by Theresa Jordan
(from "The Quaker's Nest" Issue IV, July/August 1997)
The often-heard statement that Quaker Parakeets are known to be "naturally stubborn" seems to be generally accepted as a truism. As an experienced Quaker breeder and owner for over 8 years, as well as other species, I feel the need to defend all species on which this label is being placed, and expound on that statement in order for it to be understood in the context that it is being made.
Why Is My Quaker Always So Stubborn?
Statements that refer to a particular species of parrot as "stubborn", "hard to train", and "born to scream" are heard frequently, usually in an attempt to explain why a particular parrot isn't behaving as it should or as its owner wants it to. While I agree that stubborness can be a personality trait of some individual birds, I don't think the term should be used as a blanket statement in reference to an entire species. As is being realized in an increasing number of hand-raised pet birds suffering from behavioral problems, the "stubborness" or "screaming" is not the problem in and of itself; it is more than likely simply a manifestation of poor socialization in young parrots, and a misunderstanding of the bird's needs in ones who are a bit older. The definitive answer to these problems lies in the owner's continuing education and thorough understanding of parrot behavior.
It is a well known, proven fact that parrots are astonishingly intelligent. Their behavior is reminiscent of a young child. Parents know that it is imperative to teach a child respect and how to behave starting at an early age; the longer they wait to attempt to initiate the rules of acceptable behavior, the harder it will be for the child to accept them, and behave accordingly. Children are taught socialization skills, both by their parents and by observation. They learn what is and what is not acceptable behavior by the reactions of their parents and those exposed to the behavior.
The same holds true for parrots. Any parrot that has been allowed to continue what is viewed as unacceptable behavior, exhibit aggression, or behave as the "flock leader" will, without human intervention, come to understand that the behavior s/he is exhibiting is acceptable, and the longer it is allowed to continue the more difficult it will be to modify. The ideal way to prevent this is, of course, in the education of new parrot owners before they purchase a pet bird. Thankfully, there has been an explosion in the availability of "avian information" in the past several years, and many more people have access to this needed information.
How Can I Make My Bird Stop.............
The secret to determining the underlying cause of a behavior problem is observation. Not only is it imperative to take note of when the unacceptable behavior began, but also any and all changes in the bird's environment prior to the manifestation of the behavior problems. Birds are very sensitive creatures, and what we as humans might view as a minor or insignificant change could have a profound, and very possibly devastating, effect on them. The practice of observing your bird should be a never-ending process. The more information that you make yourself aware of in regards to your bird, the easier it will be to deduce the cause of any problems that may arise.
The following is a question that I received recently in regard to screaming, along with my reply.
"But, how do you correct the behavior of excessive screaming?"
There is no "ultimate set-in-stone" answer for screaming problems.
In order to modify the behavior, first you would have to determine
exactly what is the _cause_ of the screaming. Is there a certain
time of day, or when a particular person enters/leaves the room, or a
particular activity performed, that occurs before the bird starts
screaming? Is it at the start of mealtime, when someone comes home
from work, or when someone leaves the room? The _cause_ of the
screaming must be determined before you can realistically prepare a
plan of behavior modification; if the reasons aren't determined
first then any attempts at modification will probably be useless. It all goes back to
understanding their behavior. A screaming bird is screaming for a
reason, whether it be an expression of happiness, a protest toward
something, or some other as yet unidentified reason for the bird being unhappy.
How Well Do You Know Your Bird?
As an example, here's a short test to get an idea of how well you currently know your bird as a result of simple observation.
|At what time of day is your bird most irritable?
|Does your bird take a nap daily?
|What are your bird's favorite foods?
|Which foods do your bird eat first before others offered?
|What is your bird's favorite toy?
|Where does your bird like to be scritched? |
|During what time of day is your bird the most sociable?
|What is the normal color and consistency of your bird's droppings?
|Does your bird prefer fresh food or dry food?
Yes, some birds may scream just to hear their own voice, and some may bite occasionally without provocation. But as a general rule, any hand-fed bird that is secure, happy, and has been well-socialized will not suddenly start exhibiting problem behavior unless something has caused him to become unhappy or stressed. If they are hand-fed and weaned properly, taught socialization skills, and acceptable standards of behavior set and followed from the beginning, there will most likely be no behavior problems. As I said, the key lies in early training.
General Taming Tips
|First and foremost, remember that domesticated parrots are, at the most, only one generation removed from the wild. The are not born knowing how to be good pets; we must teach them; with understanding, love, and patience. Ultimately, their "pet quality" is our responsibility.|
|As a general rule, any bird larger than a conure and/or whose temperament is at any time unpredictable, should not be allowed to perch on the shoulder of a human. Regardless of how tame or loving your pet bird may be, unusual or unexpected circumstances may arise that make your parrot feel threatened, angry, over-excited, or afraid. These circumstances can lead to nasty facial bites; it's much safer to not invite trouble.|
|Try not to handle your bird too much if you are extremely upset, angry or experiencing any strong negative feelings. Birds are sensitive creatures and will pick up on your mood immediately, and may become overexcited or confused.|
|If your pet bird does not already know the "Up" and "Down" commands, teach them to him immediately and use them consistently whenever the bird is being handled. |
|Encourage everyone in your family to develop a relationship with the bird, via handling and use of the "Up" and "Down" commands. This is one of the most important aspects of socialization, and will help your bird accept new people more readily.|
|Work with your bird routinely a few times a week, reinforcing the "Up" and "Down" commands. Use a T-stand or ladder the bird back and forth between your hands. Continue to use the commands whenever you remove or return your bird to his cage.
My quaker parakeet, Dakota, is about 8 months old. She was hand-fed,
weaned, and socialized by our family in our home. She has never bitten or nipped
anyone, knows the "Up" and "Down" commands, and obeys them
without hesitation regardless of who issues the command. She has recently
gone with me to a neighborhood public park on weekends, where she is handled by numerous
unfamiliar adults and children alike. She went bike riding with me
yesterday, and we stopped to speak to 3 different families along the
way. She again was handled by many different people, including young children about seven to eight years of age, and didn't bite or nip any of them.
The explanation for her friendly, outgoing, non-aggressive behavior is that she has been trained and socialized
properly, starting from the time she was a baby. We consistently use the "Up" and "Down" commands when handling her and removing/returning her to her cage, and she obeys the commands even when they are issued by children in the house.
If you purchase a quality bird from a responsible, educated breeder who has raised them
correctly, you and your pet bird will have the very best start that you could possibly hope to have. The key in keeping any bird tame and lovable, regardless of species, is the knowledge of how to raise him/her correctly. There are numerous sources of valuable information on these subjects. The bird owner who has the happy, healthy, well-behaved, well-adjusted parrot is one who has taken the time and responsibility to educate himself, and cares enough to provide the bird with the best possible environment.
Theresa Jordan/Jordan Enterprises, 1997
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