by Ebony Holman
As we head into our festive celebrations, a question we have been asked on our social media is how to introduce parrots to guests in the home. Whilst planning our Christmas gatherings, we should consider our parrots and how their home environment will be affected.
There is a number of ways to approach this, all which must be tailored to our individual parrot.
Ultimately, the safety of our parrots is paramount, and ensuring that our parrot is comfortable and socialised to new people within their environment is crucial for success.
We can work on this by completing the following actions:
Birds and guests initially being separated
When we complete our in home consults, we will sit down with our parrot parents and have a chat. This discussion is to gain information about the parrot; but this also has a second benefit, it allows the parrot to assimilate with the newcomers in the home.
Ideally, all guests should share this same plan, and slowly approach the enclosure after the birds have signalled that they want to engage with the guests. Engagement can be exhibited as moving physically close to the human’s location, and vocalising. Guests cannot be expected to understand what our parrot is trying to communicate to the same degree as we would. The birds body language must be interpreted before deciding how to proceed.
If we assess the body language of our parrot, and they appear uncomfortable or tense, (crest up, tail fanning, lunging, leaning / moving away, pinning eyes, refusal to take food from you, freezing or hiding ), we should ensure the safety of our guests and parrots, by allowing physical space and barriers between them. Physical space will depend on layout, but we should create as much distance as reasonably possible until we see our parrot relax.
We may need to keep our parrots contained during these visits, with further work needing to be done on building a positive foundation for our guests in the future.
Our bird is comfortable, so how do we complete a great introduction? Before our guests arrive, we will set up an empty bowl in our parrot’s enclosure. This bowl will be in a location which allows for easy access such as near a feeding door, or where treats can be dropped into it from outside of the cage.
To help set everyone up for success, we are going to offer our guest an item of high value to our parrot. This will vary depending on individual preferences, but can include:
• Sunflower kernels
• Objects such as small plastic cat balls
• Newspaper twisties
Now that our guest has the high value item, we are going to ask them to approach side on.
Why do we do this? Standing front on, and ‘leaning over’ the bird can be intimidating! By making ourselves smaller, we lessen the likelihood of frightening the bird.
We show the item on offer, and approach, one slow controlled step at a time. If the parrot moves away or is screaming, we stop, and wait. Once these behaviours have ceased, we move back to our first position until they have visibly relaxed.
If our parrot has not relaxed, then we should consider our environmental set up and what we can do to improve their comfort levels.
The slow approach detailed above will not always work straight away. A second approach would be the owner providing the high value items to the parrot. At this time, the guest is away from the enclosure. The distance away will depend on where the bird visibly relaxes, and is your starting point moving forward.
As the bird adjusts and associates great things with this new individual nearby, we decrease the distance between them. We continue working on this until our guest is able to provide the high value item themselves, (into the bowl set up previously or by hand.)
As we socialise our birds with new people, objects and experiences, we must remember to practice! This will ensure that the behaviour is generalised for long term retention. Small sessions are best and should not be longer than 5 minutes at a time.
During these sessions we are teaching our parrots that new people equal good things. They will engage willingly in these situations if we are responsive to their body language and moving forward at their pace.
Pertaining to our Christmas plans, are we able to facilitate these introductions safely? For the parrot, guests and ourselves?
Safety - extra considerations
This year has been a stressful time for all, with many of us unable to visit or interact with our family and friends for many months. Now that restrictions are lifting around Australia and family events for the holiday season are being organised, we must be considerate of potentially unforeseen dangers within and outside the home.
These can include:
• Cooking – ovens, stoves, BBQ’s being on, whilst our parrot is out or fumes from these objects causing harm via inhalation, heat stress or burns.
• Doors- being opened and closed as people walk in and out of the home or room which the bird is located. Our bird may escape or become injured inadvertently by unknowing guests, especially if they become startled or we are not closely supervising them during this time.
• Gifts - New items are exciting for all, and with the curious nature of our parrots all unsafe (or items we want to stay intact!) should be removed from the area. These can include items such as Christmas crackers, meat bones, unsafe metal objects (anything not stainless steel) and kids toys.
• Guests- Visitors encroaching on the bird’s personal space, especially if they are not familiar with the individual. Our parrot can become overwhelmed with the number of visitors in their vicinity too, (just like us!)
• Stress can be deadly in our birds as they are a prey species, and our set up should allow for them to have plenty of personal space and time to themselves throughout the day.
• An increase in the number of visitors, (especially when we’ve barely had any all year!) is stressful enough as is, let alone when we have not socialised our bird with these visitors as outlined above.
• Will all our guest be comfortable if the parrot is not enclosed? This is not with any judgment, but needs to be considered.
Once you have contemplated the above, what next?
Now that you have determined what is applicable for your Christmas plans, we set up the environment even further.
Our parrots can happily spend time within their enclosure or in other areas such as a play stand. It is critical we provide them plenty of enrichment items to complete during this time. Keeping them busy will assist in minimising their stress with the changes occurring in their normal environment.
Discuss where you would like your parrot to be located during this time. This will depend on the individual bird, and their socialisation history. Housing options include:
• If they are well socialised, we may be placed to the side. This means the parrot can observe, but not be in the thick of action (for example, to the side in the living room, away from the kitchen )
• If they are not as well socialised, out of practice meeting new people or with numerous guests in the home, a quiet area such as a laundry or spare bedroom may be better suited.
How do we ensure success?
• Practice housing your parrot in this location for short periods of time in the lead up to Christmas.
• Provide plenty of enrichment items to keep them occupied
• Check in with them frequently
• Provide good quality time before guests arrive, quiet times during the day if applicable, and once guests leave.
• Sticking to our routine as best as possible! Feeding times and sleep routine often make up our parrots schedule, and we should maintain this as best we can.
Ultimately, it is our decision as parrot parents how our bird will be interacted with and how their environment is set up for this silly season. Use the above considerations to figure out a game plan for yourself, your parrot and your family, and enjoy your time together now that life is beginning to return to normal.