Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How to Touch a Parrot

Isn’t it fun to pet your dog or your cat? Most of our pets usually liked to be stroked from the top of their heads down towards their tails. Have you ever tried that with a parrot? If you have, you may have noticed the experience was not quite the same. Your dog or cat may respond by cuddling up closer, rolling over for a belly rub or relaxing and falling asleep. Usually when we touch a parrot in this manner the bird either tries to escape, bite or just tolerates our touch.

Does this mean we can’t touch our parrots? Fortunately for us, parrots usually do like to be touched. But the way they liked to be touched is just a bit different from the other pets in our home. The next time you have the opportunity to touch a parrot try the following tips.

 Touch on the Head
Try to avoid touching your parrot on the back, wings or tail. Most parrots prefer to be touched on the head. This is similar to how many parrots interact with each other in the wild. Because parrots can’t reach to preen the feathers on their own heads, they often appreciate the help of a friend for this job. When touching your bird’s head you may encounter something that feels like a little plastic tube. This is a new feather. When the feather is still growing it can be sensitive to touch. But once it has finished growing the last step is for the keratin wrapping to come off. You can help by pinching this “pin feather” in between your nails or fingertips. This will cause the wrapping to break away and expose the new feather. If the feather is still growing and not ready to be unwrapped, your parrot will let you know with a little squawk.

Stroke Head Feathers towards the Beak
Instead of petting from the beak towards the back of the bird, use your fingers to stroke the feathers towards the beak. A parrot who is really enjoying this will fluff up all his head feathers. Many times the bird will tuck his beak into his chest and close his eyes. When you see this body language you will know your parrot is really enjoying being touched.

Move Slowly
Bring your hand up to your bird’s head slowly. This will give you time to look at how he is responding. If he is moving away from your hand, he may not be in the mood to be touched. Come back and try again later when he is more receptive.

Look for a Relaxed Parrot
Many parrots are very receptive to touch right before they are ready to take a nap or go to sleep. Slowly move your hand towards his head and offer a nice head scratch when your parrot looks ready for a snooze.

Teach a Signal that Means Touch
Teach your parrot a signal that means you would like to touch him. An easy way to do this is to wiggle your fingers a little bit right before you reach to touch his head. Your bird will quickly learn that wiggling fingers means the opportunity exists to get a head scratch. Over time your parrot will lower his head and fluff his feathers when he sees you wiggle your fingers. That will be his way of saying to you “Yes! I would like a head scratch. Thank you for offering.”

Once your bird realizes you know the right way to touch a parrot, you may find your bird is open to being touched on other parts of his body. This can make it easier to train your bird to allow you to trim histoenails, stretch out his wings and even train him to wear a harness. It can be a very wonderful feeling when your bird trusts you enough to let you touch him. Try these tips with the parrots you meet and you will find you will have many new bird friends.

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc (www.GoodBirdInc.com) provides parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos. 

Barbara Heidenreich
For more information on how to train your parrot visit Good Bird Inc  
Barbara's Force Free Animal Training www.BarbarasFFAT.com
Copyright 2014  First appears in Fledglings Magazine by The Parrot Society of Australia


gohopdrummer said...

My Amazon, Bert, lets me know when he wants "scritches". He sits on my shoulder (usually while I'm trying to work) and rubs the top of his head against my neck and pauses. No action, and he tries again--and again, and again...

I can't get the sheaths off his pin feathers--ever. He's too sensitive. We had a cocktiel. He would let us de-sheath a bazillion pins per day, until we got bored.

Anonymous said...

My maroon-bellied parakeet (Pyrrhura frontalis) will not let me touch its head but doesn't mind being playfully (ie gently) pulled by the tail or scratched under wings. But she also loves the sound of a vacuum cleaner, etc, so I ma not surprised that she is a bit different that the rest ;)

Barbara Heidenreich said...

Many parrots do enjoy the sound of the vacuum :) Some even find it to be a trigger to want to take a bath, Birds that dont want their heads touched are sometimes uncomfortable with the hand approaching their head. This can be trained by slowly moving the hand towards the head and pairing it with food treats. It is important though to never move close enough to cause a fear response. Over time you will be able to get close enough to make contact if done correctly. You then barely touch a head feather and pair this with treats. Gradually add more touching paired with treats. Eventually once the touch has progressed to stroking the feathers toward the beak the parrot usually responds the pleasure of the touch. All this takes excellent sensitivity to bird body language so that one never evokes a fear response to be successful.

Unknown said...

I would have had my parrot a year in April. He will fly to my arm for food but I haven't been able to touch him at all yet. He bites me when I get near, even if I distract him with food!! Any help/ideas would be grateful.... Thanks

Barbara Heidenreich said...

@tomgirl I am actually giving a live webinar On 2/17/2018 on how to address biting and aggressive behavior. I would highly recommend you check that out. It is very comprehensive and will help you get on track with you better. I find that platform a much better way to give people the tools than need to actually get resolution to the problems they are facing with their animals. You can register here https://barbarasffat.com/events/