Using Modification Techniques to Correct Unwanted Behaviors in Birds
Parrots and other companion birds go through periods of displaying unwanted behaviors to include feather plucking. Although this can be considered a type of bad behavior, it can also signify a sick bird. For that reason, it is important to have a companion bird checked by a qualified avian veterinarian to rule out any illness. However, it turns out this and other problems are behavioral, there are a number of proven techniques to help.
Birds can become stressed very quickly. Therefore, one of the first steps involves eliminating anything that might be causing either/or physical and emotional stress. Examples of things to try include:
- Provide the bird with a balanced and nutritional diet. Along with packaged parrot foods, this includes fresh fruits and vegetables and grains from a list of healthy and safe choice. Keep in mind that companion birds love seeds, especially sunflower seeds and while in moderation this is fine they should never be fed a large quantity.
- The bird’s exercise activity should also be increased. To accomplish this, the bird can be played with but also, there needs to be a variety of interactive toys in the cage.
- To ensure healthy feathers, as well as skin, these birds need proper humidity and regular bathing. Bath time can consist of providing a bowl of water at the bottom of the cage or misting with a spray bottle, at least four times per week. For humidity, a cool-mist humidifier in the room where the bird cage is located works great.
- Birds also need between eight and ten hours of good sleep (dark and quiet).
- Companion birds need lots of sunshine and fresh air, but most importantly, they should never be exposed to room air fresheners, cigarette smoke, incense, and perfumes. In fact, prior to handling a bird, smokers should wash their hands.
- Remember, birds love noise. After all, when in the wild, they are surrounded by all types of noise from other birds and animals, waterfalls, leaves rustling, and so on. Therefore, when away from home, companion birds need some type of noise stimulation. This can consist of leaving a television on, playing a nature or rainforest DVD, or even having music on.
Provide Occupational Therapy
This form of therapy is not only for humans. In their normal habitat, birds forage for food approximately 90% of the time, which keeps the birds busy. In captivity, birds are often not stimulated enough. Because of this, they will often begin to scream, pulling feathers out, and biting. Some helpful occupational therapy tips include:
- Spend more time with the bird, playing with toys and offering healthy treats
- Food and/or special treats can be placed in several bowls throughout the cage
- Small strips of grass or wheat can be woven between the cage bars
- An excellent diversion is a feeder puzzle
- Use stimulating toys purchased at the store or homemade toys during basic command training. Something as simple as an empty cardboard toilet paper or paper towel holder (unscented) with food and/or treats tucked inside proves to be highly entertaining.
- Teach simple commands to reduce stress, which is especially beneficial when visiting the veterinarian’s office. For the first four weeks of training, only one person should give commands. In addition, a bird should have no more than four training sessions per week. It also helps to conduct training at the same time each day and in the same location.
Offer Chew Toys
Just like dogs, birds love chew toys but remember toys are quickly destroyed so they will need to be replaced from time to time. If birds are not provided with a variety of colorful and stimulating toys, they will begin to pluck or chew on feathers. The goal is to redirect the bird’s attention and correct bad behavior by offering various things to chew on. Below are just a few examples of the best options:
- Strips or blocks of hard, untreated wood
- Hard shelled nuts to include Brazil nuts, walnuts, and even small pieces of coconut (to include the shell)
- Natural wood branches from dogwood, fruit trees, and willow bark
Reduce or Eliminate Change
Often, companion birds will struggle with change, whether it involves an owner, food, cage, environment, and so on. Even good change can bring on stress, and therefore, unwanted behavior.
Offer Reinforcement – Positive and Negative
Behavior can also be modified in birds by using both positive and negative reinforcement. For instance, if a bird is acting inappropriately, giving him attention will probably make the situation worse. Instead, we recommend the following:
- When feather plucking, screaming, or acting in some of other way deemed inappropriate, the owner should simply leave the room
- Avoid making eye contact since companion birds have a keen ability of reading what a person feels. Therefore, if an owner is frustrated by a screaming bird, making eye contact will exaggerate the problem.
- When a bird is not acting out, positive reinforcement should be offered in the form of treats, handling, and playing with toys
Avoid Sexual Tension
Many avian experts believe feather plucking is directly linked to sexual frustration. If bird continues to pluck out feathers, and after being seen by a veterinarian is deemed healthy, a second bird brought into the home may help. However, some of the other things that work are listed below:
- The area below the bird’s neck should never be petted or scratched. In nature, paired birds preen over the back and under the wings so when this is done by a human, it causes both confusion and frustration.
- If the problem with sexual tension intensifies, an avian veterinarian may recommend medication
Do Not Give Up
Bad behavior in birds can be difficult to manage but the suggestions provided will help. Sometimes, just one technique works great while other times, a pet owner needs to try several. The goal is to keep trying until the right solution is found and remain consistent. Now, if a bird chronically plucks feathers, chances are good the behavior will not stop, at least not in its entirety. In this case, the focus is on reducing the amount of plucking, thereby reducing stress in the bird’s life.