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Parrot Training Accidents – How Our Reactions May Confuse Parrots

Birds of all types are surprisingly skilled at reading human body language, and making the connection between their body parts and ours (i.e., identifying eyes, mouth, etc.).  I’ve always been surprised by this, because we are such different beings than birds, and our facial features do not seem to line up well with theirs.  Parrots, with their natural sociability and intelligence, are particularly skilled in this regard.  Often this assists us in interacting with them, but it can also lead to unintended “misunderstandings”.

Recognizing Our Eyes

My first experience with the abilities of birds to read body language came while learning to hand feed cardinals, chickadees and other visitors to my bird feeder.  Looking directly at these birds caused them to take flight immediately, even if I had not moved a muscle (please see my article Hand Feeding Wild Birds for more information on this enjoyable hobby).

Later, while working with birds at the Bronx Zoo, older keepers showed me how to get very close to birds in large exhibits by looking at them with a sideways glance.  One could get quite close to many birds, especially while they were feeding, by seeming to “ignore” them…staring head on sent them into a panic.

A People-Feeding Owl

I’ve also found that some birds can recognize mouths as well.  An imprinted, hand raised great horned owl under my care courted his favorite keepers by trying to stuff mice into their mouths – he never mistook an ear for a mouth when perched on one’s shoulder (I was apparently not an attractive prospect as a mate, and so was thankfully spared his nuptial gifts!).

Our Body Language

Many people use head and hand gesticulations when speaking, often without realizing just how dramatic those movements can be.  My family, whose roots are largely in southern Italy, sometimes joked that my grandmother would be left unable to speak if her hands were tied together!

Parrots are very attuned to even small movements on our part.  In some cases, our body language may affect out parrots in ways which we do not intend.  Millions of years of evolution have left parrots with finely honed survival abilities.  Even long term captives, remain instinctively attuned to signs of predators – wild hand or head movements may, therefore, frighten them.  Depending upon the species and individual bird’s personality, a parrot may also react with aggression to movements that it perceives as threatening.

Some birds may react positively to our bobbing heads.  There are no hard and fast rules…just bear in mind that your parrot is basing its reaction to you on what you do as well as say.

Mistaken Reinforcement

Reacting with laughter when a parrot does something that is “wrong but cute” will reinforce the bad behavior.  Even if you follow up with a correction, the parrot has, in most cases, been given the reward it seeks – namely, being noticed.  Even reacting with a sound when bitten can encourage the parrot to bite again.

If at all possible, get the parrot’s attention by making direct eye contact, put the bird down (if on you) or ignore it.  Following desirable behavior with notice and praise, especially if such occurs right after bad behavior, will help keep your pet on the right track. 

Further Reading

For further discussion of how human-parrot interactions can result in behavioral problems, please see my article Parrot Bonding as a Behavioral Problem.



Parrot Bonding – Will my Budgie be a More Responsive Pet if Kept Alone?

I’m often questioned on the pros and cons of keeping Budgerigars (parakeets) and other parrots singly as opposed to in pairs or groups.  Most folks are aware that parrots housed alone tend to form strong bonds to their owners, more so than birds that have others of their own kind to interact with.  While this may be true to some extent, there are other considerations.  A recent question from a bird owner who planned to give away one of her budgies, in order to make a “better pet” of the other, has prompted me to post some thoughts here.

Social Life in the Wild

Parrots, including budgies, almost always fare best when kept in pairs or appropriate groups.  Those I have observed in the wild (and this is echoed by all careful parrot-watchers) are in almost constant contact with their mates and flock members.  Even in large flocks, and during flight, it is usually quite a simple matter to spot paired birds…they remain, literally, within touching distance of one another.

Solitary Pets

A great many of the problems experienced by pet parrots are related to their being kept alone.  The agitated “dances”, displays and attacks on toys exhibited by solitary birds, and which are found amusing by those unfamiliar with parrot biology, are actually born of frustrated urges to mate and defend a territory.  Several parrot interest groups have now published position statements to the effect that housing a parrot alone is, in most cases, considered by the group to be animal abuse.

Filling in for a Missing Mate

I advised the afore-mentioned budgie owner that while the bird may indeed form a strong bond with her if kept alone.  However there would be no way to predict such, as her pet had already been housed with another bird (this will affect its reaction to being kept alone).

But above all, the most important consideration to bear in mind is that spending a few hours each day with a budgie would not be adequate; parrots kept alone need the near constant companionship of a person if that person is to be considered a “substitute” for the missing mate.  This is difficult to arrange for most people.

Further Reading

Parrots that bond with people may make wonderful pets but sometimes raise a host of unexpected problems.  For more information, please see another article I have written, Parrot Bonding: Positive and Negative Aspects.


Canaries Are Endowed With Unique Song-Learning Abilities

Male canaries (Serinus canaria), long prized for their beautiful songs, may have unique learning abilities that explain their outstanding performances. Most birds acquire singing abilities by listening to others of their kind early in life…without appropriate role models, they fail to develop normal songs. Young canaries, however, seem able to switch learning strategies so as to develop normal songs even under unfavorable circumstances.

Effect of Imperfect Song Tutors

Serinus canariaResearchers at the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology exposed young male canaries to adult males that sang imperfect songs. The young males mimicked these songs to some extent, but by adulthood were singing near-perfect songs. This indicates that canaries likely have an internal “song template” that helps to correct deviations in the songs of their role models. The template seems to be activated when the youngsters hear an adult song, even if that song is imperfect.

Effect of Isolation

Canaries raised in complete isolation from adults do try to sing, but the sounds they produce bear little resemblance to a normal male’s song. Usually, birds do not modify their songs after reaching adulthood – what they learn as juveniles remains their song for life. However, when the canaries raised in isolation were exposed to a normal canary songs, they modified their own songs, despite having reached adulthood. In time, their songs improved greatly. So, unlike most birds, canaries remain able to change and improve their songs even after reaching maturity.

Human Language Development

Children raised in isolation have great difficulty in acquiring language skills later in life. It is hoped that the canary research will help us to understand human speech problems.

The Canary Song CD

As canaries seem able to learn throughout life, it’s never too late to try helping your pet to improve. A Feathered Phonics Canary Song CD may do the trick.

Further Reading


Most people are not aware of the dramatic story behind the canary’s entry into the pet trade. Please check out Shipwrecks, Vicious Dogs and Escaped Birds for details.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by LC-de

Hand-Rearing Baby Birds – Are you Qualified?

Hand-raised birds of all types make wonderful pets, and the process itself seems appealing and attracts many bird owners. However, there are a number of misconceptions concerning the need for hand-raising birds, and also regarding the ease of doing so.

The Question of Bonding

Umbrella Cockatoo ChicksParent-reared birds can bond quite strongly to people and become wonderful companions, especially if taken under one’s care soon after they become independent. In many cases, such birds will be sturdier than hand-reared chicks, and will have been taught important foraging and social skills.

If a bird is to be pulled from the nest for hand-rearing, it is not essential that the new owner be involved. If taken soon after fledging, the chick will bond to people other than those who have raised it. The prospective owners may wish to visit the chick while it is being fed by the breeder (but such is not strictly necessary)…this is definitely preferable to an inexperienced person trying to raise a chick.

Misleading Beliefs

Healthy parrot and other chicks seem so perpetually hungry that one might be forgiven for assuming that hand-rearing is simply a matter of filling their gaping mouths with a supply of suitable food (please see photo of common cuckoo for an extreme example!). However, nothing could be further from the truth. The undertaking is complex and fraught with difficulties.

The Time Factor

Even if one possesses the necessary facilities and expertise, the time factor must be considered. Depending upon age and species, chicks will need numerous feedings throughout the day and, sometimes, the night.

I well remember waking up at 1AM and trekking to the Bronx Zoo to provide early morning feedings to palm cockatoos and other orphaned birds…interesting, but not for weeks on end!

Typical Difficulties Encountered

Following is just a brief listing of some possible problem areas:

Chicks that are abandoned or purposely taken from the nest for hand-rearing are often stressed. As a result, their immune systems will be weakened, leaving them open to health problems.

Food that remains in the crop can decay and cause fatal bacterial or fungal infections; determining that the chick’s crop is empty is not an easy matter.

The preparation, cooking, storage and delivery temperature of the food is critical. Details vary greatly with species, age and health.

The actual process of feeding the bird often leads to aspiration pneumonia, which arises when the chick inhales food into its lungs; such is difficult to avoid if one is not well-experienced.

Feeding utensils can easily damage tender mouths and crops, especially as regards particularly vigorous or lethargic chicks. Utensils that are not adequately sterilized are a common source of bacterial infection.

The temperature at which the chick must be kept varies with species, age and health, and is critical. This affects overall health and digestion. If too cool, even by a degree or two, a chick will not be able to move its food through the digestive tract adequately; fatal bacterial and fungal infections are then likely.

Making a Decision

My work with injured and abandoned chicks has left me with many fond and a few sad memories. Please consider your options carefully, and write in for specific advice. In all cases, you should work with an experienced aviculturist before attempting to raise a chick on your own.

Further Reading

For a look at some of the joys and difficulties inherent in raising rare birds, please see my article Hand rearing Palm Cockatoos.

Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Tropical Birdland.

Parrot Emergencies – Steps to Take When a Parrot Bites and Hangs On

Even the smallest lovebird can deliver a painful bite, and larger parrots are capable of inflicting serious injuries. If a parrot bites and holds on, you must respond appropriately in order to limit the bite’s severity.

Do Not Pull Away

In a lifetime of working with animals, I’ve actually been bitten by more snakes than parrots, but the principals are the same. One’s first reaction – to pull away – must be stifled. Instead, push the bitten hand (as an example) towards the parrot’s head. This will relieve pressure on your hand and may force the bird to relinquish its grip. Pulling away will add to the trauma of the bite…I learned this when a concave-casqued hornbill broke my finger; pulling away from an anaconda left me with a souvenir – a tooth that remains buried in my wrist to this day!


You can also try to disturb the bird’s balance, forcing it to focus on that and to release you. This is best accomplished by tilting the hand or object upon which the parrot is perched (note: do not tilt your hand if the parrot is biting the hand upon which it sits).


When working closely with birds likely to latch onto me, I always carry an easily accessible object to force into an offending bill. Credit cards, butter knives and spoons will all serve well, depending upon the size of your attacker.

Additional Tactics

Putting the parrot on the floor and/or covering its head with a towel may also cause it to withdraw. A sudden loud noise can also be useful in distracting and startling an aggressive bird.

You might try smacking your hand on something, stomping your foot or turning on a radio if within reach.

In all cases, direct eye contact with the bird should be sought…this does not always work, but excellent results are sometimes forthcoming.

Medical Concerns

Be sure to seek medical advice after being bitten by any animal. Even the smallest of wounds can leave one open to dangerous infections. Do not assume that because your parrot is kept indoors there is no risk of infection – call your doctor!

Further Reading

Parrot screaming can be as dangerous to one’s mental health as biting is to physical health! For further information, please see my article Help! – My Parrot Won’t Stop Screaming.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by snowmanradio.

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