Thursday, October 1, 2009

Preventing the One Person Parrot

There was a recent discussion on my yahoo group about innate vs. learned behaviors. It seems the two are not so mutually exclusive. There are many behaviors we tend to chalk up to genetics and assume we can never change. But the good news is even these so called hard wired behaviors are often heavily influenced by experience. This is especially important as we work to shape the behavior of our parrots.

Beni the blue throated macaw is a great example. As his photos show, he can be a love……once he gets to know you. Guess who he knows best now? Me. I spend more time with him than anyone. And all those wonderful head scratching sessions, treat fueled training times and fun play encounters make me a special person to Beni. Although I certainly enjoy this, Beni has more important things to do in his future than just be my buddy. Soon he will be teaching others about responsible pet ownership and parrot conservation. This means Beni needs to play nice with others too.

Even though parrots may have a tendency to choose one person as their preferred companion, I know that I can use positive reinforcement training to teach Beni that it is fun to interact with other people as well.

Recently one of the staff members of the Kaytee Learning Center came to visit the baby parrots. This was the perfect opportunity to help both Beni and Wrigley learn that other people are also great fun. John will be the baby parrots primary trainer at Kaytee. I was very pleased to see Wrigley warm up to John right away. Within the first hour he was rolling over onto his back for play sessions and flying to John on cue.

Beni on the other hand was not so sure. He did fly to John that first session, but showed body language that indicated he was not so sure about the situation. One thing that was not helping is if I was in close proximity to Beni. Because Beni can fly, if he saw me, he would often choose to come to me instead of John. While I am flattered all that great training has worked to build a strong relationship with Beni, I really want Beni to respond positively to other people. To help Beni and John succeed, I decided it would be better if I did not interact with Beni for the rest of the visit. Instead John would let Beni out of his cage, and also deliver all treats and toys. And it worked!

Eventually we were able to work up to a session in which Beni enjoyed lots of head scratches from John. The goal was to reduce my value to Beni and increase John’s. It did mean I had to temporarily reduce my interactions with Beni a bit, and let John do more fun things with him.

The good news is even though Beni may want to choose one person as his favorite, we can teach him he doesn’t have too. Everyone is a blast.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009


paige teribery said...

My parrot is still very young, and is always around my parents and I. I'm having a problem training her not to bite and to have fun with my parents as well while I'm not home. What can I do?

Barbara Heidenreich said...

Hi there,
Good for you for wanting to be proactive with your parrot and get a handle on problems early! I am going to refer you to my FAQ page on behavior problems. It has tons of resources to help you with aggressive behavior and also to help you get started training your bird to be interactive with your parents. Here is the link!

dta51 said...

I have a 2 yr old orange winged Amazon who is truly the love of my life! I'm 62 & wanted to purchase him because he was sitting alone in a pet store & seemed desperate for attention! Because of my age, I knew he could be very alone or even homeless before he even reached middle age so I brought my 24 yr old son back to the store with me so he could meet him & agree that he would always have a home with him should something happen to me. So, together we took him home! At first he wouldn't go to anybody but me but with a lot of encouragement during the past year my son & Myakka are the best of friends. I feel so content knowing he'll always have a wonderful home within his own family with someone he knows is crazy about him! I just want to thank you for all the free info you made available for me to make an educated decision about bringing him into our family & how to get him to love my son as much as me! I'm forever grateful!!

Barbara Heidenreich said...

I am so glad you and your son are both able to enjoy this bird. And I love how thoughtful you were before taking the leap. Sounds like you all will add and do add so much to each other lives. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

I have a 20 yr old greenwing. Three yrs ago she started plucking really bad and then started pulling out blood feathers. We did everything we could and our vet finally suggested that we place her in a free flight sanctuary in Fl. She was there for 3 yrs and stopped plucking but never bonded with anyone. I visited her several times and decided to build a aviary myself and bring her home. Because I was worried about her future and my son will take care of her when I am gone. I brought another Blue & Gold with her the same age , my flight is going to be 18x36. When I first came home with them I put them in a 10x10 and they did great, all of a sudden my greenwing wants to kill him. We had to separate them while our flight is being built. I realize my greenwing is doing this because of me, I have trying to work with them and its gotten a little better. I try not to give the B&G attention in front of her. I hope I will be able to put them together after my flight is built, the B&G is a great flyer and my greenwing not so much. someone told me I might have to bring another macaw in the flight and I do have a woman who has one the same age of mine that she is begging me to take. Would love to get some feedback on this problem if anyone could help. Thanks

Barbara Heidenreich said...


In general macaws dont live in a groups of 3 unless they are a family group. So a third bird may not help the situation. Two of the three will likely buddy up and one will be the odd man out. Being that there is alot of factors to consider you might want a private consult with Pamela Clark to develop a detailed plan. Her website is
Best to you and your birds.

Unknown said...

I just got a hand raised baby hahns macaw a month ago and she is wonderful. I paln on getting some of your books but for now I would like a few tips on a couple of things. I saw how you took the time to answer all these questions. Ive been watching uoir videos for the past 3 hours. Lol. I think you are an awesome hearted person and probably love the lord also. You already have answered so many questions through your videos. I want my macaw to roll on her back, I feel tho I have already messed up bad. I got her used to being held like a drinking glass with two hands and I very gently turned her over and she did not like it. But I was thinking, I am the boss and she has to do it. I gave her some time and tried it a couple more times. I started looking up what I was doing wrong due to my fingers being sore and her now not trusting me like shee used to. I feel horihorrible and I hope I havent ruined our relationship. How do I get her to want to roll over. She is playful in her cage but while im holding her, we only spend our time with me rubbing her and stepping up and flying to me on command. I feel I am now truly understanding the the positive reinforcement only. Ive used scary objects to keep her from flying at me when I didnt tell her too. You have helped me see that I was being kinda mean and if I dont change now, she might stop being so darn sweet and patient with me. Thank you very much.

Barbara Heidenreich said...

Lots more resources for various behavior problems here and also check out the recordings of webinars on a number of popular topics.

Unknown said...

I rescued a YNA, she was obviously abused, and severely neglected. It's taken months for me to gain her trust. The problem is, she only likes me. If anyone comes close to me while she's with me, she will fly to them and attack. For some reason, she hates my husband. I had to clip her wings, because she for no reason would fly to my husband and bite him, naming her beak into his flesh. Every time she sees him, her tail fans, and her neck feathers stand on end, and her eyes pin. I would like to have her interact with him, but she won't have anything to do with him. It could be maybe he looks like someone who abused her. JOJO is 10 yrs old. So in order for me to keep her, I have to cage her when he's home, cause she will jump off her cage trying to get him.
Any ideas to help.

Barbara Heidenreich said...

Since this blog post was written I have created a really nice webinar on this topic. It is about two hours long and is very comprehensive with step by step instructions and video clips to help you prevent (or fix) a bird from being in a reproductive state and bonding to one person. If that is not enough to help you address the problems, there is also a webinar recording on aggressive behavior. Both can be found here Those should help get you on track.