Ken Globus

The Bird Whisperer




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Saturday, August 24, 2002





Transcript from the article:


"Bird Whisperer" will be here to soothe ruffled feathers

This story was published in Lifestyle on Saturday, August 24, 2002.

By Sarah Casey Newman
Of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A BIRD IN THE hand is ... usually an unhappy bird. And a bird who's unhappy can easily make its owner unhappy, too.

Think about it. How happy would you be if you had plunked down hundreds of hard-earned dollars to purchase a parrot that's too paranoid to let you touch it?  Or perhaps you already have.  Should this apply, Ken Globus has a suggestion: Don't blame the bird; tame the bird.  Yeah, right, you say. That could take months. Years, maybe. Even the experts say so.

Except for Globus.  And he proves it. At the homes of unhappy bird owners. At bird club meetings and bird-fanciers' conventions and seminars. For a segment on TV's "Inside Edition" in April. For the National Zoo of the Dominican Republic in May.

And this weekend he'll prove it again, for the Gateway Parrot Club's All-American Hookbill Fair at Greensfelder Recreation Complex in Queeny Park in Ballwin.

Globus works much of his magic for bird-rescue organizations, a need that has grown as the population of pet birds has increased.

From 1998 to 2000, the number of households owning at least one bird rose more than 8 percent, to 6.9 million from 6.4 million, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. About 15 million birds now reside in American homes.

When purchased by well-meaning but uninformed people, birds can turn into noisy, unruly nuisances that eventually wear out their welcome.

Most rescue groups are unable to take in all the cast-offs. Unless a problem parrot is rehabilitated, finding it a new home can be difficult, if not impossible. And rehabilitation takes time, at least by conventional methods.  But Globus' methods are not conventional. Just effective - and controversial.  For Globus, taming birds is a touchy subject in more ways than one. Traditional wisdom says to take a slower, more passive approach, Globus said from his home in Los Angeles. His method is anything but slow, and it's definitely pro-active and hands-on.  "I have nothing against the patience thing and the clicker training and all that," he said. "But they don't address the segment of the bird world that I work with, which is the birds that people have given up on." 

Globus said his method of taming "uses gentle but assertive techniques to expose the birds to the things that they're afraid of and show them that those things won't hurt them."

He compares the technique to "dealing with phobias in people, where you desensitize them to their fears." He said birds will go out of their way to avoid anything that puts pressure on them.  "That's one reason so many birds will move toward one person and away from another," he said. "Conventional wisdom says it's because bonding to one person is part of the bird's mating instinct. I say the bird simply seeks out the person that causes it the least stress."  Such a situation "has to be nipped in the bud," Globus continued, or "the bird can begin to have an even bigger aversion to the other person, which makes it even more fearful, which can lead to all-out aggression."

Birds for the most part are prey species, he said. "They're driven by, and kept alive by, their fears." In order to survive, they have to be sensitive to even the smallest things. Vibrations in a tree branch could mean a snake is moving toward them. A sudden shadow could be a hawk swooping down.

In the wild, their defense is flight or fight. "But in a captive situation, where they can't flee, they develop these fears to the extreme," Globus said.  Birds can manifest their fears in a variety of ways, but often they do it by switching into their fight mode. The aggression that results can spark fear in the owner.

Globus said he learned his training techniques "from the birds." His lessons began in 1979, when he returned from a job overseas and suggested that his parents add some birds to their tropical-fish store. They did - and put him in charge.  "Back then, almost all of the birds were wild-caught, so they were totally terrified of people and aggressive," Globus said. "I knew that if I wanted to sell them, I first had to tame them."

A confirmed "self-teacher" who's a screenwriter in real life, Globus said he learned to tame his wild charges "by watching them, listening to them and observing how they responded to things." At first, he said, it took him "weeks and weeks to tame just one bird. But gradually the learning curve got tighter and tighter and faster and faster."

His biggest breakthrough came when he got up the courage to bring more than one bird into the shop at once. Bravely, he upped the number to three - all umbrella cockatoos, all wild-caught and all terrified.  Using what he had already learned, he took out the first bird and began calming it so he could groom it. By the time he was done and ready to move on to the second bird, a customer had come into the shop.

"When I got back to the birds, the remaining two were still flapping away like crazy in their cages. But the one I had groomed was still calm - it had been through a scary situation, it wasn't harmed, and it had gained a measure of trust. That told me I was on the right track, even if it meant that the process could be unpleasant at first."

That last part is what ruffles feathers in the bird community. Even though Globus does not hurt the bird "or do anything aggressive" to it, he said, his confrontational technique "raises the bird's stress level."

"Some people don't think you should add to the bird's fear. I understand their concern," he said, but bird owners do the same thing in the course of normal bird care. Every time they take their bird to the vet or clip their nails, "that also freaks them out."

So which is more compassionate? Globus asks. Putting the bird through 30 minutes of heightened stress so it can overcome its fears? Or letting it live its whole life stressed out by them?  Globus realized that bird owners should know his techniques, too. So he "began training the people who bought the birds," showing them how to handle them and keep problems from developing.

Helping stressed-out bird owners work through their own fears is an important part of the training, he said. So is "preparing people for the follow-through." If the owner doesn't help solidify the new behaviors into new habits, he explained, the bird will take the easy way out and revert to its old antics.

For more information, Globus has a Web site:

 And he's working on a book and a video.==================