Triton cockatoo dance

A Cockatoo Game:
Dance When I Say Dance
by Sally Blanchard

Many parrots love to play games with people in their lives. There are two essential problems with this. The first is that if people can’t figure out what the game is, the birds set all the rules. The second problem is that people may see the parrot’s invitation to play as aggression when it may actually be an invitation to play.

Over the years, I worked with quite a few cockatoos that have established a game that I call “dance when I say dance.”  In this game, the bird runs towards a person and tries to peck at his or her toes. When this happens, the person may jump up and down, often yelling for the bird to stop. The intelligent bird loves the drama and, consequently, this becomes one of its favorite games. 

The Teddy Story.

I did a consultation with a couple with a Triton cockatoo. I consider the Tritons to be some of the smartest birds that I have ever worked with. The bird had been previously owned but they didn't know a lot about who had him before. When I arrived the husband wasn't home yet and as we started down the steps to the family room, I heard a very clear voice exclaim, “Is anyone out there” Would someone PLEASE let Teddy out of his cage?” Once the man, a former fighter pilot, came home, he "set up the room" before they let the cockatoo out. The Triton's cage was down the hall a bit and after the man opened the cage, he ran back to the family room and jumped on the back of the couch where he and his wife often sat to watch television with their remote and refreshments in hand when Teddy was out. They placed the seat cushions in front of their feet and were set for Teddy to come into the room. I sat in a chair across the room even though they had begged me to join them.

I saw a shadow on the hall wall that looked a bit like a 9-foot' toozilla as the Triton entered the room. They had been told to place a couple of paper bags at the entrance to the room so Teddy could beat the heck out of them and expend his aggression. All it did was get him more excited but then he wasn't really being aggressive anyway. He saw me but continued his established routine. Even though the four-inch wide cushions protected the couple's feet, when the bird poked at the cushions, the couple would yell out, “Teddy stop, please don't do that!”. Of course, this encouraged the very intelligent drama addict to continue the game!

During the consultation, the cockatoo noticed that I was just sitting in a chair with my feet flat on the floor. The couple was looking at me as if they wished I had steel-toed shoes on and wondering if their insurance would cover a claim due to my impending seriously injured feet. Teddy dramatically ran towards me but I kept my feet firmly planted on the ground and showed no reaction. The cockatoo ‘thunked’ his beak on my shoe and then looked up at me as if he couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t moving my feet around and yelling at him.

He went back across the room and "thunked" his beak on their cushions again with the same dramatic response. He then came over to and tried again and then again. When he didn’t get the expected response, he grabbed on to my slacks to climb up to my lap. Once there, Teddy lowered his head to be petted. His caregivers were shocked. He had been playing this game with them for several weeks so it became a pattern for him. I explained that the fact that I didn’t behave as he expected me to, made him change his behavior. I had changed the channel for Teddy by changing my behavior. They had turned him into a “drama queen” by responding to his game with fear and drama. I also showed them how easy it was to handle Teddy.

In future phone calls, I found out that they both had worked with him and the husband had become very comfortable with him and the wife was still working on it. They also took him to the vet and on the way from the parking lot to the vet's office, the man tripped and Teddy's travel cage went flying a few feet across a grassy area. When it did, Teddy drew a crowd by exclaiming, "Would someone PLEASE let Teddy out of his cage?” The woman ran over to see if Teddy was OK before she checked on her husband. They were both fine.





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