Using a Food Bribe to Make it the Parrot’s Decision

By Sally Blanchard

I worked with quite a few birds that loved to have their heads “skritched” through the cage bars but wouldn’t come out of their cages. One of the first was a wild-caught Blue and Gold Macaw. This method also works for cage-bound parrots and birds that are no longer tame. The man who got him was willing to do anything to win his trust but the macaw just didn’t trust him enough to come out of his cage. He had tried enticing him out with a food bribe the bird was still afraid of his hand outside of the cage. He had tried to reach in and pull the bird out but that threatened the macaw and made him trust the man less. One of the accessories that the man had purchased when he bought the bird was a basic T-stand with a food cup on one end. This was what I needed. I put it in front of the macaw’s cage with the perch side without the food cup sticking into the side of the door. I made it very apparent that I was putting an almond in the cup. Then I opened the cage door slightly and walked away. His caregiver and I sat down on the couch on the other side of the room and talked about other aspects of the macaw’s behavior, diet, and care. I told him to try not to pay attention to the macaw but I watched him with the bird peripheral vision. Parrots are prey animals and staring at a bird or making eye contact that is too direct can be threatening. Very slowly, he came to the front of the cage. Hesitantly he stepped on to the T-perch but almost immediately went back into his cage.

This type of wariness about a new situation is actually a very important survival skill. It took him about three attempts before he actually stood on the perch completely but it took a couple more times to actually walk out to get the nut out of the food cup. He took the nut back in the cage to eat. In a few minutes, I slowly got up and walked over to the T-stand. I didn’t look at the macaw as I placed another nut in the bowl. After repeating this routine a half a dozen times, he stayed on the perch as if he knew he could get another nut. So without looking at him, I walked over and put another nut in the bowl. I did this a few times and then when he seemed comfortable with me there, I walked over, put a nut in the bowl and then picked up the T-stand and slowly, without making eye contact I moved it into a neutral room where he couldn’t see his cage. Then I had his new caregiver hand feed him a piece of nut as he skritched his head. From that point on, the macaw saw his caregiver as a friend and the relationship continued to grow in a positive way. The man continued to work with his blue and gold in this manner and won the macaw’s trust.




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