When you own birds and have visitors round your house, it’s important to educate your guests. Parrots aren’t a terribly commonplace pet, and many people tend to think of – and therefore treat – them like dogs, or maybe cats. Lots of people have experience with these animals, so it’s only natural. We all base our reactions on previous experience.
It’s inevitable that your visitors will notice the cage hulking in the corner. The beautiful bird inside will attract immediate attention, but even if he is the best-behaved creature, strangers can move too fast, seem too loud and scary, or just be wearing the wrong colour of jumper/shoes/nail varnish. (Go on, try and explain that sort of thing to non-parrot-people!)
Confident birds can get scared, too.
When people come round, make sure to mention a few quick points to thwart bloodshed.
- A parrot isn’t like a dog, or even a cat: He has a very clear idea of what he wants to do, and when he wants to be touched, picked up, or even interacted with.**
- Touching him without his permission is seen as very rude, and he could bite!
- Bites hurt, and can do serious damage. (Show a scar.)
**Dogs and cats do, too, I feel I should note; however most dog or cat owners do warn people about this – and strangers generally have the inclination to respect dogs’ space in the first place.
You can also mention any other pertinent facts right at the beginning, such as your parrot’s hatred of red hats, or his phobia of hands poking through the bars.
If visitors would like to meet your bird, you should make it your duty to mediate and lay down the rules right away. Make it clear that no one should try to pick him up without supervision and express permission. No one should feed the bird (it’s easier to say this, since well-meaning people can accidentally offer off-limits food, like chocolate – you can’t have eyes everywhere). It’s often helpful just to have a sign pinned to the bars proclaiming, ‘No food, no fingers, please!’ …How long that lasts before being reduced to a flurry of paper snow, well, that’s a different story.
When it actually comes to the interaction, you know your flock, and it’s up to you to watch carefully when introducing them to strangers. What’s your parrot’s body language look like? If you notice things progressing towards a bite, or even simply a bad, fearful reaction, move on. Explain. Let your guests know that parrots can be very timid and need time to adjust – like people.
Let your bird show you what he’s comfortable with.
Set limits immediately, and the experience will go well for everyone. Socialising your parrot is important – they’re naturally very social creatures anyway – and it’s a new, exciting activity. Keeping the flock used to new faces has many benefits, including helping them adjust if you need to go away suddenly, and preparing everyone for time at the vet. Enjoying meeting people is, however, something that you may need to train, and – to give you a very basic idea of how to do it (don’t take this as absolute truth, haha) – one way is basically to offer treats when the bird is doing things you want, like stepping up nicely, or even just displaying calm body language with strangers nearby.
You get bonus points if you hear guests utter how much they now want a parrot, and you relay some of your own experiences with your flock – particularly the nitty-gritty ones, like the massive mess yours made this morning that you spent three hours cleaning, or the week they spent screaming for the hell of it.
As a final thought, I find that non-bird people are astounded when I relay the amount of time that gets put into my birds’ upkeep. They think of me as obsessive. I try to explain once more that parrots are nothing like most pets… Truly, they do need this kind of work and attention. No, I don’t exaggerate. The problem is, honestly, that people mainly have experience with domesticated animals like dogs – creatures that are so much less demanding in nearly every way. They need love and attention, yes, but nothing compared to a parrot, big or small.
That’s why I hope to educate as many people as I can. Note that I don’t talk about my birds a lot to friends and strangers, as I know most people find it either odd or boring. Amongst other bird owners, I am happy to swap stories and advice if it comes up. However, if someone wants to interact with the birds, they get all the information they need for everyone to stay safe, and it can seem like an earful!
It’s worth it for everyone, though, when they all enjoy themselves.