Education + Commitment = Reward
by Patty Strother
For those of you anxiously waiting for the day when your new baby parrot comes home, the above three words should be etched firmly in your mind. While everyone dreams of the perfect pet bird, a fluffy joy to be with on a quiet afternoon and the life of the party as you proudly show off its intelligence, these treasured moments don't happen all by themselves. Just like a human child who needs guidance and loving care to grow into a healthy adult, parrots especially need dedicated human guidance in order to thrive and survive in the world of people. Parrots are, after all, flock animals and learn everything from their bird "family". You are their only source for guidance on how to grow up and your role as teacher is critical. (Imagine yourself having to grow up in a tree with parrots!)
Although I'm not an expert by any means, having started with finches five years ago, acquiring Peaches, a lovebird, two years ago and just recently adopting a one-year old cockatiel named Trooper Bob, I have dedicated myself to continuously learning about parrot behavior. I have been able to identify mistakes I made in bringing up Peaches and seen wonderful results from a little work and patience in my short time with Trooper Bob. The differences in these two birds can be attributed mainly to the wealth of information I have received from the folks at The Birdie Boutique. If there is anything I have learned since the beginning of my most gratifying association with them, it's that Education and Commitment are the keys to a long and happy life with your parrot.
First of all, read, read, read, read.... (you get the point). There are many periodicals on companion parrots ranging from beautiful picture-filled magazines to newsletters and books with in-depth articles for breeders. A companion parrot's life is very complex, and every bird owner should take the time to learn about their feathered friend's psychological makeup and how to provide guidance. The best written source by far has to be the Pet Bird Report, Sally Blanchard editor, available at The Birdie Boutique. If you think there isn't much to write about birds except for which food is best and how many toys can one parrot own, then you've got to check this one out. Some of the best articles I have read so far deal with establishing a "nurturing dominance" relationship with your parrot such as "The Psychological Growth of Your Baby Parrot", "Establishing a Routine and Control" and "Spending Time with Your Parrot." This last interesting article distinguishes between direct attention, shared attention, and ambient attention (there is a difference!) and how each can fit into our busy everyday lives. Another must read article deals with "Patterning a Parrot to Accept Change." This article squelches the myths that run from "don't let any change occur in your bird's environment" to "oh, just do it, the bird will just get used to it!" Somewhere in the middle is a solution that allows you to teach your bird to accept new things while developing trust in you and looking to you for assurance that these things are "okay." These lessons are critical to your bird's emotional well-being and your long and happy relationship. Finally, the articles "Quick Fixes and Why They Don't Work" and what to do about "Excessive Screaming" give the reader some comfort in knowing they aren't the only one with a case of the "terrible twos", and there are solutions!
Along with articles, there is the wealth of information you can receive from Missy, Dr. Burkett, and the staff at The Birdie Boutique. These folks believe in quality of life for you and your bird with a capital "Q". I know that everyone who has ever talked to them has experienced that rare feeling these days that someone is actually listening to you and cares about what you and your bird need. Stop by and talk to them, and talk and listen to other parrot owners "playing" in the store. You'll be surprised at how much you have in common, and how much you can learn by sharing experiences, fears and successes!
Once you've decided on a parrot for a pet, and decided to learn something about parrots, don't quit! Keep up your pursuit of information, keep up with the guidance and emotional care of your bird, establish and practice the behaviors you learn about, and question practices that seem unusual to you (everyone has an opinion). Making a commitment to the emotional well-being of your bird is the best gift you can give your feathered pet. Any bird, animal or human child will try its parent's patience but as anyone who has kids should know, you are ultimately in control and what you get out of your relationship with your pet is solely dependent upon what you put into it. Even Peaches who is a spoiled rotten "shoulder bird" is learning the "up" and "down" commands (albeit slowly). Although your life may become so hectic you don't think you even have time for yourself, remember your little buddy is not there by choice, you chose him or her to be there with you. Satisfying your bird's basic emotional needs such as "greetings" and "good byes" (communication to the "flock"), and providing loving attention and guidance will force you to slow down and take a moment for yourself as you think about your relationship with your bird. This brings up the last part of the equation in this article.
This is definitely a two-way street! Not only are rewards something for your bird, like millet sprays and toys to happily munch on, they are emotional morsels for you as the owner to savor. If you take the time to educate yourself on your bird's behavior and commit to the time and efforts needed to develop a trusting relationship, you will be rewarded many, many times over. You will experience that warm glowing feeling when your bird learns its first words or lovingly snuggles against your cheek. You'll see the benefits of your commitment when its hesitant eyes look back up to yours for reassurance as you introduce something new, and when you watch it quietly and contentedly destroy the latest chew-toy you brought home (instead of screaming for attention out of insecurity). You can continue the reward of joy you felt when you picked out your precious little bird and the excitement you'll feel when your little parrot first comes home. The ultimate reward we all hope for is a pet bird that trusts us and is a loving, well-behaved companion. This can be accomplished if you and your parrot learn how. This is what must fuel your efforts, the knowledge that a wonderful relationship with your pet parrot is yours to be had with time and patience, but above all with Education and Commitment.