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Phoenix – Part 3

December 5, 2009


Phoenix 11/20/2009

I have spent much time thinking about this post.  I’m hoping people who have parrots with seeming behavioral problems will find their way to here.    

I begin by stating that I thought I knew everything about parrot behavoir and so bringing in Phoenix would be a simple matter.  I quickly learned that I knew absolutely nothing. 
Phoenix repeatedly lunged at me whenever I walked past his cage.  When I vacuumed around his cage in the evening, he would jump down to the bottom of his cage, and try to ambush me.  Toys frightened him.  “Step Up” was a command he recognized, but only dutifully complied with an unsettling glimmer in his eyes.  Games I played with the other parrots frightened him.  I didn’t know what to do to bring him out of the cloud of fear.
Going onto the Internet, I searched on everything I felt was applicable to our situation.  Abused birds, abused cockatoos, behavioral problems with parrots, and more.  It was then that I found the site, The Polite Parrot – Avian Behavior Consulting.  I sent an email to the website, asking for help.  Michelle Karras, Owner, replied.  After we spoke over the telephone, I began to build a relationship with Phoenix with her help.
My list of mistakes is HUGE!  For instance, I had placed Phoenix’s cage in front of the window, thinking that he would absolutely love that location.  WRONG.  Michelle explained that the cage should be placed in a corner, to help him feel safe.  Remember that parrots are “prey birds,” NOT “birds of prey.”  There is a difference.
Load the cage with toys!  Hm-m-m-m … I had thought that cages should not have lots of toys, thinking that parrots needed the spaces versus things.  WRONG.  Michelle patiently explained that in the wild, parrots hide within the tree leafs.  Give him something to hide behind!  So I did.  (Please see picture gallery in this post, with the comment “Views of Phoenix’s Cage Crammed with Toys.”)
Know when to back off!  Several times I’ve had to pull back and away from Phoenix and simply ignore him.  And I do not mean ignoring his care or needs, but pulling myself away from forcing him to be something he is not.  I do not know, nor will I ever, what has happened in his past.  By backing off, I believe that I release him from my preconceived ideas of what I think he should be.  I can not force myself on him.  This technique seems to be working well.  Within a day, Phoenix again becomes relaxed around me, which helps establish / reestablish our trust in each other. 
OOOH — Phoenix bit me!!  Question from Michelle:  Was he clicking his beak?  Answer:  No.    Casper, the oldest cockatoo, only clicks his beak occasionally when I pet him, and I have always asked him “pet?” before attempting to pet him.  If Casper wants to be touched, he lowers his head.  So, in my defense, I didn’t realize that clicking of beak is an invitation to be touched.  I now only pet Phoenix when he lowers his head AND clicks his beak.
Not all people know what’s best for your parrot – what works with one species will probably not work with another.  This realization came about after I took Phoenix to the avian vet for his initial examination.  I was told, in good faith, about successful behavioral techniques that were used with an abused and discarded African Grey.  And these techniques worked!  And so, thinking again that I NOW had all of the answers, I began trying to implement the techniques that were described to me.  A disaster.  And another call to Michelle!!!    
My greatest discovery, however, is that in order to help shape Phoenix’s behavior, it is my responsibility to recognize the different facets of his behavior and try to understand it.  And to keep in mind that he is different — ALL of my parrots are.  And I must always remember to respect their individuality.    
As an ending note, do not feel embarrassed or disappointed if things are not going well between you and your parrot.  That is why there are QUALIFIED avian behavioral consultants.  And if you do decide to go that route, LISTEN TO WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY!!!  It’s OK not to know everything!  My communication with The Polite Parrot is, beyond a doubt, the best thing I ever did for my relationship with Phoenix.   
Related posts:
Phoenix (Part 1)
Phoenix (Part 2)
Phoenix and His Greatest Lesson:  Forgiveness
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