By Gina Cioli/Bowtie Studio/Courtesy of Omar's Exotic Birds
Spice up wintertime blues to get you and your pet bird out of a rut.
The dead of winter can be good or bad for pet birds, depending largely upon your pet bird’s behavior. A long winter can seem infinitely longer when it is spent cooped up inside with a screaming, or otherwise misbehaving, parrot. Because time outdoors is limited during winter, it offers a perfect opportunity to reassess our pet birds’ behavior and environment. Also, this is a good reminder for us to become active by improving the general atmosphere of our homes instead of allowing ourselves to become sluggish because of the limited photoperiod of the season.
Are you and your pet bird in a rut? Even during the best of times, every relationship we have, person or animal, can benefit greatly from an occasional reassessment and a carefully implemented fine-tuning. Because it is easy to fall into a rut and not see everything around us as it really is, this is most effective if you make a focused effort to view things from the perspective of another person. Use these seven tips to help you.
Examine Your Surroundings
Pretend you are walking into a stranger’s house, and take a look at your home. Is your pet bird a little hooligan? How is her environment? Take a critical look at her pet bird cage, food, in-cage time and her interactive time with you, and assess it from your new perspective. Has food dust or dander worked its way into the little crevices of her cage or playgym? When did you last thoroughly wipe them down with a damp cloth or toss them into the shower for a good scrubbing?
How does the floor look around the cage, especially the area where it meets the wall and the baseboards? Is there a buildup of crud? Is it time to carefully clean the floor or the carpet in that area? Although care needs to be taken to not use any questionable cleaning compounds around our birds, especially in the enclosed winter environment, a good spot-cleaning can make the environment sparkle and considerably decrease dust and dander that can be inhaled by humans or animals. A diluted mixture of white vinegar and water placed into a spray bottle is a wonderful nontoxic alternative to harsh chemical compounds, especially in winter-enclosed environments. One cup of white vinegar per gallon of water is a good proportion for general cleaning on durable surfaces. (Spot-test each surface to make sure the mixture will not harm it.)
This is also a good time to look at ways to make everyday cleaning easier in and around your bird’s cage. Carpet protectors made of lengths of thick plastic can be placed under the cage or gym, on top of a dry, clean carpet, tile or hardwood floor; the protector keeps the surface beneath free of dirt and stains. If your bird parks herself on the open cage door, place another piece of heavy plastic on the floor under that area, too. If you have two or more pieces of plastic cut to the right size, they can be changed frequently and rinsed in the shower and hung to dry on a pants hanger. It’s an easy way to protect the surrounding environment.
Have thin Plexiglas® sheets cut to order, drilled with a few holes, and mounted on the wall behind the cage. The savings in cleaning time and property destruction far outweigh the initial expense.
Brighten Up The Surroundings
Most of us are free to get away for a while a few days a week, but our pet birds do not have that ability. Imagine being an intelligent and incredibly visual animal placed in a location that never changes. Are your pet bird’s surroundings bland? Different lighting, a few beautiful photos, pictures or a large poster can brighten up the area and make it more enjoyable for her. Take care, however, to avoid obviously unnerving visual subject matter, such as lions with great staring eyes and large predatory birds or reptiles.
A bouquet of nontoxic flowers can cheerfully alter the room for both of you and bring a bit of springtime color into a winter-darkened world. A new colorful small throw cover or pillow on a chair or sofa can lighten the room. If your bird is unaccustomed to change, alter one thing at a time, making sure that she is comfortable with each new addition before moving on to another; livening up the décor is useless if it inspires feather destruction or screaming.
Is your pet bird bored? Sometimes boredom can lead to the development of negative behavior. Even though they need some quiet downtime, pet birds are exquisitely intelligent and aware and need their world to be interesting, at least part of the time. If your bird can see a television, you may want to provide some movies or children’s programs for a while, especially on the days you are away from home.
Yard sales and second-hand stores can be wonderful sources of visual entertainment for very little money. My birds have their own library of movies. They especially enjoy musicals. Their absolute favorites are Seven Brides For Seven Brothers; Singing In The Rain; and the Dr. Doolittle starring Rex Harrison and Polynesia, a blue-and-gold macaw. River Dance holds a particular cachet for them. I think it might have to do with the idea that someone can make noise with their feet, something I suspect my birds aspire to but, thankfully, have not yet mastered.
Birds often like looking out windows; however, this can advertise their presence to thieves, so offer a view from a window that is out of view to passersby, such as one that looks out into a private yard, or use an upstairs window, where the bird is set back a bit but can still see out. Birds of prey tend to be attracted to windows if they can see birds, which can make your own little one a nervous wreck.
Give your pet bird options. If your pet bird is near large, uncovered windows or skylights, cover one end of the cage so she can visually remove herself from the view of others. Everyone needs privacy now and then, even from those they love, and this is a good thing to do for all birds, even those that cannot see outdoors.
Address Behavior Problems
Has your pet bird’s behavior been a problem? Winter months, when more time is spent indoors, are a perfect time for implementing a behavior modification program. There are many people practicing avian behavior modification professionally, including some veterinarians. Unfortunately, it is human nature to wait until we can no longer stand a particular problem behavior before we do anything about it. If we address such problems early, in a systematic and appropriate manner and with the assistance of an experienced professional behavior consultant, they are much easier to correct without the bad feelings that can develop when a problem continues unchecked.
Bring Excitement Into Your Life.
How about you? Have you fallen into a winter routine? Maybe it’s time to make up some new games with your pet bird, or purchase toys for her. If you do not live near a pet store, shop online for a special toy, or rummage through your kitchen drawers for a metal measuring cup or spoons. A teaspoon with a tiny smear of peanut butter in it (not enough for your bird to choke on) can be a wonderful new toy for your bird. A rolled-up paper towel with a nut or cracker bits inside or a small paper cup with the sides crushed to hold in a nut or a piece of healthy breakfast cereal are great bird toys. Dry pasta comes in myriad shapes and sizes and can be an inexpensive, wonderfully destructible bird toy, too!
Have A Heart To Heart
Spend some special time with your pet bird, telling her how much you love her and that she is the cutest little girl in the world. Point out her little toes, eyes, and beak, and tell her that they are the prettiest ones you have ever seen. Focus your attention on her when you say this and make eye contact. Open your heart and truly feel the love you have for her as you say this. Brief interactions like this, lasting only a few seconds, or a minute or so, can profoundly improve your relationship with your bird without her becoming demanding or over-stimulated.
Enjoy The Quiet Season
Although we often experience winter as a time of inertia, with relatively little effort, it can be a wonderful opportunity to make positive changes in our homes and in our birds’ lives that will last long beyond the season. As a transplanted third-generation Californian now living in the northern Midwest, I can attest to the fact that there are no greater companions to be cooped up with than our beloved pet bird family members. They bring a bright bit of wild love, joy and humor to our lives and remind us that springtime is just around the corner.