Monday, May 3, 2010

Still more on severe macaws

I recently received another question/comment on my post from last year on severe macaws. Instead of responding in the comments, I decided to make another post:

Ren wrote:
I recently bought a severe, and she seemed to take liking to me, but still infact bites me. She has never attacked me like she has my other family members. Is there anyway of breaking this habit? Biting/Attacking?

Figured, I might as well give you an example. I was sitting on the couch, and Severe was on my knee, and my mom was sitting on the floor watching TV, my macaw climbs down from my knee, climbs off the couch, runs over, and attacks my mom. There was no teasing or threatening what-so-ever. She also lunged off the couch and bit my moms hip as well. Were trying to develope a way for her to go to anyone w/out biting or attacking. We've only had her for about a week, and I know that's not long, but, I've been reading nothing but negative things about "Severe's" and its worrying me. Will she be able to become a family bird? She's 10 yrs. old btw.
Hi Ren. If you read the entire post I made last year, you will see that the examples you've given of your severe are similar to experiences that I have had with Rocky, and that others in the comments have posted about.

When I wrote the post, I had never met or heard of anyone that had a severe macaw that was tame to more than one person in the house. In the comments, however, two people said that they had a severe who was tame to more than one person, though both commenters basically agreed with what I wrote, and made some kind of qualification about their severe being tame to more than one person.

Of course, as always, let me say that we're talking about wild animals with individual personalities. Also, I am not clairvoyant. Therefore, my comments are based on my experiences with my own severe macaw, as well as my experiences as a volunteer at a parrot rescue for the past 6 years. Your mileage may vary. Also, you may find it helpful to read this post, which has some other ideas.

My answer to your query on "Will she be able to become a family bird?" is a qualified yes. If you, and your entire family, are willing to put in the work, she can be a part of the family. However, this will most likely involve you and your family readjusting your expectations of her.

Most severe macaws will bond closely to one person. So far, it seems like you're the one she's chosen; however, you are still in the early phase of what is often called the honeymoon period, so this could change. This is the first few days/weeks/sometimes even months when a parrot is on his/her best behavior. They are prey animals. As such, they need to understand their environment so that they know what their place is, and how to stay alive. During this time, parrots are like little sponges, soaking everything up. Once they become more comfortable, and realize that they aren't about to get eaten, they start showing their true personalities.

I would strongly recommend that you stick train your macaw. This makes it possible for everyone in the house to transport her safely, and to protect themselves from her should she decide to attack. In our house, we use wooden dowels. I have three of them, and when Rocky is out of his cage, I always have one within a few feet of me. I will take some videos of Rocky on his stick tonight and post them tomorrow.

One good thing about severe macaws is that they are very expressive, and their body language is quite easy to read. They are giving off so many signals that they're about to bite/attack, so it's easy to pick up on them and avoid getting bit. Besides the fact that getting bit is unpleasant, you want to avoid biting because every time she bites, she becomes a better biter, and that is one skill you don't want her to perfect!

If she has her wings spread out, or the feathers on top of her head raised, or she's pinning her eyes, you're risking a bite by putting your body near her. Even Thomas, who is half-macaw and Rocky's perceived mate, uses a stick with him when Rocky's agitated, or he risks a bite.

From what you've written, she's definitely not trustworthy around your mom. Are there just the two of you in the house? Right now, while she's working on her relationship with your mom, she needs to not be allowed to bite her. Don't give her the opportunity. You and your mom need to know where she is at all times, and make sure that your mom stays out of biting range. And you really want to be proactive rather than reactive. If your severe macaw climbs down to the floor to get your mom and she jumps up and runs away, well, you've just created a fun game that the macaw may want to play again in the future, making your problem worse!

In this case, perhaps your mom needs to sit on a chair with her legs up while your severe is out, and you try your best to keep her near you and not wandering around the floor. Arrange the environment so your macaw can't bite her. Also, if you stick train your macaw, your mom can keep a stick near her as protection.

In the second case, maybe your mom needs to give a wider berth to the couch, out of lunging range.

Rocky would bite me every day, several times a day, if given the chance. Despite that, I haven't been bit in years. I am always aware of where he is. He is well stick trained, and I keep a stick with me, always. If he runs over to attack (which he still will do occasionally), I either have him step up or block him with the stick. He loves to hide and jump out at me. I do not enter a room unless I know where he is.

Another important thing is that the favored person not encourage this behavior. If Thomas were to laugh or praise Rocky for attacking me, it would make it harder to stop. Thomas makes it clear to Rocky that he is not allowed to attack me, by giving him a stern "No" or putting him in his cage if he's too worked up.

Rocky and I have a much different relationship than Thomas and Rocky do, or than that which I have with my other parrots. I wish that I could handle Rocky -- have him step up on my hand, scratch his head, flip him upside down -- things that Thomas does with him and things that I do with severe macaws at the rescue where I volunteer. But Rocky doesn't want that kind of relationship with me, and most severe macaws only want that kind of relationship with one person.

It is very frustrating to live with a parrot who's made it clear they don't want you around. Will your family be OK with a bird that they have to remain on high alert around? For me, it's worth it. He and Thomas have such an amazing bond, and Rocky makes me laugh every single day. I'm willing to put up with the inconvenience of carrying a stick around and knowing where he is before I enter a room. However, it's understandable that many people would not be willing to put up with this. Since your macaw is only 10 years old, there's a very good chance that you could have her around for the next 30 years or longer. That's a long time.

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