Bird Training and Taming
Keeping birds tame in the store requires diligence from employees, but the payoff is worth it.
Except for the most popular parrot species (the budgerigar), almost all other parrot species sold out of pet stores have been hand raised. Although this means that the young birds probably won’t be afraid of people and will be fairly tame, it does not mean the bird will stay that way for long without some attention and training. Some species actually need to be handled every day to keep them tame.
For pet store employees, feeding the birds and cleaning their cages may be the first priority, but the second should be handling the parrots. Taking the birds out will help keep them tame, and this is also a good time for the birds to learn some preliminary commands, such as “step-up.” This command is important as it can help avoid some behavioral problems in the future, like territoriality around the cage.
Teaching the Step Up Command
Taming a young bird that has not been handled much is usually not difficult. Bring the bird into a small area, such as a bathroom. (If needed, clip the wings so the bird cannot get any lift). Even with a good wing clip, it is best to work with the young bird on the floor. Place a finger for small birds (or a hand for large ones) in front of the bird and push on the abdomen saying, “Step up.” Use a clear and calm voice and do not repeat the command. Keep pushing against the bird’s abdomen until it has to either step up onto the finger or hand or fall. Repeat this process so that the bird goes from one hand to the other, saying the command once every time. Usually, after a few times, the bird will not even need to be touched and will simply lift its foot when it hears the command.
If the bird is a bit aggressive–even budgerigars can draw blood–use a wooden dowel of the right diameter instead of a finger or hand. Be sure the bird stays on the hand or dowel and does not go up to the shoulder. It is hard to get a bird to stand on the hand if it gets used to being up on the shoulder.
When teaching a bird to do any command, be sure to offer praise in a happy, sweet voice every time the bird does what it has been asked to do. Using a clicker and giving the bird a treat will also work well for parrots. At first, try to teach a command two to three times a day, but only for a few minutes at a time. Doing it too often or for too long can cause the bird to dislike the training or begin to get bored and ignore it. Be sure to use the step-up command every time the bird is taken out of its cage, and tell new bird owners to reinforce the training at home.
One Bird, Two Birds
Adding a second bird to the home, especially of the same species or even genus to the first, may cause a pet bird to become untamed. Birds, even those that are hand-raised, can become very attached to other birds, and may consider any other being, even its owner, to be an interloper. This can cause birds to ignore or even attack an owner. It is always best to keep a tame parrot as a single. Even in the store, it is a good idea to place medium to large parrots in their own cages away from other closely related birds.
More than one employee should handle and train the birds in the store. This allows the bird to get used to being with different people, which will make them better pets. Some birds, especially the larger parrots, can become too attached to one person. Retailers should make sure that each person handling the bird is training them in a similar way to prevent the birds from getting confused.
All pet store employees that sell parrots should be very comfortable working with birds. Many customers will enjoy handling birds as well, and it is a great marketing tool to hand a tame and sweet parrot over to a customer who is considering buying a bird. Even those that are not interested may become so once they realize what a great pet the bird might be.
Robyn Bright has a master’s degree in parrot biology and more than 35 years of pet retailing experience.