Training Tidbit: Scary Objects!

Sometimes our birds are afraid of the funniest things. I recently worked with a bird who was acting strange. Would not come out of her cage! Even if she was brave enough to come out, by her body language we could tell she was uncomfortable. She wasn’t flapping or playing or singing, just sitting quietly with the feathers tucked close to the body. By watching her reactions, we found the source of her fear – a cantaloupe. The human and done some grocery shopping and left the cantaloupe on the table for a few days. And the bird had some strong opinions about the strange, pale ball on the dining room table.

If you find your bird acting afraid of something, here are some easy tips:

  1. Identify the source/object/situation that elicits a fear response. This could be new furniture, home décor, a new bird toy, a new person, a new food, or even something new outside the window. Remove the item. Does your bird return to their calm normal? Great. You have identified the right thing! Bring the item back but keep it far away from your bird. As far as is necessary for your bird to remain neutral. If that’s at the far end of the house lying on the floor, that’s OK. Whatever it takes for your bird to be “under threshold”. It’s natural for a flocking prey animal to be wary of new things!
  2. Have your bird at their safe distance from the scary object, and give them their preferred reinforcers for staying calm. A calm bird should be getting pieces of nut one after the other, so they start to create a positive association with the scary object.
  3. Leave your bird where they are comfortable, be it in their cage, on a tree or on a human. Have someone interact with the scary object. Pet the cantaloupe. Kiss the cantaloupe. Tell the cantaloupe a story. This is a normal part of flocking behaviour, if one member deems something safe, others may try it as well. Pair this with #4!
  4. Allow the bird to approach the scary object at their own pace. This may be slow, but be sure to reinforce EVERYTHING your bird does towards the scary object. Even leaning towards would be cause for a nut! If your bird knows “touch” you can use it to help slowly approach the scary object.
  5. Keep sessions short! A few minutes of work and then the scary object is put away. Try again later, and do another short session. Short positive experiences!

This will quickly allow your bird to have a positive association with the scary object. Soon they will be choosing to approach and even interact with the scary object. Good work! Always go at your birds’ pace. “Go Slow to Get There Quick”. Happy Training!