An hour before the show starts, we do something called the all-access preshow at the circus, it’s where people come into the ring and meet the cast of the show as well as the animals up close and personally. They can take pictures with the people or animals, try on circus costumes, enter to win an elephant foot print on a t-shirt and much, much more.
This is the part in the show where we rotate using three of our parrots so they can get lots of interaction with new people and socialize a great deal. We have people of all ages, color, and gender at the preshow so our birds can’t discriminate. Some times we have such small kids that they’re scared of holding the birds and maybe just want their picture with us holding the bird instead.
Other times the people are brave and willing to hold them.
I’ve had times where the kids really don’t want to hold our birds, they’re just too scared. But the parents really want their kids to hold it for a photo, so they pressure their kids into it and often enough the child freaks out at one point and pulls their arm away when the bird is on it. Luckily, I’ve been able to tell which kids are going to do this and avoid the situation altogether by over-ruling the parent or by learning the hard way and catching my bird before the arm is entirely dropped.
I’ve learned just through doing this all access preshow, that you never want to force your bird on someone who really doesn’t want to hold it, or be in close proximity to it. When you do, those people are on edge that something bad is going to happen and it can only go down hill from there. When a child is fearful of the bird, if the bird talks or moves in any way, the child gets immediately spooked. And this will usually spook the animal too. Luckily, ours are very used to this kind of thing and it doesn’t ruin the experience for them. But for a “normal” pet parrot, it would.
A few tips I’ve learned about getting non-bird people close to your bird so that your bird can learn to be somewhat social:
- People prefer petting animals to holding them.
I can’t tell you how often people would rather just touch the birds rather than hold them. If your bird is okay with this, it’s a great way to get people close to your bird in a way they are comfortable with. And make sure to let them know about body language they might take negatively – such as, our birds have what we call a “wing twitch” that they’ve always done since they were little. And Jinx is still only two years old so he still does it. It takes many people by surprise so I tell them ahead of time he might put his wing out and make noise, but not to worry, that it’s a good sign that he likes you.
You can also hold your bird in such a way that the bird doesn’t see the people touching him and thinks it’s you by blocking his view while petting. I do this sometimes with Jinx to make sure he won’t reach back for the people petting him (kids aren’t always the most gentle creatures) so he thinks it’s me and it’s more forgivable in his eyes if I’m the one doing it.
- Educate non-bird people about birds, specifically yours.
People like to know about animals they don’t know well and it’s good to teach them about your bird’s specific quirks. Where does he like to be pet? Does he even like to be pet? Does he talk or know tricks the people can cue? What are his favorite treats?
To make sure strangers don’t get bit by your bird, tell them how to hold a treat for the bird to take without being able to bite. Or in a way that you can tell early on before it happens that your bird might be in a bad mood.
When people are too nervous to be close to our birds, I put them on the opposite side of the person and simply get a photo with them. This girl in the photo above was scared of Jinx so I held him far enough away that she was comfortable and then told her a bit about him.
Anything “hands off” that people can do with your bird, the better it is for both the bird and the new person. This is less invasive to the bird, and less intimidating to the person.