Of all the things I have ever done with my parrots, introducing them to my son was one of the most exciting. In many ways, this introduction was the culmination of years of socialization and training. It brought together skills that they were taught, many times not knowing the end purpose, to accomplish a wonderful outcome.
My boy Steven was born in October of 2020, but it wasn't until January of 2021 that he first encountered my parrots.
As always, I need to remind that parrots are wild animals. They are smart, free willed, flighty, and at times bitey. It is important to be careful between people and parrots, but much more so when it involved a baby. The damage a beak can do to an infant is just too great. Knowing this, Marianna and I deliberately delayed the first introduction.
At first, the baby was just too small and delicate to even consider it. Not only is it about preventing a bite, but it is also best not to take any chances with any kind of infection. Normally we test for and consider zoonotic diseases such as Psittacosis. That is an illness that can even affect an adult. However, there is always the possibility of the birds carrying some kind of bacteria, parasites, mites, or fungus that we are not even aware of. For a immune restricted baby, that can be overwhelming. For this reason, we wanted to keep the baby and birds apart for a few months to give him a chance to be exposed to more usual germs first.
Even at 2 months old, there did not appear to be any value for that baby's sake to meet the parrots. We could tell he could hear and see, but at the same time he would stare blankly. It was hard to tell how much he was really taking in. However, at 2.5 months old, suddenly things changed. In the span of just a few days he started following objects with his eyes, reacting, smiling, and showing interest in toys. With this new found awareness, a baby-bird introduction would be not only beneficial for the parrots but for the baby as well.
Steven has been exposed to birds his entire existence. While in mommy's tummy, he got to hear parrot sounds while she was cleaning cages. From the day he came home, Steven would wake up every day to the painting of our parrots expecting a baby. Steven slept under a wall mural of a tree with songbirds chirping in the canopy. He had numerous owl toys in his room that he would see and we would read stories about birds and Owls to him. All these bird related experiences prepared Steven for the day that he would finally get to see a real live bird up close and personal! And that day has come.
Some precautions were taken when introducing the birds. We took care to make sure a bird could not fly at and attack the baby, but mostly the concern was to make sure the birds have a favorable impression. The best way to prevent making a bad impression accidentally is to make a good one deliberately. Since the birds will be living with this new family member for many years to come, a good first impression would be the start to a lifelong friendship.
We had Marianna bottle feed Steven while I brought out Rachel the Blue and Gold Macaw. We had the birds out just one at a time in order to have the best control over the bird and the situation. By having one parent attending to the baby and one to the bird, ensured that each person could watch and make things good. Also, as a worst case scenario, the bird would have to get past two people if it somehow became possessed and tried to fly at the baby to attack. Ensuring the baby's safety is still paramount.
I carried Rachel straight to her prepared Training Perch using my body to block her view of Steven. I wanted to start her far away with little view and gradually work our way closer and to slowly increase her visibility. It worked out well. Rachel was focused on me, earning treats for targeting. Meanwhile Steven was focused on mommy and feeding. Little by little, I revealed the baby more to Rachel by standing less in the way. While allowing her to see the baby, I diverted her focus to targeting so that she could earn treats for inadvertently leaving the baby alone.
Now I had virtually no concern about Rachel attacking the baby. Although she is my biggest parrot and could do the most harm, this Macaw is a big chicken! Rachel was far more likely to get scared of the baby and try to fly away than to deliberately attack. Theoretically if I were to stick the baby right up to Rachel suddenly, all bets are off. However, she is not the kind of bird that would seek out a fight. But, since Rachel is known to be timid, it was important for Rachel's sake to make sure that she had a very peaceful and rewarding introduction to the baby. We worked our way closer and closer. Eventually Steven finished his milk and was gazing at the big blue bird with amazement. With everything calm, I was able to bring Rachel really close. Just never close enough to touch. The introduction went splendidly and both Steven and Rachel enjoyed.
Rachel earned the best and tastiest treats she had in a long time simply by demonstrating "good behavior" rather than getting worked up over the baby. Using the Training Perch technique, I was able to ensure that the macaw was never overwhelmed and that it was easy for her to be successful. After the uneventful meeting, Rachel went away and Marianna and I switched roles. I held Steven while she brought out Truman the Cape Parrot.
We expected Truman to be the easiest. Not just because he is unable to fly, but also because he's the most easy going of the birds. However, he has been known to hold grudges so it was still important to avoid getting off on the wrong foot with him. Instead of targeting, Marianna focused on doing cued talking with Truman. Truman is more of a talker and personality bird so this appealed most to him. The goal was the same as with Rachel, get the bird distracted doing something it loves so that the bird can be rewarded for not misbehaving around the baby.
It wasn't just attacking the baby we were trying to prevent. We really just wanted to avoid the birds having any sort of unpleasant feelings toward the child. Whether getting defensive or just giving a stink eye, it was best avoided. By eliciting positive responses through training and treats, it was easy to get the birds feeling happy in the presence of someone they had not met before.
Not only did Truman do great, Steven did too. Steven showed a lot of interest in the birds. He followed them with his eyes and got really smiley. At one moment, Steven let out a laugh and Truman responded by laughing as well! The first mutual communication between baby and parrot! Success!
I saved Kili for last because she had potential to be the most trouble. We figured it is best to see how it goes with Truman and Rachel who would not deliberately attack before introducing Kili. Kili is a super smart, super trained, super well-behaved bird. However, being a Senegal she also has a sinister side deep within. Through years of bonding and training we have it largely hidden away. However, if left unchecked it could still rear it's ugly head. Senegal Parrots are notoriously one-person-birds. That is where they bond strongly to one person and then terrorize everybody else. Through years of socialization, I have kept this under control. In fact, I got Kili to accept Marianna right from the beginning. But, knowing that this potential still exists, it was most important to make sure it does not apply to the baby!
I brought Kili out and just like with Rachel started her out on the Training Perch. After a little targeting we switched to tricks because Kili gets really focused during trick training. Being a smaller/lighter bird, Kili is also the most flighty. It was important to keep her focused so that she would not fly and scare the baby or worse yet fly at the baby. I kept her attention on me the entire time and slowly worked our way closer. I made Kili understand how she should behave around the baby and she quickly caught on. It did not take long for her to get happy performing tricks around baby Steven.
The introduction could not have gone better. All 3 parrots were in a good mood, cooperative, and calm. Steven was curious and involved. Nobody good hurt, scared, spooked, or upset. Just great all around. Could things have gone as well without any deliberate training and effort during the introduction? Maybe. But, it was not worth finding out that perhaps things would not have went well if we did not set up the introduction for success. Saving half an hour to make a spontaneous/uncontrolled introduction would simply not be worth potentially setting a bad first impression for the baby or birds for a relationship that will last for years to come! Playing it safe is the way to go.
Keep in mind that the 30 minutes spent on the introduction were just the icing on the cake. These parrots have been trained for years to develop basic training skills, socialize with people, and have the basis for being successfully introduced to a new family member. You can't just overnight decide that you want to introduce a wild biting parrot with no training background to a baby. Take the time to learn and apply parrot training to your parrotnow so that when you experience life changes, your bird will have the skills to adapt to what is yet to come!
It's your fault your parrot bit you and you deserved it too! This is an essential realization to make or you will never be able to solve biting problems. People who refuse to accept responsibility for soliciting biting from their parrot cannot learn to reduce biting. We have to first realize what we do that causes the parrot to bite in order to work on resolving it. Or at least, if we cannot determine the reason, we need to at least follow an approach that will prevent or reduce biting.
The fact that it's your fault when your parrot bites is actually great news as you will come to realize. If it is your fault and something you did that caused the bite, then that means it is also in your power not to cause the bite! If this weren't the case and if the parrot were to bite for truly no reason, you would have a very hard time trying to solve that situation. Keep in mind that even if you are unaware how it is your fault that your parrot bites, it is still present and can still be solved.
I am hard pressed to find good bite stories or videos to share because I hardly ever get bit by parrots. Kili & Truman haven't bit me, or anyone else for that matter, in years. Santina bit me a few times at the rescue but not once since I brought her home. Even when I meet birds at stores, rescues, and other people's homes during consultations, it is very rare that I get bit. This is because most parrots aren't naturally aggressive creatures.
Most parrot species, and birds for that matter, tend to avoid conflict by flying away. Clipping wings denies parrots of the ability to fly away so they are forced to resort to biting in self-defense. Since Kili & Truman can fly away if someone is bothering them, they do just that rather than bite. This has not only eliminated biting but it has also taught them to be more trusting around people. They don't start biting off the bat to avoid all interaction. Instead they tolerate as much interaction as they want or tolerate but if it becomes too much, they can fly to safety.
There are many reasons a parrot might bite specifically but for the most part it is because something is being done that the parrot does not want to happen! Most often this comes in the form of self-imposing on the parrot (such as forced step up or touching) but sometimes it can be less direct. It could be indirect such as imposing on the parrot's territory by touching its cage or by making it jealous. Regardless, these situations are created when a human disturbs the peace by imposing an undesired interaction.
The key to reducing biting is to teach the parrot to actually desire the things that would have normally caused it to bite. Teaching a parrot to want to step up, to allow head scratches, to want to go back into the cage, etc makes it such that the parrot would not even think of biting you. My parrots want me to scratch their heads, to take them places, to handle them, and to put them back in the cage. They'd be crazy to bite me because then they'd miss out on the things they actually want from me.
In the short term it's about reading body language and not sticking your hand in a bee's nest. In other words if the parrot doesn't want to be touched, then don't touch it, if the parrot doesn't want to step up for a guest, don't make it. However, this doesn't solve the problem because we as pet owners want friendly pet behavior from our parrots.
Even with unfamiliar parrots, I tend not to get bit. Sometimes it's because I recognize a viciously aggressive parrot that would take a lot of time to tame and keep my hands to myself. But most of the time it is because I take a moment to familiarize myself with the bird, look at its body language, learn what it likes, learn its comfort levels, and built instant trust by not violating existing comfort levels in the short term. One thing that has kept my hands very bite free with unfamiliar birds is that I go up to any parrot with the presumption that it is a biter and uncomfortable with my presence. Until I can determine otherwise, I don't put myself within biting range. I test the bird a little at a time while building trust and discovering its body language and comfort. With some birds things are quick enough that I have it on my hand cuddling in no time, with other birds I realize they are far from ready and avoid getting bit and making them upset.
I want to caution you against reverting to punishment or negative reinforcement as a means of dealing with biting because in most cases it won't help or worse yet encourage more biting. For example “nudging a parrot's belly to make it step up when it is biting” will likely cause it to bite more because it wants to avoid stepping up. This doesn't solve biting. Squirting a parrot with a bottle or using other forms of punishment will make the parrot fear you and parrots bite what they fear so again a counterproductive solution. Negative punishment may work as a solution for mostly well-behaved parrots that are trained and rarely bite (“if you bite me for attention, I just won't give it to you”) but for less tame parrots is useless. Rather true negative punishment would be effective but what one might think to be such is not. Threatening to ignore a bird that hates you is hardly upsetting and possibly even desirable to the bird! Putting a bird down or back into the cage as punishment for biting might make it bite even more because it doesn't want to go back. Thus it is best to prevent situations that lead to biting, keep your hands to yourself until you can make it such that the parrot wants your hands there, and ignore biting that you accidentally cause. Ignoring biting does not mean to let the bird bite all it wants. It simply means not to allow the fact that the parrot bit you affect what you do in regards to the parrot in any way. Don't give a toy, don't squirt the bird, don't put the bird away, don't talk to the bird, don't walk away. Just ignore the bite as though it didn't happen. When a bird bites the cage bars and nothing happens at all, the bird loses interest in continuing that sort of biting. This is why ignoring is the best way to avoid encouraging further biting but prevention is better still.
Goodbye nose! Just kidding, I didn't have enough pictures of real bites so I threw this one in of playing around
So the question isn't how to make a parrot not bite (there is nothing you can do directly except keeping yourself out of harm's way), it really should be how can you be such a pal that your parrot wouldn't want to bite you in the first place! To that, the answer is less simple. It's not complicated but the explanation is rather long and comprehensive. For this reason I suggest getting my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. You will encounter my complete approach to establishing a well-behaved, non-biting parrot through an array of elements including proper housing, toys, sleep, food, weight, health, exercise, flight, socialization, training, and companionship.
PS A Cape Parrot was recently lost in Oakland California. Everyone please share this facebook post with information about the lost bird so that it can be reunited with its owner.
It's been nearly six months since I adopted Santina from Lazicki's. The progress since then has been monumental and this is an update to mention most of it. I have gone from a bird that wouldn't even step up for me to being able to take my entire flock out to Coney Island wearing harnesses.
Here's a list of the things Santina learned during this period: -Step up (inherited) -Touch her (inherited) -Head scratches (inherited) -Go in carrier -Target -Grab -Flip over -Take medication -Open wings -Getting along with other birds -Put on Harness -Socialization (don't bite others)
Santina was already known to be able to step up and cuddle with certain people, but this certainly wasn't the case with me on first encounter. So not only did I work on inheriting those qualities she already had, but I improved them to the maximum extent. I improved her step up reliability to 100%, got her comfortable being touched anywhere as necessary, and went on to do a lot more with her. I set lenient goals and always exceeded expectations. For example I was ready to have to take weeks to get her to step up but she was already doing so within a few days, I was ready to take a month to harness train her but did so in under a week, I hoped to be able to take her to Coney Island before the end of the summer and was already doing so a few weeks since harness training her. All in all, progress has been very efficient and she is doing stupendously.
Santina has been learning to get along with the other birds
I would estimate that I spent an average of 10 minutes twice a day training Santina. Some days sessions were as much as 30 minutes but other days I skipped training entirely. It's not a lot of time but it was always a focused and goal oriented time. For each specific thing I taught her, we would have a burst of focused training and in between training new things we would just take time off or review known behaviors. The time off between training to let things sink in is nearly as important as the time training itself.
This DVD features Santina and covers the entire harness training process from start to finish. You can see the exact steps I took to teach her to want to wear the harness and assist me in putting it on. The DVD covers 6 days of training and the 50 minute section of harness training equates to about 1/4 scale. In other words, some repetitions were cut out and the real training was only about 4 times as much as what you see in the DVD. Put a different way, that's just 3 hours of training or 6x 30 minute sessions. That's nothing! In a single outing, I can spend more time out with Santina wearing a harness than all the training that it took!
The secret is, well watch the DVD for secrets. But what I want to say is that you really have to see the DVD in conjunction with my book. The DVD is strictly about harness training and does not teach how to do training, how to manage motivation, etc. The approach demonstrated in the DVD presumes a moderately tame parrot that is capable of at least step up, being touched, being grabbed, targeting, and having its wings pulled open. All of these things are covered in my book and are absolutely mandatory requisites to even think of beginning harness training. I don't know how some people think they will stick a harness on a bird that bites them and won't even step up. Not gonna happen.
But all things said, I taught Santina all those requisites in about 4 months really taking my time. Then I taught her to wear a harness in under a week and spent another week or two getting her used to going outside. Some days I would take her out twice just so she would be more used to being outside and wearing the harness. In 2 months since harness training Santina, I had already gone so far as to take her to Coney Island (a really busy amusement area), on the Subway into NYC, and out with my other two parrots at the same time. This article and video aren't meant to teach you what to do but rather to inspire what you can do with your birds. All you need is some love, time, patience, and some Wizard's tools to help you in the process.
I often receive questions about age for training parrots. People still have trouble believing that you can just as well train older parrots as younger ones. When I'm asked what kind of parrot can't you train? My response is "a dead one." All kidding aside though, age plays a far smaller role on training than people believe. Technique has far more to do with it than age. The right technique on an older rescue parrot is far more likely to be successful than poor technique on a younger hand raised one.
But given good training technique, there is one age of parrot that to me stands out as potentially the hardest to work with: young babies! Young weanlings with a poor upbringing have got to be the hardest parrots to keep (at least for the time being). Well raised babies can be a pleasure to deal with and almost too easy to be true (that doesn't mean you should assume they won't need training down the line to maintain that easy nature). However, a poorly raised baby that bites, doesn't step up, and is all around difficult puts the owner in a bind. The bird is too young to motivate with food/attention, too frail to food manage, too inattentive, and too inexperienced to know what to do.
For hand tame baby parrots, my best suggestion is to treat them like a baby. Instead of focusing on formal training, work more on exposing the parrot to anything and everything. Show it objects, take it around the house, let it try foods, let it feel different materials, etc. This will help it develop and make it more aware of its surroundings as it becomes older. The formal training that most of my blog covers is ineffective for wearnling parrots and even unnecessary. They are programmed to watch, mimic, and learn from their surroundings more so than adult parrots. This is your one opportunity to teach good habits and behavior without having to work too much for it.
Now when it comes to the dilemma of the untame baby parrot, things are tough. The bird won't work for food in training because it doesn't have to. You don't want to withhold or manage food because the baby is still growing. Heck, it is barely accustomed to eating hard food and it is important to let it eat and grow. On the other hand, since the untame baby bites, doesn't step up, and doesn't trust people, you won't be able to handle it the way you would like.
When it comes to the untame baby, patience is going to be your best tool. Waiting until the baby is old enough to become more interested in food - and when you can begin to manage the good to an extent - is when you can put a greater emphasis on formal training. Until then, work on building trust hands off by spending time around the bird and not forcing it to be handled. Since you cannot use food, attention, or pretty much anything else at this point as positive reinforcement, any handling you do will most likely result in punishment and only make the bird distrust further. Take things easy for a few months and wait for the bird to become more interested in food before beginning a target training based approach for building trust and teaching step up.
During the waiting period, work toward the bird accepting treats from you. Learn what its favorite treats are and begin to withhold them. Don't forget that the baby bird likely does not yet know what its favorite treats are so exposing it to a variety of foods to try is very important. As you begin to see which foods it prefers, stop giving them in the bowl and instead see if it will come over to you to take it. If it does, you can move on to target training (but keep in mind that the attention span of a young baby may be very limited so don't expect the kind of results you can get with an adult). If not, try laying foods down in places and removing your hand and seeing if the bird will at least eat the treat near your hand or in your presence. Keep working on trust so that the bird is comfortable eating around you and from you. With the untame baby parrot, it mostly comes down to waiting things out and then applying a formal training approach once the bird is of suitable training age. What that exact age is will depend on species and maturation process. Wait until the bird is at least a few months older and taking food from your hand.
Do not expect to be able to solve nipping, biting, and other issues with the baby parrot. A lot of people complain about nippy and even aggressive behavior in baby parrots but there just isn't a way around it. Those young birds don't know any better, are curious, and want try everything with their beaks. Punishment cannot be applied as it will cause major detriment to your relationship that has not even yet been established. The only thing you can do is avoid putting the baby in a position to be able to bite/nip and wait until it is old enough to apply a well-behaved parrot approach for the long term. Just one thing I want to assure you of is that the baby nippinesss usually wears off on its own or can later be solved. Don't feel that by not punishing it now that it will persist. Once you can begin formal training, it can fairly easily be solved.
I had plenty of trouble with Kili & Truman as babies. I wanted to teach them things but they just wanted to play or do something else. It was just a matter of patience and working through it in small amounts that eventually lead to the awesome pets they are now. But I've gotta say the two toughest times to work through are a parrot's adolescence and babyhood. Working with an adult parrot is much more consistent and predictable. This is why I often recommend an adult rescue parrot over a baby for many people. I think (despite common prejudice) that you can have quicker success with an average rescue parrot (merely in need of a new home) than a baby parrot that is too young to train.
In conclusion, since it is nearly impossible to train an untame baby parrot during that age, the best approach is to find a source for a mature rescue parrot or an already tame baby. This gives you the advantage of being able to start your bonding and training processes immediately. Given the amount of training you can have in the first few months you keep a rescue parrot, you may well find yourself ahead of where you'd be with an untame baby that forced you to wait until you can begin training. Keep these things in mind when looking for a parrot and try to avoid getting a baby parrot that isn't already accustomed to handling.
I have been writing this book for the last half year but more importantly it is the culmination of five very intense years of parrot education, training, consulting, and performing. I've taken everything that I have learned, applied it, and then wrote down for you the essentials that you can apply to your bird. This book isn't there to teach you how to teach a million tricks or become a performer. It's about how to achieve a well-behaved parrot and ultimately a mutual relationship!
It's not that I think I know better than others, but I just was never very pleased with the other books I've read about parrot keeping. Many of them are obsolete and don't recommend best practices. But even some of the books I agree with, I just found terribly boring. They are written by experts for experts and really leave the common parrot owner in the dust. Parrot owners don't need the nitty gritty technical stuff, they need something accessible that they can apply and that will work! I understand this because I'm a pet parrot owner and it wasn't long ago that I was desperately seeking help on the most basic things.
Instead of teaching you how to do absurdly complicated tricks with your parrot, my book is there to teach you all the essential stuff from merely approaching your parrot's cage without it freaking out to being able to grab it. A lot of emphasis is placed on taming, health, safety, and other things that are essential elements of keeping a pet parrot. Also the first chapter is entirely about how to choose a parrot in the first place for folks who do not yet have one and attempts to answer the classic question, "what kind of parrot should I get?"
In my book, I tell it how it is. I don't try to sugar coat things or make a parrot owner out of everybody. The purpose is to help those who want the help and to get them to achieve a good relationship with their parrot. The book takes a very balanced approach keeping both the parrot's well-being but also the parrot owner's sanity in mind. I realize that people are busy, have other commitments, may not have the means to buy fancy stuff. That is why my book is down to earth and really about finding a way that anyone can make it work rather than a professional approach to training performing parrots.
Unlike any other parrot book I've ever come across, mine presumes that parrots are flying creatures and takes an approach to keeping them as such. Despite the recommendation of keeping them flighted, the book presents countless ways to get more out of your parrot than if it were clipped! Flight safety, flight recall training, flight trick training, and managing flighted parrots are key themes throughout the book. Even if your parrot is clipped you will find this book extremely helpful and I think it will convince you that you can still have a relationship with your parrot by allowing it to fly. Better yet, you will have a better behaved, healthier, safer, and more fun parrot than it could ever be while clipped!
Problem solving receives an entire chapter in the book. Solving problems such as biting, screaming, plucking, and even flighted related issues are extensively covered. However, the main purpose of the book is to present an approach to follow from day 1 to ensure that those problems don't arise in the first place. This information is all based on problems I have solved in my own parrots or have helped others solve with theirs.
You'll find it interesting that I barely wrote any of this book at home. It has bits written all over the world on planes, trains, and automobiles. I've been writing it on the go during my travels. Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia are some of the places I was in while writing the books. During those trips I got to observe parrots in their natural habitats so it was especially encouraging to me to help owners find the best compromise between a parrot's nature and desirable household pet qualities.