Important Information for All Bird Owners!
Some rules for bird keeping are universal; here are just a few things we want you to be aware of in order to enrich not only the life of your pet, but your interaction with them as well.
BIRDS AND NON-STICK COOKWARE
Although you may love the ease of cleaning when it comes to non-stick cookware, your pet bird does not! When non-stick cookware (such as Teflon) is heated at excessive temperatures it emits fumes that are toxic to birds, causing pulmonary edema where the lungs rapidly fill with fluid and death within as little as 15 minutes after exposure. Smaller birds (such as finches and canaries) are affected much more quickly than larger parrots but Teflon poisoning is fatal to all birds. The best way to avoid this hazard (besides removing all non-stick cookware from the home) is to keep your birds a safe distance from the kitchen/cooking area (20+ feet, well ventilated) and avoid overheating (or burning) when cooking.
Examples of non-stick cookware in the home are:
Baking ware (cookie sheets, cupcake pans, cake pans, bread pans, etc)
Stovetop drip pans
If you have a pet bird capable of handling (such as a parakeet, cockatiel, or other type of parrot) there a few things you need to know about training. Whether you are trying to teach your bird tricks or to speak, you will need to start off at square one: earning their affection. Birds are incredibly smart, so if you haven't given them a reason to trust and love you they won't have any motivation to work with you.
When trying to train your bird to speak, it is crucial not to whistle at/with them! Imagine if you were traveling to a foreign country where your native language was not spoken, you would be forced to learn part of their language in order to communicate. If your native language was spoken (even poorly) you wouldn't be as likely to learn the new language. Birds are the same way! Whistling is second-nature to your bird, so they would rather whistle to you (which is easy for them) than learn to speak. By removing whistling from the equation, you create consistency within your communication with your bird which helps them learn.
More importantly, birds do not simply repeat everything they hear. If they want your attention, they will do what they need to in order to get it, such as choosing certain words from the vocabulary you have taught them that they've noticed peak your interest the most. Your actions around your bird are entirely responsible for their learning, and bird ownership is not a part time job. If your bird is practicing speaking in front of you and you are not paying attention/do not respond, your bird may be discouraged and think it is not doing things right and give up all together. Postive reinforcement goes a long way, and is often more effective during training than treating. If your bird feels it is able to communicate with you, then it will feel more closely bonded and be much happier overall. Using consistent inflection during speaking to your bird helps them learn, and if you hear them practicing you should approach the cage and repeat what they are saying back to them, that way they know what they have said is correct and will become excited at the interaction.
The most common worry among bird owners is that their bird will pick up less-than-desirable vocabulary, but this is once again entirely up to the owner. If you hear your bird utter a swear word, do not go to them and say "bad bird! no!" because they do not know what these words mean. All they know is that when they say that word, they get attention from you, causing them to continue this behavior in order to gain your attention. However, if you hear your bird say something you'd rather they didn't - ignore it! They will assume they didn't say it right, or that it won't get a reaction from you, and it could be the first and last time you ever hear them say it.
Birds are very nervous animals on their own and are happiest when they feel part of something. This can mean part of your human family, pet family, or part of a flock of their own. In order to strengthen your bond with your bird it is incredibly important to groom them. That being said, you can't just jump straight from your first meeting to chin scratches. It is not enough to show them that you like them; you need to earn their trust by making them feel safe. Even the flightiest of birds can quickly become tame and docile by showing them that not only are you not a threat, you are capable of keeping them safe. This comes from supplying them with a cozy, comfortable cage to live in and regular handling. Taking your new pet bird out each day for 15 or so minutes at a time to start and allowing them to perch on your shoulder without trying to touch them is a great way to show them that you don't want anything from them other than their presence. Once they have gotten comfortable enough to groom themselves during these times, its best to next move on to talking to them. This can be something as simple as talking on the phone while you are handling them, or telling them about your day. Do not make direct eye contact during these times, but rather occasionally glance at your bird to show them that you are interested in them, but not to the point where they become nervous once again and you have to start all over.
At this point, they should have started to show interest in you and may even have begun chattering to you during handling. This is a great sign, and means they are ready for you to attempt grooming them. Without looking at them directly, slowly wiggle your index finger up and down, imitating how you would scratch the back of their head. They may be nervous about this at first and hiss or pretend to bite in order to scare you off, but hold your ground. After a fews moments (or minutes, for the most stubborn birds) they should start fluffing up their feathers and tilting their head downwards towards you. When they do this, slowly reach your finger forward without spooking them until you are lightly rubbing the feathers on the back of their head and cooing to them. After a few minutes, even if the bird is still allowing you to groom them, stop. Let them perch for a few more minutes on your shoulder before attempting the same thing all over again, starting with the slow finger wiggle. You may find that your bird gets nervous again and hisses, or it may fluff up and bow instantly, eager for more grooming. This is a huge sign of trust and affection and should be done regularly with your bird, because by grooming them you are showing them that you want them to be healthy and comfortable. If, however, you try wiggling your finger slowly for a few minutes and get nowhere - do not get discouraged! Each bird is different and some just take longer than others to come around.
Whether you are trying to keep your bird from ever developing this habit or trying to train it out of a new, older bird you have adopted - the method is the same. As I have hinted at, your bird is trying to train you just as much as you are trying to train it. If your bird has a temper tantrum and wants you to put him or her back in their cage, or not allow you to take them out in the first place, the most important thing is not to give in. If you are trying to take your bird out for handling and they bite you, take them out anyway without hesitation. This will teach them that biting does not get them what they want and birds are too smart to continue doing something that does not yield results. At the same time, if you get angry at your bird for biting and stop trying to handle them when they bite, you are giving them just what they want, and are reinforcing their biting impulses.