Purchasing our cockatiel brought a number of immediate challenges that we – as new owners – were not prepared for! I want to share some of the things we did to earn our parrot’s trust. Mishka was phobic as well as shy in personality.
- Time. A lot of people don’t like this answer. I didn’t either, to be perfectly honest! But it’s true. Time. Let your bird see that you aren’t scary, aren’t a threat. Read by the cage. Talk quietly to him while avoiding eye contact. Offer treats.
- If you bird won’t take treats from you, let him watch you put them in a bowl.
- Don’t get too close. Watch the body language.
- Don’t force anything. Do NOT try to step up a too-shy bird, or attempt to pet it. Remember tip #1, time. Building a bond of trust is a laborious feat, and may take many months or more, possibly years. Be soft and gentle. You just need to show your pet that he’s safe now.
- Be patient and compassionate, too. Try to remember that whatever is in your bird’s past is in the past – but he can’t rationalise it that way. Let your parrot be himself and heal in his own way. In the end, it’ll be worth it!
BirdTricks is all about training to promote a bond, and most parrots thrive on this. When working with any animal from a less-than-stellar background, however, they can find training to be too confrontational at first. It sometimes depends on your bird.
For us, this was true. While for most parrots it is a fantastic way to start a relationship right, Mishka the cockatiel was actually phobic of everything to do with it, from the chopstick to our hands. Until the point where we could teach her that the chopstick wasn’t evil (and nor were we), we needed to step back and let her get comfortable at her own pace. This did take a full year.
Some other things we did to win the trust of our phobic pet shop parrot in the meantime:
- Thinking differently: We placed strategic perches along the outside of her cage, including one right at the entrance. Mishka would typically only sit on the front perch, but eventually gained the confidence to move to her cage top. From the cage top, she learned to fly.
- Flight: Once she learned to do this, she finally began to interact with us, because she now felt she could safely get away. Flight also took the edge off her energy. Keeping her flighted was the key.
- Diet: The proper nutrition also helped her copious energy. Besides improving her behaviour, adjusting her diet provided enrichment. She’d get really excited about a new food – and that was critical, because our poor cockatiel had never been excited about anything before.
- Freedom: For any captive parrot, I advocate choice. It makes a big difference for them. And for Mishka the cockatiel, this was one of the major things that changed her mind about us. We never, ever forced her to do anything. She slept out on a perch in the bedroom, and was able to fly in there when she wanted to sleep. She trailed us from room to room, always watching. She even bathed and showered with us, or chose to sit (watching!) on the shower rod. Sure, we sacrificed a lot of our own freedom doing this, but it was something our bird needed.
- Toys and foraging: We had to teach our girl how to play, but once we did, it was like something clicked in her head. You would sometimes hear her making a furious screeching sound at a toy as she battered it around. A minute later, and she’d waddle over happily to interact, her frustrations vented. Foraging gave her distraction.
- Bribery: Because Mishka was never forced to do anything, we had to get creative. Millet was her utmost favourite, followed by sugar snap peas and hemp seed. We were always on the lookout for her doing something relaxed or happy. If she did something she wanted, we were fast to reward her. To get her to go into the cage, we’d serve her meals inside it and in she’d go.
- A friend: I’m not advocating getting another parrot unless you’re fully prepared, have done your research, and truly feel it is the right thing for you. But for us, a second parrot was in our future, and when we finally brought our parrotlet ‘Ptak’ home, Mishka suddenly had someone she could relate to! He taught her many things.
They weren’t best friends, but Mishka enjoyed having another bird around – and it came to the point where they could safely be out together, always supervised. Where we weren’t able to give her company that she felt safe accepting, Ptak could. They would sing together, fly together, preen my hair together.
I will never forget the first time our cockatiel flew to my extended hand – without our parrotlet’s guidance. I knew I was her flock now. This trust that this tiny creature gave me was worth every bite, scream, and moment of frustration.
It is okay to have a bird who is independent and aloof, and who doesn’t like being petted – IF they are happy and healthy otherwise. After all – this may be personality rather than anything else! Mishka trusted us, but was always a little wild. For many parrots with abuse or neglect in their pasts, however, this is not true. Parrots are incredibly resilient creatures. With a loving owner, they can heal.