BARKS from the Guild September 2018

Page 36

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A Long-Term Solution

Lara Joseph details her behavior modification plans for an umbrella cockatoo who was

screaming and self-mutilating due to inappropriate enrichment, and the importance

of consulting with a behavior professional with knowledge of the species – rather

I

than taking advice for free

n this article, I am going to share details of a behavior modification plan that epitomizes the importance of consulting with a professional who has specific knowledge and understanding of the relevant species in any individual behavior case. Let me introduce you to Abbey, the male umbrella cockatoo. (Just to explain, the gender of most parrots is determined via a blood draw, but in this instance, Abbey's blood draw took place after he was named.) At one of the zoos I consult with, I noticed one day the arrival of an older, rehomed, umbrella cockatoo. I inquired about his history, and learned that he came from a family who no longer had the time for him. I was curious, so asked for details about how the zoo cared for him currently. They told me there was one keeper who was consistently getting Abbey out of his cage on a daily basis. News of this social interaction was joy to my ears as I know what social parrots cockatoos are. Nevertheless, I warned the keeper how important it was to keep a balance in Abbey’s daily life so he had time with other people as well as time on his own to forage and interact with different forms of environmental enrichment. I also made sure she was aware that cockatoos can bond to one person very quickly. The keeper told me that Abbey sat on her shoulder while she worked. Well, I have my own opinion about parrots on shoulders, especially if you haven't taken the time to understand them: If I have a parrot on my shoulder, it is one I know very well and only when in a controlled environment. When a parrot tenses up on your shoulder, you can feel it through their feet. To get the best read on behavior, you have to look at the parrot and, of course, to do this, many people turn their heads toward the parrot. That usually doesn't end pleasantly. There's a reason why pirates wear an eye patch. The next time I consulted at the zoo, I decided to stop and visit with Abbey again. He was in his cage chewing on a large box at the bottom of the cage. I sighed. I had suggested enrichment and they had given it to him, but this particular form was reinforcing a behavior sure to bring about behavior issues. As parrots sexually mature, they may want to engage in the natural behavior of breeding and rearing their young. Trying to prevent or redirect a natural behavior of an undomesticated, complex, social animal can keep you on your toes where you are consistently having to redirect behavior. Boxes, dark corners, closets, covers,

If I have a parrot on my shoulder, it is one I know very well and only when in a controlled environment. When a parrot tenses up on your shoulder, you can feel it through their feet. To get the best read on behavior, you have to look at the parrot and, of course, to do this, many people turn their heads toward the parrot. That usually doesn't end pleasantly. There's a reason why pirates wear an eye patch. 36

BARKS from the Guild/September 2018

Photo Š Lara Joseph

Umbrella cockatoo Abbey started self-mutilating after his keepers followed advice from an inexperienced trainer who told them to reduce his food and isolate him because of his screaming

and drawers are all areas likely to draw the attention of a sexually mature parrot. They are all potential nesting sites, but are usually not areas and behaviors the average companion parrot caretaker is aware of. Providing boxes as enrichment can lead to undesirable behaviors such as lunging at people, biting, flying, and biting people walking by, in addition to medical concerns. Also, providing or allowing time in nesting sites often causes a parrot to become protective of the area. This is a natural behavior. I informed the zoo about my concerns and suggested foraging toys and other enrichment that hung from the cage top instead of boxes on the cage floor.

Nesting

The next time I stopped in at the zoo, there was another box in the bottom of the cage. I approached the keeper again, and she told me she was not there every day, so was not sure who put it in his cage. She did