After more than 30 years of professional work experience with companion birds and their people, I have seen a number of changing trends, from the importation of wild birds to the cessation of that practice and the rise of domestically bred birds. Unfortunately, many people have purchased birds without awareness of or regard to their long life spans. The current trend is that birds are outliving owners or outgrowing their primary living situations. Some owners have kindly adopted birds for whom previous owners no longer had the time, while others received avian companions from family members who died or could no longer keep their birds. The following reader has a concern for the safety of both her child and her bird.
“I have three birds. One of them, my Amazon, is not getting enough time outside of his cage. I can’t leave him out with the conure or the budgie (which has a cage in a separate room). Now my daughter, who is 3, is quite exploratory, so when Paco is out, it’s dangerous for both of them.
I’m Paco’s third home. He’s not always the friendliest bird, which means that I can’t have my husband handle him either. I’m finding less and less time to spend with him and feeling quite guilty. I want him to have the best home, and someone should really be working with him on training, etc. Should I start looking for another home for him?”
Birds usually accept a variety of changes, provided that they are comfortable. My husband’s daughters were 3 and 5 when I entered their lives, bringing 12 birds, a Rottweiler, a Chihuahua, two iguanas and a cat. We took care to keep everyone separated until the youngest child was 4 or 5 and understood what we were saying and, consequently, why tangling with an irate macaw might not be a good idea. By that time, she had learned to cuddle with both dogs, an African grey and a 5-foot-long iguana.
Too Many Homes?
In your case, one of my concerns is that your bird has been in three homes. I am a strong advocate for adopting re-homed birds and have several of my own. I have found, however, that each time a bird enters a new environment, it takes longer for the bird to trust people again, even when the next home offers plenty of enrichment. It’s harder if the bird is currently in a good home but is not a social individual, because a new home presents the bird with a new set of expectations. In your situation, another home probably is not the ideal choice for this bird, unless you have a personal knowledge of his next owner and can keep track of the bird for the first year.
In the April 2006 issue of BIRD TALK, I shared several ways to manage small children and birds. Utilize those suggestions, and remember that you still are in the “tired new mommy” stage of life. Within a relatively short time, your child will be old enough to understand that the bird is not to be touched. She will accept that rule, provided that you make it clear to her.
On the other hand, your bird might never socialize exactly the way that you would like. This is often true of birds that were wild-caught or not properly socialized in their youth. Although training or behavior modification can improve the relationship with these particular birds, they always might be a bit moody.
In this type of situation, I suggest buying the bird an extra large cage and offering lots of toys and fun foods. A large cage can offer as much space as a bird has outside the cage sitting on a perch or a gym, especially if toys are available for swinging and climbing.
Place the cage, surrounded by a corral, in a room where the family spends its quality time so the bird can continue being a family member without being forced to interact when he does not feel like it. When you have the time and he is in a friendly mood, you can take him out of his cage and interact with him. If the bird appears happier when not being handled, accept that and simply enjoy him. This takes the pressure off him and his people.
Repeated friendly interactions reinforce a positive relationship and are more important than simple out-of-cage time. If your bird has plenty of room inside the cage and receives attention only when he is in a good mood, you will reinforce all positive behaviors instead of both positive and negative ones, as it is now. Reinforcement can go a long way in encouraging your bird to become friendlier over time.
If he remains your grumpy little guy, love him the way he is, and see what happens. I’ve seen amazing results with simple love and time. Frankly, considering the age of your child and the temperament of your bird, I think that there is hope for this relationship! Please keep us posted on your progress.
Before relinquishing a bird, consider this: Birds that are grouchy or not funny, that don’t speak or that don’t like everyone handling them often can be the most charming companions. After adopting a bird with a questionable background, allow things to happen over time, even years if necessary. Find out who the bird is, without wanting the bird to be anyone but who he is.
Be creative when working with your bird. Remember: The bird doesn’t have to be handled by everyone. Don’t handle him when he’s grumpy. Work slowly and within the bird’s boundaries. This removes the pressure of guilt or anger, both of which can damage your relationship with your bird.
Allow time to heal the bird’s heart and his lack of trust from past relationships. This method maximizes the possibility of a wonderful relationship.
Keeping a bird, or any living creature, is a great responsibility, and we owe our pets love and proper care. If, however, you begin to dislike the bird, grow tired of it or are angry with it, then it is time to find it another home.
Take the time to find it a good home, or place it with a reputable person or agency that will help you find it a home. Also, donate money, time or needed materials to that agency to help it cover the cost of keeping these long-lived creatures.
About The Author
Chris Davis pioneered the field of avian behavior in 1974, while working at the animal actors studio at Universal Studios and the bird show at Lion Country Safari. She has lectured worldwide to avian veterinary groups and bird clubs and has chapters published in six veterinary text and reference books.