The Curse of the Clingy Parrot

Being down at school really sucks.  No birds to wake up to, no birds to cook for, no birds to snuggle, what do I do with myself?  Theres no poop here!

Anyways, in my spare time I’ve been lurking different bird sites, message boards, and ask the veterinarian forums.  And one of the problems I have noticed are perpetual screamers who refuse to play with toys.  And the only thing that seems to shut these birds up is, you guessed it, your immediate and undistracted attention.  I have a  theory on this problem and it is such an easy thing to avoid that I’m getting quite angry people are on the verge of rehoming their birds over it.

I’m going to be very mean right now and say that if you have a bird like this, you are to blame for this birds problem. 

Why?  Lets look at how we raise parrots vs how parrots are raised in the wild.

A baby parrot in the wild is totally dependant on its parents.  As it gets older, it begins to get too big to stay in the nest with all its siblings, so it begins to venture out.  It starts hopping around and learning to fly.  And although the parent may still feed the baby, they primarily leave them to figure everything out on their own.  The parents don’t sit around and cuddle with the baby all day-they have much more important things to do, like find food. 

Now lets look at how we raise parrots in captivity.  We take the babies and place them in a bin.  We feed them and socialize them.  As soon as the baby is fully weaned, a breeder sends it home with its new owner.  New owner gets the new bird and its such a cute baby, and its a new, shiny toy for the person.  And we want it to bond with us, yes!  So what do we do?  We carry the baby around, we feed the baby from our hands, we snuggle the baby all the time because baby parrots are just so cuddly.  And this young bird, who in the wild would be figuring out how to survive on  its own, is now having everything they could want handed to them.  It’s like taking a kid who was college bound and still setting their clothes out for them in the morning and cooking their waffles for them.  And while this bird is figuring out what life is about, we are setting unrealistic expectations about how often we are going to provide stimulation for them.

So, while the bird will quickly figure out that if he wants his food, he isn’t always going to have it handed to him and he might have to walk over and reach into his food dish for a pellet, he doesn’t really know what to do when he is bored. 

Lets fast forward 6 months (or sooner for some!).  Life hits you, the bird is not new anymore, and you have to get back to reality and expect your bird to act like a bird.  Give him some toys, make sure he has food and water, and expect him to be content to come out of his cage once a day and sit by you on his playgym.

However, birdie has been raised to be completely dependant on his owner and now is thrown for a shock when he is no longer receiving the amount of attention he had before.  He rationalizes this by calling to his owner, as something certainly must be wrong if they are not giving him their undivided attention.  Owner gets angry at birdies constant screeches.  As time goes on, birdie gets more and more frustrated, bored, and angry that he is not receiving attention.  He screams more and more.  Owner gets more frustrated that birdie is screaming more and refuses to play with all the wonderful toys they have bought.   Everyone is angry and nobody wins.

This situation is easily avoidable.  When you go and get a baby bird, freshly weaned from a breeder, DO NOT SPOIL HIM.  Treat him like a bird.  I’m not saying don’t handle him, but do not spend every waking moment you are home with your new fid.  Leave him on a playgym sometimes, leave him in his cage sometimes.  Play with some toys instead of just cuddling and petting while he is out.  Do not set the bar to a level that you cannot continue, especially at the time where he is discovering who he is and what he needs to do for himself.

  Also, be kind to your bird and yourself and set some ground rules.  Just because its cute that your new baby flies over to sit on your shoulder after you place him on the playstand, it’s not going to be cute when he misses your shoulder, lands on the floor in front of you, and you step on him.  Do not just think of the now and then, but think of the future. 

So, what do you do if you already have one of these little demanding monsters, whether you created it yourself or adopted a rehomed bird who’s last owner spoiled him? 

The first thing that I would do would be to make a commitment to working through this problem.  Decide how much time your bird usually demands out of you and cut it in half.  Half the time, you still give your bird the one on one attention he needs and craves.  The other half the time, birdie is going to have to fend for himself.  Make sure there are plenty of toys and even try playing with him.  Make sure he has plenty of food and water.  Plop his little feathered behind on a play gym and occupy yourself with something else.  If he flies over to you, return him (I personally have a ground rule with my guys that if I place you on a playstand, you stay there until I come get you.  Although its cute to have your bird seek you out, its unsafe when there are people walking through and rather annoying when you are trying to vacuum or clean cages and they come crawling up your leg.)  If he screams, ignore him.  He has toys, he has food, he has water, he is perfectly capable of entertaining himself for a half an hour. 

Breaking this habit can go as quickly or as slowly as your fid will allow.  Some birds give in easy, figure they better entertain themselves, and have at it.  Others scream relentlessly, exhaust themselves trying to come and see you, and make the whole ordeal into a much bigger affair than it is.  When your bird seems to be content, finds something constructive to do, or just isn’t throwing a temper tantrum, reward.  A pet on the head, a ‘Good Birdie!” or maybe just a favorite treat.  The goal is to make being independent fun, exciting, and easily within their grasp.

Understand going into this that some birds may never play with the toy that you spent $20 on.  May birds will figure out what toys are and play with them, and its a lot easier when they do.  But some just really aren’t into playing.  The goal here is really not to get your parrot to play, but to get your parrot to be independent when left on their own. 

I also would recommend anyone having trouble with a clingy parrot to do some trick training.  Teaching your bird tricks is a great way to strengthen the bond in a healthy way.  By giving your parrot a job to do and rewarding when they do good, they are learning to trust themselves and be a little more confident in themselves.  You are also defining that hairline distance that a parrot and owner need so the bird understands you are in charge (you make the rules, and they are to listen to them, aka stay on the playstand!) and allows you to build the necessary boundaries to keep a safe and happy bird.

Although parrots are not like dogs and do not look up to an alpha, in any animal there is always a more dominant one.  The nice thing about parrots is that it doesn’t take much for them to understand that they need to listen to your rules, as long as you are willing to place the boundaries!

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