Who Is To Blame For The Bird's Bad Behavior?

Who Is To Blame For The Bird’s Bad Behavior?

 February 10th, 2014
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Blue and gold macaws

This summer I had the opportunity to meet Chris and Misty, a couple that Dave Womach worked with on a behavior consultation involving their moluccan cockatoo. They were at the Womach’s house graciously offering their time to disassemble some of the indoor cages for the Womach’s final move to Idaho.

In talking to them, I realized that Dave had managed to drive home a really important message during the consult. Chris said to me that he was relieved to find that the source of the problem was him and not the cockatoo. I was thrilled to hear that, most people do not look at the situation so open-mindedly.

When there are problems with our birds, almost without exception, a human caregiver is at fault. I know that is hard to hear. No one wants to consider that they might be responsible for screwing up their bird. However, it is an admission that everyone, myself included, has to make before moving forward to a solution: WE are the problem.

Issues with our parrots come in many different forms. The vast majority of health issues are traced back to inadequate diet and exercise, lack of proper lighting or an unclean or unsafe environment. Behavioral issues like fear or aggression will eventually be traced back to our handling of the bird, and our inability to read their body language. Ultimately, none of these problems can be blamed on a bird that sits caged among humans. They have no control over anything. They can only object.

The fact is that birds are very adaptable and always do well in homes where their security does not feel threatened and they are well cared for. If your bird isn’t doing well, you are missing something.

I am sure some people reading this are already getting defensive, but please don’t. This isn’t an attack on anyone’s merits as a bird owner and it is actually good news!

Yellow collared macaw

Everyone taking the time to read this obviously loves their bird deeply and does their very best to care for them and provide the best of everything. As I have said many times in the past, we are humans who do not read body language well and can only manage to perceive things in a way that is limited to our human experience. Our journey with birds has been a short one and our knowledge is very limited. We are going to blow it repeatedly. It is inevitable. It speaks very highly of the birds in our care that they are willing to bend again and again to make things work with us.

Your bird is not defective. In fact, he is operating perfectly and in exactly the manner a bird should in a difficult situation. His behavior is symptomatic, a reaction to situations thrust upon him that weren’t of his own making and are beyond his control. Don’t expect your bird to change to solve the problem. WE have to make the changes.

The good news is that since we have created the problems, we can fix them. It is a lot easier to fix yourself than something else, especially when you have no idea how that something else actually works.

To do it, though, we have to put our egos behind us, drop the defenses and take Chris and Misty’s sensible outlook on their bird’s behavior. We can solve the problem by addressing our own shortcoming as caregivers. Are you willing to look in the mirror for the solution to your bird’s problems?

You can start to make the difference by clicking here: One Day Miracles 

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15 Comments on “Who Is To Blame For The Bird’s Bad Behavior?”

Andi Schoenbaum  02/14/2014 4:53 am

**please delete the comment from Gracie. I didn’t realize she was signed on fb with my device and accidentally posted as her***

My B&G was suffering with her cage in the living room. Although sources recommended placing her in a high traffic area, this proved to be unsafe with occasional smoke, television, loud voices and other pets, not to mention that she was a new addition to our home as somewhat of a rescue and we hadn’t the first clue what to do with a macaw. We were feeding her a steady diet of peanuts, table food, and packaged parrot “junk food” full of sugar. She was screaming, destroying furniture and drawing blood daily. Since I moved her upstairs into a light bright more private room, started feeding her birdie bread full of organic pellets and veggies, added interesting toys and woods to chew on and created safe perches in other areas of the house, her screaming has nearly diminished and my hands are free of blood and bruises. When she does scream for attention, I encourage her to take the initiative to climb down and walk over to me, even if she has to come down the stairs, which she can now do at lightning speed. So she’s getting exercise too. My source for changing habits has been almost entirely Birdtricks.com. Thank you!

Amber Baldock  02/14/2014 5:34 am

There are many mistakes I have made on my journey down the road of birds, a lot of things I so desperately wish I could change, go back and do it all differently. But… I can’t… And to be honest, I don’t know whether it would have helped anything. Through these mistakes I have learnt so much, and have practically taught myself, what NOT to do with birds. This is a great post Patty, thankyou!!

Pat Surniak  02/14/2014 8:41 am

When I get bit I jerk my hand away. I don’t know how people can not flinch when getting bit. I use to put a bird directly in front of a Window to give them full view of the outside. This gave them no place to hide if something outside scared them.

Kathy England  02/14/2014 3:35 pm

My darling black masked lovebird, Dexter, has been picking up bad habits when I board him with my vet while traveling. He used to be very quiet; however, now he screams when he wants my attention. He now SCREAMS in my ear while sitting on my shoulder when I’m on the phone, computer, etc. He also grabs onto my ear when sitting on my shoulder, which hurts like crazy – even after his beak trim. I love him dearly, but he is driving me crazy!!!! He used to be very lovable and would let me cuddle with him. Now, if he’s in the mood I can massage his head after his bath, but sitting on my lap massaging him while watching t.v. is no longer permitted. He is also picking his feathers. Any advice?

Barbara Taden  02/14/2014 4:42 pm

How do you control the raging hormones in a lesser sulpher crested cockatoo? I like to take her out in the evenings for about 1 1/2 hours, feed her treats, scratch her head, etc. I have done everything I can think of…including making her a night sleep cage in another room so she can get plenty of sleep, controlling her light during this period, feeding her extra calcium since she will lay a few eggs each year, trying not to pet her in certain places, but she acts like velcro on me, sticking up her tail and doing her little dance constantly. There is nothing that will distract her other than a treat, but then she’s at it again. I cannot cuddle with her…that is completely out of the question, which is really sad….. advice?

Dan  02/14/2014 8:49 pm

I’ve been way too easy going and he no longer “comes up” unless by chance it’s his decision. (Which I’m fine with) I’ve managed to give him confidence that When I put my fingers out for him to come up he only has to wait me out, and I’ll stroke neck and back.

Entirely by accident!!! my conure seems very happy and content for the past couple months. I’ve relocated the, generally open,cage to directly behind the most used couch and he seems to love it.
I’ve had Guido for nearly a year now and am soooooo happy to see him so content. It’s absolutly amazing how rare his screaming is now. He used to have roughly one bad day per week. I have not witnessed a bad day from him since we moved is cage so close to us. With his ladder he has the abilty to walk right up behing us and just be with us. He used to be just 8 feet away but that nearness seems to make a big difference.

Jane Howard  02/14/2014 9:32 pm

Can someone please tell me if the new cookware, Orgreenic Pans which are made with a nonstick that is PFOA and PTFE free ceramic service. I have heard that you can’t use Teflon cookware. Is this new kind safe for birds. Thank you for you help.

Grant Reville  02/14/2014 9:41 pm

I have a budgie , he is 100 per cent perfect. He has no bad habbits at all. he loves me to bits and will do what he is asked and never complanes. He shakes hands ,plays ball , rolls over and the list goes on. He trusts me 100 per cent and never shows fear.
I also have an indian ringneck , he is not so perfect. He will never ever bite ,regardless of what i do, I can handle him etc, he will always step up, however if i try to handle him he will run away, i do have to grab him quickly , or else he will run. However once i have him held in my hand , he will never bite, evan though he seems to hate being cuddled , he doesnt evan like me scratching his head. Yet he will follow me around the house sit on my knee, play soccer , play other ball games with me. Its just the handling thing he dosnt seem to like. If we are ever visiting someone and somthing scares him he runs to me and then will let me pick him up and i can tell he then feels safe. So he trusts me heaps if in danger but if not in any danger dosnt like me handling him.
Apart from that issue i find birds very easy to train and keep happy. They both have huge cages and boxs of toys , battery powed musical instuments with flashing lights, I buy second hand battery powered toys from opp shops. They even have their own toy lap tops with screens that light up etc. I always keep their wings clipped as its safer , they prefer company and enjoyment more than dodging items in the house when the could fly. Cheers Grant

haitham  02/14/2014 10:02 pm

i had blue and gold macaw and the big mistake that i did was coming to him when he scream for attention, that make him scream every time he want something ( almost all the time ) and he teach the nice green wing to scream too and it toke 3 months to stop that
thank you

Maureen Tweddle  02/14/2014 10:44 pm

My Senegal, Piña, came to me as a gift so I hadn’t done any research on parrots. My biggest mistake is Underestimating the HUGE intelligence in that small body! I am blown away each day watching her figuring something out. At first, being uninformed, I discounted the necessity of training other than stepping up. Now, because of my laziness….yes I admit to being lazy about training, I have a bird that is very willful. The Only,time she will step up is when I offer her the bedtime snack. She will only come to me on Her terms, not mine. I love Piña to bits and have begun to re watch the BT training videos from the beginning. The good news is that Piña IS smart, and only 5 yrs old so I feel there is hope for us. And better news is that I have the training videos and auditors . Thank you Bird Tricks for all the great information you provide. I am a dedicated fan.

Ansie  02/17/2014 5:00 am

I put my 1 year old Eclectus cock in the same cage as my 3 year old Eclectus hen. (The cage is situated in my living room) Every time she chased him out, I put him back – not realizing that it was a huge mistake on my side. Until he started picking his feathers and started self inflicted injuries like biting himself. Only then I started reading up, and learned that the hen does not accept just any male near her “nest”. So I put him back in his old cage next to her – but then she went into his cage to inspect and by this time he was so scared and traumatized that he also jumped out of his own cage. He was so traumatized that he lost complete trust in everybody and everything. Just sit and scratch, not moving around anymore, don’t play anymore, picked out all feathers on his entire body, biting himself up to the stage you can see his bones – absolutely terrible. He got intense care from our vet and we eventually won…..After almost 2 years his feathers grew back and the wounds healed. He still is using just ONE branch inside his cage – not moving around in his cage at all. Only eating in only one corner of his cage and not playing with any toys inside the cage. He will only play with stuff while on my hand. If he see or hear anything that is new, he screams our ears off. I can see improvement slowly, but it takes time and I certainly hope that we can help him to become a “normal” playful parrot again.

Annick Daigle  02/19/2014 11:21 pm

We own a 12-yr old male B&G macaw we bought 10 years ago. He goes by the name of Karat. He came from a breeder and was handfed by his first owner. She had to get rid of him when she became involved in a relationship, because he was very possessive and attacked her boyfriend every chance he got. Although things went very well for the first couple of years, looking back I have come to realize that over the years we pretty much screwed up EVERYTHING. We fed Karat a free, all-you-can-eat-Chinese-buffet 7 days a week. What I mean by that is Karat had access to loads of food without having to work or look for it. We live in an apartment, so Karat’s cage was rather small. My girlfriend and I both worked very long hours, thus leaving Karat alone quite often. At night, we used to cover his cage with blankets, but his cage being next to the TV, he did not get all the sleep he needed. So by the time his hormones kicked in… The cuddly baby we had fallen in love with had vanished. Karat started biting, screaming, acting restless, wouldn’t let us approach him… We became afraid of him and stopped interacting with him almost completely. For obvious reasons, Karat became even more frustrated and acted accordingly. It was true hell. Until this summer, when I got ill. I was off work for six months and decided to invest this time into one last effort to turn things around with Karat. After all, I owned a little cockatiel for 24 years, so I wasn’t going to give up on “Big Bird” without at least trying one last time… I started reading books and surfing the net, looking for tricks, answers, suggestions. Anything. It soon became obvious from all my reading that Karat was a very normal bird. This made me realize that I must have had something to do with the monster he had seemingly turned into. That’s when I discovered Bird Tricks. I started reading their blog, bought an array of videos (from the One-Day Miracle series to the videotaped conference), and also talked with a local parrot breeder (not that many of them in freezing cold Montreal, Canada). The breeder confirmed I was doing everything “text book”… to make my parrot as hormonal as possible: too much food, too much sugar, too much fat. So I changed his diet (he’s on Harrison pellets and fresh fruits and veggies now) and we saw a drastic improvement within just a few days! As a result of his new diet, Karat became more interested in clicker training, because of the treats. From then on, it all started spiralling up again: the more time I spent with Karat, the better he behaved, the better he behaved, the more time I spent with him. In fact, things improved so much I decided to replace his cage with a larger one. Turns out the larger cage feels less invasive than the smaller one because it doesn’t block the light as much (more space between bars). He loves it and has never tried once to destroy it as he did with the previous cage. Karat now sleeps in the small bathroom (only way we could ensure 12-hour nights) and he loves it so much he now asks to go to sleep. Literally. He says “on fait des dodos” (that’s French for “we go sleep”). When we get him up in the morning, he looks fully rested and happy to see us. I also followed Chet’s suggestion and got a full spectrum light bulb. What a difference it has made! Karat has even come to understand that he gets to go “dodo” only after his light comes out. So most of the late afternoon screaming has stopped. We have “knived” some of his toys and hide food all over the cage. He caught up pretty quickly on foraging! I cycle his toys on a regular basis and discovered that a toy he doesn’t fancy one week may become his favourite one a month later, depending on the surroundings… Thank you, Patty for this great post. I hope more stories will come up to help bird owners see the light. All of you at Bird Tricks: keep up the good work… I owe you my renewed relationship with Karat!

Teresa Wettengel Doxsee  02/22/2014 10:19 am

HOW or H.O.W. Honest, Open & Willing. Found the word in your next to last paragraph(might want to consider bolding it) and have truly learned sooo much just from your e mails. This one truly takes the blame-game out of the equation (which any good teacher knows does not produce good solutions)… So much still to learn.. Thanks again for the reminder 🙂 Teresa W. A newbie adopted 8yr old quaker owner.

catherine adamski  02/26/2014 11:00 am

I use to have my A Grey (rosie) in front of my flower shop by the customers. She then began to make a mess so I started taking her to the back room. Now thats what she wants all the time. How do I break the habit of screaming for my attention, till I bring her to the back room. Or she plucks herself because of boredom. I don’t know what to do to stop this behavior. cathe