Training Tidbit – Meeting a bird

I meet a lot of birds in my travels. Some I’m meeting for the first time, others I’ve met many times before. There is one rule I always use when approaching any bird: ASK. Ask before meeting them the first time. Ask before every time. Ask again if you left the room and came back. Always ASK.

It seems silly to ask permission to approach a bird I’ve met a hundred times before. Maybe some birds are more habituated to human attention than other. Still, I always ask. May I come closer? May I sit beside you? Would you like head rubs? May I touch you?

What does it look like to ask a bird before you approach them? In my experience, a bird who is uncomfortable with my approaching will give a subtle body language clue to their feelings. A bird who doesn’t want me closer might widen their foot stance, lean away, hide behind a toy, or simply pretend “not to notice” me. Those are all great clues for me to keep my distance, until I see calm body language. That might mean waiting a few minutes, or maybe not approaching at all. Each day, each time, could be different.

Why is it different today than yesterday? If that bird really enjoyed head rubs the last time I saw him, why would today be any different? I could probably just go right over and get a head rub. By asking, I make sure, every time, that the lines of communication are open. What if they had a bad sleep last night? What if they just heard a loud noise and are still not recovered? What if they just got a new perch and aren’t 100% confident in using it? What if I’m wearing something that they are unsure about? I can think of many reasons why a bird may not want to be touched right now. Even if they were yesterday.

Consent needs to go both ways. I want all birds to know that I will always ask. And that they can say ‘no thank you’ and I will respect that. Any sign of uncomfortableness and I back right off.

In addition to that, the human has a say as well. At the Parrot Club, you might run into people who are not comfortable with anyone touching their bird. We all have the option of saying ‘please don’t touch my bird today’. That’s OK too! If you are really curious, talk to them. Ask them what you could do, that would be acceptable for bird AND human. Perhaps you could cue a known behaviour like a wave, and the owner could give the treat to their bird. Sometimes even looking away (avoiding eye contact) is the best option for a timid bird getting used to new surroundings. We all know our birds best, so being respectful is the best answer.