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Understanding Companion Bird Behavior: A New Paradigm
Behavior Modification to Enhance the Human/Pet Parrot Relationship

Chris Davis



Birds cast themselves skyward and whisper their secrets into the ears of God ­ C. Davis

Since the beginning of time, birds have fascinated mankind. In fact, they were often considered to be the very messengers of the Gods It is only within the last couple of hundred years that they have not been perceived as magical beings, as well. In modern times, when man became enamored of the ability to create his own kind of magic ­ that of things; of machinery ­ the magic of birds and their previously exalted role was forgotten by most people living in industrialized nations. The memory of their importance was only retained by a few small pockets of what the modern world calls "primitive" cultures ­ those who have not forgotten the symbiotic and, some would say, almost divine relationship that can exist between humans and animals.

A desire for change

Recently, some people have begun to feel a need ­ a longing ­ for a sense of balance in their lives. Because of this, many of those people have returned to nature, in some form or another. They often find that there is a sense of wholeness in that kind of association and that, in a world that is time and productivity oriented, nature offers a reminder of the flow that exists when man becomes one with the planet and with all of its inhabitants ­ when he no longer has the desire to selfishly consume it, but desires, instead to enhance it ­ to make nature stronger, once again. In essence, he seeks the balance, the symbiosis, that existed long ago.

Birds as transformational beings

Like all other things that Mankind values, dogs and cats have been profoundly altered in appearance and behavior to suit man's needs and considerable ego. Although they are a great source of friendship and comfort, they lack some special "magic" that birds possess. Those who have chosen avian companions are usually amazed at the profound, yet almost indefinable experience that sharing their lives with those creatures presents. Many are transformed, in some way, and don't know how, why, or when that transformation took place.

Conversely, there are those individuals who purchase a bird because they are unusual ­ or beautiful ­ or interesting, etc. Even among such people, there is often a change of perspective, an increased sense of caring, once they have shared their lives with an avian companion.

A life shared from two different perspectives

In either kind of human/bird relationship, there can be difficulties. The very differences that we find desirable and beautiful in birds and other, essentially wild, creatures are also the situations, the behaviors, that can create a sense of displeasure with them. Because, unlike dogs and cats, they have not yet been genetically "tampered" with (by humans) birds still possess a very strong sense of just who they are and of how they should behave. Unfortunately, this seldom coincides with what a human has envisioned. Unlike domesticated animals, birds are less likely to alter themselves to suit their human companions. Birds do not possess a concept of the owner/pet relationship. In fact, their only perspective is one in which they view humans as other flock creatures ­ like other birds ­ to interact with. If the humans in question behave in a manner that is unacceptable within bird "society", the bird will then feel "forced" to admonish, or correct them.

Signs of aggression in a pet bird usually go hand in hand with the people who share the environment placing themselves into a social position in which they are perceived as being submissive to, or subordinate to, the avian companion. The physical dynamics of the flock as seen in the wild, as opposed to a so-called "flock" consisting of a combination of humans and animals contains other important elements, as well.

In the wild, most species of large hookbills travel in pairs, within flocks. The exception to this is during breeding season, when a number of those pairs spend time preparing for a new family. As seen in other species, the birds that are more assertive or aggressive will get the best nest sites and first access to food. It is simply a case of being more adapted to survival within a particular biome.

In a domestic environment, those instinctive behavior patterns that create a more desirable environment for procreation in the wild are repeated. Again, birds can only interact with their human "flock" members in a manner similar to that which they would exhibit in the wild. If, as mentioned before, a person places themselves in a subordinate position within that unit, the bird is highly likely to exhibit dominant behavior toward them, provided it possesses an assertive temperament. Most frequently, this will occur for a short period of time during the youngster's first year ­ especially in amazon parrots and other more aggressive species; however, at about the age of two years, even a relatively mild tempered bird may become a little nippy. If the bird is clearly placed in a "child" role within the human/bird "flock", it will be very simple, in most cases, to correct any aggression that might arise. If, however, the bird is not corrected appropriately, its behavior may worsen considerably.

Working to alleviate problem behaviors

Corrective techniques vary according to the type of bird, its age, its environment and, also, the types of interactions that transpire within the home. For example, a person may complain of their bird becoming excessively noisy. However, upon visiting their home, the behaviorist often finds that the entire household is a relatively noisy one; and, that the bird is merely attempting to reach the decibel level that has already been established by the resident humans. Being flock creatures, birds find it easy to slip into whatever the "norm" for each environment happens to be. Having the emotional level of approximately a two to three year old human child motivates them to choose the least tolerable option that happens to be available, as well.

In situations where a bird's behavior is extremely undesirable, care must be taken to not merely arbitrarily correct it. In the majority of environments where people and birds reside together, there are many things that contribute to the development of negative behaviors. Sometimes, misbehavior, i.e., biting, or screaming, may only be the bird's manner of releasing the tension created when it is exposed to whatever triggering factors happen to be in existence. In such cases, it is most desirable for the bird owner to seek the services of a avian behavioral consultant. A good one will be able to determine most of the root causes of the behavior. They can also devise a program for altering the situation in such a way that the bird responds to it without punishment, per se.

Avoid the development of new undesired behaviors

Arbitrary punishment can lead to other, greater problems in the future. For example, in situations where a bird feels threatened by something in the environment and "acts out" its discomfort by screaming, or biting, or feather chewing or pulling, by correcting its behavior without eliminating the stimulus, the possibility exists of the negative behavior becoming much worse. Studies on humans and other animals have shown that they may suffer mental and/or physical breakdowns if they are unable to avoid continually stressful situations. This is especially important when working with parrots, because they are, by nature, prey animals ­ they are, quite simply, food in the wild, and are neurologically "wired" differently than a dog, a cat, or a human being. Those individuals, being hunters, or predators, do not need to be hypervigilant most of the time. They can relax. They are less affected by loud or sudden noises, or quick movements. However, for the avian companion, the world is a much more threatening place and they are considerably more affected by things that a predator might not even notice.

Understand the bird's perspective

An example of the above would be the case of a client who called with an african grey parrot that had begun feather picking. After taking a complete history it was evident that, up until that time, the 3 year old bird had been relatively happy and well-adjusted. The sudden onset of the problem indicated to me that its behavior had been triggered by something that had been introduced into its environment shortly before its onset. The client sat silently on the telephone, wracking her brain, attempting to think of anything that had changed. Finally, in a doubting voice, she mentioned that several days before the behavior began, she had hung a picture of Elvis Presley ­ yes, I'm not kidding ­ on the wall where the bird could see it. Since it was the only obvious variable, I suggested that she remove the photograph. The bird's feather picking immediately ceased. The picture had been a head shot and prey animals can become extremely nervous when stared at unceasingly. It was irrelevant that it happened to be a picture. Deep down, somewhere inside that bird's DNA, was a message that told it to be careful of being stared at. Although everything else in its environment was stable, the bird simply could not tolerate that one new addition. Luckily, the client called very soon after the bird began displaying the behavior, so it had not yet become habitual. It was easily resolved because of this. Unfortunately, many people wait too long before seeking assistance and the behavior becomes a habit. Once that point is reached ­ roughly three to six months after the behavior's onset ­ stopping it is considerably more difficult and the possibility of repeated episodes increases, as well.

Some other considerations

It is important to stress that undesirable behaviors can also be a result of ill health. It is essential that birds who exhibit a radical departure from their usual behavior, be examined by an avian veterinarian for any potential physical problems. This is especially true in birds who begin to mutilate their feathers, or chew on their feet. In certain species, particularly the cockatoos, mutilation of feathers can escalate into destruction of the bird's flesh, if not addressed immediately.

Be realistic about expectations

Most birds are actually very well behaved. It is often the misguided expectations of their owners, that may create the sense that there is a problem to begin with. Most birds, like most people, are perfectly happy to get along with the other members of their flock; however, there is much stress and confusion in situations in which the other flock members are not playing by the "rules". Unfortunately, WE are those flock members! What are some of the considerations that we must make when addressing our birds' possible problem behavior?

Dominance or assertiveness?

Probably, the single most common problem seen in the human/bird household is that of dominance. This generally exhibits itself in some form of nipping or screaming ­ behaviors that reflect the bird's frustration with us. In a domestic environment, the simplest way of circumventing the development of dominance related behavior, is simply to perch the bird where the top of its head comes to the heart region of the person, when they are standing. By maintaining this particular height in relationship to the person, the bird is placed in a role in which they feel child-like, rather than subjugated. The resonance of the owner's voice, and their heartbeat, reinforce that feeling and the bird is very simply lulled into a sense of security and nurturance.

Some birds are, by nature, very easy going and will not try to dominate their human companions, regardless of conditions within their environment. In those that remain complacent until around their second birthday, when even they may attempt to achieve dominance over the humans, the episode often passes after a few weeks, only returning during times of hormonal flux. In most cases, by keeping even the less aggressive individuals at heart level, however, these episodes may never arise.

Desensitization to new objects and experiences

In birds that are naturally rather shy and skittish, care must be taken to avoid frightening them with new additions to their environment. A young bird who has been diagnosed as skittish by an experienced avian behaviorist can, routinely and gradually, be exposed to new experiences, new objects, to desensitize it. This is a healthy thing to do with any bird, but in those that are naturally shy, or wary, it is a necessity. Changes must be implemented with little drama, and a great amount of cheerfulness and good humor. Birds enjoy silliness ­ they know that things that are silly cannot hurt them ­ don't be afraid to be a little goofy around them when getting them used to new people or objects. Also, place new objects far away from the cage, to begin with, so that they get an opportunity to observe them from a safe distance. Handle the objects in a curious and playful manner. When it appears that the person is enjoying the activity, the bird will often become interested in playing along with them. This also works well when there are other, more adventuresome birds, such as amazons, who enjoy playing with new objects. Birds are not stupid and they can, and do, learn by example ­ just as we do.

Respect each bird as an individual

It is important to recognize that some birds do not enjoy playing with objects. Also, some birds may not desire to have avian companions; other birds may never talk, or even try to do so. The abilities and interests of each bird must be respected. They are individuals ­ exactly like humans and, although written material will usually offer generalized information, because of time and space considerations, there is seldom one particular law that applies to all birds. Take time to get to know them as individuals. It is highly rewarding.

Take advantage of flock perspective

Birds are extremely sensitive emotionally. Looking at behavior from a more simplistic perspective, by keeping the potentially dominant bird at heart level and slowly desensitizing the shy bird to new experiences, the bird owner can go a long way toward creating a happy, well adjusted and well-behaved avian companion. The large hookbills pick up their behavioral cues from other flock members, so the more balanced, cheerful and self-assured the person is, the more their behavior will be mirrored in the bird's behavior.

Once trust is established toward the owner, birds can be extremely accepting of new objects and situations. This is especially true of situations in which they have watched their person and other birds behaving fearlessly in response to the foregoing.

What about general, or "shotgun" techniques for behavior modification?

In situations where undesirable behavior has just begun and is slowly escalating, or where it seems to be cyclic or intermittent, more general "shotgun" techniques of behavior modification can be tried first. They work the best when used in those particular kinds of situations.

There is much written about behavior and methods for its modification. Too often, in an attempt to please the bird owner, the behaviorist as writer, lecturer, or consultant does their best to simplify behavior problems and their solutions. After all, there is usually a limited amount of space or time that is allotted to address situations and only the most commonly seen problems and simplest solutions can be addressed. Unfortunately, most will admit that there are myriad reasons for the relatively few types of behavior problems that are seen. If a "shotgun" technique of behavior modification is arbitrarily applied, there will be a higher rate of failure than if each bird's situation ­ even multiple birds within a single household ­ is addressed separately. It is advised that behavior problems of long duration, or those that are acute in nature, be examined and dealt with by a professional avian behavior consultant.

Avoiding behavior problems

There have been many articles and book chapters written on avian behavior modification. All in all, there are only a limited number of techniques available and they differ according to the bird, its personality and the problem that is being addressed. What is a more important consideration at this time ­ especially with so many people purchasing young birds, is learning how to prevent behavior problems from developing; and, how to enhance the relationship with an established bird in the household. Little has been written on this and it is a very important issue. Therefore, I will share instead, a philosophy and way of interacting with your birds that can enhance even the most loving of relationships; and greatly transform those that are less desirable.

The vast majority of young parrots, especially those that are less than 3 years of age, will not exhibit behavior problems of any kind. Because of this, people will be lulled into a false sense of security, believing that they will never have problems with their little friend. I like to remind them that most young animals ­ including humans ­ are very well-behaved and that it is only after they begin to experience life and/or their hormonal levels begin to change, that problems of any severity are seen. In humans, dogs and cats, much emphasis is placed on early childhood development. Scientific studies have shown that this can be the most crucial time in the lives of all intelligent beings and that experiences and training that one is exposed to at that time, will set their behavior patterns for the rest of their lives. This is true, as well, of birds.

As in humans, a bird that does not experience the proper stimulation, socialization and boundaries early in life is significantly more inclined to exhibit behavior problems at a later date. Therefore, it is important to address the subject of reinforcement and training of positive behaviors, so that undesirable ones do not erupt at a later date. As they say, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and this is especially relevant in the person/animal relationship. There are several things that should be taken into consideration in any bird lover's household.

Birds are intelligent beings

Studies conducted by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, have shown that african grey parrots can perform visual and auditory exercises at the level of a gifted 5 year old human child. However, emotionally, they appear to remain at approximately the level of a two to three year old child. Birds are also similar to children when it comes to building positive behaviors. When guidelines are clearly defined and upheld one hundred percent of the time, they will be happy and comfortable within their environment. Like children, again, if the rules are unclear and are loosely adhered to, the bird's behavior will also be erratic.

Some recommendations for setting patterns of good behavior include things such as training the bird to get onto the hand at a verbal command. Also, the bird should be trained to stay on a perch or a play station, unless a person removes them. A little hint about bird society. If a bird can go wherever it pleases, whenever it pleases, it will assume that it, not you, is the top bird. It will eventually defend those areas ­ especially after it becomes sexually mature and breeding season is in high gear. An acceptable and comfortable decibel level should be agreed upon, so that the bird knows exactly how much noise it can make. For example, my birds know that they can sing, whistle, talk, make cute little sounds, etc; however, loud screams or shrieks are immediately corrected. The bird should also not be allowed to compete for attention by screaming or destroying things.

Birds can also be taught that it is all right to be left inside the cage when everyone is at home. Often, people will let out the bird the entire time that they are at home. Unfortunately, the bird will begin to expect this and will not tolerate being left inside if, and when, it is necessary. If there is flexibility, they will accept being out, or not ­ whichever is best for the person at that particular time.

The environment as a positive or negative influence

Like so many other relationships in our lives, it is important to look at our own behavior and of how we interact with others who share our lives ­ both human and animal. We cannot expect our animals' or our childrens' behaviors to be any better than what we have invested in them! I find that people who are bitter or angry or controlling or impatient, etc., frequently have problem animals. Often, these people are inherently unhappy and, as a result, their animals usually are, as well. Those poor creatures are usually coping with inordinate amounts of stress caused by their owners and are generally miserable in their environment.

It must be pointed out that this does not mean that all people whose animals are misbehaving have any of the above negative personality characteristics ­ only that I see a much higher incidence in those households. Also, such misery often extends to multiple inhabitants of all kinds of species that share the home ­ including other resident homo sapiens. I often recommend that clients look into some form of relaxing habit, like meditation, or yoga. Calm and peaceful people have calm and peaceful animals, generally speaking. As odd as it may seem, many of these people will call me months, or years, later to thank me for my recommendation. Many have said that their lives have undergone a positive transformation on a number of levels ­ including the behavior of their animals. So, look at yourself and your lifestyle. If it needs calming in some form or another, begin doing something that will have that kind of effect. It can only be a beneficial experience for all parties involved.

The importance of physical and visual security

The bird's personal environment must also come under scrutiny. Is the bird housed in a location where it feels safe? Household predators ­ humans, dogs and cats, know that there are (hopefully) not snakes and lions lurking behind our living room sofas, but a bird's genetics tell HIM otherwise. If the bird is in a situation where it is forced to be vigilant, it will not relax and enjoy itself. Even humans have fears that spark a fight or flight, or hypervigilant state. Personally speaking, have you ever been audited by the IRS? You know that you are not going to die because of an audit but, any way you look at it, you are going to have to get your stuff together and take it to the IRS office. All in all, a lot of your valuable time is going to be wasted and they are usually not going to find much wrong with your income tax records. The stress level of such an experience is pretty high for most people. It's the same thing when your bird feels threatened. You can reassure him all you want and he will still be concerned that there's something with big teeth outside the picture window that his cage is up against, or behind that sofa, or leaping around the corner. Conversely, he really could not care less about the IRS ­ do you see? So, don't evaluate your bird's stress level on how you, the dog or the cat feel ­ you all are predators and have lots of teeth. Look at the world from your bird's point of view. He may appear to have lots of "pointy" parts, but is really quite a vulnerable creature.

Birds are highly visual and anything that moves quickly, mysteriously, or erratically; or, anything that brushes closely by the cage on a regular OR intermittent basis, will be cause for concern. Birds living under such conditions can never quite relax ­ can never quite slow down. They must keep alert. This inherent trait, while valuable in the wild, can create behavior problems in a domestic environment.

In the wild, at some time during the day, birds will seek out a safe place to nap for awhile. This is impossible to do in a situation where there is constant stimulus. This afternoon "siesta" is a requirement for most large hookbills and they can become cranky and disagreeable if they have to do without it. Also, birds do best with a good night's rest. If the people enjoy staying up late, they may want to place the cage somewhere that it is quiet at night and place the bird out on a perch or gym near their favorite chair. Later in the evening, the bird can be returned to sleep in the peace and quiet of its cage.
However, this does not mean that the bird should always be away from other family members ­ in fact, they enjoy being able to watch household activity, and be part of it, but from a safe vantage place of four or five feet away from the more hectic areas. If their cage is located next to a chair or sofa, for example, where the person regularly sits to read, or watch television, it is usually an ideal place for the bird to be, especially if it is placed in a "dead end" location.

Some birds enjoy having their cages partially covered at all times ­ especially in those aforementioned situations or environments where there is what they consider to be excessive movement. These individuals do not require the covering of the entire cage, merely a portion of it will do. Somewhere that they can sit on the perch and remove themselves visually from whatever is going on. Many people will relate that their birds did not like the partial cover at first; however, after a couple of weeks, they would be observed purposely going behind the covered corner for their "siesta" time ­ or, whenever strangers visited. In fact, birds that, prior to the covering, had behaved in an agitated manner in the presence of strangers would peek out from behind the cover; and, many would eventually come out to join the festivities for the very first time. They were able to monitor their own anxiety levels, so that they desensitized themselves to the newcomer. Once this had taken place, they were able to emerge from their hiding area. The initial introduction, without the safety of a covering, had been simply too overwhelming for them to tolerate and they could never get used to the idea.

To clarify the above, remember that most birds truly enjoy sharing time and space with their people ­ they just don't like being in a location or position that feels threatening to them, in a situation where there is too much visual "noise". It will be too jarring for them. They also cannot compensate for this, by the way, because it is an autonomic response. As a result of such an arrangement, shy birds may begin to feather pick, or exhibit signs of fear. More assertive or aggressive birds may begin to strike or bite; and, either type of bird may begin to scream, or refuse to come out of their cages. The partial covering referred to above, is often helpful in these kinds of situations.

Healthiness is a necessary aspect of good behavior

The health of the bird must also be taken into consideration. If the person is a heavy smoker, care should be taken not to smoke around the bird. Because of their unique physiology, which makes their bodies light enough for flight, birds receive 4 to 6 times the amount of airborne toxins that a person does and are extremely sensitive to any inhaled substances ­ even those not considered to be particularly toxic to humans and other mammals.

Is the bird eating a normal amount of food? Are there any changes in its behavior ­ is it taking long naps, or is it grumpy, during times that it is normally playful and cheerful? Because they are prey ­ food for other animals, a bird does not have the luxury of allowing itself to appear ill. A sick bird may literally look well until the moment it dies. Frequently, only vigilance and a clear sense of what is normal for each individual bird, will help the owner determine whether or not their bird is sick

Enhancing the relationship

Often, birds are not misbehaving, but are simply not very interactive. I often find that the lack of interaction has not so much to do with the bird's personality as it does with that of the person that they are living with. The owners will feel that they have tried absolutely everything to get their bird to interact ­ and, some of them actually have. However, in most situations they will only approach the bird at infrequent intervals, ignoring it the rest of the time. What they do not realize is that birds are highly social creatures and need to feel like integral and necessary members of the "flock". In the proper and most enriching environment, the bird will be talked to, looked at, included in conversation, frequently alluded to verbally, told they are adorable, etc. In other words, anything but ignored for long periods of time ­ the only exceptions being, of course, if the bird is tired or extremely frightened.

Mixed households

Another important consideration is that of other animals that share the home. Are there any animals or humans in the home that are potentially dangerous to the bird? Small, unaware children, dogs, cats, ferrets, can all be a problem when mixed with birds. Some can be trusted, but others cannot. It is not fair for a bird to feel endangered in its own home. If the "frightening" individuals are only visiting, the bird may refuse to come out while those people are there. If that is the only time that the bird behaves in this manner, then it is not misbehaving ­ it is "telling" the person ­ in the only way that it can ­ that it feels uncomfortable. Respect what it is saying. If the bird knows, without a doubt, that its person will notice its discomfort and not force it to do anything that it perceives as frightening, it will begin to trust them. In time, as the person earns it, the bird will begin to love and trust them profoundly. The level of trust attained is usually directly proportional to the number of times that the person has proven themselves to be trustworthy!

Putting together the essential components

First of all, it must be mentioned that building good behavior in either a young bird that is new to the home, or an older bird that one has had for many years ­ or even an older, adopted bird that may have been neglected, or abused ­ is deceptively simple. Most people upon hearing this, simply cannot believe it ­ until they see the results. If the desired result is to actually alter, or retrain a bird's behavior it is important to note that the process will take time. We live in a "drive thru" and "disposable" society. Birds are intelligent and emotional living beings. Any person who expects, or even worse, demands a rapid change in behavior should not have an animal or any other living being in their lives, for that matter. The other issue that must be addressed is the fact that most people ­ regardless of what they think ­ are not very good communicators. If they cannot communicate well with others of their own species, their bird will have even less of a chance of understanding what they expect of them.

In all training, a commitment must be made. Once that is done, and all of the "pieces" are set in place, then positive behavior begins to become habitual! After the person decides what the rules and regulations of their own particular household are going to be; and the bird is comfortable with the person and it feels safe and secure in its environment; and, the other foregoing components have been determined, training can begin.

First, it is essential that the bird understands that the owner is sensitive to its feelings and needs; and, that they will always protect it and will never allow it to be placed in a threatening situation. It also must know that there is fresh food and water provided on a daily basis.

Secondly, the bird must be talked to. This sounds so simple, but it has been my experience that most people talk AT their birds, rattling away in a one-sided conversation. They never wait to see if the bird responds in any way. Average human conceit usually assumes that, if the bird is not talking back in a clear human language, it does not understand the word that has been spoken. Nothing is farther from the truth. Most birds that are in an interactive household, especially those where small children are being raised, DO understand language on a relatively sophisticated level. Unfortunately, because no one waits for a response ­ shifting pupils, a nod of the head, piliation of the neck and/or body feathers, the bird is TRAINED BY THE PEOPLE, to ignore them!

Like children, birds respond strongly to LOVE, PRAISE, AND TO BEING NOTICED ­ especially by their favorite people. Be animated and silly. Learning should be a fun activity. I have often been adamantly informed that a bird is "stupid", or that it "just doesn't like anyone", or that it does not respond to being to being talked to. In virtually every one of these cases, we have seen some sort of positive response from the birds, ranging from a minor pupillary response, in the more reserved individuals, to an almost giddy cheerfulness in a more animated bird.

One of the more common complaints is that the people often do not know what to say to the bird. The one "rule of thumb" for all behavior modification would be that ALL BIRDS ARE VAIN AND LOVE BEING PRAISED OR ADMIRED! Thus, I usually begin by making eye contact, and talking to the bird in what is called, "momese". This is a manner of speaking in which words are pronounced clearly and slowly ­ in the same manner that a mother speaks to a two year old child, if she wants it to understand what she is saying. If the bird is not afraid of hands, I will point to each structure and say something along the lines of, "look at those beautiful grey toes" or, "what a pretty little (or big) beak"! I focus ALL of my attention on the bird, alone. Once I notice any kind of response, such as a trill, fluffing of feathers, or constricting or dilation of pupils, I will reinforce it by saying something like, "oh, you agree" or, "you like that, huh?". If I'm feeling particularly goofy, I may say something like, "you're a prettyprettyprettypretty bird!". I encourage the owner to do this on a regular basis. Even with my own birds, I seldom ignore them. I may go into the room and tell each one by name ­ or one particular individual ­ how good, or how quiet they are. Often, I will simply say something along the lines of, "have I told you just how cute (or wonderful, or gorgeous, etc) you are?"

Name their little body parts and tell them how cute they are. Praise them for every little thing ­ whether they consciously decided to be quiet while you were on the telephone, or if they just have pretty little black toes. Look into their eyes and be very focused. This establishes a precedent of you interacting with them on a completely positive basis. Keep each interaction very short ­ a few seconds to only a minute, or so. They will love having you come into the room, and will look forward to hearing what it is that you want to tell them. In other words, they will begin to pay attention to and to listen to you. Your attentiveness at those times that they respond will positively reinforce the interaction between the two of you. Simply put, you are TRAINING them to pay attention to what you are saying or doing. Once a bird begins to be frequently praised for the silliest little positive behaviors, you will begin to notice that many little annoying habits will slowly begin to disappear. It's truly amazing!

This may seem odd, but begin, as well, to THANK THEM, verbally, when they are behaving well. They understand what that phrase means ­ use it frequently on them, as well as on the other beings that share your home. I thank my birds regularly ­ for any number of things. They are thanked for being quiet, for being "good", for coming to live with me ­ anything that I am feeling at the time.

Often, after the positive reinforcement has been in place for a couple of months, people will call to say that they did not need to correct their birds' negative behaviors; or, that all they had to do was to politely ask them to stop an undesirable habit! In situations where one is working with a behaviorist in eliminating long-term behavior, the bird will still be more responsive if a positive interaction is established beforehand.

In young birds that are raised in such a manner, it is doubtful that you would ever experience any kind of noticeable problem behaviors. Good behavior becomes a habit and they have no need to react in any other manner.

I have adopted older birds that were behavior problems, as well as youngsters ­ my oldest bird that was adopted as a baby is a blue and gold macaw that is now 22 years old. I have many different species of hookbills in my home and can honestly say that everyone ­ including other avian behavior consultants, have commented on how well behaved all of my birds are. Hundreds of my clients have achieved similar results with their own birds.

For over twenty years, I did not write or lecture about this particular way of interacting with animals_even though I had done so my entire life. Little by little, as I found clients who seemed to be open to the idea, I would share this technique with them. Repeatedly, in cases where the people applied time and attention to implementing the techniques, their birds were transformed. Another interesting fact grew from this. In situations where the same techniques were applied to children and, in a modified and non-"momese" form, to adults in the household, their behaviors were transformed, as well! EVERYONE loves praise, and being noticed and being loved. Unfortunately, most of us are too busy trying to keep up with the demands of day to day life to remember that. Those that do, however, are greatly rewarded for their efforts. There is a certain harmony, a peacefulness, that comes from living in such a manner and in sharing this philosophy with others.

Honor, respect, love, caring, communion

Most people actually have a relatively good relationship with their birds. If they did not, birds would not be nearly as popular as they are. What I do find, however, is that almost everyone can benefit from a shift in their paradigm of what the human/animal interaction consists of.

I have often said that, of all the kinds of animals that I have known and worked with, birds are the ones that have the ability to profoundly alter our lives. It is that old magic at work ­ that mystical "something" that fascinates us and makes us want to know more about these amazing creatures. Each one is special. The birds that share my life are not my property ­ they are my friends and my teachers. They are intelligent and loving beings that are emotionally powerful and who have the ability to live rich lives in the wild. After all, parrots are perfectly adapted for life in the wild. We often forget that. We become displeased because they sling food, or tear up things ­ both behaviors that are part of their "job description" in their native environment. We often, quite frankly, want them to be dogs ­ or people ­ and in feeling this way we miss the richness, the magic, that our lives are gifted with when we are privileged enough to share their presence. Their job is not to make us happy ­ their job is simply to be loved, respected, honored and adored for being such incredibly wonderful creatures.


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