A parrot that is eager to step up onto your hand may lean in your direction. It may also lift a foot in anticipation of stepping up. A parrot that doesn’t fly may squat down low on the perch and quiver her wings as she waits for you to come closer. A flighted bird may not wait at all, and instead launch into the air and land on you.
When you know your parrot is ready to step up onto your hand, you can do several things to make it a very enjoyable experience for your bird.
Bring your hand up slow enough to give you time to assess your bird’s body language and to also give your bird time to recognize that you are inviting it to step up. You can frighten a bird or trigger aggressive behavior if you bring your hand up too quickly.
Present your hand slightly higher and in front of the perch. The distance will vary depending on the size of your bird. Parrots prefer to step upward as opposed to horizontally or down; however, you also want the distance the bird needs to extend her leg for the step up to be a comfortable one. For an Amazon parrot, my hand is usually about 1-inch higher than the perch and 1 inch in front of the perch.
Once your bird makes contact with your hand, keep your hand still. Dropping your hand from the weight of the bird can cause your parrot to return to her perch. An unstable hand is not as attractive to your bird as a sturdy perch. You also don’t want to move your hand or lift your bird off the perch when she only has one foot on you.
Give your parrot the time to complete the action of stepping completely onto your hand before taking your bird anywhere. This increases your bird’s confidence and lets your bird know that she is empowered to choose to step up. This helps create a parrot that is more likely to step up in the future.
Positive reinforcement is another important element that can influence your bird’s response to a cue to step up. Be sure to reward (or reinforce) your parrot every single time it steps up. You can reinforce with a food treat, a head scratch, a toy or verbal praise. Determine what your parrot likes, and use that to reward her cooperation.
If your parrot doesn’t step up at all, you can train this behavior, even if your parrot shows fear or aggressive responses toward hands. When training a parrot to step up, keep in mind three key things:
• Avoid forcing your bird at all costs. This is what likely caused your bird to lose trust in hands in the first place.
• Get in the habit of reinforcing your bird for doing things you want.
• Start reinforcing small behaviors that can lead to stepping up.