Kili & Truman buckled up their harnesses and rode on my shoulders the few blocks to the new house. I had a bug problem at the old apartment so I've been leaving as much behind as possible and only bringing clean things. This is why Truman's old aluminum cage had to be abandoned and not because there was anything else wrong with it. This is also why I opted to move the birds wearing harnesses rather than carriers.
We walked in through the bird room door and surprised Santina. She was sitting on the edge of her stand, excited to have company. Santina watched eagerly as her first bird visitors were settling in to the room next door. Kili & Truman watched me assemble water bottle holders, mount perches, and add toys to their bare cages. I bought two water bottles for each cage and mounted both brackets. Although I will normally only be using a single water bottle, when I need to go away for a weekend I will be able to leave twin water bottles for the unlikely event of a failure (in 5+ years using water bottles for my birds I have not had a problem).
The parrots sampled the toys as I was putting them into their cages. Truman gave his approval for a long strand of stars and Kili immediately began chewing up a cute shredding toy. These parrots love new toys, places, and situations. This is why it was an absolute non-event to move them to a new house. They have not shown the slightest sign of upset such as not eating, being quiet, or just inactive.
The reason it was so easy to move to a new house with my parrots without them freaking out is because we have already done this plenty of times before! Every outing, every trip, every household change we have ever made was a preparation for the unknown but inevitable eventual move. People often ask me "I am moving to a new house tomorrow, what can I do to make it easier for my parrot?" At that point it is already too late. The time to begin preparing your parrot for a move is now.
I occasionally took Kili and/or Truman with me to visit other people's houses. I took the birds for drives and outings. I had the parrots living out of their travel cages during trips and when we went camping. I even had the parrots living in completely different bird cages when we were visiting Ginger's Parrots Rescue. All of these different encounters prepared Kili & Truman to live in any sort of cage or house. And since they get excited about new toys, moving to a new cage with new toys is an opportunity rather than a burden for them.
Not long after I had the birds on top of their respective cages, Kili hopped over to Truman's cage and kicked him off to the smaller one. The funny thing is that the first time I let them out since, the first thing Truman did was to go and climb up into Kili's cage and stay there. It was as though she convinced him that if he just yields the bigger cage to her that she won't beat him up for it.
As for Santina, well she came from a rescue so she was already used to other birds. I could tell that Santina was excited to see other birds around and not upset. Kili & Truman have been to places with other parrots so to them it was no surprise to see a big bird next door. The move was such a non-event that it makes for a boring story. But that's what you want it to be. So begin preparing your parrot for any sorts of unforeseen changes by socializing and traveling with your parrot now.
This article is about how to do bad things to your parrot. Scratch that, you shouldn't be doing bad things to your parrot. Let's call it doing “sucky” things to your parrot. Sucky things may be inevitable or necessary such as going into a carrier, being toweled, going to the vet, putting on a harness, moving to a new house, getting groomed, receiving medication, etc. These aren't necessarily bad things, some may even be life saving, but they can certainly be seen as sucky and undesirable from the parrot's perspective. This guide provides some tips on making these things go by more easily. I'm not going to look into the specifics of each task (such as teaching the parrot to go into the carrier) but rather an approach to dealing with these situations in general.
The first step is to try to make the best of any situation. If you have to do something sucky to your parrot, try to make it as harmless as possible. For example if your parrot is terrified of carriers, towels, and grooming, perhaps you can do just the grooming at home without a towel to avoid making the experience triply terrible. Try to make uncomfortable situations go by quickly and smoothly. But do not rush or be too forceful in trying to make it go by faster. Instead try to be efficient by thinking the experience through in advance and even practicing it out before putting the parrot into it.
Whenever possible, try to use positive reinforcement to desensitize the parrot to sucky things or situations. Teach the parrot to go into the carrier by itself, teach it to put the harness on voluntarily, etc. Anything that is meant to be for the pleasure of the parrot must not be applied in a sucky way. In other words forcing the harness so the parrot can enjoy being outside is terribly counterproductive. The parrot will be so preoccupied being upset about the harness being forced on that it will miss the enjoyment of being outside.
Being wrapped in a towel for veterinary procedures on the other hand is not be for the parrot's pleasure (though it may be essential for the parrot's health, the bird does not realize this). Still, you can greatly eliminate the stress of the veterinary visit by ensuring that all the other aspects aren't sucky for the parrot. If you use positive reinforcement to train a parrot to be comfortable with the towel and use the towel in non-threatening ways at home, the experience of being toweled by the vet won't in itself be traumatizing. Nor will the carrier to get there, the handling, etc. This leaves the parrot to be stressed only by the actual blood draw or other medical procedures. Instead of being traumatized by all the uncomfortable handling and force, the parrot is left with much less to worry about.
A great counter condition to necessary sucky experience is to make it desirable beforehand. For example, rather than letting your baby parrot's first encounter with a towel be a bad one at the vet, make hundreds of good experiences at home first. Then when one bad exception time happens at the vet, the parrot won't hold a grudge because the good times far outweigh the bad ones. If your parrot hates towels already, you can take the time to undo the damage and counter condition the towel as something desirable. If hundreds of good experiences at home outweigh the infrequent bad ones, it will remain less sucky to the parrot and your parrot will suffer less for it.
Things like new toys should never be sucky at all. Sure, many parrots are scared of new stuff. But the last thing you want to do is make the bird scared of what it is actually meant to enjoy. For skittish parrots, hanging a toy straight into the cage figuring it will get over it is not always the best idea. The bird will still have prolonged anxiety in the process of desensitization. Instead, offer a social modeling form of learning by being proactive. Play with the toy yourself in view of the parrot or use targeting to teach the bird to come closer to the toy to get comfortable on its own.
The more “sucky” things that you turn into neutral or better yet “awesome,” the better prepared your parrot will be to deal with any life changes as they are to come. The more you train, socialize, travel with your parrot, and build good experiences, the easier this process continues to become.
As you teach your parrot how to overcome and even enjoy sucky things, your parrot will begin to develop a trust for anything you provide. For example, Kili used to get scared of new trick training props. I would work with her using targeting to have her walk around in the vicinity of the new toy and progressively closer until she was no longer scared. Over time, these targeting sessions became quicker and quicker because she was already familiar with the desensitization process. Eventually we reached a point where if Kili was scared of something new, I could just show her the target stick and ask "do we really need to even go through this?" and then Kili would stop being scared of the new toy and just proceed to learning the new trick. Not only are new toys not sucky to Kili anymore, she looks forward to them. I have reversed the appearance of something new from being sucky to something to look forward to. Kili knows that new training props mean fun new tricks to learn.
Occasionally there are some rare non-recurring sucky things that must be done. Preparation may be impossible. In those cases just get it done. But for all other things that you can control, take the time to make them pleasant and your parrot will have an overall better life. The fewer things that inevitably have to be sucky, the less stressed your parrot will be and the more trusting of people it will remain. Preempt experiences that may be bad with a lot of similar good experiences beforehand. Less suckiness in your parrot's life is already a better way to live.
Check out this video of how I handle Kili & Truman in a positively reinforcing way in preparation for grooming and other necessary handling. Basically it's just how we play but it has useful benefits in the long run:
Stress is necessary for your parrot's well-being. "Whoa, did he really just say that!?" Let me talk about stress and why it's important to expose our parrots to it rather than to shelter them.
I talk to many parrot owners and get to experience stressed parrots. In most cases, the parrots that are overwhelmed with stress (which may manifest itself as plucking, pacing, biting, freaking out, etc) are the ones who were not sufficiently exposed to it in the past. To contrast, my parrots have a good dose of stress and strain in their lives. So when something scary happens, they can keep a head on their shoulders and deal with it rather than becoming overwhelmed.
As you challenge your parrot with more stressful situations (that are absurdly rare and unlikely to recur), you will actually ensure that your parrot lives with much less stress in its day to day life! Think of it as watching enough scary movies that nothing in ordinary ones can scare you. This concept prepares your parrot to deal with rare difficult situations and also makes it immune to excess fear during all normal routines.
Now I'm not saying to suddenly take a sheltered parrot and to start doing all sorts of scary things to it at once. Stress tolerance needs to be built up gradually. You can do this by constantly challenging your bird a little more than before. If you maintain this as part of your lifestyle, within a few years the bird will become much more hardy. Let me get into examples of good ways to stress your parrot to save it from being harmed by stress in the future.
A degree of stress in a parrot's life is perfectly natural. In the wild, parrots will have to deal with stressful situations from time to time. So if anything, the annihilation of stress in a captive parrot's life is the less natural lifestyle. The parrot that lives in a sheltered cage, with a bowl full of food, and no changes in its life is at highest risk of stress related problems. Likewise, boredom (and related problems like screaming or plucking) is a byproduct of insufficient stress in a parrot's life.
Instead, prepare your parrot to deal with stress in its life through a controlled and continued exposure to stress inducing situations. Providing challenges through foraging and training, socialization, travel, and outings, are great ways to apply modest amounts of stress on a parrot that will prepare it for more.
Folks marvel at how my parrots could venture all over New York City without being scared. I've received many comments of amazement how a fire truck went by and my parrots were not even phased. This is because they have been exposed to similar situations in the past. Even if they haven't seen a fire truck before, they have been to carnivals and other bustling situations in the past. This deliberate exposure to stress has ensured that they do not become overwhelmed in unforeseen circumstances. Not only that, but it has equipped them to enjoy and have fun in all the travel and things we do. Since these things are no longer frightening, they counteract boredom and improve the parrots' quality of life.
I also physically stress my parrots and improve their endurance through extensive flight training. At home, the two trained parrots regularly end up flying dozens of flight recalls. This is tough on their cardio-respiratory systems as much as on their muscles. But this keeps them fit and healthy.
I extend this concept even further. I don't worry much about my parrots. I don't tiptoe around their cages or fiddle with temperature controls too much. While at first, these may have been greater concerns, with time I've allowed them to get used to more variation. They have learned to deal with it and not be bothered. If food or water isn't available while we're traveling a bit longer than usual, they have no trouble dealing with it. Or if the food I have for them is not what they are used to, they are adaptive and can try the new food on the spot. Whether an emergency, or a planned life change, a parrot that is accustomed to dealing with stress in the long term, will be best prepared and least affected.
Hurricane Sandy was a wake up call for people in the northeast and a reminder to everyone that we are not invulnerable. Whether you live in a tornado, earthquake, flood, or other natural disaster prone region, it is important to be prepared. Even if you live in the safest possible region, other unforeseen problems such as fire, electrical outage, or medical emergency can still happen. Therefore we must all make sure that we are able to care for our pets even under extreme circumstances. The number of lost and abandoned pets from the recent hurricane is astounding as much as unacceptable. I would like to go over some things to consider in preparation for unforeseen circumstances and how it pertains to parrots. As difficult as it may be to deal with a disaster, it is even more difficult for us to keep our parrots safe because of their special needs.
I challenge you to consider a few of the following scenarios and play through in your head what you would do to deal with it. Better yet, run through some of the steps with your parrot that may pertain to handling or the bird's reaction. Then I will share what I would do in each case and what you can do with your parrot now to be prepared.
Case 1: Electrical Outage: whether a loss of power specifically in your home or in your entire community, what will you do? What if it's a summer time black out and temps are over 100F? What if this happens in winter and takes your heating system down with it? How will you feed your parrot without fridge or microwave and a week long outage?
Case 2: Pre-Disaster Evacuation: a predicted natural catastrophe in your area mandates urgent evacuation. Are you prepared to bring your pets with you? Where will you go? How will you keep your parrot safe in the new location? What supplies must you bring and what can be left behind? How will you get your parrot out of the cage? What will you transport it in? What will the parrot live in while away?
Case 3: Sans-Civilization Survival: what if you remained through a natural catastrophe or were hit by an unexpected one that leaves you without modern conveniences for weeks? You are stuck in your home without running water, electricity, heating, or cooling. Do you have the supplies on hand to take care of yourself, family, and pets?
Let's consider all of the things our parrots take for granted that require electricity and would be affected if it were cut off. First there's temperature control. In the summer it may be too hot without power for cooling and in the winter too cold without heating. As it turns out, most gas heating systems still require electricity to function. So while a gas outage could be overcome with electric heaters, an electric shortage takes out all stationary heating systems. If electricity is cut off in the entire neighborhood then it may affect access to water (pumping stations) and food (stores closed).
Without electricity, lights would be affected. This may not seem like a terribly big deal (so it gets dark early and the parrot goes to sleep) but it is important to stock up on battery powered flashlights and resist the temptation to light up candles because fumes may be dangerous.
For an electrical outage my first course of action would be to take the birds over to my parents' house, however, if the outage is for the entire region rather than just a single home, no one might have power. In this case I would have to deal from home with it. During a hot summer blackout, I would put my parrots outside to stay cool rather than indoors. I have an outdoor aviary with a roof so with frequent misting they would be cooler there than indoors. If you don't have an aviary, you might consider taking the birds outside in their cages (but only with supervision). Box fans are a good idea but resist the temptation to use ceiling fans.
For an electrical heating outage in winter, things would be a fair bit more complicated. If the situation makes the likelihood of outage to be more than 24 hours, my first solution would be to pack up the birds and drive out of town and find a hotel room someplace. If the situation were so bad that it's impossible to go anywhere or do anything and I were housebound, I would pitch my camping tent indoors and keep the birds in carriers under many blankets with me. Birds wouldn't do well with cold so conserving/sharing heat is the best solution when there is no energy to provide heat with. Burning things would be out of the question because the fumes would likely be toxic to parrots. I have an electrical stove so that would do me little good. However, if you have a gas stove, you can light it with matches and use that to make some heat. Just be sure to keep the parrots caged during this process and in a well ventilated area.
I would be much less concerned about food for birds because luckily their pellets aren't prone to perish and can be kept for months in a dry place. Since I normally keep the bird food in a cooler anyway, that supply should last me through any trouble. I always keep at least a month of bird food ahead in reserve so that would be no factor. As a fallback to pellets, I would feed my birds cereal and bread. Anything that needs cooking would obviously be a problem but luckily this is unimportant for their survival.
When it comes to evacuating with the birds, I couldn't be more prepared. The parrots' carriers are always ready to go (not only in case of a disaster but also medical emergency). Since the parrots are tame, always step up, and used to travel, grabbing them from their cages and sticking them in carriers would literally be a process that would take seconds. Then I'd grab the bag of pellets from the carrier, bird cage cover sheets, and be ready to go. With more time I could pack some toys and other conveniences but in a real emergency, that's all that would be necessary. I can always find bottled water and let the birds drink out of a paper cup. Pellets can be hand fed or placed on the cage bottom if I didn't have the time to grab food bowls.
Just because my parrots are accustomed to travel doesn't mean other peoples parrots are. This is why I always try to tell everyone to travel with your birds now. Get them used to going into the carrier now, not when there is an emergency and no time to work on it. Practice putting your parrot into the travel carrier when things are stress free. Take your bird on car rides and short outings just for the fun of it. By taking this preemptive approach, you can ensure that you will be prepared to evacuate your birds under any circumstances.
During the actual hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or other scenario, use common sense on keeping parrots safe inside the home. Some people lost parrots during the recent hurricane when windows flew open and birds flew away. If things are that bad, then leave the bird in the cage! Keep cages away from windows and consider putting them in the bathroom (often the sturdiest place in a house). It may also help to throw sheets or blankets over the cage to protect from debris. The only event in which the birds would be worse off in a cage is a flood. If you are on a low level and a flood is taking place, the birds could drown right in their cage. Try to get their cages high or let them loose in the house. If the situation is most severe and your birds are flighted, just open their cages and let them fly away and deal with recovering them later. Don't let your birds be trapped in their cages in a flood or fire.
Finally, if I were unexpectedly stranded home with the birds for some time, I would apply the ideas mentioned above for survival. Like I said, I usually order a new bag of pellets when I'm approaching a month reserve so I doubt the birds would go hungry. But even without pellets, I get them used to eating alternate foods. Cereal is not as good as pellets but similar and will ensure that your parrots don't starve. Some parrots are picky and might not immediately want to eat it. Try it now, see if you can feed your parrot several meals of easy to find human food in case you're in a situation where you had to evacuate birds without time to get their food. I always keep some bottled water for convenience which also serves as an emergency supply. When I travel with my birds, I keep one bottle aside just for them to drink from. I pour the water into a cup and let the birds take turns drinking from it. I never give them water from a bottle I drank directly from because of bacteria.
Hopefully this helps you begin to think about dealing with emergencies and how they could affect your parrots. It is better to be prepared and not need to use it than to be caught by surprise. Given that most natural catastrophes are predictable, try to err on the side of caution and move your family/pets to safety beforehand. If hit by something unexpected, be prepared with supplies and plans. Practice the steps that might relate to dealing with an emergency by traveling with your parrots and exposing them to novel situations, foods, people, and places.
This Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for the conveniences and safety we have while making preparations to ensure that we and our pets can be safe under extraordinary circumstances. Have a wonderful holiday.