Ken Globus

The Bird Whisperer

 

 

 

Home Up Testimonials Services Past Events Articles Taming Tips Watch Video Photo Gallery Contact Us Links

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

original article on Parrot Chronicles web site:  Parrot Chronicles Article

 

 




"KEN, YOU'RE GREAT!"

The man standing before us did not have time to acknowledge the compliment. He was too busy petting a parrot. He worked his fingers into the feathers on the bird's head. The macaw, perched on a T-stand, half closed his eyes. The fingers massaged. The feathers stood up. Oh yeah, this bird was into it.

Ken Globus

The Bird Whisperer aka Ken Globus has stirred controversy with his hands-on approach to bird training.

So were we.

Five minutes earlier, the same bird, an enormous blue-and-gold bruiser named Jupiter, had wanted to make mincemeat out of his admirer, trainer Ken Globus. As aggressive as he was beautiful, Jupiter had telegraphed all the signs of a bad bite coming. He flared his wings. He bobbed his head. He lunged, beak open.

Now, after a few waves of Globus's hand, Jupiter was a love bug.

"Wow," a woman near me exclaimed under her breath as we watched Globus work his mojo. "Awwww," several other audience members said softly. Apparently, Globus had tapped into some part of Jupiter that craved love.

"You rat!" Jupiter's owner, Irish Waters, muttered jokingly - at Jupiter, not Globus. Jupiter had never allowed his mistress to touch him, not like this. Now Waters was watching Globus pet Jupiter on the head, stroke his body, even plant a kiss on the bird's face. Globus, a stranger, had pulled off what Waters thought impossible. And he had done it in about five minutes.

The Bird Whisperer
Turning belligerent birds into love sponges is all in a day's work for Globus, aka The Bird Whisperer. The same day he made friends with Jupiter, Globus calmed seven other birds brought by their owners to a bird-taming workshop in Columbia, Calif.

Globus says he can gentle just about any bird in minutes. We came to see if it was true. For the most part, it was.

Not everyone appreciates Globus' way with birds. He has detractors, mostly on the Internet, who use strong words to describe his techniques: cruel, abusive, manhandling.

Headbutt

To begin a session with Jupiter, an unfriendly blue-and-gold macaw, Globus offers his head to "absorb the aggression".

It's true Globus does not pussyfoot around. Comparing bird taming to helping people overcome phobias, he says, "People avoid doing all the things that make birds uncomfortable. I do just the opposite."

Unlike other trainers, who reward correct behavior with gently proferred treats, Globus tackles birds' fear of humans head-on. If they won't step onto his hand, he extracts them protesting from their cages. If they try to leap away, he grabs a leg and doesn't let go. If Globus thinks he will be bitten, he wears gloves.

The direct approach is kinder in the end, says Globus. "Some of these birds can spend weeks, months, even years living in fear of their owners."

Why are they afraid? Birds' natural instincts simply do not mesh well in domestic situations, says the Bird Whisperer. "Owners make their birds nervous, when all they really want to do is love that thing. The birds bite. It snowballs, and the bird and the owner build on each other's fears."

"I could wind up looking bad"
Clearly, Globus is not your standard-issue modern-day bird behaviorist. Not only is he unapologetically hands-on, the former actor and part-time screenwriter is a bit of a showman, too. There's the name, of course, a not-so-subtle capitalization on the movie title, The Horse Whisperer. Globus' also gives his training techniques catchy names: "bubble of fear," "crystal ball," and "ear swipe," among others.

Jupiter and Ken

Jupiter reacts badly - at first - to the "crystal ball" maneuver.

Globus asks workshop participants to bring their most difficult birds, which he meets for the first time at the event. Working without a net, as he calls it, is a dramatic way to show off his skills - and a time-honored show-biz tactic for building suspense. "It's risky," he admits. "I could wind up looking bad."

Usually, Globus winds up looking good. People call him a miracle worker and compare his demonstrations to magic acts. For the Columbia workshop, some attendees drove for over three hours to bring their parrots to Globus, like modern-day pilgrims hoping this new holy man of bird taming could lay hands on their pets and make them loveable again.

For some, it all adds up to a tantalizing image of healer, a pied piper for the psittacine set. For others, Globus' direct approach alone is ample reason to attack him. "I am sure there is a little special place in hell for those who do such things," went one unforgiving post on an Internet message board.

Owners make their birds nervous. The birds bite. It snowballs and they build on each other's fears.

Globus is used to being pilloried by people who have never watched him work. "People think Iím macho and mean," says Globus, who has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times and on several TV news shows, including Inside Edition. "I do what I do because itís the best way to help these birds."

Pleased to meet you

With opinions about him so divided, I wanted to see Globus for myself. So I decided to catch his Sept. 14 appearance in Columbia, which had been arranged by the Gold Country Avicultural Society, a small bird club in nearby Sonora, Calif.

When I pulled into the dusty parking lot of St. Angelo's meeting hall at 7:30 a.m., I immediately recognized Globus from the pictures on his Web site, www.thebirdwhisperer.com.

Rather than the horns and forked tail I half expected after reading some of the less-than-glowing Internet posts about Globus, I saw a pleasant-looking bespectacled man in khaki shorts, black t-shirt and sneakers. He looked a bit lost. "Are you Chris?" the Bird Whisperer asked hopefully, confusing me with his hostess for the event.

Jupiter and Ken

Globus demonstrates how palming a bird's beak protects from bites.

Hollywood connections notwithstanding, the Bird Whisperer travels modestly. To reach this gig, his seventh workshop so far, Globus had flown into the Sacramento International Airport the day before, rented a car and driven 2 1/2 hours before checking into the Fallon Theatre & Hotel, a Columbia bed and breakfast. This morning, he had walked from the nearby hotel to the meeting hall.

Globus and I had already talked for a couple of hours on the phone. We chatted for a few more minutes before the first bird-taming demonstration of the day was scheduled to begin.

In person, Globus exudes normalcy with a twist of self-deprecating humor. He calls himself the Bird Whisperer not as a form of self-aggrandizement, but because it's what his first client, a family friend, dubbed him after he tamed her feisty eclectus.

Improved "a thousand percent"

That first session, in 2000, took a little over an hour. "My techniques were not polished then," says Globus. "In the last two years I've improved a thousand percent."

Globus bases his taming techniques on practical experience gained at his parents' pet store, Jobil Exotic Fish and Birds in Inglewood, Calif., where he worked for most of the 1980s. That's where he says he discovered that simply handling birds was the best way to gain their trust - even if the initial contact was stressful.

Taming three wild-caught umbrella cockatoos purchased for the store in 1979, he "took one out to groom it, which required subduing it. I put it back in its cage and waited on customers for awhile. When I went back, the two birds I had not groomed were flopping all over the cage. The bird I had already handled was not."

Surviving a situation makes a bird less afraid of it. They learn something from the experience.

A light bulb went off. Globus realized that "surviving a situation makes a bird less afraid of it. They learn something from the experience."

Globus spent the 1990s as an actor and musical director in Europe and Israel, and as a screenwriter in Los Angeles. Then came the fateful call from the eclectus owner. After this success, Globus decided to try offering his bird-taming services to others. He mailed 400 letters to veterinarians and pet stores throughout southern California introducing himself. Only one, a Petco, replied. But since then, Globus has steadily added clients.

Jupiter and Ken

A formerly surly Jupiter decides a scratch on the head isn't so bad.

Helping Spielberg

Some clients have been high-profile. Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg hired Globus to help his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, learn how to handle their son Scudder's parrot, an Amazon named Blanche. When Globus reported to the Spielberg homestead for a training session, he found himself the star of a home movie being shot by Spielberg, armed with a camcorder. ("I get the feeling he films lots of things," Globus deadpans.)

Globus doesn't come cheap. He charges $150 an hour for one-on-one sessions. His four-hour workshops are more affordable: $50 for observers and $100 for participants with birds. Before each workshop, he offers a free hour-long session open to the public, during which he briefly demonstrates a few of his taming principles on two or three birds. In the workshop, he handles up to five or six additional birds.

In Columbia, I got to see Globus work with a range of psittacine personalities and species, including Jupiter the macaw, several cockatoos, several African greys, and an Amazon.

Standard advice, too

By 8 a.m. some two dozen people, a few lugging their birds in draped carriers, had made their way into the hall, a large dimly lit room with hardwood floors and curtains drawn against the hot morning sun. In back were pastries and coffee. Off to the side, local veterinarian Dr. Jeanne Smith had set up a grooming table for giving discount wing, nail and beak trims. Globus requires that a veterinarian be present at all workshops in case a bird is accidentally injured.

We took our places in folding chairs arranged in a semi-circle. With squawks and quizzical "hellos?" occasionally emanating from the carriers lined against the wall, Globus began.

While his handling techniques may go against the popular grain, Globus subscribes to some common bird-training maxims. "Don't let your bird mosey out of his cage on his own," he warned us. "Birds are more secure if you're in control."

Using a plush scarlet macaw named Max, Globus demonstrated the correct way to hold a bird while training it. "I don't like to use the forearm; the bird is more difficult to control. You should keep the bird on your hand held at a 35-degree angle" to prevent scampering to the shoulder.

Caspar, the unfriendly grey

It was time for the demonstration portion of the program. The first participant of the day was Casper, a Congo African grey who belonged to Bev Arends, president of the bird club. While Arends held open the door to Casper's acrylic carrier, Globus reached in and attempted to get the bird on his hand.

Grey and Globus

Globus lets Caspar the African grey get the urge to bite out of his system.

Casper, a frightened biter, declined the overture and cowered in his carrier. So Globus gently grasped the bird by the leg with one gloved hand and removed him. Casper flailed.

Dragging birds, however gently, from their cages has garnered Globus condemnation in some quarters, in part because the media tend to focus on it. "They show that, then the bird allowing itself to be petted. Those are the most dramatic parts, of course. That's TV," Globus says.

Another Globus practice that critics routinely condemn is glove wearing, popularly considered unnecessarily terrorizing to a bird. Globus wears gloves for two unsurprising reasons. One is so that biters won't tatter his hands to the point he can't complete a workshop. (Earlier, Globus, who also has been criticized for "showing off" his injuries, displayed his hands for me. Two fingernails were blackened, one crushed by the beak of a Goffin's cockatoo, through the glove.)

The other reason is psychological. Without gloves, it would be tough to summon the confidence necessary to successfully train his difficult clients. As Globus would joke later after donning the gloves, "Notice a difference in behavior? There's a difference in my behavior. I'm sweating less."

Globus recommends that anyone handling a biter protect themselves with gloves, preferably a light but durable leather such as deerskin. He pooh-poohs the idea that gloves are instruments of torture. "Birds who know only gloves are terrified of bare hands," he points out.

The "leg swing"

Perched on Globus' hand, Casper the skittish African grey was not any happier. He tried to jump off, repeatedly. Each time, Globus held onto a leg and let his hand fall with the bird. Then, still lightly grasping the leg, he returned a fluttering Caspar to a perched and upright position. The end effect looked a bit hairy: Casper being swung in circles.

The 360-degree leg swing can be misunderstood, Globus acknowledges with a bit of exasperation. "I've had people accuse me of swinging birds in figure 8's in order to exhaust them."

grey on hand

To prevent Caspar from moving up his arm to the shoulder, Globus briefly flutters a hand.

In fact, watching Globus retrieve Caspar, we could see it was obviously an effective way to break the bird's fall while retaining control. It certainly made more sense than allowing Casper to hit the floor repeatedly. Globus demonstrated the loose two-finger "cigarette" or "scissors" swivel hold he used on Caspar's leg to prevent sprains.

Perched once more on Globus's hand, Caspar was panting from his exertions, but he hadn't given up on escaping - yet. Now he was determined to reach a shoulder. Every time Caspar tried to crawl down his arm, Globus blocked him with a flutter of his other hand. When Caspar tried biting the hand he was perched on, Globus lightly poked at the bird's feet until he stopped.

"Birds will always move away from what makes them nervous," Globus explained. "I use that instinct to move them away from tension and toward peace."

"No!"

Finally, Caspar sat obediently on Globus' hand and it was time to move onto the next stage: petting. Globus removed a glove and attempted to stroke Casper on the back. Casper whipped his head from side to side, suspiciously eyeing the approaching hand. Each time Globus scored a quick pat, the bird pronounced sweetly in a woman's voice, "No!" We laughed sympathetically.

Globus decided to let Casper do what he wanted most: bite. Hard. He offered Caspar his bare forefinger. Caspar accepted. Then Globus quickly folded his thumb over the bird's beak and pushed the lower mandible away to blunt the bite. "This tells the bird that instead of me pulling away when he bites, he gets stuck." Globus walked Casper around the room, still attached to his finger, to show us the technique.

After a couple of minutes, Globus released Casper's beak. When he offered his finger again, Caspar pushed it away, seemingly uninterested.

Next, Globus showed us how to teach a bird hand transfers - commonly called "step-ups." Soon, he and Caspar were deftly demonstrating the "log roll," a method of encouraging a step-up by rolling the departing hand away so the bird is encouraged to step forward onto the higher, more stable, perch.

Globus ended Caspar's training session by placing him on a T-stand to work some more on petting. After some initial resistance, Globus was able to place his hand flat against the grey's back. He wiggled his hand, "vibrating" it. That was to desensitize Caspar to touch, Globus said. It seemed to help; Caspar allowed the hand to remain.

Talk to the hand

Over the next few hours, Globus trained seven more birds. Some, like Caspar, were semi-wild. Others were pets that had backslid into biting or fearing hands.

Roxie and Ocean

Globus instructs Ocean, owner of Roxie the galah cockatoo, on the correct hand angle.

Globus showed us how to exert gentle control by offering a palm to a striking beak. "A bird cannot hurt you this way," he said, demonstrating how a taut palm can deflect blows. He made a fist. "The back of a fist works well, too."

To help an owner named Ocean get her galah cockatoo, Roxie, off her shoulder without getting bitten, Globus demonstrated the "ear swipe". With Roxie perched on his left shoulder, Globus ran his right hand over the top of his own head, down the left side of his face, and bumped Roxie's feet with it. Roxie stepped onto the hand without biting. Soon, several in the room were successfully practicing the maneuver with their own birds.

To begin his session with Jupiter, the macaw with an attitude, Globus first offered the bird the crown of his head. He considers it the safest way to make initial contact with some aggressive birds, although the technique "once got me kicked off a bird board because they thought it was dangerous."

Bursting the 'bubble of fear'

The tension in the room was palpable as Globus approached the intimidating blue-and-gold. Globus bowed, his head scraping Jupiter's beak. No response. So Globus moved on to the "crystal ball" technique.

Like a mime testing a giant beach ball, Globus placed his hands palms out against an imaginary sphere around Jupiter. Jupiter responded by lunging and flaring his wings.

"I find out where the edge of the 'bubble of fear' is," Globus intoned, intently watching Jupiter. "I visualize it around the bird. Then I rest my hands on the edge of the bubble for a while."

Irish and Ken

Holding Quigley the Major Mitchell's cockatoo on one hand, Globus squeezes workshop participant Irish Waters' fingers with the other to demonstrate how much pressure to exert when pinning a bird's toes.

Although he once blindfolded himself to help a sight-impaired client learn how to handle her bird, Globus relies heavily on bird body language to know when to proceed. Blinking, for instance, signals relaxation. "Sometimes it's the look on their face - seriously - or the slight way they move their muscles," he said.

Jupiter folded his wings, and Globus moved his hands in a little closer. "This tells me I can shrink the bubble some more."

Within a couple of minutes, continuing to use his hands to alternately calm and distract, Globus was able to scratch the base of his Jupiter's tail, a favorite macaw grooming spot. Finally, Globus moved his palm in so close to Jupiter's face that it touched the beak. With his palm lightly resting on the beak, he scratched Jupiter's head. Success!

He's not that kind of trainer

The beak press is the only safe way to kiss a bird, Globus noted, because it protects the owner's vulnerable face. Globus claimed he doesn't engage in the practice, personally. "Don't kiss the beak. What are you losing? The beak is not that tender. I like the softer material, myself," he joked.

Gloves are necessary equipment when handling large, serious biters, not instruments of torture.

Once desensitized to hands, "a bird can be exposed to just about anything" and remain calm, Globus told us. He demonstrated the concept later with a nervous African grey he had just trained. He made rapid hitting motions directly in the bird's face. Amazingly, the grey ignored him.

Some of Globus' advice is based simply on common sense. For a grey terrified of large objects passing by his cage, Globus suggested desensitizing the bird by exposing it to gradually larger items.

He showed another grey owner how her newly tamed bird should be petted. "Slow it down," he advised the woman as she practiced scratching her bird's neck for the first time. "Even slower; that's too fast." The owner moved her fingers almost imperceptibly. "That's it."

When things got tense, Globus kept it light with irreverent jokes aimed at himself. Poking fun at his own image, he ducked his head close to a cockatoo's and said something inaudible. "This is the whispering part," he said slyly, "but I can't tell you what I said." (If my ears served me right, it was, "Don't bite.")

Participants ribbed him back. "Did you take pain pills prior to this demonstration?" somebody asked. "No, do you have any?" Globus shot back.

Polly just wanna get away

By 1 p.m., the workshop was winding down. We had seen Globus make some impressive progress with several birds. We also had seen a few encounters that were less than amazing.

There was Polly, a lilac-crowned Amazon afraid of hands, who was too spooked to respond to the crystal ball technique, so Globus had to pin her against his chest. "A lot of birds I can shrink the bubble and get my hands on," he explained, gently massaging Polly with gloved hands until she stopped struggling. "Others I have to be more assertive with, and rub them to desensitize them.

Amazon

Polly the lilac-crowned Amazon enjoys a post-training rest on her owner's knee.

"I very gently encase birds with my hands," Globus reassured us as Polly squawked. "There's no pressure."

Quigley, a large, aggressive Major Mitchell's cockatoo, also posed a challenge. Time and again, Globus had to pull the bird off his shoulder and swing him into a perched position. Quigley bit enthusiastically and accidentally knocked Globus' glasses off. He leaped off Globus' hand. Feathers drifted to the floor.

Globus was unflappable. "If you run into a wall, back off, calm down," he said, allowing the panting Quigley to catch his breath. "Put the bird back in his cage if you have to."

Finally, Globus was able to pet the bird. Quigley gave a little cough of protest.

Buster, a Goffin's cockatoo, also gave Globus a run for his money, literally, as the bird scampered beneath our chairs looking for an escape route. "This is progress," said Globus, following Buster around the room. "It's not pretty."

Perhaps most disappointing for everyone, Jupiter the macaw seemed to have a change of heart. Not long after his dramatic breakthrough, Jupiter lunged at an offguard Globus and bit his hand. For the rest of the workshop, Jupiter alternated between accepting pets and striking at passersby, including his owner, Irish. "He's become more aggressive," Globus sighed. "That's unusual."

Dana and Buster

Dana Jezisek cuddles Buster, a hand-shy Goffin's cockatoo she and her husband brought to the Columbia workshop.

Not perfect

Nobody seemed to hold these setbacks against the Bird Whisperer. After all, he hadn't promised perfection, and he did demonstrate some seemingly effective techniques.

Just as important, we had seen that the techniques were not cruel. Did the Bird Whisperer persistently handle birds? Yes. Did the birds seem spent at the end? Yes - or no longer afraid, depending on how you wanted to look at it.

But nothing we had seen or heard shocked or dismayed us - with one small exception, occurring ironically in the last few minutes of the program.

Asked during the Q&A period how to stop habitual screaming, Globus suggested spritzing with water. A collective groan went up.

Once considered a viable training technique, spritzing is now widely regarded as counterproductive - and a tad mean. Globus quickly amended his advice. "Only if it's either that or the bird loses its home because of screaming. It's a last-ditch solution."

Big successes, a few failures

Compared with other workshops he's done, ours appeared to be an average one for Globus. Some of his events have gone slightly better, others not as well.

The trainer's favorite success story occurred at a Grants Pass, Ore., workshop where a hyacinth macaw, the largest species of parrot in the world, was lunging at people. The owner - and everyone else there giving the bird a wide berth - considered it untouchable.

Within minutes after Globus began working with him, the bird began regurgitating, a sign of affection. The experience almost brought him and others who were present to tears, says the Bird Whisperer.

The toughest case so far was a bare-eyed cockatoo. The bird had lived wild in the belfry of a church for three years before being captured. Its owner brought it to a workshop hoping Globus could make some progress with it, but "it was incredibly wild and incredibly strong."

Another low point came when a bird sprained a leg and broke several blood feathers after catching a toe in a seam of Globus' glove. Now Globus requires all workshop birds to have trimmed toenails and wings. He refuses to work with any bird suspected of having health problems.

Doing their homework

Globus does not claim to tame birds in one sitting. In fact, it's all too apparent he has not magically bypassed the usual process of winning some birds over - one step forward, two steps back. However, he does promise to crack the first barrier, not an insignificant accomplishment in some cases. The rest is up to the owners, who are expected to do follow-up training at home.

Irish and Jupiter

Irish Waters practices the "crystal ball" on her blue-and-gold macaw, Jupiter.

To see if the Bird Whisperer had made a difference, I contacted four of the Columbia participants two weeks after the workshop to see how they were getting along with their pets. Only one, Quigley's owner, did not reply.

Bev, the bird club president, told me she can now hold Caspar the African grey on her finger and "look him in the eye," something she was never able to do before. She was pleased with the workshop and wants to have Globus back.

Buster's owners, John and Dana Jezisek, reported a "remarkable" change in their Goffin's cockatoo. They had brought him to the workshop because he had become afraid of hands after getting his wings clipped last Memorial Day.

Now, "Buster has gotten used to our hands again and is coming out of the cage, stepping up, coming off of our shoulder without going into that panic mode," the couple told me in an e-mail. "He runs toward us instead of trying to escape from us. His behaviour is much like a little baby. He still loves to be cuddled in a little blanket and held. That's fine with us. At least he is no longer scared to death of everything. In our mind, Ken's workshop was well worth every penny."

Finally, I got in touch with Irish Waters, owner of the unpredictable Jupiter. Had the macaw returned completely to his old, nasty personality, or had some of Globus' training rubbed off?

After witnessing Jupiter's behavior in Columbia, I was surprised by Irish's answer. "Jupiter and I have worked miracles since the workshop," she reported excitedly. "He loves to be caressed and petted! I'm following Ken's advice, taking it slowly and being extremely careful of that terrific beak."

Irish still uses gloves to take Jupiter out of his cage, but says this is an improvement over when she could not remove him at all.

My money where my mouth is

Would I hire Globus? I had considered taking Nelson, my yellow-backed chattering lory, to the Columbia workshop. Like many wild-caught birds, she loves the person who tamed her - me - and nobody else. I'd like to get her to accept other people, such as my husband.

But in the end, I decided against enrolling Nelson, for several reasons. For one, I would have had to confine her to a small carrier for 12 hours, including six in the car. For another, Nelson would not have made a good pupil. She does not perch well, and a congenital wing deformation prevents her from gliding to the ground. (She flies like a rock, as my husband puts it.) With those two problems and her aversion to hands other than my own, I was afraid she would get hurt, through no fault of the Bird Whisperer's.

I also have to admit that it would have been difficult for me to watch someone else administer tough love to Nelson. Mary, another workshop attendee who also decided to leave her bird at home, verbalized my feelings perfectly when she confided, "I fall apart when I take my bird to the vet's!"

That's okay with Globus, who encourages people like me and Mary to try his techniques at home. I decided to pass on the crystal ball technique to my husband to try with Nelson. (See "Trying it at home: Nelson thaws out some" at the bottom of this page.)

Something new every time

For Globus, good word-of-mouth seems to be winning out over the bad. Busy booking additional workshops, he had 10 lined up over the next year at this writing.

Every outing teaches him something new. After the Columbia workshop, he wants to be "less controlled" and more "open and spontaneous," he says. That might help him do a better job with unpredictable birds such as Jupiter the macaw.

Someday, after he finishes a screenplay he's working on, Globus will write a book and do a video on his techniques.

 

ParrotChronicles.com