What scares a parrot?
What may scare a parrot, may scare a human. Like humans, parrots fear a distinct thing for different reasons. There isn’t a reliable list of things that frighten a bird. If a parrot has shared their life with a human for a long time, their instincts get overwritten by the human dynamic. They wait to fear what you fear. Your parrot will fear whatever your parrot decides is off-putting. It’s an unknown list until those things show up.
A parrot’s instinct triggers under certain contexts, like abrupt movement, noise, new objects, or the call of predator birds outside. All of which fall under the "new" category. Parrots don’t learn, they decide. We don’t train our parrots, we offer choices. A parrot will draw a line in concrete on certain items or actions. You’ll never train your parrot out of it. You may train them to suffer through it, but in their head, fear still thrums.
I sat in the master bath, trimming my toenails. Felix sat on his toweled viewing stand. Watching. I had never in our twelve years together done this in front of him. He’d never seen me with this diabolical stainless-steel demon. He’d never been this vexed before bedtime. My brain wasn’t paying attention to his brain. New shoes had me working on a problem. I looked up and thought it intrigued him. He looked down, thinking, I’m going to murder all of that, whatever that is. I stood up. Put the diabolical interloper of steel away. Washed my hands, dried them, and asked for a step up. He refused to get on my hand. His eyes pinned hard dots as he threatened, head down in fluffed feather mode. Redrum. He refused for the first time to step up on my hand. It forced us to use a perch to transfer. The entire time he stared Redrum threats at my hands. Certain the demon spawn hid between my fingers. Your parrot will be afraid of whatever your parrot decides is off-putting.
It is up to us to offer choices around the fear.
- I offered Felix my other hand. As if. Felix does not do the left hand.
- I rebooted the routine. I left the room. Came back in and started our nightly habits from the beginning. He wasn’t buying it.
- I showed him my hands, like a magician. Nothing up my sleeves. Skepticism sloughed off his face.
- I proved the item was in the drawer. Which proved it could escape.
- I explained the situation and asked him to step up so we could go to bed. He thought about that, and tried to step up, but just as his foot touched my finger, he jumped, fluffed, and scrambled back. I was radioactive.
- When you find yourself in these moments, never overstay your welcome. Every interaction with your bird needs to end in a positive note, for them, not us. Moments together are conversations. Never end a conversation on a grim note. It’s hard to start the next conversation after one that ended poorly.
Fear dissipates where confidence flourishes. What scares our parrot is not as important as what we do for our frightened bird in that moment.
- Be patient. Ask them what’s wrong. They are looking for an option.
- Join their struggle with fear, identify the thing or sound together. Talk about it. (Yes, parrots understand conversation. They communicate with more than words. Tone, temper, temperature, inflection all matters to them. Which is why parrots communicate better than humans.)
- Let your parrot go through the motions. They have anxiety chemicals rushing through their system now. Let them burn that fuel. When Butters sees a turtle coming out of Tinney Creek, she becomes a banshee. She screams at the window. There is no turning that off early. She has to let those first few banshees loose, to calm down.
- Once they’re past that initial “What fresh hell is THAT?” you can take steps investigating where their tolerance takes them. Butters needs the blinds closed. Hard stop. She can’t bear to look at that slimy dinner plate. Felix has made it clear. Either my toes or that clipper is disgusting. I haven’t worked out the details yet.
Parrots feel fear. Parrots feel your empathy. Your parrot can understand that you will help them decide what they need to lessen the fear.
Which answers another question; Do parrots have feelings? Yes, parrots have all the feelings. Including a sense of humor. Pretending to be afraid is a parrot skill. That’s another conversation.
You can take my word for it Creating Your Successful Companion Parrot Lifestyle Or you can take it directly from the parrot's beak, How to Think Like a Parrot- Directions for the Confused