Ken Globus

The Bird Whisperer

 

 

 

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The Biggest Myth

 

By Ken Globus

You hear it over and over again.  You read it in magazine articles and books by virtually all of the popular behaviorists.  It's repeated in Internet chat rooms, on message boards, and email rings and is echoed at bird club meetings everywhere:  "Never use gloves.  Birds are afraid of gloves."

Oh, yeah, that's right.  Birds ARE afraid of gloves.  But then,  birds are afraid of lots of things.  In fact, they're afraid of anything new.  And yet nearly all the well-known, influential bird experts staunchly forbid the use of gloves.  So, what's the result of their sage advice?  When birds bite,  their owners feel frightened and helpless and back off. 

What's the result?   Your bird bites. Ouch. You back off.  When you approach it again, it is with some hesitation.  Your movements are tentative and jerky.  This makes the bird more nervous, so it bites with more conviction.  "After all," he's thinking, "if that bite got him to go away, I'll do it again."  Now you're even more hesitant to get close to your bird.  So, you back off.  The bird is rewarded with exactly what it wanted - to get you to go away.  The next time, it bites harder. In other words YOU'RE TRAINING YOUR BIRD TO BITE.

I contend that the no-glove rule does more harm to people/bird relationships than any other misinformation.  And it is promoted by virtually all the experts.  With something as important as this, wouldn't you think that  those pushing this theory might have taken the trouble to find out if the rule actually holds up under scrutiny?  Well, I did.  And it doesn't.   

 

 Want to stick a bare finger in here?

 

 

Birth of a Legend

So, where did this pervasive concept, that birds are afraid of gloves, come from? In the days when I first started working with birds they were mostly wild-caught adults.  People believed that because the imported birds had been roughly handled with gloves during capture, transit and quarantine, birds built up a negative association with the bulky hand gear.  It seemed to make sense, since birds recoiled at the sight of them.  But birds aren't wild-caught today and they still recoil from gloves.  Even birds that are hand raised babies.  Why?

Anyone who spends a lot of time around birds soon realizes that birds are afraid of ANYTHING new.  You can change your hair color, put on a hat, new nail polish, introduce a new toy to its cage, and your bird might wig out.  So, rather than there being a negative association with gloves, it's the fact that gloves are something new that scares birds.

 

Get Over It

If using a glove is the only thing that will keep you from being hesitant or backing off, my advice is, use gloves. Birds soon become accustomed to them and in a very short time the gloves can be abandoned.

What if you were Superman?  What if you were invulnerable?  Impervious to pain and injury?  You could tame any bird in the world.  So why do people let fear of pain keep them from taming their birds?   Remove fear from the equation and you're on your way to a tame bird.   Want to be less vulnerable, less frightened?  Wear gloves.  And hold the kryptonite, please. 

When I work with a new bird, the first thing I do is test to see how committed it is to biting.  Only then, if necessary, do I put on gloves for the first minutes of a session. The bird soon realizes that biting is not effective and it stops.  At that time I slip off one glove and continue with one gloved hand and one bare hand. Then the second glove comes off and the bird hardly notices the difference.

Another "F" word

Another benefit of the gloves is to help lower your fear level so you can  remain calm enough to keep your energy low and move your hands in a slow, smooth, fluid way. Birds don't perceive fear as much as they perceive what makes them fearful.  And it is almost totally visual.  The way you move your hands makes all the difference.  So, it doesn't matter how afraid you are; I can have sweat running down my spine, but as long as I'm able to control my energy and movements and project a sense of calmness, the birds respond well.   

So Much Malarkey

So, what would it take to convince you that the glove thing is a myth?  Here's what got me.  Like the majority of my most important realizations about working with birds - and the glove issue is a major one - it is the birds that taught me how to work with them.  And this one came about totally unexpectedly.  I was working with a very aggressive bird, a passionate biter.  I had to wear gloves or I would have been shredded.  I had worked a few minutes on the biting behavior, getting it  to stop biting, then do step ups, etc.  Then I slipped off one of the gloves.  What happened next really surprised  me and it was as clear as a bolt from the blue.  The bird recoiled at the sight of my bare hand!  So, now do we have to say, "Birds are afraid of bare hands!?"  Of course not.  The bird had gotten used to being touched by my gloved hand, but not the bare hand.   It was that something new was added to the mix.  And that same thing has been repeated with many other birds; not every time, but often enough to clearly indicate that birds are afraid of change, not gloves.   Once again, I want to emphasize:  The glove thing is nothing but a myth!

Here's another compelling piece of evidence:  In a bird club program in Salt Lake City I worked with a wild caught adult Orange Wing Amazon.  It apparently had negative experiences with gloves and was more than a little afraid of them.  I didn't need to work with gloves with the bird because it was not biting very hard, but I decided to demonstrate something for the audience to illustrate my point.  When I went near the bird with gloves it squawked and recoiled.  Then I handled the bird with gloves, exposing it to what it was afraid of.  In a few minutes, I handled the bird with one bare hand and one gloved had and it accepted either hand equally as well.  Again and again the birds teach us. 

Empower Yourself

Get gloves that reduce collateral damage,  but are supple; you need to feel what you're doing.  You'll find that what gloves do for your confidence is invaluable.  And having confidence is a big part of being able to lower your energy and help your bird become more comfortable with you.  That's anything but a myth. 

 

 

 

 

 

Glove Me Do

Here's a photo showing Arlene, a Redondo Beach workshop participant , with her African Grey.   Arlene had lived with this bird for years without ever being able to touch him.  After Ken got the bird accepting his touch, he blended Arlene  into the process.  Because she was fearful, Ken had her start with gloves.   After a couple minutes she gained the confidence to remove one glove.   At this point the Grey related the same to the gloved hand and the bare hand.   And, for the first time, Arlene was touching her bird. 

Many photos on this web site show Ken and  others working in various combinations, with gloves, with one gloved hand and one bare hand or with both hands bare.  When you get past the bird's aggressive stage you can blend in the bare hand.  I do this as quickly as possible. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

 

All You Need is Glove 

You can find gloves at your local hardware store.  Ideally, you would want them snug fitting; the more slack, the easier it is for a bird to get a hold of soft tissue.  They should be thick enough to provide  protection yet supple enough for you to feel the pressures of your touch on the bird.  No welder's gloves or oven mitts. A cowhide work glove will do just fine.  Lamb is better.  Goat is the strongest for the thickness. Deerskin is my favorite. It's very flexible and supple, but also a bit expensive. 

When I do workshops, knowing that I may have to handle as many as twenty birds in a weekend, I usually put self-adhesive bandage (also known as vet wrap) on my index fingers.  Great protection. 

Also, when dealing with a bird that repeatedly takes chunks out of my forearms, like the large macaws, I wrap them in Ace bandage (the forearms, not the birds).

 

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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