Bad Moods, Bad Parrots

Photo by Dave Location: Springfield, MA Shown: Galah "Bondi" 

It's impossible to train any animal when you're in a bad mood. Animals, especially parrots, are so sensitive and in tune with your emotions that they read you like an open book. It's obvious to them, and faking it only makes it worse. I know, I've started training sessions in a great mood and gotten frustrated before. Who hasn't? But you need to learn to end the session before you get upset, because otherwise it's only going to get worse. Bondi, our rose breasted cockatoo, will literally refuse to train if I'm in a bad mood. Which of course, only makes my mood normally worse. I mention this because with our recent loss of our toucan, things have just been happening left and right. First, I became paranoid about every little thing. Checking on the birds every hour, going in with them a lot more often, and just standing in the aviary with them holding them and talking to them. I explained to them what happened, and loved on them, just stayed with them and told them how much I love them and never want anything bad to happen to them. All the birds responded in utter mellow-ness, didn't say a word, just puffed up and cuddled. Enjoying the peacefulness of this new mood they were experiencing with me.   Dave, however, was so beside himself with the loss of Fiji, he couldn't do anything but mourn her and hardly make eye contact with the others. Everything was a reminder; from her empty travel cage to the show and performances, to thinking about which one would do her part in the show... to even looking up toucans online and seeing people had stolen photos of him and her and used them to scam people. Even standing in the grocery store and realizing we didn't need the blueberries for her anymore... and standing in the produce aisle crying. Moments that just make your loss more real, and the pain a little deeper.   But we still have other birds, and I have to remember not to punish them for our loss, and not to make them feel how I'm feeling. The last thing I want is for them to feel how I'm feeling. I want them to know I'm still here for them.   As I walked into one of Dave's training sessions with Bondi to work her into Fiji's spot (which she has done before, just to give Fiji a break if she wasn't feeling up to performing) I found Dave sitting sadly on the ring curb... alone. "Where's Bondi?" I asked. He pointed up, and there she was, as high as she could get on a rope. I sighed looking between them. I called Bondi down and she came. "She won't go in the box." Dave said. "She won't do anything." I grabbed a touch training stick, some pine nuts and black oil sunflower seeds and a clicker. I set Bondi on the prop and asked some basic tricks she already knows; wave, spin, shake, head nod... just as a little warm up. Then I asked her to step onto a metal part half way into the box. She did, and I treated her. I kept at that for a while. My next training session with her I got her to go all the way in herself for some treats, then talked to her while she was in there to give a little added reinforcement. It was great progress for two training sessions; but my sessions went downhill when Dave came close. If he went to pick up Bondi she would fly away. I even used the help of the horse trainer to reinforce Bondi staying in the box longer and longer. And he finally said, "Can I say something?" of course was our reply. "You're even talking different. I don't know about birds, but with my horses, they pick up on that kind of stuff and it affects them. You've got to get it together for the animals. They can feel it if I can feel it, and I can feel it real strong." Easier said than done, obviously. And Bondi isn't mad at Dave, nor does she all the sudden not like him... but she can feel his sad energy and she doesn't want to do anything for him because of it. It's no fun to hang out with someone who is down all the time. Now this issue isn't about changing anything with the bird, it's about changing the person. And in this scenario only Dave can do that. Otherwise, we awkwardly would have to change the routine in the show where Dave just talks and I do the trick with Bondi. Because now she will only respond to me training her. But I know Dave can be strong for her and the rest of our flock and I know he will.  

Today was already better... we had a media segment about animal training for TV here in Springfield, MA and he did an entire presentation with Bondi. She responded much better to him, doing things she already knows. Then I came into the ring with her and we told the kids about how we were working on this new trick with her. She went in the box tons of times, and stayed in by herself. Then she would come out, I would cue some things, she would fly between me and Dave, and then go in the box again a few times. It was so good and so progressive that it gave me a lot of hope for her doing it soon. Not only did her spirits rise about the trick, but Dave's did too and just a little change in his attitude changed everything for her. Even though I was doing the main training still, the response and relationship between the two of them was so much better. The biggest lesson I'm trying to get across here... is if you're going through something, whatever it is, don't take it out on your bird and recognize when you are, even when it's unintentional.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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