BEHAVIOR CONCEPTS: Use the Positive Approach

Everything we do has purpose. Your bird’s behavior is no different. Look closely at your environment to understand why your bird acts in certain ways. Oftentimes we do things that cause a bird to act in negative ways. If we change, our birds will change. Birds are not naturally mean or constantly “hormonal” so take caution in using labels. If you place blame on the bird, you won’t look further at the situation and find other ways to solve problems. Some important concepts to remember:

• We get what we reinforce. Reward your bird for the things that work in your household and never take good behavior for granted. “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”

• Punishment never works. It only destroys trust. Trust is the most important commodity to have with your companion bird.

• Never use aggressive behavior. Most birds will respond with aggression (like biting) in defense. This is natural.

• ALWAYS ignore the behaviors that do not work in your home. If you or any member of your family responds at ANY time, this behavior is likely to continue.

• Try to replace undesirable behaviors with desirable ones. For example: give your bird a healthy appetizer (like a stalk of broccoli or a nut stuffed in a straw) while you are making dinner so they won’t be tempted to scream; give a treat for going into the cage so they will associate this with a positive experience; and say “Good!” or give a small treat when your bird steps onto your hand.

• Discover trick training like: turning around, pulling up the bucket or waving. This is a healthy way to maintain a positive relationship with your companion that does not include over-petting. Birds are really intelligent and they will appreciate your efforts to acknowledge this.

• Respect your bird’s personal space. Ask them to step-up but give them room to come to you, try not to use force. Learn to read your bird’s body language and give them the opportunity to make decisions and have choices.  We don’t have to touch our birds much to still have a mutually positive relationship.

• Respect your bird’s house (cage). Many birds are territorial, nature has equipped them with strong survival skills in the wild. These instincts are still at work in our homes. It is not essential to pick your bird up from inside the cage if they are protective of it. Let them exit the cage and then engage in interaction. Service the cage when they are away from it.

• Learn more about how your bird’s species lives in the wild, this may explain certain behaviors in your home. Is your bird a ground feeder or a canopy feeder? Does this species fly in large flocks or small groups? Does it mingle with other species or is this a single-species bird? Join the World Parrot Trust (, support parrot conservation programs.

• Birds are prey animals which means they naturally seek safe places, and being high can also help them feel safe. We do not need to dominate our birds, so allow them to seek higher ground for comfort. Train them to come to you upon request by using positive reinforcement and rewards.

Recommended resources: Biting Matters and Project Parrot by Jenny Drummey; Birds Beyond Words by Leigh Ann Hartsfield; resources at including the helpful toolkit here: Clicker Training by Melinda Johnson; DVDs and books by Barbara Heidenreich. Click here for books

For some short video clips about behavior and specific training tips, go to:

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