We all know the situations. The middle school kid who lets the door shut in an elderly woman’s face. The cute guy/girl who won’t text you back after a fantastic date. The person who doesn’t give a courtesy wave after you let them into your lane. On and on and on. What do we say about these people?
“Why didn’t their parents raise them properly?!”
It doesn’t take a PhD to understand that our parents’ lessons are some of the longest-lasting and most fundamental that we will learn. It surprises me, however, the number of people that don’t seem to transfer this understanding to their birds. We recognize bad habits in humans and logically conclude that it was probably something that they picked up long ago and now is carried out almost like a reflex. Why would it surprise us to discover something similar in our feathered companions?
We owners are always happy to parrot (no, I’m not sorry) facts comparing avian and human intelligence. We are giddy when our birds learn to speak or perform specific tasks. We should be equally cognizant of teaching them, even by accident, bad or improper habits. After all, a rude parrot is quite possibly going to live as long as a rude middle schooler!" (depending on the size and type of bird, and proper care).
When birds come home, whether from a rescue or freshly fledged, it is important to establish some sense of the behaviors you, the “parront,” want to encourage and those you want to avoid. These little gals/guys are smart and they start picking up on your cues very early! Have a plan in place for what you want from your bird and how you can safely and respectfully train him/her.
Our flock, which is mostly rescues and rehomes, provides some interesting contrasts. Louie, our eclectus, was once a “shop bird,” meaning that he belonged to a store owner and spent many days out on a semi-public perch. Constant daily interaction has made Louie very gregarious and able to spout off several phrases and cute noises (he loves to kiss feet, complete with a big *MWAH* sound). This was possible because Louie’s original owner made contact and speech a priority EVERY DAY.
Compare this with another of our little dudes, O-Zone the sennie. O-Zone belonged to an older woman who left him in his cage day after day. This limited little world made O-Zone very cage territorial, especially toward other animals. He seems to have a love-hate relationship with the cage, however, as he is notorious for biting people who try to put him away. If you were locked in your room 90% of the time you would fight anyone who tried to put you back in there! We never met his owner, but she sounded like a well-intentioned woman who probably did not think of the long-lasting effects this behavior might create. Please do not make the same mistake, both for the sake of your bird and the quality of the future time you will spend together.
At this point it is worth mentioning that birds, even with the best of intentions, are different than many other animals. If you have a dog or a cat that animal is the descendent of hundreds of generations of domestication. For thousands of years this animal’s ancestors have been bred, trained, and encouraged to interact with humans positively. Your parrot, meanwhile, is AT MOST the fourth domesticated generation (this obviously varies by species but it is a reasonable estimate, especially for medium and large birds).
There is still a great deal that we are learning about these creatures and their needs in domestic captivity. This topic often comes up when we discuss feather plucking and other avian neuroses, but it is also germane to discussions regarding a bird’s behavior to you.
Your bird will bite you, period. It is more or less a guarantee.
Now, for our super-domesticated canine friends such an action can mean state-mandated euthanasia (depending on state and local laws). The action that makes a dog “a monster” in the eyes of some is an action that the parrot owner needs to accept. This biting is instinctual, a feral remnant for species that are universally prey in the wild. Remember, two generations ago your little bundle of joy’s ancestors were hiding from hawks, eagles, and other predators. When I startled O-Zone by petting the back of his neck (from behind, without warning- a stupid move on my part) he thought a predator was coming for his spinal column. He bit me, hard- hard enough to pierce the middle of my thumbnail. There was indeed blood. It hurt just as bad as you would expect and I was definitely mad at my little sennie.
This is what we must prepare for, though, as bird owners. When you take your bird into your home it is a risk we all sign on for. We have six birds currently and every one of them has bitten us. Not as bad as the case described above, but they have given us a pretty good pinch at some time or another.