Dealing with behavior problems of parrots
Clinic for Birds, The
( presented at the DVG-Vogeltagung
Keywords: welfare, behavior, protocol, handling, responsibility, education, wing clipping, parrot walk, parrot picnic, parrot rescue.
Introduction: The welfare and well-being of parrots in captivity is part of the responsibility of (avian) veterinarians.
Veterinarians need to know the basics of parrot behavior in order to handle and deal with them properly.
It is important to acknowledge the fact that parrots are prey animals and respond accordingly to all kind of situations. Fear to get killed as a prey animal determines a major part of normal behavior in nature as well as in captivity. Living in flocks can be considered as one of the adaptations of a prey animal.
It is also important to acknowledge that the outcome of the past 30 years of research has shown that parrots are very social and intelligent birds with amazing cognitive abilities.
Veterinarians have the opportunity to make a difference in the exam room when we are dealing with insecure behavior, screaming, feather picking and biting.
Within the Clinic for Bird we have developed a 5-step protocol enabling veterinarians and caretakers to deal with parrots in a professional way, reducing the stress of manipulation and creating mutual trust and respect. Using this protocol enables owners to take their birds for hiking and biking activities and become part of the family as companion bird.
Educating owners/clients how to take care of their parrots is an important responsibility of the avian veterinarian to prevent and to solve behavior problems.
Behavior in nature is partly based on instinct and partly based on learning and experience. Behavior is driven by the urge to survive as individual and as species.
Dealing with parrots in captivity we need to understand that the behavior of parrots is determined by different factors.
Understanding the consequences of dealing with a non domesticated social, intelligent prey animal is crucial for the development of a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
Dealing with behavior problems is looking for a diagnosis based on the circumstances, understanding the reason for the behavior and the consequences of the behavior.
Unwanted behavior as learned behavior
Dealing with unwanted behavior we have to consider that unwanted behavior will become more and more a problem when the consequence of that behavior is experienced by the parrot as a reward.
Withdrawing the hand
Preventing unwanted behavior
Prevention starts with understanding the background of unwanted behavior looking at the circumstances
Prevention is about creating circumstances in which fear, insecurity and defensive behavior is not created.
Prevention is about showing an attitude and body language as owner/caretaker and veterinarian that is the opposite of intimidating and is showing respect for the intelligence and social skills of the parrot.
Prevention is about creating an enriched environment in which the parrot is allowed to express their intelligence and skills by providing toys and providing food in a way that parrots are stimulated to express normal foraging behavior.
Within the Clinic for Birds one of the most important parts of enrichment is creating an environment and circumstances allowing social interactions with other birds
It is always striking to see that unwanted behavior is very much determined by the (unnatural) circumstances. For instance, territorial behavior is determined by the circumstances in which pair bonding
It is important to understand that the cage of a bird can be considered by the birds as their nesting site making the bird feel insecure expressing the need to defend that position and show territorial behavior. It explains the defensive behavior of birds that are approached while sitting in or on top of their cage.
The same bird can show very different behavior sitting on a play gym.
The same bird sitting on the shoulder is showing insecure behavior while sitting on the hand of the owner the bird is showing to feel confident.
Putting a parrot on a table in the examination room in between the owner and the veterinarian is creating defensive behavior. Having a bird on the hand next to our body or having the bird on the hand in front of our body makes a difference.
Prevention is about preventing the parrot to sit on the shoulder. Observing the behavior of parrots sitting on the shoulder and listening to the experiences of owners having parrots on their shoulder
Within the Clinic for Birds we advice to create a more natural day-night routine in which the bird get’s 10-12 hours of sleep in a special small sleeping cage that is located in another room of the house
Redirecting unwanted behavior
We have to consider that every response to unwanted behavior can be perceived as a reward..
Instead of responding to the behavior of the parrot and instead of ignoring the behavior
Within the Clinic for Bird a 5-step behavior protocol has been developed that is used as general protocol dealing with parrots but also serves as technique to prevent and to solve unwanted behavior.
Step one is showing to have no problem with the situation and doing whatever that has nothing to do with the unwanted behavior as if the bird is not even present. In fact
Step two is that when the parrot is watching us and find it interesting what we are doing
Step three is to describe the body parts of the parrot and describe whatever object
Step four is allowing the parrot to touch
Step five is creating a situation in which the parrot is accepting unpleasant situations and be rewarded for doing so. Towelling
Using this protocol in this order
Using this protocol
Within the Clinic for Bird we are having a list of over thousand families that are using this protocol as part of the daily care of the bird. Those families are invited for outdoor events and are organising their own hiking events.
Learning more about the cognitive abilities of parrots we can conclude that parrots do understand our meaning
Dealing with and understanding behavior it is important to distinguish the difference between : - normal behavior
- wanted behavior
- unwanted behavior
Rewarding wanted behavior using positive reinforcement will reduce unwanted behavior.
Handling parrots that shows unwanted behavior.
The first impression makes all the difference in approaching a parrot. Considering a parrot as a prey animal we do not walk towards the parrot and we do not look at the bird
Approaching a parrot like this will create insecure and even “aggressive/defensive” behavior. Expecting the bird to step up the hand does not makes sense. Saying step up as a command is not the way to achieve the ultimate goal that it becomes the free choice of the parrot to step up the hand or perch or rope
When a parrot is approached
Using the simple 5 step procedure
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