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Hostile Senegals can be tamed

I bought a Senegal parrot several months ago. All I know about its history is that for the last year it has had a seed diet and sat in a cage surrounded by canaries with no real interaction or stimulation.

This parrot is totally hostile toward hands. He stretches his neck, opens his beak and hisses ominously any time his cage is approached. If a hand comes within six inches of him, he lunges and tries to bite. I'm not sure how to proceed with him. I know he needs a check-up, but doubt he can be handled without his getting extremely upset or hurting someone. He escaped once and I got him to step up on my hand. He sat there a minute, then seemed to realize where he was. He bit me, twisting his beak back and forth to dig deeper. I've read that wild adult Senegals are virtually impossible to tame. Is there hope or should I resign myself to the situation?

-- Ellen in Asheboro, N.C.

Your question hits close to home. I started working with parrots 20 years ago at the age of 12. I had a job at a local mom-and-pop pet store. Back then, all of the parrots that we dealt with were wild caught. I remember growling greys, hissing cockatoos, lunging macaws and a pair of red bellies (the only ones I have had the pleasure of knowing). But mostly I remember a single Senegal.

Step one for new birds was for us to don our nice thick leather welding gloves, grab the bird and trim its wings. I was used to the larger parrots so I thought this little guy would be no problem. When he arrived he was a cute little thing, actually. Boy, was I wrong! He bit hard and he didn't let go. He chewed and twisted and bit some more. I decided then and there that Senegals were the meanest parrots alive! Unfortunately, other than the fact that his cage was put behind the counter where no poor unsuspecting fool could lose a finger, I don't remember what ever happened to that bird.

Fast forward many years and a friend of mine is given a Senegal. This bird had loved its owner but was hostile toward the rest of the family, so they gave it the boot. Well, in its new home it was mean to everyone and very nearly had to move again. But with a lot of time and patience and positive reinforcement the bird became very sweet and loving, to both members of its new household. We found a favored treat - a quarter of a peanut, in this case - and that treat came only from the person working on the bond. (It's best to have only one person work with a bird at a time. Once that person has established a positive relationship, others can do the same, one at a time.)

In sum, Senegals are tough, no doubt. But they can be the sweetest, most loving little birds I have seen, too. Just have patience; this time next year you'll be wondering how that little bird of yours could have ever been the same one who was chewing on your finger!

Grey Fisher Grey Fisher is a trainer at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Previously he was a trainer with Natural Encounters, Inc., a world-renowned organization that helps zoos all over the world train birds and many other types of animals using positive reinforcement. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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