Avian Expert Articles

Parrot Behavior Consultants: Who They Are & How They Can Help

Amazon parrotYou’ve always wanted a parrot, and sometime during your life together you are confronted with something that you don’t quite understand or may be causing a problem. You want to get to the bottom of the behavior and work on it so it does not become a larger issue that can affect everyone around. But where do you turn? How do you know you are getting sound advice? Do you know if the advice you are given will help and not hurt your relationship? In case you have not heard, there are people who can help — we are called certified parrot behavior consultants.

Understanding The Roots Of Bird Behavior

For nearly 30 years, I have been helping people and their parrots to live in harmony. I first started to work with behavior and be cognitive of birds’ body language when I was helping find homes for parrots back in the early ’90s with my bird club. The birds needing homes back then were often wild-caught, imported adults that were scared, confused, and rightfully afraid of humans. It’s was a completely different scenario and level of fear than what we see today.

Fast forward to now. We see many adolescent birds that were purchased on impulse or an older bird that has reached sexual maturity and owners who were unaware that mating behavior could even happen in their single-bird home. Just because we chose to take a bird out of the wild, does not mean we have extinguished the bird’s natural behaviors. For the most part, we should not try to.

A pet parrot should be able to vocalize, destroy things, forage, and, with diligent supervision, fly. These all are natural behaviors for a parrot.

Being denied these natural behaviors can lead to undesirable behaviors such as screaming, feather plucking, and biting. What we need to do as bird stewards is learn how to incorporate (and make safe) these behaviors in order to live in harmony with our feathered companions.

My Path To Greater Knowledge About Birds

As the need for help grew due to the popularity of parrots as pets, I wanted to become part of an organization that would foster my growth as a consultant and elevate my education. I wanted more than to take a quick course and be handed a certificate of completion. I wanted to be able to learn and consult with those who came before me in the field of behavior. I welcomed the mentorship and took my role as a student seriously. I applied to join the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).

My application was not simply a pay and join. I wanted to prove my knowledge and work my way up that certified ladder. The application was extensive in regard to my history and also required recommendations from a colleague, a client, and a veterinarian. I had three of each. Accompanying the application was every class, lecture, and continuing education event I had attended since 1991. My application packet was close to 20 pages long. Once submitted, it was peer-reviewed, and I was accepted to join in 2009. I was thrilled to be mentored by many of the great people whom I had grown to know through books, magazines, and lectures from my younger days.

Through the years I have been fortunate to live with various species of parrots. They have been great teachers, and I have learned a tremendous amount from them. Besides the science of behavior, I also believe that personal familiarization of caring for a species can guide you to help a client even more. I am known for my knowledge (and love) of the African grey parrot, but I have also lived with Amazons and cockatiels for over two and a half decades. Three very different species with specific behaviors from their parts of the world.

Which Consultant Is Best For You?

Every associate/certified consultant with the IAABC wants your relationship with your parrot to succeed. We have studied tirelessly, some for decades, to help you with your specific needs. We want you to understand your bird, diminish any problems and keep them in your home. We all want you to be able to live in harmony. Your first steps, should you need them, to achieve this is to:

  • Acknowledge the problem.
  • Begin your research.
  • Consult with a certified behaviorist at the IAABC who can help you.

[1]  IAABC.org

Core Areas of Competency:

1. Assessment Skills
2. General Knowledge and Application of Learning Science
3. Species-Specific Knowledge
4. Consulting Skills
5. General Knowledge of Animal Behavior
6. Biological Sciences as Related to Animal Behavior
7. Ethics

Core competency is defined by Dictionary.com as “a skill needed in order to be successful at a job or other activity.” Success as an animal behavior consultant depends on the ability of the consultant to accurately assess the function of an animal’s behavior, and implement effective behavior modification strategies in agreement with a Least-Intrusive, Minimally Aversive approach. Animal behavior consultants also should maintain a working knowledge of biology as it relates to animal behavior, an understanding of consulting and behavior change program management, and ethics as it relates to both animal behavior and human learning.

1) ASSESSMENT SKILLS

A. History taking skills and history assessment

1. Eliciting accurate information
2. Interpretation of information provided
3. Assessing owner interpretation of behavioral issues

B. Behavioral observation skills

1. Accurate observation and interpretation of behaviors demonstrated by the animal
2. Ability to integrate information obtained by direct observation of the animal and the humans involved

C. Apply and integrate any additional behavioral, historical, medical, and physiologic information.

1. Critically evaluate the quality of this information.
2. Act appropriately to remedy any areas of concern

2) GENERAL KNOWLEDGE AND APPLICATION OF LEARNING SCIENCE

A. Learning Science

• Operant conditioning
• Classical conditioning
• Desensitization
• Counterconditioning
• Observational learning
• Habituation
• Sensitization
• Latent learning
• Flooding
• Extinction
• Stimulus Control

B. Application and awareness of differences, effectiveness, and possible deleterious effects of behavior modification and training techniques such as:

• Lure/reward
• Shaping
• Marker training
• Compulsion
• Desensitization
• Counterconditioning

C. Evaluation of scientific information and data analysis

• Ability to apply scientific data to behavior modification plans
• Ability to collect and utilize related data to monitor progress and improve outcome
• Ability to apply fundamental concepts of applied behavior analysis in developing and implementing a behavior modification/training plans.

D. Intervention Strategies

• Management and safety interventions
• Behavior modification strategies
• Knowledge and appropriate use of training equipment
• Ability to apply scientific data and learning theory principles to treatment strategies

3) SPECIES-SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE

• Exercise and housing requirements
• Nutrition and diet fundamentals for the species
• Common health issues
• Species- and breed-specific anatomy, behavior, nutritional requirements
• Developmental stages
• Basic neuroscience and endocrinology as they relate to behavior
• Communication behaviors
• Interpretation of body language
• Environmental enrichment
• Behavior issues:

◊ Separation-related
◊ Aggression
◊ Social signaling problems
◊ Sexual/reproductive
◊ Maternal
◊ Fears and phobias
◊ General anxiety disorders
◊ Repetitive behaviors
◊ Cognitive dysfunction
◊ Elimination disorders
◊ Destructive behavior
◊ Self-injury
◊ Excessive vocalization
◊ Ingestive disorders
◊ Impulsivity/unruliness

4) CONSULTING SKILLS

A. Awareness and evaluation of environment, and awareness of effect on animal and human client behavior
B. Ability to assess human interactions with and emotional sensitivities about the animal without judgment
C. Ability to assess how these impact the animal’s behavior
D. Ability to assess family’s goals
E. Observation and interpretation: Understanding of human behaviors
F. Awareness and ability to adapt to human learning needs and styles
G. Ability to develop solutions that function for all members of the animal’s community
H. Ability to assist family members in resolution of conflict to arrive at a common goal
I. Awareness of ancillary support services

• Veterinarian
• Veterinary Behaviorist
• Supplementary Practitioners
• Veterinary Nutritionist
• Family Therapist

J. Critically evaluate issues concerning complementary and alternative approaches or products
K. Understand important principles in cognitive psychology, including education, learning styles, perception, and attention

5) GENERAL KNOWLEDGE OF ANIMAL BEHAVIOR

A. Ethology
B. Communication behaviors
C. Genetics
D. The key ethological, psychological, and physiological concepts that underpin animal welfare.

6) BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES AS RELATED TO ANIMAL BEHAVIOR CONSULTING

A. Basic gross anatomy and organ systems
B. Basic neuroanatomy and neurobiology (as relates to behavioral assessments)
C. The functional anatomy and physiology of the vertebrate nervous and endocrine systems and their role in mediating behavior
D. The concept of neural plasticity, and how a learner’s genetic makeup and environment can affect their brain’s ability to learn
E. Psychopharmacology and the mode of action of the major classes of drugs used in clinical animal behavior

7) ETHICS

A. Understand the key ethical and legal issues and responsibilities related to working with human clients and their animals
B. Understand and abide by the Code of Ethics laid out in the Joint Standards of Practice; keep up to date with any updates and changes to these.
C. Understand the process of filing ethics complaints and the scope of sanctions that certifying organizations can use

2 thoughts on “Parrot Behavior Consultants: Who They Are & How They Can Help

  1. I have a 20 year old female blue and gold whom I have raised since the age of three months. Originally, our flock was comprised of three cockatoos and three macaws but we presently have the one macaw and two cockatoos. My macaw was beautifully feathered and enjoyed being taken out to parks and the beach where she would be admired by crowds. She loved to spread her wings and show off how beautiful her feathers were. Wherever I took her, people would just say “Beautiful.” She truly was and she knew it. Three years ago, when I was away for a weekend, my housekeeper called to say that Izzy had pulled all of her feathers out. She actually pulled out all of the feathers on her legs, back, breast and abdomen but the wing and tail feathers were intact. My vet told me that she had polycystic ovaries and had to have a hysterectomy because the pain was causing the feather picking. She had the hysterectomy but it did not stop the feather picking. I then took her to a specialist in San Diego who said that he was an expert in feather picking/anxiety ridden birds for more than 20 years. He turned out to be a charletan. He put her on an overdose of Haldol, an antipsychotic drug, that caused her to be catatonic for five days. She stopped eating and I had to put her in the hospital to recover. Thereafter, she has been treated by different verterinarians with liquid Paxil and Xanax, none of which worked after the medication wore off. I did not want to keep giving her these medications. I then had her examined by three veterinary behaviorists who observed her for three hours in her home and at play. They told me to give her foraging toys and to put her to sleep earlier. I bought many foraging toys but she had absolutely no interest in them. Additional sleep did not seem to have any effect.
    The macaw is extremely healthy and has been tested for every possible medical cause of feather picking but of course there is nothing. She does have atherosclerosis and is being treated with Enalopril and Isoxaprine which has improved the arterial condition considerably. The vet thought that the feather picking might be related to the lack of blood flow to the organs which she may experience as a “foot falling asleep.” and would pull the feathers out as a result of that “asleep” feeling in the organs that she would sense on the skin. However, her arterial condition has improved as a result of the medication but the feather picking remains the same. She is constantly anxious which I have been alleviating with CBD oil, providing great relief for anxiety. Is there anything that you would recommend? This condition is heartbreaking to me. I have spent over $9,000 in three years on veterinary treatments for the feather picking and there has been nothing that has changed. I would appreciate any advice or referrals.

  2. I don’t know if my words will help, however, my CAGP, was the model parrot one year ago, until our other house resident, our beloved Ragdoll cat just suddenly died in my arms. Both myself and the parrot are still suffering. I realize it’s probably more difficult for her to conceive death than myself. She started laying eggs, referring to them as the cat. Now, she started over cleaning and picking at herself. I know she needs another animal care companion and so do I; I’m working on it. She talks about the cat on a daily basis, saying he calls on the phone and he was just in the house. I don’t discourage it; I feel it’s her way of working out her grief. But it has been a very sad and strange year for both of us.

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