My Senegal parrot has always had anger problems. If something is wrong in his life, he takes that out on me, and if I’m not around, it’s the nearest person or toy. Recently, my poor boy is feeling very… ahem… unstable about the move overseas, quarantine, and probably the time when I left him alone with O. beforehand. It makes sense, and I certainly don’t blame him. I do wish he’d stop punching my face and arms full of holes, though…
Being a somewhat hefty Senegal (he gets comments on his size all the time – and he is decidedly not fat!), he can do some serious damage. His attacks are not your average bite and release, or even a bite-and-cling affair; they are full-on fly-by attacks meant to do damage. I tell people who are considering a parrot not to underestimate what a bird’s beak can do. Mavi certainly emphasises this.
How much do small bird’s bites hurt? A helluva lot. Worse, I would venture to say, than some of the bites I’ve received from much larger birds.
Here’s what’s happening:
Mavi had a blissful honeymoon period lasting roughly two or three weeks when he first arrived home. This was followed by two or so more weeks of mild-to-normal hormonal behaviour, including one nesting incident that was swiftly diverted. Things appeared to settle down for a little bit, and then wham. I can’t go near him. And I don’t feel it’s entirely hormonal related.
My voice sends him into a beak-bashing rage.
I can’t look at him or go within ten feet of him without extreme aggression. Eye contact? Forget it. If I let him out of his cage while I’m anywhere in the room, he spends the entirety of the time dive-bombing me in an attempt to get skin. If you’ve never had a bird rushing your face out of nowhere, I can tell you it isn’t pleasant. Thick jumpers are my friend.
Mavi has a cage-top play station that he knows how to use – it is filled with his favourite toys and treats, but not even this can keep him distracted long enough.
My Senegal is very, very angry, and while I am careful not to personify him too much, I feel that part of his behaviour does boil down to resentment. Parrots are emotional creatures. I have known other birds to react the same way to big changes. People don’t expect this kind of behaviour or complexity out of so-called ‘beginner’ birds like Senegals (and, by the by, even if I believed in starter birds, I would not classify Sennies as one of the ‘easier to own’ species out there). The charging behaviour is classic Senegal, though.
My ordinary response with an angry and aggressive parrot is to instigate a training session to distract them entirely. That’s something that’s always worked well in the past. He even has several behaviours that are solidly learnt, like speaking on cue, standing tall, and recalling to me. Or so I thought.
Mavi’s sole purpose in life is now to punish me, and training has become an impossibility. He literally cannot concentrate on anything except giving me a new facial piercing. I don’t react; I put on a teacherly attitude and just set him down and turn my back, again and again. We’ve tried cuing tricks, we’ve tried recalling him to me before he gets aggressive. Bu something about me is a trigger, and look out.
Not getting anywhere with letting him out and ignoring him, I recently went back to the basics – as if he is a new bird that I am getting to know. I sit by his cage, not even talking to him (because that sets him off, too), just existing and going about my life calmly. When he’s calm too, I slip a special treat into his bowl, but even this makes him stomp round, pluck the treat out, and discard it – all while puffed to roughly the size of an American football. If I cue a trick while he’s inside his cage, he’ll turn his back on me, which I respect. That’s a polite way of saying in parrot, ‘I want nothing to do with you.’
If I go near, he weaves his head. He clicks and whistles the car alarm noise that signals his foulest mood. He puffs up. He pins his eyes and bashes his beak. He gives every indicator of an angry bird about to bite – and he is pretty easy to read, most of the time. I filmed him to be sure it wasn’t the environment causing him issues. When I’m gone from the room, he plays and forages very happily.
I am the problem.
I am hoping that this will pass. Upon his arrival home in the U.S., he immediately over-bonded with my roommate and younger sister (who has done nothing to encourage this). She is wary of him, unfortunately, and I am still the only one capable of caring for him and putting up with his unpredictability. I think the answer has to be – as someone else suggested – really limiting their time together. The problem is, they don’t see each other that much anyway – maybe 10-20 minutes a day, max. Mavi’s body language completely changes around her, though. He goes from a beak-bashing terror to a relatively calm bird. However, we did learn recently that even she is not left out of his attacks.
In the meantime, I’m encouraging Mavi to fly and forage, and am cutting waaay back on the treats. He’s healthy, just not happy with me. He has learned many new words, though, and lots of new voices to get the attention of his beloved. He now adorably says, ‘Maverick! Step up!’ and declares himself ‘CUUUUUUUUUUUUTE!’
As if to make up for all his craziness, he also said those most treasured three words for the first time ever: ‘I love you.’ While interacting with him through the bar of his cage, my sister and I told him we loved him at the same time, and he piped in his cutest voice, ‘LOVE YOU.’ Complete coincidence, and definitely not intended for me specifically, but heart-meltingly sweet nevertheless.