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!
Ginger's Parrots Rescue, a 501c3 Rescue based in Arizona, is really innovative when it comes to bird rescue. It is the first of its kind. Ginger's Parrots Rescue specializes in Senegal Parrots and Cockatiels. By being a species oriented rescue, Ginger's is able to put a greater amount of expertise and knowledge into rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting out these parrots.
The Birdie Bus is the newest innovation of Ginger's Parrots Rescue. The bus allows the rescue to go mobile and cruise around the Phoenix area to search for potential adopters for the birds in need. The bus can transport many (but not all) of the rescue's birds at once so that the public can learn about parrots and consider adopting one. Ginger takes the bus to PetSmart adoption days to offer a bird adoption in addition to cat/dog adoptions normally performed inside.
The Birdie Bus itself is really cool. It has 4 different doors so that the bird can get an outside experience in safety. The side and rear door open exposing the bird cages to the outside. Viewers can see and interact with the birds while the cages are securely locked inside the bus. There is also plenty of capacity for moving a tent, tables, chairs, and other items needed at rescue outings.
I went down to Phoenix in November to help Ginger with the Birdie Bus unveiling event. Bird owners from the local parrot community stopped by to show support and people looking to adopt or volunteer came by as well.
Three purposes are served by the Birdie Bus. The first is to get birds out of the rescue for socialization and fresh air. Even if a bus outing does not result in adoptions that day, it is still a victory for the birds to gain experience being out of the rescue and seeing new people. The second purpose is to help the birds find adopters. This is a chance for the birds to meet people and people to meet the birds. Folks going shopping who may have always wanted a parrot have the opportunity to realize that bird adoptions are available! The third goal is to solicit support for the rescue project through donations and volunteers. The bus is fueled not only by gas money but also through a lot of help. The bus does a good job at attracting existing bird owners out of curiosity. They aren't always the best candidates for more birds if they are at their capacity, but having experienced bird owners volunteering is also a big help to the rescue.
There are several ways you can help the Birdie Bus project. The best way is adopting a parrot from Ginger's Parrots Rescue. If you are anywhere near Phoenix and looking for a Senegal Parrot or Cockatiel, this is the place to adopt! Also, Ginger can always use help from local volunteers. But just because you're not adopting or don't live near Arizona, doesn't mean you can't help. The bus needs corporate sponsors, donors, and social media support. If you can send some money, the bus is in need of repairs, maintenance, upgrade, and gas. The rescue is non-profit and depends entirely on donations. Your support will help the rescue get these birds seen by the public and promote the concept of adoption. Finally, even if you don't have any money to spare, you can help by spreading the word. As more people hear about the rescue and the Birdie Bus project, they may choose to adopt, donate, volunteer, or spread the word and the Bus can drive on! Thanks for your help.
Here is a video of the birds going for a ride on the Birdie Bus:
And this is a video of the Birdie Bus unveiling event:
Lori lives near Pittsburgh. This is close enough that we have the chance to visit her and Santina now and then, but from New York it is still quite far. By car, this is 6 hours each way, but by airplane just 2 hours. This is still a committed all day sort of trip, but a day drip nonetheless.
We were greeted in Pittsburgh with snow flurries and bitter cold after a challenging flight through the same weather. We agreed to stay quiet walking into the house to see how Santina reacts to each of us. Marianna went in first and I heard Santina greet her with an enthusiastic "Hi!"
I walked in and there was no denying that Santina remembered me. In no time she had her foot up, asking to step up. I was a little hesitant at first because if Santina forgot me, I could have been met with a vicious bite. She enjoyed some head scratches on my arm, danced around, and played with toys. While it was easy to get her to step up onto my arm, it was a bit of work getting her back off. She would cling on and be very reluctant to get off.
Lori walked in, and Santina couldn't be happier. All of her favorite people in one room. Incredibly, Santina was great with everyone. When I had her, Santina was much a one-person bird. Everyone else was so afraid of her that it was quite difficult to get other people to train her to open up to people. But, since Lori had no other choice but to train Santina, Santina finally got to learn to cooperate with multiple people. Once the bird is friendly with a handful of people, it's no longer a stretch for that bird to learn to be friendly to all people in general.
I could tell that Lori has done a fantastic job training Santina. It took Lori only a few weeks getting Santina to adjust and be good with her. Using training, treats, and patience, Lori had Santina stepping up and allowing head scratches in a very short time. All the time since was developing their own personal relationship and lifestyle. I can tell that not only has Santina adjusted to a new home but Lori has adjusted well to life with a parrot.
We weighed Santina and were really happy to see her weight is spot on. She has a good appetite and has been eating well. Lori has done a good job balancing the feeding Santina was accustomed to with her own variety of foods. Lori demonstrated how she cuddles Santina on the couch as part of their routine.
Then it was time to open presents. Santina was nervous of the wrapping paper so I let Lori try with her. They worked on it together and Santina grew the courage to open it herself. A giant foraging toy for sure! Santina ripped all of the wrapping paper to find a bag full of tasty nuts.
We exchanged gifts and enjoyed a special holiday dinner before heading back off into the sky. We were thrilled to see Santina doing so well and happy and we had a heart warming visit with our new friend. Here is a video of our visit with Lori and Santina the Green-Winged Macaw for the holidays:
So it's been 6 months since I adopted Santina; but it's also been a few months since the macaw was introduced to the other two. I'd like to take a little time to talk about the flock dynamics that are emerging.
Initially, Kili had been an only bird. Then for a short time she shared the household with a budgie and eventually with Truman. The dynamic between Kili and Truman had always been where Kili was boss. Kili could take any perch from Truman at any moment. Truman got used to being the "little bird." Now things changed yet again with the addition of another bird.
Whenever considering the addition of another bird it is absolutely essential to consider how this bird will fit into the existing flock structure. You can't just simply say "I want this kind" and disregard whether existing birds will agree or not. When it comes to Kili, I know that she will bully any bird that is smaller or several times her size. This is why when I got Truman, I was only considering birds that were bigger than her that could handle the aggression. Even at triple her weight and 1.3x her size, Truman tends to lose most fights to her.
Santina is obviously much bigger than the other two but her personality also plays a big factor. She's not aggressive, she's slow, hulking, lazy. These qualities make her a lesser threat to the existing smaller birds. In fact, she would not go after them and they could out fly her any time, even if she could fly. So that's one side of the issue eliminated. On the flip side, the biggest danger is if the little guys put themselves in the way.
Initial introductions were to build favorable first impressions, start peacefully, and get the birds used to being around each other without causing trouble. However, beyond this early acceptance, the rest they have to work out on their own. This happens little by little through experimentation as the birds cross each others paths (whether intentionally or inadvertently).
The only trouble I ran into was that Santina finished her hazelnut quickly and started to pry Truman's nut out of his beak and scared him. The trick is to keep them busy with more nuts or to separate the birds before any trouble can erupt. This gives them a chance to get used to being around each other and not have aggressive thoughts. As sitting near each other begins to work, trick training the parrots on the same perch is also a great idea to teach cooperation.
Another thing that greatly improves the flock dynamic is taking the parrots outside together. Even if enemies at home, they tend to stick together outdoors against all the other mayhem. This socialization experience builds better bonds between the parrots that you bring home with you (with time). I've been taking the parrots out two and sometimes even three at a time. I put them down on fences or benches in close proximity to each other and keep them busy with training and food. They behave very well together in this type of setting.
Interestingly, Truman was never scared of Santina (more than triple his weight and size) from the very beginning. Kili, the bird that fearlessly bullies Truman, stays away from Santina. Kili is a true bully, she'll only pick fights she knows she can win. Truman on the other hand is the bumbling dodo. Truman will cross Santina's path thoughtlessly. And I want to reiterate that he's doing this in a non-aggressive way. When Kili goes after Truman, you can tell it is with malicious intentions. Truman on the other hand, doesn't actually go after Santina but he walks by her entirely focused on whatever he is after. Truman does not notice the far bigger macaw perched there and brushes right by her. His behavior comes off as bold. But his boldness is not in him thinking that he can take on the bigger bird but him not thinking at all. This is how Truman lands himself in trouble all the time.
This is exactly what happens between Truman and Santina. They have potential together as they are both non-aggressive birds but Truman is a bit of a dummy and puts himself in her way. Half the time this happens too quickly for Santina to react. Other times she runs away not knowing how this little bird can be coming right at her. Sometimes she puts her beak out defensively though. She does not attack or bite but simply tries to defend herself. Truman has been known to try to land on her and she needs to send him a reminder that her head is not a landing pad. Here's a video that perfectly illustrates the sort of character that Truman is:
A little over a week ago I took Santina outside wearing a harness for the very first time. In fact, it was the same day that Kili & Truman went to Coney Island for the first time. In the morning I took Santina for a short walk around my neighborhood and then later that afternoon I took her to the park. Throughout the week I alternated walking local streets and taking her to the park.
At first Santina was a little nervous, but nothing terrible. At least not for her. For me, a nervous Santina is very painful because she has a killer grip on my arm. The more nervous she gets, the tighter she chokes my arm! A bird of that size can leave quite the scratches and bruises with just its feet! But as I continued taking Santina out, she became more and more relaxed and my arms suffered less for it!
By the second Sunday, one week since her first outing, I was able to take her to the park and have an easy time with her. Here are some photos and video of that adventure.
Only a few days since Santina's park outing, I decided that it was time to take her to Coney Island. It was just the perfect opportunity. The weather and temperature were perfect, it was a week day so the boardwalk wouldn't be too crowded, and a friend of mine already happened to be there and could help out. My biggest concern was not Santina freaking out but someone trying to touch her and getting bit! Having extra eyes on her would be helpful as well as burly individuals to socialize her on.
Well in the two hours Santina spent at Coney Island, she made a year's worth of socialization progress. She went from trying to bite others and refusing to step up to being calm and having a great time. I was even able to put her on people's arms to pose for pictures and she spent over 15 minutes on my friend's arm. She had a fantastic time and came out a more social bird at the end of it. Check out the photos and video of Santina's Coney Island adventure.