Sunday, January 6, 2013

Adding a new bird to the house

I received this comment (slightly edited) today:

Today I bought my first Grey. She was once someone's pet, then sold and they attempted to breed her. Now I have her and she's biting the crap out of me. Drawn blood 3 times. I have no idea how to handle this! She lets me feed her- she's gentle at taking food. She lets me pet her head- sometimes- and she's following me around the house and watching me. But when I try to put my hand near her she bites me HARD. I'm being patient and just sitting with her. I put my hand down near the ground and she will come over and because I'm unsure what she's going to do I'll either pull away or just sit there- in which case she bites me. If anyone can give me an insight on what's going on I'd appreciate it. :*( I want her to love me! She seems interested.... doesn't she?

Congratulations on adding a grey to your flock! 

The biggest thing that helps when adding a new bird to your flock, especially one who hasn't had exclusively positive interactions with people, is patience.

Remember that birds are prey animals, and they are not yet domesticated, so they have all of the instincts of truly wild birds.  As prey animals, they constantly worry for their safety.

You mention that you are being patient, and you probably are for a human, but you need to be patient in bird as well!  Many times, we humans want to hurry along our relationships with parrots.  We love them, and they should recognize our good intentions, right?  But if you are putting yourself in the position of getting bit, you need to take a step back and increase your patience.  It's not a race, and taking the time to build a good, solid, trusting relationship now will pay dividends down the road.

Greys are particularly notorious for taking a while to warm up to someone.  Of course, that's a generalization as all parrots are individuals.  But you really need to give her time and space to get used to her new surroundings, evaluate you (to realize you don't intend harm!), and settle in.

Observe her.  Don't stare her down, but notice how she acts when she's comfortable, happy, wary, upset, etc.  Greys can be much harder to read than other parrots (when my caiques are upset about something, even a parrot novice can tell; my grey is much more subtle.)  However, once you know the body language of your particular grey, they are essentially an open book.

Make yourself valuable to her -- talk to her softly, tell her how beautiful she is and how much you love her.  Figure out what her favorite treats are, chop them into tiny pieces, and give them to her frequently.  Perhaps think about starting to clicker train her.  Make sure that you are calm, peaceful, and non-threatening at all times.

It sounds like she knows how to step up; she just doesn't want to right now.  Don't force her!  It is a great sign that she is approaching you already -- she just may not completely trust you and may want to step up, but is afraid of doing so.  You will get there!

After living with these guys for over a decade, I truly believe the secret to happiness with parrots is figuring out ways to make them want to behave in ways that please you.  You can't force them to act in a certain way, so you need to figure out ways to incentivize them to do so.

Remember that life with parrots is truly a marathon, not a sprint.  By biting you, she is telling you that she's unhappy about something.  However, parrots rarely resort to biting as their first method of communication.  She's probably given you a few other signals that she was upset -- figure out what those are and adjust your behavior accordingly.

In the specific case you mentioned, what I would probably do is give her a small treat when she approaches you.  Don't try to make her step up yet.  She doesn't trust you yet, so stepping up is not a reward.  If you reward her (small treat) for coming to you, she will start to associate you with good things and ultimately, stepping up on you will be enough of a reward.  But it's not yet.  It may take weeks or even months.  Patience and consistency are key.

Good luck, and please update on how things go with her!


D. Richard said...

Sounds like the old Mary

Suzanne said...

I second the clicker training, it works miracles. I do think though, since the bites have made them nervous that before trying the step up onto the hand that she perch trains. It might actually put the bird at ease as well.

We don't know what kind of home her original placement was and what behaviors, bad or good, the grey learned there. I would start from scratch and teach/re-teach her everything as if she had not been handled before. This way both human and Parrot learn good habits.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary,

I found your blog while looking for approaches to handling my hormonal caique. Do you know of any dietary options by chance?

The bird's hatch date is 12/19/09, and this year she's been on an extended celebration. I've had her since May '10 or so. "Her" isn't formally confirmed; breeder's guess by feeling the pelvic bones.

Her diet is a variety of fruit/veggies in the morning and access to a grain mix during the day.

Other than a recent plumbing disaster (variety of chemicals used, cutting a drain pipe, etc.), and a family visit during the holidays, no changes to our normal routine. It's been several days of return to normalcy, but aggressive behavior has intensified.

The bird is normally cage-free, with a bull terrier in the house (equally cage-free). Lately, they've been going at each other, with the bird instigating. The bird isn't clipped, and the dog is sufficiently well-behaved, so it hasn't been a concern in the past; however, the bird hasn't been provoking the dog to this degree before. Typically, it's the other way around.

With me, behavior is a roller-coaster. I can tolerate occasional beaking, but a love-bite on the lip from a reach-around lunge off my shoulder that I can't see coming is a bit much.

I grab her following incidents (to prevent further damage - to me) and deposit her in the cage, leaving the room. She then is pretty insistent on calling me back. When I come back, I can see the typical signs of an aggressive posture. If I open the cage and tell her to step up, she will and very shortly attempt to attack.

Any suggestions appreciated.