Ken Globus

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Big Blue Bluff


by Ken Globus


Birds can be scary; their beaks are powerful and some birds seem all too ready to use them.  So, how do you know when aggressive body language is real or just a show?  When you see a bird display aggressive behavior, puffing up its feathers, flashing its  beak and lunging threateningly at you, it can be pretty intimidating - especially with the big ones. 

If this kind of display sends shivers down your spine and gets you to back off, you're not alone. 


Here's the display of aggressive body language from this Catalina Macaw.  It's saying, "I'm big and strong and you better stay away."


The problem is, backing off means you're just reinforcing the aggressive behavior and making it worse.  In fact, you may be backing away from a potential loving relationship.  Before you go running for the exit it would be good to find out for sure whether or not your bird's show of aggression is real or just a  bluff.  Sometimes birds are more bark than bite, as illustrated by the following anecdote: 


For a demonstration in Grant's Pass, Oregon someone brought their huge and hugely aggressive hyacinth macaw - we'll call him Big Blue -  for me to work with.

It was almost amusing to see the wide berth the crowd gave Big Blue, who, I was told, is okay with his owner but aggressive toward everyone else.  On this day, he lived up to his reputation.  When anyone got close, he would flare his feathers, spread his wings, hunker down, squawk and lunge with his enormous beak.   And people scattered, as most normal people would.  But then, no one's ever accused me of being normal. 

I had already worked with several birds that day and was about to wrap it up, when I realized that I hadn't yet worked with Big Blue.  I strolled over to him and said hello.  Then I moved in with the "heading" technique, lowering my head and moving within range.  He struck me hard with his beak on top of the head.  It was a strong, committed strike.  It  felt like a pretty decent tap, but it didn't really hurt.  I told him how impressed I was with him and lowered my head again.  This time he struck me with slightly less conviction.  I knew that I was already making headway (forgive the pun).  I told Big Blue that I admired his courage, but I realized he was really a nice guy, then lowered my head again.  This time he acted like he was going to strike, but stopped his beak just as it rested against my head.  Then he started to nibble at my hair. 


 Moans from the Crowd


Now we're cooking.  I switched to the "distraction" technique, (as seen in the photo) to work my hands into him.  I got a hand on his back.  Then I nibbled with my fingers up to his neck.  Then it happened: the clouds parted, the sun came out and the angels sang.  Big Blue lowered his head, opened his feathers and let me get my hands all over him; he was practically turning himself inside out.  Then, to the emotional moans of an astonished crowd, he looked lovingly up at me and started to regurgitate. 

 Big Blue had been living in isolation all this time because he was able to use posturing to scare people away.  It took about three minutes to work through the big guy's bluffs and find out that there was a loving, sweet bird in there. 

If I had let his behavior intimidate me, I would never have been able to discover his potential.  Donít let bluffs and attitude keep you from getting close to a bird. 


Using the distraction technique with Big Blue in Grants Pass, OR





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