Baby birds are tabula rasa, blank slates, and therefore are such joys to train! But before I get into this, I feel that I have add a little side note: I personally believe that parrots aren’t meant to be pets, yet our captive birds need us. In light of this, I encourage rescue and re-homing where possible. Mine is sometimes a bit of a controversial opinion, but I do also whole-heartedly support people who buy baby birds. I know that not everyone has it in them to do rescues, or work with the emotional ‘baggage’ that comes with re-homing any parrot. And I don’t condemn anyone for their decisions.
I love that there are places like this where owners can obtain information, whether they chose to adopt or purchase a bird. Everyone should be able to start out their relationships right – no matter what. There are a number of things that it’s incredibly important to teach our birds. This is a place where you can find the best articles on these easy skills:
- How to eat well: This is my top-tip for any bird owner. If you don’t get the chance to teach anything else, make sure they know that fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods are safe to eat. A good and varied diet ensures that parrots feel their best, reduces the chance of biting or hormonal surges, and ultimately makes for a healthier pet. Parrots who eat well liver longer.
- How to step up and be handled: Stepping-up is a learnt skill, and the ultimate act of trust. Respect your parrot when he says no by backing off temporarily, and teach him that complying has big benefits for him. This can be as simple as verbal praise and a sliver of nut or fruit, or going somewhere interesting with him on your hand. Similarly, you can touch a baby bird all over, getting him used to this kind of handling before he reaches sexual maturity.
- How to be syringe-fed: I would rate this amongst the most important things any owner could teach a baby bird. At some point in your parrot’s long life, you may need to give it medicine, which often comes in syringe form. If you use a sweet juice and teach your pet that this is an okay thing to have happen, an emergency situation may go a lot more smoothly later. This tip saves lives!
- How to be towelled: Towelling is a vital skill for all owners, and this should be a soothing act, not a stressful one. There will be many times in his life where it is necessary, too, including the vet’s office. If you have an emergency, it will allow you to restrain a bird safely and calm him at the same time, and even if you just have an angry, hormonal parrot on your hands, well, towelling can save you from a wicked bite (just watch out that the bird doesn’t nest!).
- How to be flexible (in terms of schedule): Forge a balance between routine and freedom. Parrots naturally fall into a routine, but if you raise yours to go without, you won’t face what happens if you do, and you have to break it. Hint: It brings a lot more stress into your birds’ lives if you break a routine that they rely on. Being prey animals, however, a routine can introduce security into a parrot’s life, so it’s all about finding the perfect balance for your flock.
- How to play with toys and self-entertain: Our parrots tend to rely on us for everything, but we owners can’t always be around. Life happens, and if you teach your bird from the beginning that he can play with toys and function on his own, you will all be happier. This is as simple as showing your pet how by example: toss it, nose it, jingle it, and make a really big deal, or even just let him watch other birds at play. Irresistible.
- How to forage: Foraging is the best way to put your parrot’s amazing brain to work. Start simple, and work your way up. If you need inspiration for beginner’s foraging, try wrapping treats in paper to start.
- How to wear a harness: This is something many avians will never fully appreciate, but many more still will LOVE it. Do this from as early an age as possible, as young birds have less fear of the exercises that accompany harness training – such as lifting wings up, and slipping things over the head. I’m also planning a series for when my adult Senegal arrives from quarantine, documenting my experience with harness training him.
- How to go in a carrier: Carrier-training your bird is incredibly important. Even if you flight or harness train him, there are times when you simply won’t be able to have him out with you (for instance, in the car). Don’t skip this one!
- How to enjoy training: If you start them young, they learn quickly and easily – and have that ‘click’ moment much sooner, when they just get what you want when training. Did you know that if you have even one solid trick on cue, you can use it as a distraction to avoid a bite? For instance, my Senegal parrot knows ‘stand tall.’ If he is pinning his eyes and looking like he wants to bite me, I cue this. This provides a positive interaction that I can reward with a treat, and completely distracts him from his original intentions.
- How to interact with strangers: Socialising your bird serves multiple purposes. First, if something happens to you (long or short term), your pet will adapt far better to a new caretaker. Second, this counts as a form of enrichment. Many parrots love to meet new people, once they’ve been taught that good and interesting things come from strangers!
- How to fly: Flight being a key part of being a bird, I am among the ranks of those who don’t believe in clipping a bird’s wings. Flighted parrots are more confident, able to save themselves from bad falls, and generally healthier for their ability to burn off fat and energy. They also bite less, which is always a bonus. Teaching a bird this brings him joy and a feeling of safety.
In the end, these are skills that are important to teach any pet parrot, young or old. You can train older birds just as much as the young ones; it just takes more patience and time. Persevere – the results are more than worth it!