Keeping Kids Safe Around Your Pet Parrots

Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Pictured: my niece and nephew with Camelot Macaw "Comet"

I love spending time with family, and for me, my pets are my family, which I think is true for everyone who has a pet whether it's a dog, cat, bird or ferret, or something else. Everyone grows very attached to their pets and looks at them as a member of their family. But I love spending time with my human family too, and the best thing is when I can spend time with both all at once.

Recently I got to spend a ton of time with my niece and nephew; Brielle and Jimmy. Luckily, my brother and sister in law had already laid the proper foundation in their upbringing to make it so that I didn't have a worry in the world of my birds being around the kids. Everyone was safe because Jimmy and Brielle were so respectful of my birds and giving them their own space so that my birds never felt threatened. If they felt the slightest bit uncomfortable with running too close, or maybe a sword let go in the wrong direction a bit (never intentional and never directed at the bird) then they just flew on over to me. I was so happy when my birds were willing to fly to my "free arm" when I was holding either of my niece or nephew. It showed me how comfortable my birds were really around the kids.

Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Pictured: Galah "Bandit" with my nephew and I

It got me thinking about how I wish all parents went through this process with their kids, which is impossible since not all families have parrots as pets. But I just thought... man, if everyone did this with their kids... what a better place for my parrots! Lord knows I've seen a lot of kids be terrible with my birds in preshow at the circus. I've literally had kids come up and smack my blue throated macaw in the face while I was kneeling down taking a picture with someone else. It's hard to foresee everything a child is going to do, and man have I gotten better and faster, but it took those times for me to learn. Luckily, Jinx has been "accidentally" bumped into a lot, and he's been rough housed, so he assumed it was all part of it and didn't react, but someone else's bird may not be as forgiving as Jinx...

Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Getting to know each other: Galah "Bandit" and Jimmy

See the personal space Jimmy is giving Bandit in this photograph? Just sayin'...

If you're a bird owner it's your responsibility  to socialize your parrot as much as possible so it's not afraid of new people. It's also your responsibility to desensitize it to new places and things so it's less likely to spook under new circumstances. Our birds are used to the glare of a spotlight on stage, and pyro shooting off the loud applause... so a kid running by with a fake sword is the least of their worries. But when kids approach full force with a ton of energy and no signs for stopping before colliding with the animal... the animal is going to react. Depending on how you raised the animal, will determine just how big of a reaction you're going to get.

If you've done the proper socializing and desensitizing with your bird, having it around kids will be much easier on everyone involved. Being able to supervise and read body language so you can tell those around you what's a good idea and what's not is really important. At one point when we were playing in the lawn, Jimmy was on my lap and that was fine for when the macaws were around me but after a while Bandit was showing me signs that he might get a little jealous that Jimmy was closer to me than he was so I explained this to Jimmy so that he could sit on my side instead some of the time, when I felt like Bandit might care.

Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Pictured: Galah "Bandit"

As a bird owner I feel like the most important things for kids to understand is:

  1. Personal space and respect of an animal
  2. Being gentle so not to scare the animal
If they understand these two principles, they will be good around the bird or any animal, for that matter. Explaining the "why" to kids is important so they see the meaning behind the action... my brother in law was explaining this to my husband one way during our visit and I found it super interesting. I loved that being around this family, everything was explained so that the kids understood fully and didn't question because it was already explained in detail. When it was explained to them, they respected it.
Photo by Sally Location: Centralia, WA Being held: Galah "Bandit" by nephew Jimmy
When the animal is respected, and kid and bird are happy,  it can be a lot of fun. After everything, my nephew kept saying, "Aunt Jamie, where's the pink bird? Can you bring out the pink bird?" and once I did he'd tell me, "I think Bandit wants down. Can you set him by me? I think he wants on my arm." it was adorable how much time he wanted to spend with the birds once it was fun for everyone, but they all got along and understood one another.
One of my friends who is a mother pointed out to me that a lot of times people don't understand that if you are gentle and kind, the animal will eventually come to you. You don't have to force yourself on an animal, and the more you do, the more it will run away (remember Pepe le' Pew the skunk or Elmira?) It's a good principle to understand.
Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Pictured: Blue throated macaw "Jinx"
My niece in particular really didn't like the noises coming from the birds. And the interesting part was that she wanted to be with me so bad, and have me hold her, but wouldn't initially come close because the birds were close to me. Eventually the reinforcement (me holding her) was stronger than her fear of the birds, especially witnessing her dad hold them and her brother hold them and nothing bad happening to follow when they did...
Eventually Brielle was staying in my arms while birds flew from me and to me and eventually she'd look all around for them and giggle and point. "There's no bird here!" I'd laugh and turn so she could barely see them as she wiggled around to view them on my back or shoulder or arm. It was pretty funny and soon enough she too was giggling about it as if I had no idea a 800 gram parrot was hitchin' a ride too!
Photo by Dave Location: Centralia, WA Pictured: Galah "Bandit" found out by my niece
In the above picture you see an example of Brielle figuring out there's a bird on me! I was trying to act surprised and non-believing of such a thing...
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Centralia, WA Shown: Galah "Bandit"
A family that can have their birds around their kids safely (for each of their safety) is a happy family that can do more together and enjoy more together so take the responsibility on and make sure both your bird and the kids are ready for such a meeting.
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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