Tonawanda News

March 31, 2014

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Rewards for playing nice


The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — This is a letter from reader Christy Z. H. from Amherst. The letter has been edited.

Hi Kenny. We’ve had Forrest, a 7-year-old male Solomon Island Eclectus parrot since he was 3 months old. He’s essentially the perfect parrot. Fully flighted, at least four to five hours out of cage time a day, several perching spots in the house, a few in the windows, regular showers, good diet.

We decided to foster Rosie, a 3-year-old female Eclectus from the SPCA. She is fully flighted but wasn’t encouraged to use those skills — she had large play areas with loads of enrichment.

We have the two of them in separate cages in our kitchen about 5 feet apart. We introduced them slowly and they did well. After about a week, Forrest went on Rosie’s playtop cage. There was some open beaked “sparing” but no noise. Both backed off and I removed Forrest to give them each a break and time to think it over.

Their second physical meeting ended with Rosie backing off and looking to play with her foot toys. Forrest took advantage of her kindness and wouldn’t back off. He continued to try to open beak “spar” with her or charge at her when she turned her back. I again removed him to his own cage.

The third meeting went much like the second except the aggression seemed to be escalating on Forrest’s part. Between meetings, most of the time they coexist just fine on their own cages or on separate humans.

We’re thinking that we’d like to adopt Rosie but we need to know that these two are comfortable before we can make any decisions. I don’t want to leave them to work it out on their own if one or both of them will be hurt. Any thoughts?

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I think it would be a wonderful idea for you to adopt Rosie, especially if you can provide her with four to five hours out of her enclosure daily, like you do for Forrest. That sounds like a great companion parrot home.

I agree that leaving them alone to deal with their issues might not be the best solution, especially if

Rosie is the one that is being aggressed upon, since she wasn’t encouraged to use her flight skills at her previous home. It would appear that Forrest would have the advantage of flight and the lay of the land, since he was at your house first.

One thing to think about is to try and avoid circumstances that illicit aggressive behavior. This could include not allowing either bird on the other’s play gym for the immediate future. You mentioned that they do well when they are each on a different person’s hand, which I believe is the solution for the time being.

When they are in the same room out of the enclosure, keeping them on someone’s hand, while at the same time reinforcing with head scratches or treats, whichever they prefer, for calm behavior is a great alternative behavior to train. You can also reward them for rousing (fluffing feathers), turning their head away from one another or opening their wings. Rousing is often seen in birds that are very comfortable with their surroundings. It is similar to a bird taking a bath; they aren’t going to bathe if they feel threatened, it wouldn’t be safe.

Before I would introduce them again, I would start to slowly move their cages a little closer to one another. If it has already been a week and they seem to be doing well, move their cages another foot closer and see how they react. Keep moving their enclosures together until they are 10 inches apart and there is no aggression (lunging, eye pinning, hissing etc.) between them.

Once each of them are perceived as a neutral stimulus (they are boring to one another) then I would take them to a novel area and have plenty of enrichment to be shared. Providing a way out for both of the birds is a good idea as well.

One way to address aggression is by diverting the animal’s attention. When one animal is being aggressive, you do not want to divert their attention with something like a toy, which could be reinforcing the aggressive behavior that they just displayed. By changing the environment to something new, the animals involved naturally will start paying attention to the new surroundings, then one another and finally the toys.

Since it seems like  Forrest is having a more difficult time with the new roommate, I would focus on reinforcing calm behavior or incompatible behaviors with him more than her. Keeping the introductions very short, until they start to show an improvement, will hopefully allow your two birds to cohabitate peacefully. Providing a treat at the end of each of these short successful introductions should translate into longer play sessions. You would be rewarding them for playing nice.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified professional bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. Please email your questions to kenny.coogan@yahoo.com, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.