Infants & Pet Birds: Making The Introduction a Positive One

Shown: My daughter checking out the girls in their cage in Florida. 

Since having my daughter Sydney Capri (who I refer to as both “Capri” and “Sydney”) I’ve gotten asked a ton about “have the birds met her yet? What do they think of her? What does she think of them?” well, for the last bit of her life (she’s two months old exactly today!) she hasn’t really been able to focus on objects, and she can’t communicate much besides a need for food, sleep, a diaper change or just overall comfort from being close. I’ve allowed her to observe the birds a lot from a distance and cage bars or windows in between them so that both the birds can get used to her as a living being and she can get used to them as well. The noise of one another doesn’t seem to bother either one - but the abrupt movements from her seem to definitely get my birds attention. Those unpredictable movements from her as she figures out how to control those little arms and legs are a sign to me that it’s wayyyy too early for any physical interaction (that and the whole not being able to communicate to her thing... ;) )!

But I’ve slowly taken advantage of certain times when things feel right to move a step closer. Now, keep in mind my birds aren’t just “pets”, they’re trained performers and have been socialized with THOUSANDS of people (I’m not exaggerating - we toured for 2 years around the USA playing to large arenas that held people like Carrie Underwood, Kid Rock and Elton John - the crowds were huge and before every show we were putting birds on kids and adults of all ages and races. And that’s just two of the 9 years the birds have been seeing the world and meeting new people.) My most social parrot is my rose breasted cockatoo (galah) Bondi who loves absolutely everyone. She’s the type of parrot that will skip a freeflight trip outdoors just to hang out with someone new! My second most social (via training and not as natural as Bondi) is my blue throated macaw, Jinx. I was freeflying him in Washington at my brother in law’s house and decided before putting him back into the aviary that I’d let him hang out in the RV a bit. We always stay in our RV at his house and I was rocking Sydney to sleep for a nap. He flew over to me and I set him on my leg as she was in my arms. He naturally kept his distance.

After I laid her down to sleep I thought it would be cute to get a photo of Jinx on her sleeper. When I set him down he tried to steal her blanket with his toe! I snapped away on my camera, and she yawned and turned to him which made him drop it like he was just busted! That was the end of their interaction but the important aspect of it, no matter how small of an interaction it was, was that is was positive for both parties. Both my bird and my daughter didn’t leave afraid of one another, and neither was forced upon the other. (The above portion of this blog post was written on June 9, 2013, the rest is written on September 21, 2013... thus is blog life with an infant!) 

Photography by Daniel Kuykendall of my daughter as a newborn in a blue and gold macaw outfit (hand made by a fan of BirdTricks.com)

One of my absolute pet peeves is when someone else tells me a bird is “fine” or “friendly” and INSISTS I take the bird even though the body language I’m reading says otherwise. This actually happened just the other day while visiting an aviary with my husband and fellow bird trainer, Dave. This blue throated macaw absolutely loved him and followed after him everywhere, but I saw that because it took such a strong liking to him it was becoming actually possessive. This meant everyone else was more of a threat than a friend aside from Dave. While moving my daughter from me to him, Dave insisted I take Kayla, the blue throat macaw newly madly in love with him from his hand. I resisted, wanting him to just set her down instead. He insisted again that she is fine, friendly, really nice. All the things that describe how she is with HIM right now... I looked at her and immediately knew she did not want to come to me, and that she would likely bite me trying to even get her from him. But he kept insisting so I ignored what I FELT and went with what he SAID. Which he only really said to make his situation easier of being able to take our daughter from me. He spoke form a place of “hurry up and make this simple for me” rather than the bird trainer he really is. Kayla stepped up for me with a pinning eye and her wings held from her body a bit, which had been completely flared out before that. With a sideways look at me and tipped up feathers on her head she hit me with her beak as a warning, not a bite, and I moved just a titch so that she’d fly to the nearest perch - not wanting any behavior to escalate. The key to this story isn’t to rag on my hubby - ;) love ya, babe - but to point out that you need to be thinking of things from the point of training and not any place else. Otherwise you could potentially ruin the relationship early on between your kid and your bird.

Basic rules of introductions:

  1. Don’t force anything. Take things in stride, don’t rush, don’t be in a hurry. Let the moments come and take advantage of them as they appear instead.
  2. Remember that small, short POSITIVE interactions are better than long, drawn out interactions that eventually end on a negative because they pushed each being to their limitations.
  3. Don’t go in with expectations. I love birds and animals in general, and I REALLY want Sydney to as well, but I can’t force that on her and the more I do the more likely she is to reject the idea - so I try really hard not to expect it from her which leaves her not having to live up to anything as an infant and me not disappointed. Disappointment leads to becoming discouraged which will make you stop trying. That’s what I’m trying to “drive home” here.

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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