Make the most of the First Few Weeks with a New Bird
It’s so exciting to have a new parrot, isn’t it? When you bring a bird home, you have a wonderful opportunity to establish a positive relationship from the start, set realistic expectations, and get ahead of problem behaviors.
When working with a new bird, strive to learn two things that will help you build trust: motivators and body language.
1. See What Motivates Your Bird
A motivator is what a bird will work for, and it is usually, but not always, food. Some birds prefer praise, petting, access to a mirror, or a favorite toy. To determine your bird’s motivators, offer a wide variety of nuts, seeds, and fresh food in a bowl, and watch which one your parrot picks out first, second, and third. Do this over the course of a few meals. Remove these foods from the diet, and use them only when rewarding her when she does something you want her to do.
2. Get To Know Your Bird’s Body Language
Birds communicate through body language, whether the bird is content or stressed, agitated, or sexually stimulated. Learning your bird’s body language dictionary should be a primary goal. Observe how the bird holds feathers all over the body, the shape of her eye, how her feet are placed, whether the beak is open or closed, and the overall stance.
Each bird is unique. She may be very quiet and still as she checks out her new environment, or she may be immediately comfortable. Watch her body language for clues. Move at your bird’s pace. Let the bird choose to come out to you and interact with you. Stepping-up is a very sophisticated behavior for a bird. It requires maximum trust. Please do not expect a bird to step up on your hand immediately, or try to force this behavior. It can break trust.
This initial non-confrontational approach will speed the parrot’s adjustment time to her new surroundings and will allow her to integrate into your family sooner.
3. Set Real Expectations
Along with learning motivators and body language, set realistic expectations. During the first few weeks, set the standard for the pattern of behavior the bird will expect from you. During this time, pay as much attention to the new parrot as you will, on average, be able to spend with her in the long term. For example, if you spend 8 hours a day snuggling with your new cockatoo (not a good idea for many reasons!), the cockatoo will be used to that level of attention and may develop negative behaviors, such as screaming, biting and even feather plucking, when you cannot devote a day to her.
Instead, plan time during the day or evening for one-on-one interaction, such as training time or play time, and provide a few hours of ambient attention, when the bird shares time with the family, preferably away from the cage, perhaps on a play gym or stand. The bird is simply “hanging out” and not necessarily the center of attention. Birds love to be included in family activity.
4. Ignore Negative Behavior
Now is also the time to get ahead of problem behaviors. Do not respond to any behavior that you cannot live with for 50 years. In other words, if the bird does something you don’t like (scream, for example) ignore the behavior. Do not look at the bird, do not talk to the bird, and do not put the bird back in her cage. Ensure everyone in the family agrees to ignore bad behavior whether they interact with the bird or not. Be consistent.
5. Praise Good Behavior
Instead, increase the likelihood of positive behaviors by praising and giving attention to the behaviors that you like. Use her motivators, and praise her, for example, when she whistles, instead of screams.
Above all, please be patient with the new family member. Understand that the first few weeks is often called the “honeymoon period” for a reason: The parrot is on high alert in a new situation and may behave with extreme caution. Your bird will reveal her true personality slowly over time, so the patterns you establish during the first few weeks will help you lay the groundwork for a great relationship.
Simple rules to follow when interacting with any parrot:
- Never react to behavior you do not like, and praise and reward behavior you do like, or, simply put, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
- Respect her space, have patience when working with her, and let her choose to learn at her pace.
- If you get a bite, stop what you are doing, and try a different approach. A bite always means that your parrot is uncomfortable (and probably threatened) by what you are doing.