Ken Globus

The Bird Whisperer




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Land of the Giants



By Ken Globus


Imagine that you live with giants - 50 to 100 times your size - in a land full of giants.  Yet, they're all afraid of you.  They let you make all the decisions.  And they answer to your every whim. 

Sound like a horror fantasy?  It's not.  Without realizing it many bird owners unwittingly put their birds in this position of power.  But along with all that power comes pressure. 

Whether you have an extremely unmanageable bird or one that’s as gentle as a lamb, unless you control the dynamics of the relationship your bird is probably not as secure as it might be.  

Bird Logic

Many of you may not even be aware that your bird (let's call him "Bob") is probably the top bird in your flock.  When it comes to humans handling birds that’s more typical than not.  And conventional bird wisdom supports that by telling you to let your bird do anything it wants to do; you let it come out of the cage on its own, decide what, where, when and why. 

Birds consistently teach me that, when living in a human flock, they are much happier and more secure when the owner is the “top bird.”  Let’s apply some bird logic here: Bob sees you, some fifty to a hundred times his size and figures, “If I’m in charge, we’re in trouble.”  In many cases where Bob is in charge, he will become leery of visitors, bond with one member of the family or become aggressive.  A bird that controls the dynamics of its human family lives in much more stress than one that doesn't.  Again, Bob's thinking is that because he's in charge, it's up to him to decide who is friend or foe, who to flee from, who to bite, who to trust.  When you are the dominant one in the relationship, Bob defers to your judgment, is relieved of the responsibility and lives a much less stressful life. 

Now this brings to mind one fundamental question: why, in your own house, where you pay the rent or mortgage, the utilities, buy the groceries, vacuum, dust, do the laundry and dishes, why aren’t you the top bird in your house?  Is Bob bigger than you?  Stronger?  Smarter?  I’m guessing he’s not.  And yet you have willingly, if unwittingly, relinquished the top spot in your house to a creature much smaller than you.  And it's due to a uniquely human attribute: compassion.  

Simple Desires

Birds are creatures of habit.  They find comfort in repetition.  They love doing the same things over and over in the same way.  Their desires are simple; eat, sleep, play, preen and procreate in the safest, most stress-free environment possible.  Change equals stress.  If you always hold your bird on your left shoulder, that will become its preferred spot.  It will not feel comfortable on the right shoulder.  If you always take your bird out of its cage using a stick, it will soon refuse to come out any other way.  If you let your bird run up your arm to your shoulder, that is what it tends to always want to do.  It will develop hand-shyness and will eventually avoid staying on your hand entirely. 

In a two person household, if the bird prefers one of you even a tiny bit over the other, it will keep moving closer to the one if prefers, reinforcing that “habit” and moving further and further away from the other person.  That’s why it is so common to hear the complaint, “Our bird loves me, but hates my husband.”  Aside from the bonding issue, the bird has chosen the less stressful option of the two and been allowed to dominate by deciding who would hold it.  This is typical of bird behavior problems.  It's also common that a bird that's allowed to spend time on top of its cage and, by doing so, is able to avoid being picked up, will develop a tendency to become hand shy and territorial regarding the cage.  In face, I've seen this territorial tendency evolve into a very aggressive behavior in which the bird will actually lunge to bite the owner when he or she even walks by the cage.  Then, a slight tendency grows into a strong preference, which in turn becomes an obsession.  And what follows is the creation of behavior problems like biting, fleeing, hand-shyness, bonding with one family member and sometimes even self-mutilation.  When the habits that lead to these behaviors are recognized early on and nipped in the bud they are easier to turn around. 

Safe Place

In order to change these things, you must take charge of your relationship.  I have a few basic "rules" for birds that, if followed, help your bird be calm and trusting.  You owe your bird that much.  And when you take control, you will become your bird’s “safe place.” It will feel calmer and more secure in the fact that as long as it is with you it will be safe.

Many bird owners project human values onto their pets.  It’s understandable, even admirable, that you would want to be as kind to your feathered chums as possible. After all, they’re your pets, your receptacles of love and affection.   My belief, after observing hundreds of birds and humans interacting, is that a bird that is allowed to dominate its human owner is simply not as happy and secure as when the owner is in charge.  The kindest thing you can do for your bird is to become the top bird in your flock.  If you do, you will be rewarded with a happier, more secure bird.


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