If you have ever considered a parrot as a pet, let me tell you that rescuing a parrot is nothing like getting a dog from a shelter. As you know if you read this post, I didn’t really adopt Ernie; he adopted me. I have no knowledge about parrots – only little finches, which are a completely different pet. Finches live in the aviary and I provide food, water, clean papers, and a lot of watching. Parrots are interactive, needing to be talked to and petted and tended to almost like a perpetual toddler.
My parrot? Not so much. He’s afraid of everything, and it’s not simply fear. Everything new is a BIG SCARY MONSTER. Dreams of a chattering parrot that goes everywhere with me are out the window. Dreams of him coming out to greet me are out the window too. He prefers his cage. L
Last night I had a small glass in my hand, and it was very frightening. Yet he sees a coffee cup every day. I have to be careful, thoughtful, about everything I touch or move. For every step forward, there are at least 2 backward. Victories are never large, they are tiny. We’re learning to make a really big deal out of a tiny, seemingly insignificant step.
Not knowing what Ernie went through before makes it tough to be a good Parront [parrot parent]. He’s probably set in his ways in addition to having (I think) little interaction with his previous owner. His cage is near my desk, and if I glance over while he’s eating his breakfast, he stops eating and moves back to the top perch. Sigh.
I’ve purchased several books and videos on parrot training; they have titles like ‘teach your parrot to step up in 20 minutes.’ Ernie isn’t learning in 20 minutes, 20 hours, or 20 days.
The instructions all start with feeding your parrot treats. The training gurus all assume a parrot will automatically get a treat from your fingers. Not Ernie. I suspect he was taught to only eat from a bowl. At first Ernie didn’t seem to like anything – except Zupreem fruit blend, and ONLY the purple ones. He picks them out. He hates the all-natural pellets. I figure he’s probably been on an all-seed diet, so pellets are a step forward, let’s go one step at a time.
After two months of offering various foods, I have recently (finally!) found his favorite treats: almonds and cashews. Next is teaching him to take them from my hand. . He has bitten both me and Mickey trying to take an almond from us—nasty bites. I believe they were both accidents, his aim was off. But today he took 3 in a row with no mishaps. Victory!
Now that he takes treats, he needs a solid “step up” which means step onto my hand. He did this occasionally at first, but seems to have forgotten it. Or he’s bluffing. Did I mention, I don’t speak parrot at all? I have trained dogs and horses, and can glance at them and tell you their energy level. Not so with a parrot. I can’t read him. Fortunately he threatens to bite a couple times before he actually does it—otherwise I’d be sporting a lot more scars. But I stress a lot: Am I treating him right? Does he need more, less, better interaction? Would somebody else do a better job? (I’m pretty sure the answer to the last one is yes).
So for the “step up” command, I read about this great tool. It’s a perch that you hold in your hand, a wooden T shape. It has a clear acrylic cover over the part you hold – so if the parrot tries to bite you, he hits the cover. Perfect, right?
No. It is a big, scary monster. It is so scary that I’ve laid it near his cage for a month, and he still can’t stand it. Last night I held it up to him and said “step up” and he ran to the bottom of the cage. I placed him on the perch and he flew down in a huff, going under the secretary to hide. Poor baby.
As I said, the small victories, tiny forward steps, are to be celebrated. One that we have managed to conquer is getting him out of his cage on a consistent basis. I tie his door open every morning and invite him out throughout the day. He is having none of it. OUT is a scary place.
But in the evening, when the sun sets and it’s finally cooling off outside, he seems to relax. Or maybe it’s me that relaxes. At that time of day, Ernie happily comes out. Well, with a bit of urging. He heads straight for my shoulder. You aren’t supposed to let unpredictable parrots ride on your shoulder but that is where Ernie feels safe. It’s where he’s been since that first day at the shelter. So up he runs, and I ask “wanna go outside?”
We go out and sit near the finch cage and watch the action. Ernie makes the most sound then –he’s silent 98% of the time—he squawks quietly to the finches, as they’re pretty quiet themselves. He occasionally chatters to me, and when he hears the baby finches in the nest he says “baby birds!” Last night, he got off my shoulder on his own and went to his play stand, located near the finch cage. He didn’t want to come back to me when I asked (Victory! Cheer!) So I left him there until nearly dark.
I don’t know where this story will go. It seems like everybody else’s parrot will eat from their plate, drink from their glass, scream to be let out in the mornings, and fly straight to them like a child running to meet a parent. Not so my smart, complicated Ernie. He is a project, a constant work in progress. I am learning not to compare my rescue friend with other people’s feathered ones. Like children, we take what we are dealt and learn to make the most of it. Every day you wake up and learn that lesson over again.
We will continue to celebrate the smallest step. I respect that he is older. I respect his high fear level. I absolutely adore him. If three years from now we are still working on step-up, I will be a little sad but we’ll still be training.
I’m so glad he picked me.