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Tropical Birds; Who is teaching who?

Updated on April 6, 2012


Memphis is a Severin Macaw. While not the biggest or most colorful of birds in the macaw family he is plenty talkative and very loud when he wants to be. When my girlfriend first brought him home he didnt say much at all. You see, his past owner was forced to give him up because he was too loud and her father had dementia and it was causing problems. A shame but when family is sick to that degree changes sometimes have to be made. We accepted Memphis into our lives although our experience with birds at that point went only as exotic as a Cockatiel named Luvy. Luvy was a fun bird who was fascinated with people's feet when they had socks on. He would literally approach them, spread his wings and whistle the baseball tune as if he were trying to impress. What was he thinking? I have no idea but when he started doing the same thing to the dog we had a really great laugh. We still miss Luvy. He passed away one day very suddenly and we never forgot how his presence brightened our lives.

Memphis has filled that space very nicely. After some time of adjustment he began to say things under the sheet that covered his cage at night or early in the morning when hardly anyone was around. As it turned out Memphis had something akin to stage fright. Like a child with all kinds of talent he didn't want anyone to watch him. To make him feel more comfortable I began mimicking things I heard him say. Not the other way around. You see he already had been through training with another owner. She had said he had a love for Elvis and male singers and that if we played that sort of music he would sing and dance. That converted to the sound of my voice as well. I have a low toned voice and Memphis seems soothed by it. When he mimics me his voice is so low you can barely hear him. My friends say the same thing about me a lot of the time. I began listening more closely and I realized that with that low tone of voice the bird was saying everything I was saying. I was amazed.

The next phase of getting Memphis to open up was getting him out of the cage. Once a bird has bonded to a single owner they have a hard time readjusting. He didn't know if he could trust us and although it was clear he was used to coming out of the cage he didn't want to do so. My girlfriend, Jeannie, decided to just open the door and when he decided to come out he would and that worked out nicely. The true trial was in getting Memphis to step up onto our arms so we might move him out of the room so we might clean his cage or simply to change his environment for a time.

My first attempts were deadly encounters to say the least. It seemed Memphis was bent on establishing his space parameters. After delivering a few nasty bites to my hands and forearms i learned real quick who was in charge and it was not me. I mean, what was I going to do? You can only scold a bird and like a child they may or may not be listening to what you are saying. Like a child they may have already moved on and forgotten what it was they had done wrong.

Eventually I learned what I was doing, or rather what I wasn't doing. I began to mimic the bird and some of the more common things he would say while holding my arm out as an offering. This seemed to soothe his misgivings and surprise, holding his little talon out to me he made the first willing step onto my arm. Little did I know I had opened up a can of worms.

You know how a little child gets really excited over something and just squeezes at their toy or whatever is closest with all their might? Try holding Memphis on your arm when people pull up in the driveway. Worse, hold him when they enter, smile and begin talking to him. Ouch! He gets so excited he just grabs onto some flesh and perforates a nice little triangle. Thankfully I learned a better trick than the one advised online. I read that you could pluck a bird on the beak and he will let go. Ever pluck a parrot on the beak? Its hard and will hurt your finger while it may or may not affect him at all. I don't suggest it. Instead just try this simple technique.

If the bird grabs hold too tight and I want, no, need him to let go I simply hold my arm away from my body and give it a little shake. The bird loses his balance and is forced to let go. That easy, that simple and no one gets hurt. Well, besides you from that initial bite. Really you need to be resistant to pain and be a quick healer if you are going to be handling parrots. If you are the original owner things are easier but the number of parrots and other tropical birds up for adoption is always steady and growing. Too many people do not know what it is they are getting into when they purchase a tropical bird. Too often they decide after the fact they cannot handle them and need to "get rid of them". This is very sad. Tropical birds are more than just entertaining they are intelligent creatures that can be a contributing member of the family if they are only accepted for all of their qualities.

So who taught who? I didn't teach Memphis anything he didn't know but he sure taught me plenty. I have the scars and great memories to prove it. Nowadays I teach him new expressions and gestures to go with them, like for instance the Rick Flair "Whooooo!" Doing this he rears his head back and raises his wings up as he gives the ol'Rick Flair call. It really is rewarding when your bird is so eager to listen and mimic you. Even more so when he waves at you from within the cage begging to be taken out for a bit. Gaining the trust of so delicate a creature is an accomplishment and says something about the gentle nature of one's soul. It also says something about tropical birds. You may refer to them as your pet but I have to wonder how they would refer to you in a room full of cousin birds.

"Who? Over there? Yeah, those are my humans. Aren't they great? It only took me a couple weeks to train them right and they clean the place up real nice!"

Can you imagine? Anyway, hope this helps those of you having troubles with your tropical bird. Please be gentle and don't give up on them. Even if they have an unexplainable tirade today there is always the next day when you can try again. Remember this also, Memphis still bites me today but lightly and while giving a little kissing sound. They have no other way to express their affection for you other than using their beak. Though it may seem they are trying to hurt you nothing is further from the truth. Above all parrots need plenty of observation and patience.


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