Senegal Behaviour: Charging. (AKA Maverick loses it.)

Mavi had a bit of a… meltdown… today.

He’d bitten my knuckle once as we were sitting at my laptop. It was my fault, as I just hadn’t been paying attention. But it told me what kind of mood he was in, so I let him go off to sit and watch our parrotlet. Everything was fine, until suddenly he began to get worked up over something. I’m not sure what. At one point, before I could react, he flew to my head and began to bite my hood. After a minute, he disembarked.

Once he flew back to Ptak’s sleeping cage, I went over with a towel to catch him, figuring that it wasn’t safe to handle him at this point. He went nuclear. Wham, before I’d even got halfway to him, he shot at my face and tried to attack me. His attacks eventually landed him on or in the towel, and somehow I managed to contain a highly enraged Senegal parrot inside it.

Eventually he stopped savaging the towel long enough to climb onto the front perch of his cage.

Quite proud of myself, as I didn’t make a single noise… even when he nailed my arm. Poor Mavi. I guess it’s hormonal in cause? He’s been getting enough sleep, attention, and his diet’s pretty good, so that’s essentially what I’ve ruled it down to so far. That – and the fact that I’ve been out of the house a bit longer than I usually am. Being a music student, I’m in the flat most of the time to practise and work. This week’s been one of opera rehearsals, though, so I’ve been spending up to four hours away from home. The other birds don’t mind, but maybe this is Maverick telling me he does.

Thoughts?

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11 thoughts on “Senegal Behaviour: Charging. (AKA Maverick loses it.)

  1. What you are describing is pretty classic Poi behavior, particularly Senegals. In my experience, it tends to be a combination of hormonal surge, excessive energy, and overstimulation. We can’t control what unexpected events in their environment might be overstimulating to them and trigger the event, but there are things we can do to reduce the hormonal surges and excessive energy. Not to sound self-promoting, but coincidentally I just wrote a blog entry a few days ago about reducing hormonal behaviors here: http://frombeakstobarks.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/reducing-hormonal-behaviors-in-parrots/
    From that entry, I want to point out that your birds may very well be on an excellent diet that is nutritionally balanced and enriching and perfectly appropriate for most occasions, but certain aspects of it may contribute to hormonal behaviors. Take a look at that to see if there are any things you can temporarily modify until the hormonal season has passed. Secondly, Pois have a notorious tendency towards nippiness and charging when they are wound up. If my own Red Belly doesn’t get a lot of flying time, she gets super nippy–not accompanied by any aggressive body language, just purely from having lots of energy with no where else to put it but in her beak.
    Whatever the case, it sounds like you handled the situation like a champ. If it occurs again, you can try to follow up the incident by asking him to perform a simple behavior like targeting in his cage and offering the reinforcer via a spoon or some other delivery method that doesn’t involve placing your fingers or any other body parts near his beak. Doing so in the cage will prevent him from having the opportunity to bite you again, but will provide him with an opportunity to work for reinforcement. It will redirect his focus and energy from a really, really undesirable set of behaviors to much more desirable ones. It will also help you to end your interaction on a good note, so that he doesn’t have this aversive experience with you and then leave it at that. Even though it obviously isn’t your fault and you aren’t the one instigating the attack, it nevertheless ends up as a conflict between the two of you and that can result in a big withdrawal from his trust bank. Making a deposit immediately after it happens through positive reinforcement training is a good way to avoid long-term damage to your relationship. Also, you may want to do some counterconditioning work with the towel so that it becomes an object that he learns to enjoy and looks forward to being wrapped up in. That way, if you have another encounter like this in the future, catching him in the towel won’t be as likely to be perceived by him as an aversive experience. It could even, perhaps, calm him down a bit. Barbara Heidenreich shows some great examples of training birds to accept toweling on her DVDs “Understanding Parrot Body Language” and “Parrot Behavior and Training #1”. Good luck!

    • Oh, wow, thanks for this comment – that’s a relief to know! I had read something ages ago about charging behaviours, but because Mavi is generally calm and a bit lazy (hence the very gradual energy buildups) I completely forgot. One of our issues is the energy, and the other must be the amount of pellets I’ve been feeding. I had read somewhere else that it’s sugary fruit that causes the problems (and fat), so had been feeding more pellets to compensate. Eesh! We’ve fixed that with immediate result.

      We’re also working on a morning and evening fly. He was clipped as a baby by his novice vet owners, who had never done it before. I don’t think he’s ever realised properly that he has wings. He will fly once in awhile, but generally prefers people as transportation. And the towelling argument is a long-held one. It WAS improving, but I think it’s back to square one again, haha. Ah, well…

      I had thought – after putting him in his cage – that I wasn’t sure what to do next; I did end up treating him for saying ‘hi, Mavi,’ on cue. Anyway, thanks for the information! Very, very grateful.

      • Well, so people love to talk in sweeping generalizations when it comes to nutrition, but the reality is that we’re talking about over 300 species of animals, not to mention that huge variation we see in nutritional needs among members of a single species. Take humans, for instance: my body does best on a grain-free diet with lots of veggies, fruit, meat, and dairy. Other people do best on a vegetarian diet high in grains and vegetables and low in animal products. It’s not that either diet is intrinsically “right” or “wrong”; our bodies just need different things. So, yeah, for some birds, sugary foods are what set them off. For others, it’s grains. For others, it’s fats. Or any combination thereof. It’s just a matter of figuring out what your specific birds seem to respond to, which is why I was saying that the diet they’re on could be fantastic and yet still need some modification during hormonal seasons.

        As for flying, even if he doesn’t want to actually fly, you can get him flapping his wings and turning that into a game, or simply target him back and forth and all over the place until he’s winded. There’s more than one way to give a bird a good workout! 🙂

        Tower aversion is super common, so don’t waste any energy feeling bad about that. Just keep on pluggin’ and eventually you’ll get to a point where Mavi learns to love the towel.

        Excellent instincts on getting him to perform a behavior on cue after he was in the cage! Keep up the good work! And congrats on your new flock member, by the way!

        • Thanks! And that’s a good thought about diet – I like that. I feel that in general, a lot of the parrot world tends to, well, generalise.

          Mavi’s been doing okay with the flying, and it definitely helps. We’re starting to play chase, even! Towelling… now that’s a bit of a daunting one, as it now seems to set him off at any given moment. Literally back to stage one and desensitising him to it, I guess! Fortunately the new addition LOVES being towelled. None of the others do, though. Ptak tolerates it, and Mishka hates to be touched, period, even by toys or cloth brushing her. Ironic, sort of, that one of our smallest birds proves most challenging.

  2. Oh my, hope you are ok?! Just a theory, but I have heard that birds of prey get like this when they are owned by someone. When it comes to the time to get hormonal anyone else can be seen as a potential threat meaning a potential MATE. Is it because of the connection that Mavi has made with O and sees him as his mate? Food for thought…

    • All’s okay, thanks! Interesting thoughts – it’s always possible. Someone else who has a close relative of the senegal commented that it’s pretty common behaviour. Whatever the case, I am not the human in favour, currently! 😦 I’ve had to work a bit, and O. and I are on pretty equal footing with him – which is actually great! Hopefully we can avoid it again.

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