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Be Soothing, not Scary: 8 Tips on Making Friends With a Parrot

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If you are a fan of parrots, you look forward to those moments when you get to make a new parrot friend. While some dogs or cats may respond to a new person right away, birds can sometimes show escape and avoidance behaviors when meeting a stranger, and require a little extra effort on our part. Here are some Fear Free things you can do to help them be more comfortable when you are getting to know them.

  1. Give the bird space: Although it is tempting, try not to go right up to a bird. Give him some time to get used to you being in the same room. Once he is looking relaxed and comfortable you can move a bit closer.
  2. Speak softly: Many parrots respond to our loud voices by getting louder. Parrots can go from calm to highly aroused when we get animated, which can create conditions in which aggressive behavior is more likely to occur.
  3. Move slowly: Birds tend to show fear responses when people move too quickly. You don’t want to scare your soon-to-be new friend.
  4. Approach from the front: Be sure to approach the parrot so that he can easily see you coming. Many birds don’t like it when someone is moving behind them.
  5. Show him something special: Before walking closer to a parrot, it is a good idea to have some preferred food items, small parrot toys, or other desired item with you. Ask people who know the bird what he likes best. Show the bird what you have to give him before you get too close.
  6. Watch his body language: When you show the parrot the special treat or item you have for him, watch how the bird responds. If he leans toward you, he is saying he would very much like to accept your gift. If he leans away, he might be saying he is not sure he is ready to make friends right now.  If he is not ready, you can always try again later.
  7. Offer him the special item: If the parrot leans forward and reaches his beak toward what you have to offer, you can move closer and give him what you have. Whenever you offer a preferred food item or toy to a parrot for the first time, try to present it so the bird has to lean forward to take it with his beak. This way you don’t have to get too close to the bird’s beak, and you can be extra-sure the bird is ready for the item. Sometimes when we get too close or offer the item too fast, a bird might respond by biting.
  8. Offer more items: If the parrot takes the first food item or toy and is receptive, he might look or lean toward you for another one. If he does, that is an invitation to really start getting to know each other. Continue to offer him the desired items. This will cause your new parrot friend to look forward to your visits. 

Once a parrot understands that desired interactions occur when you visit, you will begin to notice more affiliative responses. He might be eager to step onto your hand. He might even talk or sing to see if he can encourage you to come closer to gain desired outcomes. As the bird’s comfort increases, he might even let you stroke the feathers on his head. This can be a good sign that you were very careful not to evoke fear responses and have done a good job building desired engagement.

Making friends with a parrot sometimes takes a little extra effort. But it is a very special compliment when a parrot accepts you as a friend. Pay close attention to your actions when you are meeting a parrot for the first time, offer him preferred food items and fun toys. Soon you will find yourself surrounded by many new feathered friends.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Barbara Heidenreich is an animal training consultant specializing in exotic animals. She consults worldwide working with zoos, universities, veterinary professionals, and conservation projects. She has worked onsite with over 80 facilities in 27 countries. She is an adjunct instructor at Texas A & M University. She has authored two books and contributed to four veterinary textbooks. She is a coauthor of two Fear Free® Avian Certification Courses. Much of her work focuses on training exotic species to cooperate in medical care. Barbara is an advisor for the Animal Training Working Group and the Parrot Taxon Advisory Group for the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She has provided her expertise to conservation projects The Kakapo Recovery Program and The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Her goal is to leave behind a legacy of kindness to animals by sharing her expertise.

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