|Let's Celebrate Pet Birds!|
T.J. Lafeber D.V.M.
Touch Taming for Parakeets and Other Small Birds
How Do You Say To Your Bird ---
"I Won't Hurt You. I Want To Be Your Friend."
At the start, birds won't know what these words mean, but they will understand the emotion and feelings in your voice. As time goes on and you couple the words with affectionate actions, the words will become more meaningful.
You'll learn that Budgies have the ability to communicate better than you probably imagine. They talk to you and expect you to talk back. As they develop as a friend they'll begin to understand the meaning of your words, and use words of their own to communicate.
Words won't be enough to tame your bird; but by repeating, "I'd like to be your friend. Please like me," you will create a good environment.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Birds are no exception to this rule. In fact, when it comes to affection they prefer to participate in a physical manner. They love to touch and be touched in a gentle way. By holding, preening, and caressing you'll be on a direct route to winning their friendship. Relating to birds, then, is through both words and actions.
Step 1- Removing Your New Budgie From His Cage
You would like to have your new Budgie jump on your finger, but that probably won't happen. To remove him from his cage you'll need to catch him.
Catching won't be easy unless you have a cage with a door large enough to admit both your hands and arms. You'll want to be able to reach the furthermost portion of the cage.
The purpose of catching your bird with both hands is to make it a pleasant experience for him. Using both hands in an encircling manner helps eliminate a "chase" around the cage. Every time a bird avoids being caught, he is learning to run away from your hand. This is just the opposite of what we're trying to accomplish. We want birds to enjoy our hands and like them. Using two hands makes catching easy and reinforces the "kind hands" image.
Step 2- Calming
Slowly reach into the cage placing your hands on each side of your bird in an encircling manner and gently pick him up. If needed, you may carefully have to work his feet free of the perch or cage bars.
Cup him in your hands and follow the suggestions in the next section on "Calming".
Lend your voice to this procedure and repeat: "I want to be your friend. Please like me", or words to that effect.
Only one bird to a cage, and keep your new bird isolated from all other birds. The presence of other birds delays taming.
Be certain that your birds flight feathers have been trimmed by your pet store or veterinarian. This prevents flying and protects him from injury when flying loose.
Calming your bird may be the most important procedure in the steps toward making your Budgie a friendly and affectionate pet. Birds can't respond when they are nervous and frightened.
Budgies generally calm quickly and easily. For birds to relax they must be in a calm environment with calm people. Set the mood as you would think ideal for an intimate conversation. Even have soft music and subdued lighting. Extreme, yes, but this example should help illustrate the type of setting in which your bird will perform best.
Likewise, picture yourself reduced to the pace of a slow motion movie, tranquil and calm. In reality owners set the example for their birds.
During the calming procedure repeat the words: "I want to be your friend. Please like me."
Even though your bird has never been held before, he will accept your hands as long as nothing bad happens. Birds experience as flock animals over thousands of years developed in them a ready submission to others. They accept their place in a group (in this case the human flock) without hostility or thoughts of revenge. Birds are "team" players as long as we're good to them.
By cupping your hands you will be providing a hiding place for him, and at the same time giving him time to accept your hands as being friendly. You may prefer to bring your bird to your chest or abdomen and cup him against your body-whichever is most comfortable and convenient for you.
After being held 5-20 minutes, your bird's respiration will slow and his muscles will relax. At this time you can begin socialization.
A little nibbling on your hand may be your bird's way of saying " What you're doing worries me. I'd prefer you didn't do that". This is a natural response. The nibbling will stop shortly as he relaxes and accepts your hands. Rarely do Budgies bite aggressively. If biting does occur, report it to your pet store. In any case, the point is not to reciprocate in any way. A hit, pinch, punch or flick will only make things worse. It creates more fear and more biting.
Verbal protest - squawking, squealing - may occur when catching or handling your bird. Always listen and try to understand the complaint. If the cause is simply fear of your hand, or fear of being taken from the cage, proceed cautiously with what you're doing. Take extra time to calm your bird and be a friend.
Step 3- Letting Budgie's Head Extend
After your bird has relaxed, the position of your hand can be changed to allow his head and neck to extend out of your hand as long as your hand still encircles his body. With your Budgie's head exposed you can now begin to caress his head.
Finger Function Like Another Bird's Beak
Birds cannot preen the feathers on their own head and neck, so they depend upon other birds doing it. Mutual preening also becomes an important social activity involving status and respect. In the hierarchy of birds it's a compliment to be preened by another bird.
Birds accept our involvement in preening just as if it were done by the beak of another bird. We can become friends of birds, then, by using our fingers to preen, caress, scratch and touch lovingly. The actions are well understood and deliver a message: "Trust me. I'll preen your feathers to show I like you."
Step 4- Initial Touching
Begin by running your fingers lightly across the top of his head. Repeat the strokes for 2-5 minutes. Extend your movements down the neck. At other sessions you will work your fingers into the feathers of the head, cheeks and under the neck.
Step 5- From Hand To Finger
The fun begins when your Budgie accepts your finger as a safe place to perch.
Let him grip your finger on one hand and with the other hand restrain him only enough to limit escape. Preen his feathers and talk to him.
When you are confident that he will stay on your finger, gradually loosen hold. Be prepared, though, for him to attempt flight even after 5 minutes of sitting peacefully. If he sits facing you there is less chance that he will try to leave.
Any motion may be frightening, so move slowly and be prepared for him to try to slip out of confinement.
When your Budgie has flown to the floor and runs away from you, how do you catch him without creating more fear?
Do not chase him. Slowly follow him to a corner or other area where further retreat is almost impossible. Get down on the floor and surround him with your hand or hands and arms. Close in slowly until you can pick him up in your cupped hands or let him step onto your hand.
This whole experience can be pleasant and reaffirming. At the next occurrence he won't mind being caught and the training will continue uneventfully. Your hands will always signify safe sanctuary.
Once on your hand or finger, prevent another escape by placing your hand in front of him. He will signal his intentions to jump off by leaning forward, lowering his head or looking around. A desire to escape is natural until fear has been completely eliminated. Fear will pass as you continue to hold and touch him.
Positive Signs Of Acceptance
Instead of looking around and making restless movements, a Budgie will sit very quietly.
His grip on your finger will not be as tight.
Breathing will slow until almost imperceptible.
A satisfied expression will be seen in his eyes.
Step 6- Socialization - Befriending - Bonding - Playing
As your bird trusts you more and more he will sit comfortably on your finger, hand, arm or shoulder in preference to most everything else. He will want your attention and will be pleased to play with you.
You will extend your areas of touching from the top of the head and back of his neck, to the face, all around the neck, under the wings, down the back and the feet.
When sitting quietly, possibly watching a TV show, you might hold your Budgie for an hour talking to him, preening the feathers and playing games.
While preening, work your fingers deep into the feathers, along the shafts of the feathers and down to the skin.
A more permanent attachment between your bird and you builds as you handle your bird repeatedly over days, weeks and years.
Bringing a bird to our face and nuzzling it with our chin or cheek seems such a natural way for us to express our fond- ness, and it's good to know that most Budgies react positively.
Budgies seem to like being kissed on the top of the head. As much as it would seem to be a frightening experience for them to come near our mouth, the opposite happens. Birds accept being kissed as a person would. Evidently birds must consider our lips the same as a friendly beak or another bird.
Similarly, birds will take food from our lips. This practice may not be so unusual, since parent birds feed their young from their mouth. In addition, adult birds nuzzle with their beaks and, in general, social language in birds is beak oriented.
Body Language in Budgies*
Pacing back and forth on the perch
This is an indication of happy excitement. "You're home! You're home! Come get me."
Banging their toys
Turning around and hitting toys. "I'm so happy. I'll do it again." Full of energy and feeling great.
Opening up the feathers on face and neck
Head may appear puffed. Symbolizes calm contentment - happy, pleased.
Not a real obvious display and most easily noticed when holding your bird. The wings lift away from the body as if to let air circulate between the wing and the body. The wings lift and then snap back to their regular position. Only performed when birds are extremely happy.
Biting at you, but not biting
Reaching out toward you or leaning forward as if to bite. Possibly repeated. There could be physical contact but only a non-painful bite. Next step would be a painful bite. Bird is upset. "I don't want that."
Nibble, nibble, nibble - fast
Bird is saying, "Don't bother me now." This action should not alarm owners. Bird may accept what you want to do 30 seconds later.
This is an attention getter. Usually means they would like to come out of their cage. "I want to sit on your finger."
Preening themselves when receiving attention
May be initiated when you scratch their neck or just when they are sitting with you. "Thank you. For you I'll make myself look better."
Lowering head - bowing
A greeting or sign of submission. Bird acknowledges you and asks to be petted or have neck preened.
*Steve Madonick Golden Cockatoo Boca Raton, Florida.