Thursday, September 11, 2014

5 Myths about Parrot Behavior

When you are learning about parrots, it is often quite natural to turn to the internet for information. Chat groups in particular often have people who are very happy to talk about parrots and offer advice.  Sometimes the advice can be based on old information or even old wives tales. Try to be a critical thinker when obtaining advice from the internet. Check with experts you trust to make sure what you are reading is accurate. Here are a few myths that I often see pop up on the internet frequently.

Myth #1: Your parrot needs to obey you.
This concept has been around for a long time. While it is understandable we would all like a well behaved parrot that does what we ask, the word “obey” seems to imply something a bit more forceful. Most people tend to interpret this to mean that they must make the bird comply, especially when he or she is refusing to cooperate. This often leads to people doing things like forcing birds to step up onto hands or go back into cages. Over time what can happen is the bird learns to be afraid of people or may start to show aggressive behavior. The good news is you can train your parrot using positive reinforcement to do whatever you ask when you want. This approach leads to a bird that eagerly cooperates and is very well-behaved. You don’t have to be his boss, you can be his buddy.

Myth #2: Your parrot thinks he is dominant if he is higher than your shoulder.
This idea probably started because someone could not get a bird to step up or cooperate when the parrot was sitting up on a high perch. Believe or not Myth #1 probably helped cause Myth #2. Parrots like sitting on high perches. If you try to force them down, they often move away or try to bite. This may seem like the bird thinks he is dominant, but in reality he just likes his high perch much better than he likes the hand that is coming at him in a forceful way. If your bird is trained to voluntarily come to your hand for a treat or reward he will step up or fly right down to your hand even when he is on a high perch. That is because he learned many wonderful things happen, like treats, toys and attention when he gets on a hand.

Myth #3: Parrots are competing with you when you talk on the phone or have company over.
Many people know that parrots tend to scream for attention when left alone. But what about the bird that screams when you are on the phone or have friends over? I have heard many people say the bird is seeking attention or competing with the owner when this happens. What happens next? People talk louder….and the bird gets louder! What is actually going on is that the bird is being a good flock mate. The loud talking humans means it is time for the flock to make some noise and the parrot is just joining in on the fun. That is why when people get louder, the bird gets louder. Once everyone gets quiet the bird will too.  If you need your parrot to be quiet when people are talking you can offer him a super fun toy right before you intend to have a conversation or spend time training him that quiet activities will get reinforced when people are talking.

Myth #4: A parrot behavior problem is just a phase.
Many people have young parrots that are cuddly and easy to handle. Then around 1 to 2 years old the birds starts to show aggressive behavior. People often label this time as the terrible twos and hope the bird will just grow out of it. Unfortunately that is not the case. Young birds are easy to handle because they are in a phase of development that makes them open and receptive to new experiences. We can often get away with being forceful with young birds. But as they mature and that window of openness goes away and they start objecting to the same type of handling they would allow as youngsters. The best strategy is to never use force to begin with. Even if a parrot will allow it, it doesn’t mean you should. Always let your bird choose to participate and reward with desired goodies when he does. This should be carried on throughout the lifetime of the bird. Do this and you will have good behavior from your parrot for his entire life.

Myth #5: You just have to accept that parrots will be “hormonal” certain times of the year.
Hormonal typically means the parrot is in the mood to breed and have babies. This state means the bird has extra reproductive hormones in its body. Besides wanting to make babies this can cause other problems like aggressive behavior, or egg binding. Unless your want your bird to breed, your parrot does not need to be “hormonal.” Most parrots are not ready to breed all year long. Certain environmental triggers cause them to produce more reproductive hormones. These include extra daylight hours, an over abundant diet rich in fats, sugars and carbohydrates, having  a mate like bond with another bird or human, and having access to a nest like cavity. So to avoid an increase in reproductive hormones we can make sure the amount of daylight the bird experiences stays the same throughout the year. We can also monitor the diet and make sure the content and amount is appropriate. We can avoid reinforcing courtship behaviors like regurgitation. Instead we can interact with our parrots in healthier ways, like training fun tricks. And we can take out any toys that look like nest boxes and also block off access to any similar hiding places in the house. These tips will help prevent your bird from going “hormonal.”

These are just a few myths about parrots. If you ever read something about parrots that sounds a bit strange to you, do a little extra research and you’ll discover the truth about our feathered friends.

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


Unknown said...

How about the myth "you need to get your bird a mate" to solve behavior problems. Then the person usually just ends up with two birds with problems as it doesn't address anything besides social company.

Anonymous said...

Probably one of the best articles i've ever read on parrots. Simple, to the point and is so true

brendaf1964 said...

Excellent read and very true!! Definitely sharing with all my bird friends!