Ask Lafeber

Question:

September 28, 2020

My macaw won’t step off my shoulder


Hey! I have a blue and gold macaw that likes to be picked up but when I pick him up he runs to my shoulder and stay there and if I try to remove him he bites me is there a way to train him to not go to my shoulder or for him to get off without bitting


Answer:

Hi Michael,

I’m not a fan of allowing birds on shoulders, and this is one reason. As you have discovered, when he is on your shoulder, he is in charge and you are at a disadvantage. You need to be the flock leader, not him. When you pick him up, make sure you drop your elbow and raise your hand, so that your hand is higher. Generally a bird does not like to run down an arm. Owners have a habit of holding the arm level, which makes it easy for the bird to move up to the shoulder. Keep your elbow dropped, extend your arm, and hold him away from your body. Practice this with him, giving him praise or a treat reward when he stays on your hand. You can also place your thumb over the top of his foot, so you are holding his foot. If he reaches to bite your thumb, say “gentle” in a firm, loud voice. This should surprise him enough to stop, at which point you need to instantly praise him and give him a treat. Birds are right or left handed, like people. Observe him and see which foot he holds his food with. Hold him by the other foot when you get him out. Birds do not like their predominant foot to be restrained, but will generally quickly learn to allow you to hold the other foot. You need to be consistent and you need to only reward his good behavior. Birds do not respond to punishment.

You may want to try to stick train him – train him to step on a perch, dowel, natural branch. This way, if he makes it to your shoulder, you can use the stick to get him off. You can’t allow him on your shoulder sometimes, and not others. So be consistent, do not give in, and do not let him on your shoulder sometimes. He needs to learn the shoulder is off limits. You can find additional information on training, including stick training, at the link below.

Teaching Your Bird

Thank you for asking Lafeber,

Brenda

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