For several years, I have written about my highly successful way to win the trust of a newly untame, aggressive, or fearful parrot. This method also works with parrots who have become fear biters and to win the trust of adopted parrot new to your home. While biting may seem to be aggression, a great deal of biting starts because a parrot becomes threatened and afraid. People do not want to stop interacting with their parrots but it can be very threatening for both the caregiver and the bird if people try to force a parrot out of his cage. Approaching a fearful parrot too directly will escalate the fear and can turn it into aggression. We always have to remember that parrots are prey animals and that part of there instinctive behavior has not changed. Sometimes if parrots have experienced too many changes or a major change from a move to a new location or to a new human flock, a change in the affection from a previous favored person, and/or the grief over a lost parrot, animal, or human companion they may be confused enough to decide not to come out of their cages and may even exhibit what seems to be aggression if people approach them too directly.
Using the chair exercise provides them with the indirect attention they may need to be confident and trusting enough to come out of their cages and accept physical handling again, There is one absolute rule in parrot behavior and that is: 'parrots are more comfortable with people who are comfortable with them.' If you have become afraid because you have been bitten, you need to do what you can to calm down before starting the Chair Exercise. The first step in winning back the trust of a phobic bird is to take a few deep breaths and relax. It also helps to lower your head a bit, not reach for the bird, not to make direct eye contact and don't talk loudly to your parrot. You have to act as submissive as possible because there is a good chance s/he may have become very confused about your no longer trustworthy capricious behavior. This can cause your previously tame bird, to be threatened about a change in your behavior (especially anything that s/he perceives of aggression even if you don't think you were being aggressive). Patience, being submissive, and give the Chair Exercise a real chance will let your parrot stop seeing you as a predator and as your bird's buddy again. The whole point of the calm patient chair exercise is to be as non-threatening as possible and invite the parrot to approach you rather than being direct and trying to make him come to you. It is can also be used in situations where the bird resists coming out of the cage without fuss and fear. It works very well to establish (or re-establish) a trusting bond between a person and a parrot. For instance, when there is a sudden dislike of a family member, a new person wants to be a part of the bird’s life, or the parrot has experienced some traumatic episode, the concept of the Chair Exercise is the key to building a trusting bond with the bird for anyone who wants to handle the bird. Start by positioning a simple chair near or next to the cage. In some cases, the chair may have to be introduced to the cage area gradually. Ideally, the door of the cage should be open just a little bit at a time, however, if the bird is exceptionally nervous when the door is open, then start with it closed and then open it an inch at most. When you are moving the chair or doing anything with the cage door – do NOT make direct eye contact with the parrot at in the beginning and move very slowly. Talk to the bird in a very calm voice.
Sit in the chair so that your side is toward the parrot. This way you can see the parrot using your peripheral vision but you are not making direct and possibly intimidating eye contact with him. Your eyes should be cast downward and you should be doing something like reading a book. In the beginning, it is best to actually ignore the bird. Because parrots are so social, the bird will most likely be interested in what you are doing. For a very shy bird, reading to your parrot may be the entire session on the first day or even for a few days or so and it may seem as if haven’t accomplished anything. Be patient and keep providing him with this indirect, and even submissive, attention. Read your mail, pay your bills if you can calmly, write your letters, and have a snack, but do it quietly sitting next to your bird’s cage! If you do make eye contact during the beginning stages of the Chair Exercise slowly lower your head and look away.
Flirt With Your Parrot Eventually, you will “flirt” with your bird by keeping your eyes downcast but speaking to him in a calm animated voice using his name. You might look over towards him and then slowly lower your head and look away. Think back to your first crush when you were young; it probably seemed too risky to look directly at that kid so you made “shy eyes” and looked down and away. Parrots are social animals and they will want to be with you. You’re looking for any sign that he is becoming more comfortable with you. You’re also hoping to see him become curious enough to move closer to you. You can read out of a magazine or catalog and even show him pictures as you go. Turn the pictures his way but don’t move it any closer. The time you spend should be calm and quiet with no distractions. Try playing soft music or humming to set the mood. Do this a few times a day until he is showing signs of comfort — preening, playing, eating, or even sleeping. A good feather shake can also be a sign of comfort. It can mean I am through with this and ready to go on something else. Cajole (or gently bribe) Him Out of the Cage The next step would be to cajole him into joining you. Eat some of his favorite fresh foods with lots of “mmmmm.” Start offering him some special treats through the cage bar without eye contact. Then, offer him a bit of it – remember to avoid direct eye contact. You may even casually hand him an envelope to have him “help” you with the mail. Avoid looking directly at him because this may be too threatening. Having a perch just inside the door or even fastened to the door of the cage is advisable for a reluctant bird. You will eventually train him to come to that perch to come out.
After you do this several times over a few days or, with some insecure birds, a few weeks, many parrots will become comfortable enough with you that they will take the initiative and climb out on your shoulder, arm, or leg. Stay calm and don’t overreact or he may be frightened back into his cage. STAY CALM AND DON'T OVERREACT AS IT MAY CREATE A SITUATION WHERE HE WILL RUSH BACK TO THE SAFETY OF HIS CAGEC At this point, he needs to be in control to feel safe. You should never be aggressive with any parrot, but even being too assertive with a phobic bird can create a serious problem. If he doesn’t come out to you but shows interest in what you are doing, another option is to gradually place a training stand at the open door of the cage. This stand should be the right height and proximity so that the bird can easily come out onto it. A food cup at the far end of the perch will help in enticing him from the security of his cage. Again without eye contact or very soft head lowered eye contact, and sit in the chair again. Put his special treats in the cup but don’t ever use food deprivation as a training method.
When he does step out on the stand, it is imperative that you do not overreact to his bravery. In fact, he will be most comfortable if he cannot perceive any change or reaction at all from you. This is NOT the time to enthusiastically say, “Oh what a good boy!” although you can say something very quietly as long as you keep your eyes down and stay still. He may grab the food and run back to his cage and that’s okay. Maybe the next time, he’ll stay awhile. All work with a phobic parrots needs to be done in a gradual manner and we need to be very patient. After he is comfortable sharing your space and food with you on the stand, which could take a couple of hours, a day or days, or weeks, you can go to the next step. Start by moving around a bit. See if all goes well if you shift positions in the chair. Then, stand up and go about the room without looking at him and come back to the chair to sit. If he returns to the cage, fine, this phase may take some time. When the time is right and he is used to being out of his cage on the stand, try to gently pick up the stand and move it a few feet from the cage. If he seems afraid or flies off, just calmly ask him to step up to your hand withing direct eye contact and return him to the stand. If his body language says aggression go back to the chair exercise holding some of his treats in your hand. Eventually, you may want to move the stand back to the cage if he seems exceptionally nervous after coming off. Eventually, you will be picking up the stand and moving it out of the room and into a neutral room where he does not feel the lure of his cage territory! At this point, you can be using more animated praise to reassure him that he’s a good bird.