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Comfortable cockatoos fluff facial feathers

I recently acquired a 7-year-old male Mollucan cockatoo. His previous owners hit him with a broom to control him and kept him locked up.

This bird seems to love me, but I happen to be afraid of him. I need to figure out when he is being aggressive and when he is being sweet so I can overcome my anxiety and provide him with a decent home, but I haven’t been unable to find any information on a Mollucan’s body language. What does it mean when he moves quickly from side to side and raises the feathers around his beak?

Sounds like your new bird has had a challenging life, but a positive approach from you can help erase a traumatic past.

First, some lessons in Moluccan body language. Cockatoos fluff the feathers around their beak when they are comfortable in a situation. When they are nervous, the feathers are pulled back to expose the beak.

When the feathers on the head are loose, your cockatoo is comfortable. When they are tight against the head, he is nervous.

When he spreads the feathers on his head as if to make it look bigger, he’s feeling afraid, aggressive, or playful. If fearful, he may also glance quickly to either side as if to look for an escape path.

If he’s feeling hostile, he will be staring straight at the object of his intent. If he’s in a playful mood, he will vocalize and throw his head about in an animated fashion.

The bird will stay put or move away if he’s afraid of you. If he comes toward you, he may be motivated to bite by territorial instincts or learned aggression. However, more likely he will bite only if he feels cornered or does not want to be handled.

The mistake most people make with a bird like yours is trying to shower it with affection. Such birds need to adjust at their own pace. Forcing your attentions on him now may be the worst thing you could do.

Instead, your strategy should be to make friends. At this point, he has lost his trust in humans. Give him a reason to like you and never make him do anything he does not want to do. Find a way to “let” him do the things you want him to do.

You accomplish this through positive reinforcement: reward good behavior and ignore undesirable behavior. Start by giving him treats out of your hand through the bars of the cage. Progress to giving him treats inside his cage. Then, let the bird place one foot on your hand for a treat and let him go back to the perch for another treat.

Reward every step and repeat the process until he steps onto your hand without hesitation. Progress at his pace and keep it positive.

Remember, repetition with rewards builds confidence. Positive reinforcement will build a good relationship between you and your new bird.

Steve Martin World-renowned animal trainer Steve Martin established one of the first free-flight bird shows in the country at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. His international consulting company, Natural Encounters, Inc., now helps zoos all over the world train all types of animals using positive reinforcement. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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