When you are bringing home your first parrot, be it an African Grey, an Amazon or a Cockatiel, there are lots of adjustments to be made to get your bird to settle in. Selecting the right cage, toys and diet will have already been done so the next step is getting your new arrival into his or her cage and letting them adjust to their new surroundings. But the first question is: how do you get the parrot into the cage?
Whether to collect your bird or they are delivered to you, it won’t be in the cage that they will be living in. Therefore, the first challenge you face is getting the bird into the cage with minimal stress and no loss of blood (by you!).
If you have a very tame bird who understands commands such as ‘step up’ then this will be the simplest of jobs. But if the first is nervous, unsure or not responding to commands, then other techniques will be needed.
If the bird is a rehome and you are unsure how tame it is, then firstly approach the bird with your hand slowly, making sure that the entrance to the transport box is blocked. If the bird doesn’t react to your hand, it will probably be tamed enough to step up. However if there is any signs of aggression such as snapping at your hand or baring its beak, then slowly remove your hand as other tactics are needed.
To move an aggressive bird or one that doesn’t know to step onto your hand, you will need to handle the bird to get it into its cage. Don’t worry about this having a bad effect on your long-term relationship as the bird will get over it in a short time and if you do the job quick enough, may not even totally realise what has gone on. Avoid letting the bird out in the hope you can chase it into the cage as this will cause lots of stress.
The best way to handle to bird is with your bare hands but if needed you can use thin leather gloves or a towel. The best place to get hold of the bird is around the neck as it is more difficult for the bird to bite from there and as long as you don’t close the hold, you won’t restrict breathing. If you opt for a towel, make one quick movement to cover the bird, scoop it up and gently release it into the cage.
One of the most important things to remember when you first get your bird home is not to bother them too much at first. They are in a strange environment with unknown hostile predators lurking around the furniture, they don’t know if you are going to harm them or if they will get food or water. In other words, they are probably terrified, just like we would be in the same situation.
When approaching the cage, move slowly so the bird has a chance to see you coming. Don’t make sudden noises and if the bird is a fearful one, don’t make eye contact as this makes the bird think it has been singled out by a predator.
If the bird has been raised by humans, in all likelihood it will be well adapted to having people around its cage and won’t worry when you approach. However if the bird reacts badly when you approach, it will mean you need to use a different tactic. One suggested method is to approach the cage and stop when the bird reacts. Stay still but don’t retreat until the bird has calmed down some. At this point, walk away. Keep repeating this and it will learn the parrot that by making a scene, you don’t go away but if it calms down, you do.
Like most animals, the way to a bird’s heart can often be through its stomach. By offering treats, you will stop being the scary human and become the treat-providing human and this is a tactic that can work with the smallest of birds in the right situation.
After a few days settling in to their new environment, if you haven’t already seen evidence of their favourite food, then you can start finding out what it is. Parrots will eat their favourite thing first then the rest of the food. Once you know what this is, remove it from the normal daily meal to use it as a training treat. This can be its perfect reward for doing what you asked of it.
One of the best expert tips is not to allow the bird to come out of the cage by itself. If the bird only comes out when standing on your hand, it will come to see the hand as a positive thing, the means by which it gets out of its cage, as opposed to something to fear. Use a treat to lure them onto standing on your hand if needed or once they have done this and are out of the cage, offer a treat to reward them for doing what you have asked.
Once you have mastered a few basic training techniques, you are ready to start working on more complicated tricks or behaviours. One method of training which has proven highly successful is called Clicker Training and uses a small clicker that was originally designed for use with dogs. There are some great books available to buy or download to advise different tactics to accomplish this.
Training your bird is also about training yourself and learning the best way to deal with your bird. It is important to be firm but never shout at the bird, as loud noises can be seen as a positive reinforcement not a negative one. Never strike the bird either as this can lead to serious behavioural problems or fear responses to your hand. If the bird does something wrong, ‘no’ said in a firm tone is the best option to let them know and form the basis of the good and bad behaviours that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.