Author: Peter Wilson, Avian Vet

When you take on the responsibility of owning a parrot, it is like adopting a child. This is especially true with the larger parrots. They are long lived and if their needs are fulfilled they will be with the family for a long time. Some parrots will outlive their owners and provision needs to be made for them in case of death.

Just like children, parrots grow and mature. They do not remain as cute hand-raised babies. They have the intelligence of 3 to 5 year old children and need to be treated in a similar way. As owners, it is our responsibility to make sure their nutritional needs are met. We also have to consider their environment. Is it safe? Most importantly, we need to consider their psychological needs. It is our responsibility to teach them manners and to socialize them well.

Birds are flock animals. They have an instinct to get to the top of the pecking order as soon as possible. In the wild, the older, wiser birds in the flock teach them manners and socialize them and keep them in their place. In the family, the humans become their flock and it is our responsibility to teach them to fit into the family pecking order. Just as we have to teach our children their manners and discipline them, we need to do this with our parrots. A spoilt parrot who rules the roost is not happy and nor is the human family. Parrots that are untrained are demanding, destructive and noisy. To build a rewarding relationship with your bird you need to understand their psychological needs and work to fulfil these. You cannot use cruelty in bird training. You need to positively re-enforce acceptable behaviour and ignore unacceptable behaviour. You need patience and understanding.

Birds like a routine. Fit the training sessions in to suit your routine. It is usually best to train birds when you are relaxed and not stressed. Birds are experts at reading body language. They will pick up on any tension in you. Only continue for short periods of time. When the bird loses interest, give him time out
You must learn to give dominant signals to the bird. If a bird knows you are scared, he will pick up on it and press his advantage. You must project confidence. This is especially true with handling the bird. Birds like to explore new things and people with their beak. Allow the bird to nibble your fist and gradually get him used to you stroking his beak.

The aim of training sessions is to teach your bird that you are the older wiser bird and to teach him to fit in comfortably with his human flock. All members of the family must be consistent in their handling and training of the bird. A happy bird accepts other people and doesnt become inappropriately bonded with one person. The aim of training is to create and independent bird rather than a co-dependant one.

One last thing to consider. Birds are flock animals and it is not natural for them to live alone. Birds will mature sexually and need an outlet for their sexuality. This is another reason for having a pair of birds rather than a single pet bird. Pairs of birds can interact with each other when the owners are away at work and dont get lonely. Instead of having one loving and well-trained bird, you now have two.