by Mattie Sue Athan
Like many pet bird species, Quaker Parrots can tend to become one-person birds unless a conscious effort is made to prevent this from occurring. This article provides advice and steps a parrot owner can take to encourage parrots to enjoy handling by multiple people.
Question: I just got a new baby Quaker, and I’ve read that Quakers can become one-person birds. What can I do now to encourage the bird to allow handling from everyone in the family, including the children?
The best way to maintain balanced relationships between the bird and multiple humans is to arrange for the bird to interact with those humans on a regular basis. In order for this to happen with a reasonable probability of success, both the children and the bird must be trained. Since all behavior is comprised of habits that are repeated and re-repeated, we must form habits in the children and in the Quaker that make it difficult or impossible for the bird to bite.
As we have mentioned previously, step-up exercises are the primary means by which a Quaker parrot is programmed to cooperate in human-directed ways. From its first days in the home, the baby Quaker parrot should practice the step-up command in unfamiliar territory a couple of times most days. The routine need be no more than one or two minutes’ duration. A laundry room or hallway is usually perfect “unfamiliar territory”, as the bird will probably never spend much time in these types of areas. This patterning process works best when it includes:
- Practice stepping the bird from hand to and from an unfamiliar stationary perch,
- Practice stepping the bird from hand to hand,
- Practice stepping the bird from a hand-held perch to and from an unfamiliar stationary perch,
- Practice stepping the bird from a hand-held perch to a hand-held perch, and
- Practice stepping the bird from a familiar stationary perch to and from both hands and to and from hand-held perches.
Once the bird is well patterned to cooperate well with adults, then children can also be included in this activity in neutral territory. If the bird and the children are well trained, then the children can always handle the bird with a hand-held perch when it is in a funky mood. Remember to put a poorly socialized bird on a low, unfamiliar perch whenever passing it from a taller, more favored adult to a shorter, less favored youngster.
THE TOWEL GAME
Most well-socialized, newly-weaned handfed baby Quakers will come still quaking and blissfully snuggling in a towel. Most children can be taught to handle the little bird like a baby doll, gently managing to keep the towel between the bird and fragile juvenile skin. While this is not usually necessary to prevent biting in a baby bird, it can be an invaluable tool later when the bird’s instincts for domination develop.
A biting pattern cannot appear or be maintained unless there is a first bite. Children are best taught to maintain eye contact with the bird, to avoid provocative use of the hands and head, and to avoid being bitten EVEN ONCE. If children always remove the bird from it’s territory with a hand-held perch (I advocate letting the Quaker parrot chose to come out of the cage then step the bird up from the cage top or door), while maintaining eye contact and admonishing the bird to “be a good bird”, they can move the bird to neutral territory, and probably handle the bird in almost any appropriate way.
Be especially watchful for children engaging in provocative behavior, especially when the bird is in the cage. A child who points at the caged Quaker, wiggles fingers in the bird’s face, giggles and runs away, should expect to be nipped, bitten, chased, or attacked the next time the bird has a chance to do so. While well socialized children and Quakers may be perfectly safe together, marginally socialized children and marginally socialized Quakers cannot be trusted alone together. Be sure to supervise children, especially very young children, whenever they interact with precious companion birds.
APPROPRIATE BEHAVIORAL MANAGEMENT
There really is no “quick fix” here (unless it’s hand-held perches), appropriately balanced interactions probably involve many factors. For example, it’s unlikely that a full-flighted Quaker parrot would NOT learn to abuse children in the home. Trimmed wing-feathers, transportation dependence, safe outings, nutritious diet, and access to clean, safe water for drinking and bathing are only a few of the factors that are important here. The whole process is discussed in great detail in Guide to the Quaker Parrot.
Mattie Sue Athan has been a companion parrot behavior consultant since 1978. During that time she has averaged two to three new Quaker clients per week. Her first book, Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot, is an industry standard. Her second book, Guide to the Quaker Parrot, sold out the first printing in 5 months. She also wrote Guide to the Senegal Parrot and Its Family and Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior.