpy ride based on the simple fact that we are not birds. There is no sense in beating yourself up for your bird’s problems. Yet, what are you willing to do about it?
You already know I am going to recommend training. Before I tell you WHY training is what you need to do to help your bird, let me take away any excuse you have to not read any further because you are too busy to train your bird. In the beginning you will spend under three minutes a day teaching your bird target training. Once you establish the basics of training, you will only need to keep up with it from time to time so that it doesn’t have to be relearned. The time you will spend keeping your bird trained will only take as long as it does to cue a trick and give a reward. There is nothing you can say to convince me that you don’t have time for this.
You may wish to go on to teach your bird more tricks- which we hope you will; or you may wish to just use the target training for useful things like: getting your bird back into the cage at night or into a carrier without having to use force. Even considering all the practical positive results of training, the real magic happens during the training sessions.
Biting and screaming are communications from your bird. A biting bird uses the beak to tell you that he is no longer willing or able to attempt a normal relationship with you. He feels he must bite to make his message clear.
A screaming bird is desperately trying to convey a point. He has discovered that screaming gets the reaction that normal behavior has failed to get. Your bird definitely has your attention now.
Unfortunately, biting and screaming only widens the rift between us. Even when we recognize this breakdown in communication when our birds are screaming or biting us, we don’t tend to react in a productive way. Imagine how it feels to your bird to be trying to tell you something, and you just get angry with him. Communication, or the lack of it, is our main area of failure with our birds.
Training IS communication! It is very clear and direct communication. You cue a behavior, and your bird willingly responds in the way he understands he should to get a treat. There is no guess work and no confusion.
Does training fix existing problems? No. It gives your current relationship with your bird new purpose and direction. The cooperative effort between you both gives hope for a better future together.
Maybe the following example will help you understand...
Years ago, when I lived in Chicago, there was this guy I just didn’t like. You know how some people just rub you the wrong way? It was mutual; he didn’t like me either, but life kept throwing us in each others path. Eventually, we were in a situation that required us to work together on a project.
Neither of us were thrilled about this arrangement, but we decided to do what we had to do to make it work, and we did. By the end of the project, I had enormous respect for this guy. He put out a huge effort to make it as comfortable for me as he could. I did the same for him. We grew to appreciated each other if only for the consideration we each showed the other.
The things about each other that were so annoying before became small and inconsequential. They never went away, but they so diminished in importance that we were able to look past them.
THAT is what training will do for you and your bird. It’s a second chance for your relationship. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. What it comes down to in the end is each owner’s willingness to put out some extra effort when their bird is in trouble. What are you going to do?
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.