Acclimating New Birds
Now that my services have expanded into the "matchmaking" business, it dawned on me that we need to talk about the transition of a bird moving to a new home, whether a hand fed baby just adopted to a new home or an older bird going to a second home. This is a stressful time for any bird, but you can help lessen the strife and make the move easier for both your new bird and the rest of the family.
Good planning ahead of time is essential. A pet parrot should NEVER be an impulse buy. Adopting a companion parrot is just that - ADOPTING a new family member - they're not used cars to be traded in when you get bored! They are living, feeling, sensitive beings who should always be considered PERMANENT additions to the family.
I'll never forget the first local bird expo I went to after moving to the Northwest. It was winter - cold and rainy, and I saw a person after person exiting the expo, each with a tiny baby African Grey tucked under their coats. There was a vendor inside with lots of cute baby Grays and a cheap price - apparently, many folks couldn't resist. Since no one seemed to have brought a carrier, it didn't seem to me that these were "planned" purchases, but rather spur of the moment purchases.
I wonder how many went home to a nice cage, all set up with new toys and the proper diet? Not many, I'll bet. It's a deadly combo - cute, cheap, and baby! I'll bet not too many folks had done their homework either, studying up on African Greys and bird care in general.
The other common scenario is the "petshop rescue" - the pitiful bird at some pet store that knows nothing about birds - there he is, in a tiny cage, eating sunflower seeds, no toys, tucked in between the hamsters and the snakes, while the resident shop cat climbs freely through the store. So, on a whim, you take him home.
So, whether it's the irresistible baby, the sad ill cared for rescue, or an actual well thought out carefully chosen new addition - there he is, coming in your front door, hoping to spend the rest of his life with you, his ever loving devoted family!! So how do we transition from scared outsider to contented feathered child?
First, be prepared. Have the cage, toys, and food all set up prior to his arrival so he can slide right in and not have to stand by while everyone scrambles around, frantically searching for bird stuff. Normally, we advise putting a bird's cage in the busiest part of the house, where he can be the center of attention.
But new birds need some space, quiet and privacy during the settling in process, so find him a comfortable safe corner where he can observe, but at a distance. Of course, he should have made a trip to the vet first thing and quarantining him for at least one month away from any other birds is always recommended. So this may not be his permanent location, but rather serve as a "pit-stop" in the beginning. You may want to partially cover his cage, draping a towel over the back and one side to help him feel safe. If possible, have some of his previous diet to mix in with the new (wonderful) cuisine you'll be serving.
Find out as much as possible about, not only his diet, but preference in toys, play time, bed time, and daily routine. Keeping some consistency helps for a smoother transitional time. Radical changes don't agree with many parrots, so go slow. Introduce him to every family member, but avoid anyone doing too much "hands on" stuff in the beginning. Rather, spend time just sitting by him, talking to him and offering some treats by hand. Don't force him or expect instant love. Work on building trust with "step-ups". Play "The Towel Game" to have interactive fun, as well as aiding future needs for handling by a vet or groomer.
Put your new guy on a regular schedule. Feed him lots of fresh veggies and nice warm cooked grains and legumes. Warm food is "comfort food" and helps strengthen the bond when fed by hand. Share some family dinner with him, preferably on a stand by the dining table.
Watch TV together and preen his head feathers for him while you hang out on the couch. Include him in lots of family activities to help him feel a part of the flock. If everyone is gone to work or school during the day, leave a radio or TV on and make sure he's got plenty of interesting toys that provide both chewing exercise and mental stimulation. Talk to him before leaving, tell him he's okay and reassure him that you'll be back. When you do return give him a warm hello and a big hug. If you do have other birds, try to maintain the flock order. It won't help him relax if the other birds are resentful of all the attention the new guy gets.
Always address your primary bird first - first one out, first one kissed, first one fed, etc. Don't allow the birds to get together until you're sure everyone gets along. First time together, it's helpful if it's on a neutral new stand that no one is territorial about. If you expect the two to ultimately share a cage, remember that will take time and patience - you don't want the new guy intimidated by an overbearing dominant "resident" who thinks he runs the place.
An important point to remember - don't make the mistake of totally doting on the bird at first, then ignoring him after the novelty wears off. He'll definitely need extra attention in the beginning, but try to maintain a balance from the start, to avoid rebound problems down the road. So be prepared, go slow, build trust, and have fun getting to know each other. This is the beginning of a beautiful lifelong friendship.
Your Parrot Place
Marilu Anderson, Bird Nutrition and Behavior Consultant, (503) 771-BIRD. Marilu is a regular contributor to the Your Parrot Place Newsletter. YourParrotPlace.com - Only the Best for Your Parrot!
140 pages! A compilation of parrot articles from 2000-2004.
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