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Humans of New York & Their Birds

I recently received a notification on Facebook from a dear friend with a link to this post on the Humans of New York page. I saw the picture of the cockatoo and the expression on the woman's face and knew it had to be funny or a tragic tale. I assumed right on both accounts. If you're like me, and you like birds, which I am assuming you are reading, you must; if your friend base finds out that you like birds, they assume it's all birds. I get text messages, emails, and notifications with links about all birds. It's kind of comical, and no matter how often I say, "I like exotic birds," it seems to fall on deaf ears, so now I just go with it.

So I clicked the link, and there was the picture of the woman with an umbrella cockatoo on her forearm, and then I read the comment. It's short, and I just happen to have included it below.

As you can tell, this woman appears to be disgruntled with her living situation, and it appears she looks at it from the angle of obligation and almost a curse. And maybe it is. Some parts concern me more than others, so I knew I had to write about them. Let's dig in.

Firstly, I cannot tell you how much I love that she is wearing a Kool-Aid t-shirt. My 80's inner child is jumping up and down with glee. I agree with not projecting human qualities into your bird or pets. It's called anthropomorphism, and it can be one of the biggest problems when it comes to your pet's behavior, and in the end, you are the culprit. Placing human emotions on your pets and thinking they relate with humans on an emotional level can be dangerous. We must realize our pets don't like to be dressed up, don't like to be paraded around for our validation, and just let them be themselves. Granted, some animals love attention, and it can be an excellent method of enrichment, but that's on a case-by-case basis. It all depends on the animal and its training. As humans, we concentrate on being our "authentic selves," and yet we as humans don't allow the animals around us that luxury. Parrots are NOT domesticated animals. Dogs and Cats have had several more generations to be domesticated; however, parrots are wild animals living amongst us. Some are very sweet and easily trained, and others are clearly, not so much.

Now let's talk about the enormous elephant in the room. In the 35+ years, I have owned parrots, I have never had one bite my ass cheek. If I remember correctly, I had a macaw attempt to bite my shoe when I did a video/tour of Zazu's Parrot Sanctuary about ten years ago. I guess I have never put my ass in that situation either.

While reading this, it sounds like they are dealing with a spoiled umbrella cockatoo who has been catered to and not given boundaries. I am a HUGE fan of showing an animal what you would like them to do with positive reinforcement. My friend, Lara Joseph, who owns the Animal Behavior Center, would be the first person I would call if things started to get out of hand. We owned a grey parrot, Cooper, who was very aggressive with me. The first thing she asked me was, "what are you bringing to the table, and what energy are you bringing into the space?". I never thought about it that way. I was walking on the defensive because I had been bit so many times and was automatically bracing for that to happen again. Cooper was reacting to that energy and anxiety. Because parrots are prey animals, they are on guard and react to their environment and the creatures in said environment. You would never or should never attempt to ride a horse nervous or scared because they will know, and so will your parrot.

When we have "bird owner" guests, they always compliment how clean the house is, how "non-destroyed" the furniture is and how mannerly the birds are. That didn't happen overnight, and that took a lot of work. I explained the birds have their stands and areas and know where they are allowed to go. We don't let them roam around because I have seen what happens to a parrot when they bite through a power cord (a friend's conure). I have also seen what happens to a bird when it starts to chew on lead paint or varnished wood trim work (again, friends' birds). "How do you get them to stay put?" I was asked, " well, we only give them treats in their areas and praise them when they stay put." Does this always work? Not always, I mean, we are dealing with a wild animal. However, if they continue attempting to go on a "walkabout," they return to their cages with no treats. In nature, there is accountability and consequences, and parrots are smart enough to figure them out. The bottom line is you don't have to be mean about it. Remember the old saying, "you can get more flies with honey than vinegar."

It's mentioned the food off of the plate thing. I have known several bird and dog owners who have this issue. It starts cute, then escalates to your dog being overweight, diabetic, and on insulin twice a day. The easiest way I have found to stop this behavior is to feed your pets when you're eating. They enjoy eating with the flock or pack, getting the diet they are supposed to, and no one loses a digit. If your bird continues to steal food off your plate, we need to schedule you for a consultation.

I love New Yorkers' candor and cynicism, and I found this comical and sad. The owner feels trapped, and the bird feels anxiety and acts out for attention or domination. It becomes a vicious cycle, and in the end, no one wins. If your bird is out of control, seriously reach out to a trainer or animal behaviorist and get it under control before your bird bites your ass cheek.

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