I’ve already written so many times that parrot ownership – of any bird, from budgies to cockatoos – is not for the faint of heart.
Each individual in my flock has his or her own challenges. When you overcome these challenges, there’s nothing better. You feel proud. In fact, you want to boast to everyone and anyone. I imagine it’s like when your child does well in an area in which they struggle.
‘My bird interacted without biting!’
‘My bird played with her toys quietly, all by herself… She can solve puzzles!’
‘Well, my bird eats all his veggies.’
Same for kids. Particularly biting.
Charle and Pip were our first pets. And to be honest, their only real challenge is/was how to provide enrichment. I’m of the opinion that no creature should be kept in a cage with nothing to do. It came down to small toys – Pip likes to poke and prod at things like this relatively inexpensive Under the Sea jellyfish toy – and food, such as big portions of broccoli, lettuce, kale, or carrots, keeps her occupied for ages.
And then came Mishka. Our third bird, and our foray into the parrot world. O. and I had researched a lot about cockatiels and parrots in general, but were still pretty naive. Although we went in armed with knowledge of what it takes to own parrots in theory, we didn’t count for a number of things. Her noise, for one.
We spent a lot of time getting our ears blasted by unhappy cockatiel shrieks. Although we moved Mishka to a bigger cage (figuring that if she couldn’t come out with us, she had to have more space) and filled it with toys and enrichment, she was just not a happy bird. Trust came in Mishka’s own time. Trying to rush it is and was counterproductive. ‘Give her two weeks of sitting by the cage and feeding her treats, and she’ll be happy to start stepping up,’ they said.
Of course, at that point, we weren’t very adept at reading her body language. There were many bloody fingers and bruising nips involved. Six months later, we had improved at reading and listening to her signals, and she had begun to step up willingly. Well, relatively so.
Ptak, our cobalt celestial (pacific) parrotlet, taught us a lot about biting and handling a pint-sized bird that will boss you around like he’s invincible. We learned exactly how well the Evil Eye works. (If your bird is about to bite you, and you give him the dirtiest glare you can summon, trust me, he will think twice. I do mean absolute dirtiest, though. Exaggeratedly.)
Ptak is a charmer, and so although he can be very challenging for us to handle at times, he will pretend to be the sweetest, most innocent ‘lil thing ever born to this earth… so long as strangers are watching.
His moods are swift to change and he is easily set off by the things he does not like – anything rustling, tissues, game controllers, and pens, to name a few. Like most parrotlets, he is bold and fearless. I suppose the biggest lesson was simply that because he bites fingers, he can’t sit on them! He’ll happily step up, but leave him there and that finger is toast. So we just don’t.
Owning Ptak and Mishka prepared us for bringing a bigger bird home one day – that day was this Tuesday. Without that experience, we would have been floundering a bit with Maverick.
Mavi has his own set of ‘challenges.’ With me, he is the nicest and most pliant bird. He will lie on his back in my hands, step up, preen me, and let me clean off his beak and scratch his head. I have a suspicion, however, that he is trying to over bond.
I am doing my best not to let him because not only is it frustrating for the bird, but he’s been taking out his aggression on poor O. No one wants it to get worse. Yesterday, Mavi started biting his way up O.’s arm, hard, muttering furiously and with clear intent on reaching the face. O.’s fingers are actually covered in marks. Miraculously, I have none.
Like I said, Maverick is a quite a different bird with me. That’s not to say I won’t one day be bitten… I almost certainly will. We had a bit of nipping in the first day, actually; I had him do step ups, ignoring it, and rewarded them with treats when he performed well. After that, there weren’t anymore problems for me. Let me tell you, when a bird interacts with you well, you feel all warm and fuzzy.
So far, Mavi’s only two challenges are what I assume is attempted over-bonding with me (after five days) and subsequent aggression towards O.
Here’s an example of some of what he’s been doing caught on camera. I’m not sure whether or not this is actually a display (there were also a few moments of tail-fanning, and a second or two of what I think was quivering, before I put him down on a T-stand, though I didn’t video these behaviours):
Anyway, I’m going to try and look more into preventing over-bonding.
I already avoid touching anywhere outside my birds’ heads and necks, don’t give them access to nesting materials or dark enclosed spaces, don’t feed many soft, warm foods, and try to avoid offering treats from my fingers as much as possible (just put them into his bowl). I’m not sure what else I can do.
O. is going to go back to square one with Mavi, and start sitting more by the cage, talking to him, offering treats, and touching training through the bars – while I spend a bit less time with him, and stay away while they’re working together.
Hopefully that’ll do the trick!