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Bringing Home a Baby Bird

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Bringing home a new pet bird is not at all the same as adding a puppy or kitten to your household. While dogs and cats bond naturally to humans, and pretty much befriend everyone, birds (especially parrots) are quite a bit more discriminating. You'll need to proceed carefully to earn your bird's trust and affection, and develop a life-long loving relationship.

In the wild, most pet bird species are pair-bonders, which means they choose a mate and usually remain together for life. In captivity, a tame parrot might choose one favored human as a surrogate "mate,'' and consider other family members as friendly flock-mates. A parrot that is poorly socialized or mistreated, however, might view all humans as threats and enemies, and such a bird can show extreme fear or aggression. Canaries and finches don't typically enjoy human companionship to the same degree as parrots, but they should still be socialized to be unafraid of humans and to enjoy some interaction.

Understanding the birdie brain

It's important to remember that pet birds are wild animals, even when they've been born in captivity. And, since legislation passed in 1994 prohibited the importation of most exotic birds, it's likely your new pet was indeed born in someone's aviary. However, they still don't have thousands of years of domestic history with humans as dogs, cats and poultry do. You must also remember that they are a prey species, so their natural instincts to avoid becoming someone's lunch are fully intact and operational. That ceiling fan might look and sound a lot like the onrushing wings of a hawk, and the well-meaning human who suddenly approaches and grabs from behind could be a predator leaping from the bush.

Assuming that you've purchased a healthy and well-socialized bird from a reputable breeder or pet shop, your main focus will be teaching the newcomer the house rules, so to speak.

"Birds come from a very hierarchal society,'' said Dr. Ken Eisenberg of All Creatures Great and Small Veterinary Practice in Downers Grove, Ill. "Whoever gets to sit at the top of the tree is the one in authority.''

What that means for you is that you must remain the tallest in the flock, both literally and figuratively. Don't let your bird ride on your head or shoulder, and don't place play stands or cage tops higher than human eye level. Keep your parrot's wings properly trimmed (a painless and temporary grooming technique similar to a haircut) in order to restrict flight. If your pet can fly away or dance around above your head, he is the Bird King and you are not. He will be prone to giving you a severe thrashing if you do not honor his every whim.

Tips and reminders

  • Exercise leader companionship by manipulating height. Never hit a bird or use any type of physical discipline. They have long memories and short fuses.
  • Parrots love noise. Screaming at a misbehaving bird actually serves as a reward and encourages the behavior.
  • Birds are very visual creatures. They will watch you closely to pick up cues about your mood, and often mirror. Don't be surprised if your parrot bites you when you're feeling angry.
  • Do not allow people or other pets to tease, prod, or otherwise annoy your bird. It's been said that parrots follow the logic "if you can't bite the one you want, bite the one you're with.'' Don't become a victim of displaced animosity.
  • Always treat your bird with love and kindness, and it will likely return that love tenfold. Parrots are capable of great love and loyalty. Be the kind of person who deserves it.
Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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