My Thoughts On "Shouldering" Birds

My Thoughts On “Shouldering” Birds

 December 19th, 2014
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Female Eclectus, “Pepper”

Don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly fond of what we call “shoulder birds”. Ironically I was always the one carrying/allowing birds on my shoulders. At first I didn’t see a problem with it, when I first got Toeksie, she was terrified of my hands and would only climb onto my shoulder. I used that to my advantage. Even now, there are a few birds from Brainy Birds who I allow on my shoulder, but I have a whole list of birds I won’t ever allow anywhere near it. Pepper (female Eclectus) is a good example of a bird I can allow to do something like climb onto my head/shoulder. She is very predictable and even tempered, with me anyway, so I can trust her in ‘normal’ circumstances. She actually prefers being on my hands and I only really put her on my shoulder when I need both my hands for something else, BUT she’s not always that great with other people so I’m not sure how I feel about other people allowing her so close to their faces (sorry Pepper).
Then there’s Zaza, my adorable and scary little Senegal parrot. He’s generally very predictable, by predictable I mean I usually know when he’s going to be cool and when he’s going to try and kill me….except for when he’s on my shoulder. I can allow him near my face, no problem. But something about just setting one foot on my shoulder usually sends him into full blown attack mode. Turning him into a little hissing, growling green monster and don’t you dare look at him! Eye contact will only make it worse. So since pretty much anything can set him off, he’s never allowed on my shoulder.


Adorable Senegal parrot, “Zaza”.

But first, there was Ozzy. He gave me a pretty painful wake-up call very early on in our relationship.
Ozzy (A.K.A “Bo”), one of my previous fosters, is a Bare eyed Cockatoo/little Corella who has a thing for shoulders. He only has eyes for one person at a time and when he chose me, I couldn’t stop myself from “spoiling” him. I broke all the little rules because that’s what made him happy….OH BOY! He might have left me, but at least I still have the battle scars, actual battle scars.
At first everything was fine, he stayed on my shoulder the entire day and we had a lot of fun, really. It wasn’t until much later when things started going south, it was around 5 pm and I was still at Brainy Birds. Dee was out back busy with the birds and I was alone inside with Ozzy, this time he was playing on my lap. One wild pigeon flew passed the window giving him a fright, he bit my hand next to him and jumped onto my shoulder where he proceeded to bite into my ear. Since he was on my shoulder I had no way of knowing whether or not he was calming down, so all I could do was talk to him and pray I wouldn’t need to look for a plastic surgeon by the end of the night. Dee came and we moved into the birdroom, but when he saw he was about to go back to his cage, guess what he did…

IMG_20140124_110337 (2)

Me shouldering the infamous “Ozzy”.

If you guessed he bit my ear again, well done!
I wasn’t angry with him though, I knew it was my fault and, after taking care of the bites, Dee made sure to give me a good scowling and I got that famous “I told you so, didn’t I?” lecture. I promised to never do it again, but I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. I saw him again the next week on my birthday, my mom and I baked birdie cinnamon muffins (with a delicious homemade pecan nut butter topping) for all the birds at the rescue, I went over to Ozzy’s cage and reached over to scratch his head. He had different ideas. He grabbed onto my palm and pulled himself up so that he could easily jump back up to my shoulder. From there on he bit my hand closest to him and also bit my face as I tried to turn my head away from him. Biting when on my shoulder became an impulse reaction instead of him just reacting or redirecting. And after Dee got him back to his cage, he flew to three different cages in his attempt to get back to me and also flew onto my mom’s shoulder, poor woman almost fainted.


Patty with Quaker “Libby”, Cockatiels, “Tinky & Dee Dee” and Goffins cockatoo, “Theo”.

It was actually after all of this when I first got in contact with Patty, you know, that pretty redhead who really, realy likes owls. 😉
Anyway, my point is that it’s not right nor is it ‘wrong’ to shoulder birds. It just comes down to the individual in question. I am a bit of a “speciest” since there are certain bird species I generally wouldn’t allow near my shoulder, such as Amazons and most cockatoos. Do you allow your birds on your shoulder? Why or why not?


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12 Comments on “My Thoughts On “Shouldering” Birds”

Ed  12/19/2014 5:36 pm

I keep my Rubalina Macaw on my shoulder all the time, even when I ride my bike. She will go on anyone’s shoulder and has never bitten anyone while up on their shoulder.

Amber  12/19/2014 5:58 pm

I do allow my male eclectus on my shoulder sometimes, like you said when, I need both hands. I only do this if I am walking around inside the house because most stories I have heard of biting when on a shoulder were linked to the bird being spooked by something. If we are outside he is on my hand or in a carrier just because he does get spooked when he sees hawks or things flying over.

Susan M.  12/19/2014 6:09 pm

My 20 year old goffins’ has been a shoulder bird since weening. It’s all about the bird. The bites I have sustained were not shoulder-related; rather there were times when I didn’t read his body language and pushed him too far or he felt he was in danger (when the dog was after him). I can’t fault him for those bites. I wouldn’t consider putting anything larger than him on my shoulder. I think once they tower over you it’s not safe.

Amy  12/19/2014 6:28 pm

I loved this article! I have also had a couple of bad experiences with my African Grey, Pippin… I got Pippin about 2 and a half years ago, after he flew away from his home and was never claimed. He was my first parrot ever, other than a few budgies owned when I was young. Pippin was difficult at first, to say the least. He hated being in his cage, and was aggressive. Its not a good excuse, but I like to say I was so inexperienced which made me let him get away with blue murder. I was so proud when I got him to step up for the first time (something he was clearly very good at, but refused to do because he was a naughty bunch of feathers). Then he started to go on my shoulder, and oh boy, now I was a real parrot owner! It wasn’t long before I discovered that Pippin hated loud noises, and when someone spoke too loudly near him, or walked past playing music, when he was on my shoulder, he would lunge viciously at my ear. The first time it happened, I was caught so unawares that I bent over and tried to cover my head, of course sending poor Pippin flying. Luckily, no harm was done (to the bird, I mean, I had a pretty sore ear), and he had also been given enough of a fright that he didn’t bite quite as hard the next time. 2 and a half years down the line, and if something makes him a bit uncomfortable while he is on my shoulder, he gently puts his beak over my earlobe, but never hurts me anymore. I have to be perfectly honest, before reading this article, I never considered that there were differing opinions over “shouldering” birds, which is why I kept allowing Pippin back onto my shoulder. I will definitely be more careful about offering a spot near my face to just any bird! Thanks for the article 🙂 I am a huge fan of Brainy Birds and BirdTricks, and look forward to the posts and photos on Facebook every day! Keep up the good work!

Jolene Cook  12/19/2014 7:39 pm

Birds live in a world of hiarchy. When there eye level is higher than yours it’s a sign of dominance. The alpha birds tend to roost in the highest part of the tree and so on with social order. Birds are also easily spooked and tend to bite for a reaction, therefore shouldering a bird has its risks. Training your bird is a wise idea and doing it with your arm first, below your eye level establisheswho is the boss and keeps them away from your face. Smaller birds are not always an easier bite than larger birds. Never shoulder a strange bird who is not used to you. This creates bad habits for the bird who may have been trained otherwise. I have a severe macaw and rarely sits on my shoulders due to the fact that he bites for a reaction and then laughs about it.

Kayla  12/19/2014 8:15 pm

I can’t trust my Senegal. She will sometimes scamper up to my shoulder, but I immediately turn my head away and put my finger up and get her to step up. She always cooperates with that – it’s like a game to her. But no way will I let her stay there or even have my face toward her. She can go from cute and sweet to vicious in a split second!

Vera  12/19/2014 8:33 pm

My cockatiel Bo goes on my shoulder but prefers sitting on my finger, no incidents thus far!

Debra Hamer  12/19/2014 8:37 pm

I have a Scarlet Macaw and he likes to bite so no on the shoulder. I have enough scars elsewhere I don’t need any on my face, thank you.

isaac anderson  12/20/2014 8:18 am

I always let my galah on my.shoulder it gives him a sense of security and if you are.scared that a new bird mite bite you the bird.knows.that to bite you

Molly  01/02/2015 10:51 pm

I think you should get to know the bird before making decisions like that. Even if you think you know him, it could turn out to be a disaster…

Frank Gavoille  02/10/2015 11:38 am

My Sun Conure is frequently on my shoulder and has never bit me. On the other hand I don’t recommend other people let them on their shoulders. Bug doesn’t like most folks for more than a few minutes then he’s ready to back to one of us. His favorite place is about the center of my chest.

Ariana  04/23/2015 8:12 pm

I sometimes allow my cherry headed conure up there. She has never bitten me up there, even when she’s completely startled! The only problem is she won’t step up on my hand once she’s there, she does respect when I want her down though I’ll lean by body toward the cage/bed and she’ll step down immediately, this also goes for my Quaker, but It’s very rare that you’ll see him perched on my shoulder (no bad expierences, but he is new to the flock). I also limit the amount of time there up there, usually only a couple minutes every few days, so that they don’t get used to the idea and expect it to be done, my rule is “the shoulder shouldn’t be just another perch, it should be a reward!”