This is Part II of a series discussing my own techniques for parrot behavior consultations (Part I; “Need A Consult?” June 2011). This column discusses the use of videos, plus the usefulness of floor plans. Visualization is crucial to understanding any situation, especially with parrots.
When I did behavior consultations over the phone, I asked to see specific things captured on video. Renowned veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall first encouraged my use of videos and, once implemented, I realized how priceless they were. They were so incredibly useful that I refused to do a phone consult without one. Videos allowed me to visualize interactions rather than drawing conclusions based solely on the owner’s opinion. While I was deeply interested in the owner’s interpretation, I wanted more than just that. Many problem situations arise because the owner does not understand what is going on, so videos provided a non-emotional perspective.
As an example, I was scheduled to do a phone consult with a man who thought his grey was having control issues because it screamed when he left the room. From his description, I agreed with his assessment, and this made the video even more illuminating when it arrived. I’d requested footage documenting what the bird did after he left the room, and it was stunning. Instead of supposedly “screaming orders,” that little bird was having the psittacine equivalent of a panic attack: wiggling her wings, making anxious little chirping noises and frantically chewing on one toenail and then another. If I’d based my recommendations on his assessment of the situation, my advice would’ve been woefully incorrect, and I would’ve done the bird and the owner a tremendous disservice.
Capturing The Scene
Requesting videos over the years taught me things that I specifically needed to see, so my video instructions became highly detailed. They were as follows (with the bird’s actual name and sex inserted rather than “your parrot” and “he/she”):
Videotapes are priceless for filling in the blanks about a parrot’s life and environment when working long distance. I especially want to watch your parrot’s body language, so try not to film your parrot against a sunny window during the day, stuff like that. (If you do, all I will see is a silhouette, which is better than nothing if that is all you can get, but I may learn a lot less.) Some cameras have a telephoto lens, which allows you to narrow the focus in on your parrot. That is ideal because then I can really see your parrot. (Telephotos are better than sticking a camera in a parrot’s face.)
If you can’t film your parrot in ideal circumstances, then just do the best you can. Whatever you send will be better than nothing. Just remember that the better I can see your parrot, the better I might be able to understand what is going on with him/her.
Film your parrot’s body language as he/she interacts with you in a variety of circumstances (i.e., eating, playing, snuggling, etc.).
Do the same with anyone else who routinely interacts with your parrot.
Film his/her body language when your parrot is just hanging out in the cage (i.e., eating, playing, etc.), both when you are in the room and when you are not. This part requires a tripod so the camera can run without you there.
Film your parrot’s body language as you interact with important people, like significant others, etc.
Also, please film the view that your parrot can see from his/her cage, panning slowly around the room. Note: Set up the camera at least two to three days prior to filming, so your parrot gets accustomed to its presence. This is extremely important because otherwise he/she won't relax and be him/herself at all.
Film anything else you think might be useful!
Send no more than two hours of tape for me to watch. If you send more than that, I will not have time to watch it all, so might miss something important.
I also firmly recommended that clients make a copy of the tape before sending it to me. I encouraged them to watch their copy after our consult. I made copious notes on videos, noting what I did or did not see on the film. Such observations were often extremely useful to owners when striving to better understand their situation.
Blue Prints & Floor Plans
I also requested sketched floor plans of the room(s) in which the bird stayed, including identifying the locations of windows, doors, skylights, etc., as well as important furniture like sofas, TVs, and other bird cages (if any). I asked them to draw a dotted line for the flow pattern of people walking through the room.
These floor plans helped me visualize the space when watching a client’s video prior to a phone consult. When doing an in-home consult, I left a space on the form for sketching a floor plan. This also assisted my memory when reviewing the paperwork later on.
Videos & House Calls
I have also found videos helpful when dealing with fear issues in house calls. My presence can change a parrot’s behavior dramatically; films made when the bird is comfortable are priceless when evaluating methods for helping severely fearful birds.
Incidentally, videos can be quite useful when trying to understand your own parrot problems. Filming an interaction can provide a lot more than just a different perspective. I can’t number the times clients have said, “I never realized I was doing that! No wonder he didn’t like that!”
In the next installment of this series on parrot-behavior consultations, I’ll discuss how I did in-home and over-the-phone consultations.