How to Ask a Parrot to Step Up
Have you ever spent the day home alone quietly doing your thing? You control the pace, the sounds, the inputs, and entities that may invade your space. Then a family member comes home from work or school or an event in a full-on state of high energy. Loud, excited, and exuberantly sharing their story they appear fully loaded dumping their energy into your space.
A partner comes home irritated and grouchy from a day at the office that wasn't much of a day at all. Owly and defensive and not very nice, they aren't even aware they brought their bad day home with them. But that bad day enters the room first like a dark mass you can't see but you definitely feel.
What's your first reaction? For me, I bristle a little. I physically tighten up ready for the brunt of raw emotions flooding the space I'd carefully built. I'm not transitioning well, because THEY aren't transitioning at all. I don't want their excitement or anger; I want my space back. I might even close myself off from talking with them just to conserve what little I can to myself until I transition a bit to their way of thinking. I might literally say, "Why don't you go upstairs and come down off your day before we talk."
A parrot would just lunge and bite.
But I ask nice because a woman who lunges and bites ends up in a hospital bed with restraints.
Transitioning always begins with the human, not the parrot.
We are the big brained rationalizing creatures in the room, it's up to us to take the responsibility of that event. When I tell someone it's a transitioning problem, I'm not saying it's the parrot's problem. I'm saying it's the human's problem of transitioning on behalf of the parrot. Step Up can be one of those moments in time that isn't transitioned well for a parrot.
Every bird is a different personality, and they need a different approach to that request of Step Up. I tried working with a gentleman and his grey for a while. He complained he got bit every time he wanted his Grey to Step Up. After a few minutes of watching that interaction, it was painfully obvious this gentleman was not gentle. His approach was always out of nowhere, with no warning. He would literally put his hand in front of the chest of his bird randomly. His hand showed up way before any verbal transitioning.
"STEP UP. HERE! Don't be stubborn. Ouch! See? He bit me!"
I'd bite too if you randomly shoved your hand at me with a domineering voice. His grey was so defensive by this time, he had no choice but to try to slow this man down. He wasn't biting to say stop. He was biting to say SLOW DOWN. We reworked his approach and, in a few minutes, no more biting. But humans are stubborn. He emailed 2 weeks later saying his grey was being bad and biting again. I asked if he was still using our practiced approach. He said no. It was just too hard to remember to do it all.
WE are the transition.
- We are the mechanism of smooth changes, additions and routines.
- The human in the room delivers a huge flux of information all at once.
- Our sound, smell, movement, our voice pitch, depth and speed are but a few signals taken in by a parrot when we approach. The newer our relationship, the more they rely on ALL of that input. It is overwhelming for them.
- Transitioning can be confusing until they understand us. And it still poses a challenge afterwards, because there will be days, we forget to transition ourselves personally before approaching our parrot.
It is ironic how parrot folk will discuss for hours how difficult it is to understand a parrot's communication, body language and needs. They are just a puzzle. I don't find parrots near as puzzling as humans. I understand how a parrot can find a human completely confusing. Our signals can be so very crossed.
We are rushed in the morning, so we put on an affected happy face as we approach our companion.
We are late, we need cooperation! Our parrot lunges or hesitates because of the crossed signals. We're asking for something normal, but our speed isn't normal, our voice is wrong for the face, and we skipped the "Hi baby!" part all together! At that very moment of poor transitioning the companion parrot has NO idea where all this is leading. And a parrot that is unsure, is a parrot that isn't going anywhere voluntarily.
Remember, transition yourself first to match the mood in your parrot's moment. Then be the transition with your companion as a partner, not an object. It's our job, not theirs. Always.
I really appreciate your writing Kathy! I had a behaviorist come to my house to help me get my Jardines to step up – but she came in totally jazzed, high energy and a loud voice. I had to remind her that my bird was getting even more nervous!