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Asking for advice with a very skittish parrot

VVictoria

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I'm having a lot of difficulty with my Red Bellied Parrot. She is very afraid of things, prone to biting, flies around the room at any sudden movement or loud noise, and as a result, spends most of her time in her cage. Recently we just built her a little Parrot gym but she was very afraid of it upon introduction to it. We must have waited for an hour with her on her perch to see if she'd get onto it. All she did was taste the rope a few times and she was so agitated she tried to bite me whenever I tried to put her back into her cage. Her behavior is much more troublesome than I've read about online and I've been struggling trying to train her off and on for years. It also seems like she's started doing some mating behaviors sometimes, which is new for her. She was born sometime in the early 1990s, she was given to my grandmother by a friend because my parrot (peanut) liked my grandmother more. After my grandmother passed, we've been taking care of peanut. I don't know if her bad behavior is age-related, but I know that she was basically always kept inside her cage. Even as a young child, I was told to be careful around her because she will bite. We've been doing our best to try to acclimatize her to new things and train her to be more docile but it's been very difficult and doesn't seem to be making much progress. Does anyone have any tips? Thank you
 

Tazlima

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Sounds less age-related and more cage-related to me. I apologize if this sounds harsh, but imagine a human stuck in what amounts to solitary confinement for twenty-odd years. That would be enough to make anybody a nervous wreck. A bird's cage should be like a child's bedroom - a place that's safe and comfortable and all theirs, where they can sleep or play or hide, but it should never be a prison.

You have a couple major positive points, though:

1) "Flying around the room" sounds like she has all her feathers and the ability to fly, which is very, very good. Flying lets her avoid scary things, which makes those things much less frightening. Imagine you're out on the ocean and you see a giant shark. You'll feel much safer in a boat than in the water, right? Birds feel safe up high and far away. From there, they can observe everything and maybe, if they decide it's not so scary after all, they'll decide to eventually come down for a closer look. Letting them run away paradoxically encourages them to come closer in the long run.

2) There's another benefit to all that flying. It's a workout. It will help her get out nervous energy, improve her sleep, appetite, weight, muscle tone... basically all the benefits you'd expect from starting an exercise program, plus it's extremely mentally stimulating.

3) You're making an effort to change her life for the better and have come here for advice.

My first thought would be to open the cage door and just leave it open. Let her come and go as she pleases. (And if she refuses to come out, that's okay - what's important is that she has the choice). Make food and water available inside the cage and on the playstand, and make the playstand food the tastier option. Then, ignore her. Go about your life as if she's not there. If you see her watching you, acknowledge her with a gentle greeting, "oh, hello there," and then continue with whatever you were doing. If she shows signs of fear or aggression (which, in a timid bird, is basically just another way of showing fear), either remain still (if you're already still), or move away and give her some space (if you're in motion). Trying to control her is futile. She needs to learn that she can control YOU. Controlling you means she can interacting with you (or not interact) on her terms.

That's the biggest hurdle. Once she realizes her behavior can influence your behavior, all you have to do is show her that you have some WONDERFUL behaviors she can create. You are a treat dispenser. You're a giver of scritches. You're a fun person to talk to. And all she has to do to get these things is ask! Asking, of course, can take many forms. It may be simply sitting nearby or making a particular noise. It may be stepping up or otherwise doing some simple task.

Whatever steps you take, just be aware that nothing will change overnight. She's had 20 years to develop the behaviors she has. It may take weeks or months or years to see significant changes.

To give you an idea what I mean: I have an 11 year old TAG who came to me fully feathered, yet unable to fly - I suspect she was clipped early and simply never learned. She came to me in mid-April. Tonight, for the first time, she did a flapping jump to get over an eight-inch gap. It's the first time I've seen her trust her wings even the teeniest bit.
 
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Rain Bow

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Sounds less age-related and more cage-related to me. I apologize if this sounds harsh, but imagine a human stuck in what amounts to solitary confinement for twenty-odd years. That would be enough to make anybody a nervous wreck. A bird's cage should be like a child's bedroom - a place that's safe and comfortable and all theirs, where they can sleep or play or hide, but it should never be a prison.

You have a couple major positive points, though:

1) "Flying around the room" sounds like she has all her feathers and the ability to fly, which is very, very good. Flying lets her avoid scary things, which makes those things much less frightening. Imagine you're out on the ocean and you see a giant shark. You'll feel much safer in a boat than in the water, right? Birds feel safe up high and far away. From there, they can observe everything and maybe, if they decide it's not so scary after all, they'll decide to eventually come down for a closer look. Letting them run away paradoxically encourages them to come closer in the long run.

2) There's another benefit to all that flying. It's a workout. It will help her get out nervous energy, improve her sleep, appetite, weight, muscle tone... basically all the benefits you'd expect from starting an exercise program, plus it's extremely mentally stimulating.

3) You're making an effort to change her life for the better and have come here for advice.

My first thought would be to open the cage door and just leave it open. Let her come and go as she pleases. (And if she refuses to come out, that's okay - what's important is that she has the choice). Make food and water available inside the cage and on the playstand, and make the playstand food the tastier option. Then, ignore her. Go about your life as if she's not there. If you see her watching you, acknowledge her with a gentle greeting, "oh, hello there," and then continue with whatever you were doing. If she shows signs of fear or aggression (which, in a timid bird, is basically just another way of showing fear), either remain still (if you're already still), or move away and give her some space (if you're in motion). Trying to control her is futile. She needs to learn that she can control YOU. Controlling you means she can interacting with you (or not interact) on her terms.

That's the biggest hurdle. Once she realizes her behavior can influence your behavior, all you have to do is show her that you have some WONDERFUL behaviors she can create. You are a treat dispenser. You're a giver of scritches. You're a fun person to talk to. And all she has to do to get these things is ask! Asking, of course, can take many forms. It may be simply sitting nearby or making a particular noise. It may be stepping up or otherwise doing some simple task.

Whatever steps you take, just be aware that nothing will change overnight. She's had 20 years to develop the behaviors she has. It may take weeks or months or years to see significant changes.

To give you an idea what I mean: I have an 11 year old TAG who came to me fully feathered, yet unable to fly - I suspect she was clipped early and simply never learned. She came to me in mid-April. Tonight, for the first time, she did a flapping jump to get over an eight-inch gap. It's the first time I've seen her trust her wings even the teeniest bit.

What exciting news about the flapping. Buddy came to me & from what I could tell as a "Non" flyer. He flies all the time now, usually as a requested flight but a flight all the same. I think of how much happier his heart is when it happens! Congrats that flappy flight is a huge deal!!!

@VVictoria
It takes parrots of all shapes & sizes a long time to get used to & not be afraid of new items. Now, add into the mix that this beautiful little girl you have has been cage bound, she's going to be extra fearful. Be very patient, it could take weeks or even months for her to get used to that play gym. The food idea Taz mentioned is a good 1. I would do everything that @Tazlima recommends... The key here to all of this is persistance is to let her lead the way & for patience. Buddy, my little Dude, was not kept in the cage but kept w/ his cage (on top) & had the freedom to run on the back top part of my Dads couch. It was a runway of about 8 feet long. No flying that I could tell since he was a baby & that was after 25 yrs. They will learn to trust you if you are careful & patient. I know you're excited about the playgym, & I can tell you when she eventually gets on it, your heart will soar, & you will be proud of yourself & her. It's an indescribable feeling, it must be experienced.

:grouphug2: & :welcomeavenue:
 

VVictoria

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Thank you all for the wonderful information. I would like to ask, however, how you can know what treats she likes the most and the entire treat hierarchy in general. We bought yodips, we bought dried apple, and we've been long dried bread from chex mix. We also bought a pack of nuts. The Chex mix thing is the only one we know for sure that she likes. The other ones seem to be too new for her to like yet.
She won't take treats when we take her out, so I guess she's too stressed for that. I've been giving her the Chex mix as often as she'll take it every day while she's in her cage along with making the click noise on my clicker I bought for use on her. I know it's probably not a good idea to give her treats for nothing but I've been trying to get her clicker trained so I can use that when making her do actual tricks or whatever.
After reading Taz's post, I've opened her cage door and connected a ladder from her cage to her playgym on our dining room table. She's been climbing around on the outside of her cage for a while now without any prompting. I'm hoping she might end up trying out the play gym soon but I know that will probably take a long time.
I'm very new to this but I've been trying to read up on handling her and taking her as much as I can. Is there something more I should be doing? I put some treats on the playgym itself (the new dried apple) but should I put some on the ladder to convince her to climb across? Should I be trying to encourage her to do things? So far, I've just been leaving her alone for today with the cage door open. Should I also open the door on the top of her cage, in case she wants to go in through that opening? I put some new toys in her cage last night but I don't know if that's good or not. So far she only flies when she's panicking due to something like a loud noise but then she lands very quickly somewhere else. Is this also fine? Oh, and she's started asking me to scratch the back of her head and she doesn't bite me when I do that. So I click the clicker then as well as when I give her treats or when she talks. I don't know if that's correct though. I probably should start trying to teach her the step up command, right? Thanks again!
 
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fashionfobie

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Normally for treat selection, you can put several healthy options out and see which she picks. Her first choice is probably her favourite.

I would stop feeding yodips and Chex. It may be better to use a few nut choices. Maybe crush a walnut, try some pine nuts, a crumb of almond?

You want the pieces to be small enough so that she can eat them rather quickly so it is a quick little reward, but given every time she does what you request from her.
 

Rain Bow

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I'm sorry that I didn't respond sooner, I got really really behind on my group alerts (I have 30 pgs down to around 25).

The issue w/ chex is that there are a bunch of added vitamins & minerals, things like the iron in cereals accumulate in our fids littke systems & can cause issues like heavy metal toxicity. It's something that I believe may be difficult to gauge. I let Buddy have a small amount as a treat or for an addition to a meal but we're talking 3-5 pieces a month. Buddys a Zon & probably bigger than your RB parrot, not positive tho. Those Yobites, probably have too much sugar & fat, they're not good for our little guys & gals. I use sunflower seeds & pumpkin seeds for training. Some people use safflower seeds. You will know if what it is as you get to know one another better.

The seeds would probably, fit nicely one the rungs of that ladder to encourage getting to that playgym. You want to avoid treats w/ added sugars & salt. These are tough on our feathered friends... You may want to head over to the training area on AA that may help you.

I'm not sure about your clicker training question because I don't use one w/ Buddy. Probably way wrong too, but the way we do things work for us.


@Mizzely , @Zara

You both may know more about clicker training then I do currently. Any insites?
 

Fuzzy

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:hello1: and welcome to the Avenue, Victoria and Peanut!

When training, with or without a clicker it is the reinforcer that is the most important part. A clicker is just a bridge to communicate "yes, you did well, a treat or other reinforcer is coming". You can use your voice as a bridge if you want. I usually just say "good!", then follow with a reinforcer. But yes, if you want to use a clicker it needs to be "charged" first... ie. paired with the reinforcer.

So right now you are trying to find her favourite food to use as treats? What does she pick out of her food bowl first? Those will be her favourite items. Then you can remove those from her bowl and give them to her by hand. My Orange-winged Amazon was afraid of fingers, so I started off giving him big treats so he wouldn't have to get too close to my fingers... like a whole palm nut (which he loved). Then I discovered he liked cashew nuts so I handed him whole cashews. When he was happy taking those from me, I broke them in half, then quarters etc. The smaller the pieces of treat the more repetition of behaviour you can get before the bird becomes satiated.

Sounds like you have found another reinforcer you can use - the head scritch! If you associate yourself with wonderful experiences like treats and head scritches, she will look forward to you being around. In the same way, try not to associate yourself with aversives, ie. do all you can to avoid her biting. Watch her body language. She should give plenty of warning before she bites. The more she bites, the more she is learning to bite. So heed her body language and back off if her body language says "no, I am not comfortable".

Leave her to explore for herself as Tazlima suggested and you have done. You can certainly encourage, if that encouragement is reinforcing, but don't force her to do anything which may well end in a bite. Having choice is a hugely important reinforcer. She has chosen to come out of her cage which is wonderful! She is in control which will give her confidence. Parrots are usually neophobic/scared of new things so introduce them to her gradually without frightening her. My guys ignored a very expensive java playstand for years... now they are all over it!

Stepping up is actually quite a complex chain of behaviours to teach. Bird has to look at the perch, take steps towards it, put one foot on it, then the other, then hold on whilst it moves. Better to find a bunch of really good reinforcers she will work for first. Then you can break that chain down into small manageable steps and reinforce each step as she learns them.

If she can already step up, then make sure it is highly reinforcing EVERY time so that she will be more likely to want to step up in the future. When she is successful at stepping up, then you can add a verbal cue if you like, but often just the sight of an offered perch or hand is visual cue enough. Again, watch that body language and don't force her to step up, or you may well get bitten. If it is reinforcing enough for her to want to step up when you ask, she will.
 
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WindGlider

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Normally for treat selection, you can put several healthy options out and see which she picks. Her first choice is probably her favourite.

I would stop feeding yodips and Chex. It may be better to use a few nut choices. Maybe crush a walnut, try some pine nuts, a crumb of almond?

You want the pieces to be small enough so that she can eat them rather quickly so it is a quick little reward, but given every time she does what you request from her.
My Toby loves, loves, loves pine nuts! But he is afraid of the clicker. so, it's super praises and pine nuts when target training. He picked up target training in 15 minutes! Of course the stick and clicker has been out for weeks to get him use to seeing them. Seems baby steps are always follow by great leaps of progress. He is 9 months old. Still won't step up for us tho. Yells and flies away to the other side of his cage or play stand. He's a sweet, gentle soul. Just starting to talk, we think. Pretty sure he is trying to say Hello. My sweet little baby blue.
 

Rain Bow

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Yes, baby steps & then Zoom! It's so good to see them achieve the training goals! It also helps them to focus on something during hormonal times. I find it helps Buddy to put him thru a few "old" trining items but be sure to not be overfeeding treats, I try to use more praise during this time w/ 1 vrs. 2 sunflower seeds as an example.
 

Danita

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I have a skittish Cockatoo, like cowers in the corner and also another scared Amazon, he would cringe away when I approached, like I would hit him.
It take a year or two for them to even feel a little comfortable.
The best way is find out their comfort zone, when they start acting nervous, don't go in it. Let them build up trust. Eventually the comfort zone will grow smaller. Make sure they have a cage big enough to hide for when you clean it.
 
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