The first thing you need to know about bringing a parrot into your life is that taming isn’t the issue. Unlike dogs or cats, most domesticated parrots are only a few generations away from the wild, and their ancestors haven’t been selected for their ability to get along with humans. Consequently, if you expect a bird that will obey you instantly and never challenge you, you’re bound to be disappointed. Rather than taming, I prefer to talk about “socializing” – convincing a parrot that you are part of their flock and can be trusted.
The second thing you need to know is that an aggressive parrot is rarely a mean one. More likely, they have had some bad experiences with the humans it has previously encountered. If they are more than a few years old, they may have been abused, or even traumatized. They will need their personal space, and will probably need time to accept you. Keep this fact in mind when the bird you are socializing seems to be delighting in scaring you or getting you angry – it will help you to keep perspective. Otherwise, your fear or frustration will reinforce the aggressive behavior, and in turn it will reinforce your fear and frustration.
As you start to work with a parrot, you have five basic tools. The chances are, you will need all of them, even if the bird has been in contact with humans since it was a few days old:
- Time spent: You wouldn’t expect a person to instantly accept you, and a parrot is at least as smart as a two year old human. Place your bird’s cage where it can see you most of the time you are home. Sit beside the cage, and say a few words when you pass the cage. Establish yourself as part of the bird’s environment.
- Your voice: Talk to the bird whenever you can. Better yet, sing to them. Parrots are a highly social species, and they are used to members of the flock vocalizing to each other. If you vary your intonation, the bird may also become curious about you, and start to try to figure you out.
- Food: Adult parrots feed hatchlings. Mates feed each other. Sometimes, even friends feed each other. Offering food is one of the best ways you can show a parrot that you want to be trusted. It’s also a way to encourage your bird to try new foods, by letting them receive it from a trusted source.
- Your movement: Parrots are a prey species, and at first your every move will be a potential threat. You especially want to avoid sudden, quick movements. Concentrate on slowing down your movements and keep them steady and regular. If you study a bird long enough, you will soon find the speed that makes the bird the most comfortable.
- Your patience: How fast a bird accepts you varies with personality and past experience. Some birds may accept you in a matter of minutes. By contrast, the badly abused may take months or even years, and never fully accept you. No matter how long socializing takes, you have to keep your patience; if you find yourself losing it, then you need to calm yourself before interacting with the parrot again.
In effect, socializing a parrot is like trying to function as a child psychologist. It requires energy, effort, and time, and is far more demanding than working with a dog or a cat.
If you think it sounds too demanding, the solution is simple: Don’t bring a parrot into your life. There are already too many abandoned and neglected parrots, so the last thing you should do is add to their number.
However, if you are willing to try, the results are worth the demands. The first time that a parrot flies to you or preens the side of your face is one of the most endearing signs of trust imaginable. And with luck, you will have started a relationship that will last several decades, or possibly even longer, depending on the species.