Birdsafe California Bird Nerds

By Dana Wilson

Sally Blanchard's Beak Book retrains humans to stop biting.

IF YOUR PARROT is a card-carrying member of the "Have beak, will bite" club, then you might consider flying down to your local bookstore and grabbing a copy of The Beak Book by Sally Blanchard. It's solid, well-researched, well-written information, beautifully illustrated by the author. If you care about parrots, this book will show you how to take care of them properly so they don't have to resort to biting.

Casual readers, beware. This is not brain candy you can skim while sipping a blue marguerita on the beach. You need to sit down with your parrot and read the comprehensive contents carefully, reflecting thoughtfully on your parrot's history, his body language, your own behavior around him and his reactions as well as his inventive antics to communicate with you.

Biting as communication
Blanchard details how parrots bite to communicate. For example, one of her clients always watched the news with his yellow-nape Amazon on his shoulder. Within a few minutes, the man dozed off and the parrot bit him on the neck. The man woke up, yelled and then put the parrot in his cage for the night. Biting was the way the parrot had learned to tell his caregiver, he wanted to call it a night. Or wanted to change the channel.

Blanchard is not afraid to share her own learning mistakes, such as the time she abruptly stopped playing with Skippy, her cockatoo, and put him in his cage. She had errands to run. So what? Skippy didn't care about her errands, he wasn't finished playing and he bit her to remind her of that fact.

Read this book with your parrot nearby. If your parrot could read, and maybe yours can, undoubtedly his reaction to most of this book would be, "Well, duh!" But for the rest of us, even experienced parrot people, there is a lot to learn in this meaty text on the very common but misunderstood behavior of biting.

Blanchard's suggestions are excellent, based as they are on years of her own experience studying parrot behavior and helping clients solve any number of biting dilemmas they've encountered. Some things may surprise you. Blanchard writes about one distraught client whose loving parrot suddenly took a chunk out of him. He claimed he hadn't changed a thing in his parrot's environment or behaved any differently. Later somewhat sheepishly, he called Blanchard back to ask if shaving off his moustache could have had anything to do with his parrot's ire. No kidding. He looked like a different person who had no right to be so fresh.

In case you're tempted to think this is the Cliff's Notes for changing your parrot's behavior quickly, it's not. There are no short cuts. Blanchard makes it clear that quick fixes only backfire. It's worthwhile to use the correct techniques, no matter how long they take. Quickies won't last and can turn your bird against you - perhaps forever.

Many clients come to Blanchard claiming they've "tried everything" and still their bird bites. According to the beak guru, you haven’t "tried everything" until your bird no longer bites you. Too many people give up too quickly.

Don't be surprised to read that biting is never the parrot's fault. Repeat: Biting is never the parrot's fault. It’s your fault. According to Blanchard, if your parrot bites, he has his reason, and it’s your job to figure out what his reasons are. It's not your job to react with anger or hysterics. Or, stupidly, "punish" the parrot. Spraying him with water, shutting him a dark closet, thumping his beak, screaming or other mindless responses will betray your parrot's trust. Afterward, he will treat you like the creep you are. Skating up Mt. Everest will be easier than regaining your parrot's trust after treating him so disrespectfully.

Putting the advice to work
The Beak Book is a welcome addition to parrot behavior literature. If you practice some of its precepts with your own parrot, you will be able to understand, prevent and solve many biting behaviors.

I tried out a few of Blanchard's ideas on my nippy grey. She had good reason for being down in the beak after losing her place as adored baby in her original family to a newborn who couldn't talk, walk or fly. She was devastated and angry.

We tried Blanchard's "calming time" technique. Lady Jane sat with me as I read or wrote or even took a nap. Our heartbeats in sync, she felt secure and calm. To stop her vicious attacks when I try to change her food dish, I now slip a beaksome "bedtime snack" into her bowl. No longer does she lunge at my fingers. She now trusts that I will always bring her more food, not just take it away. 'It’s you, stupid," keeps popping into my mind.

You may wince as you read about something you have done that peeved your parrot enough to nail you. There are lots of embarrassing examples.

Ignorance is no excuse, now that you can read this encyclopedic 96-page paperback on everything you always wanted to know about why your parrot bites. Blanchard lays out rules for parrots in high hormones and on shoulders. She discusses height dominance, dismissing that old maxim that you should always be higher than your parrot, as well as dozens of other outdated bird bromides.

The bird is always right
If you remember nothing else after reading this book, hold on to the thought that your parrot is never at fault for biting. Never. He gives you plenty of hints when you’re out of line. Learn to recognize them and act accordingly. Remember: his reason will hold up in court. Yours won't.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer and film producer who worships the ground Bertie, Lady Jane and Watson walk on and the air they fly in.

To have your parrot-related toy, food, accessory or book considered for review, send a request to Published 2003.


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