Of all the things I have ever done with my parrots, introducing them to my son was one of the most exciting. In many ways, this introduction was the culmination of years of socialization and training. It brought together skills that they were taught, many times not knowing the end purpose, to accomplish a wonderful outcome.
My boy Steven was born in October of 2020, but it wasn't until January of 2021 that he first encountered my parrots.
As always, I need to remind that parrots are wild animals. They are smart, free willed, flighty, and at times bitey. It is important to be careful between people and parrots, but much more so when it involved a baby. The damage a beak can do to an infant is just too great. Knowing this, Marianna and I deliberately delayed the first introduction.
At first, the baby was just too small and delicate to even consider it. Not only is it about preventing a bite, but it is also best not to take any chances with any kind of infection. Normally we test for and consider zoonotic diseases such as Psittacosis. That is an illness that can even affect an adult. However, there is always the possibility of the birds carrying some kind of bacteria, parasites, mites, or fungus that we are not even aware of. For a immune restricted baby, that can be overwhelming. For this reason, we wanted to keep the baby and birds apart for a few months to give him a chance to be exposed to more usual germs first.
Even at 2 months old, there did not appear to be any value for that baby's sake to meet the parrots. We could tell he could hear and see, but at the same time he would stare blankly. It was hard to tell how much he was really taking in. However, at 2.5 months old, suddenly things changed. In the span of just a few days he started following objects with his eyes, reacting, smiling, and showing interest in toys. With this new found awareness, a baby-bird introduction would be not only beneficial for the parrots but for the baby as well.
Steven has been exposed to birds his entire existence. While in mommy's tummy, he got to hear parrot sounds while she was cleaning cages. From the day he came home, Steven would wake up every day to the painting of our parrots expecting a baby. Steven slept under a wall mural of a tree with songbirds chirping in the canopy. He had numerous owl toys in his room that he would see and we would read stories about birds and Owls to him. All these bird related experiences prepared Steven for the day that he would finally get to see a real live bird up close and personal! And that day has come.
Some precautions were taken when introducing the birds. We took care to make sure a bird could not fly at and attack the baby, but mostly the concern was to make sure the birds have a favorable impression. The best way to prevent making a bad impression accidentally is to make a good one deliberately. Since the birds will be living with this new family member for many years to come, a good first impression would be the start to a lifelong friendship.
We had Marianna bottle feed Steven while I brought out Rachel the Blue and Gold Macaw. We had the birds out just one at a time in order to have the best control over the bird and the situation. By having one parent attending to the baby and one to the bird, ensured that each person could watch and make things good. Also, as a worst case scenario, the bird would have to get past two people if it somehow became possessed and tried to fly at the baby to attack. Ensuring the baby's safety is still paramount.
I carried Rachel straight to her prepared Training Perch using my body to block her view of Steven. I wanted to start her far away with little view and gradually work our way closer and to slowly increase her visibility. It worked out well. Rachel was focused on me, earning treats for targeting. Meanwhile Steven was focused on mommy and feeding. Little by little, I revealed the baby more to Rachel by standing less in the way. While allowing her to see the baby, I diverted her focus to targeting so that she could earn treats for inadvertently leaving the baby alone.
Now I had virtually no concern about Rachel attacking the baby. Although she is my biggest parrot and could do the most harm, this Macaw is a big chicken! Rachel was far more likely to get scared of the baby and try to fly away than to deliberately attack. Theoretically if I were to stick the baby right up to Rachel suddenly, all bets are off. However, she is not the kind of bird that would seek out a fight. But, since Rachel is known to be timid, it was important for Rachel's sake to make sure that she had a very peaceful and rewarding introduction to the baby. We worked our way closer and closer. Eventually Steven finished his milk and was gazing at the big blue bird with amazement. With everything calm, I was able to bring Rachel really close. Just never close enough to touch. The introduction went splendidly and both Steven and Rachel enjoyed.
Rachel earned the best and tastiest treats she had in a long time simply by demonstrating "good behavior" rather than getting worked up over the baby. Using the Training Perch technique, I was able to ensure that the macaw was never overwhelmed and that it was easy for her to be successful. After the uneventful meeting, Rachel went away and Marianna and I switched roles. I held Steven while she brought out Truman the Cape Parrot.
We expected Truman to be the easiest. Not just because he is unable to fly, but also because he's the most easy going of the birds. However, he has been known to hold grudges so it was still important to avoid getting off on the wrong foot with him. Instead of targeting, Marianna focused on doing cued talking with Truman. Truman is more of a talker and personality bird so this appealed most to him. The goal was the same as with Rachel, get the bird distracted doing something it loves so that the bird can be rewarded for not misbehaving around the baby.
It wasn't just attacking the baby we were trying to prevent. We really just wanted to avoid the birds having any sort of unpleasant feelings toward the child. Whether getting defensive or just giving a stink eye, it was best avoided. By eliciting positive responses through training and treats, it was easy to get the birds feeling happy in the presence of someone they had not met before.
Not only did Truman do great, Steven did too. Steven showed a lot of interest in the birds. He followed them with his eyes and got really smiley. At one moment, Steven let out a laugh and Truman responded by laughing as well! The first mutual communication between baby and parrot! Success!
I saved Kili for last because she had potential to be the most trouble. We figured it is best to see how it goes with Truman and Rachel who would not deliberately attack before introducing Kili. Kili is a super smart, super trained, super well-behaved bird. However, being a Senegal she also has a sinister side deep within. Through years of bonding and training we have it largely hidden away. However, if left unchecked it could still rear it's ugly head. Senegal Parrots are notoriously one-person-birds. That is where they bond strongly to one person and then terrorize everybody else. Through years of socialization, I have kept this under control. In fact, I got Kili to accept Marianna right from the beginning. But, knowing that this potential still exists, it was most important to make sure it does not apply to the baby!
I brought Kili out and just like with Rachel started her out on the Training Perch. After a little targeting we switched to tricks because Kili gets really focused during trick training. Being a smaller/lighter bird, Kili is also the most flighty. It was important to keep her focused so that she would not fly and scare the baby or worse yet fly at the baby. I kept her attention on me the entire time and slowly worked our way closer. I made Kili understand how she should behave around the baby and she quickly caught on. It did not take long for her to get happy performing tricks around baby Steven.
The introduction could not have gone better. All 3 parrots were in a good mood, cooperative, and calm. Steven was curious and involved. Nobody good hurt, scared, spooked, or upset. Just great all around. Could things have gone as well without any deliberate training and effort during the introduction? Maybe. But, it was not worth finding out that perhaps things would not have went well if we did not set up the introduction for success. Saving half an hour to make a spontaneous/uncontrolled introduction would simply not be worth potentially setting a bad first impression for the baby or birds for a relationship that will last for years to come! Playing it safe is the way to go.
Keep in mind that the 30 minutes spent on the introduction were just the icing on the cake. These parrots have been trained for years to develop basic training skills, socialize with people, and have the basis for being successfully introduced to a new family member. You can't just overnight decide that you want to introduce a wild biting parrot with no training background to a baby. Take the time to learn and apply parrot training to your parrotnow so that when you experience life changes, your bird will have the skills to adapt to what is yet to come!