About Parrot Psychology
by Johanne Vaillancourt
Translated by Marlène Picard (Mooghie)
Parrots are highly intelligent creatures with great sensitivity
... and we often tend to forget with a range of natural
behaviours designed for the environment in which they evolved,
the parrot habitat of their ancestors. Thus, the behavioural
intervention with parrots must reflect these common, standard
and innate attitudes of our charming birds ...
To understand the "psychology" of a parrot leaving in captivity is similar in all respects to ethnopsychology; the discipline formed of anthropology, sociology and psychology.
When discussing parrots, the term ornithopsychology, despite sounding a bit unusual ... would certainly be more appropriate.
In this unusual field, we will consider the status of the bird (as a prey animal), its sociological environment (in captivity, our families and homes), and we will gladly mix ethology and psychology.
The ornithopsychology would resort to interdisciplinarity in considering key concepts of ornithology (ethology) and psychology, in order to intervene in situations of communication dysfunction or of behavioural disorder identified in our companion parrots.
If we ignore the innate behaviours of birds, any intervention will inevitably be doomed to fail. We will at the most influence the natural attitudes of our parrot in trying to help the bird adapt (to the best of our abilities) to the social requirements of a domesticated life. However, we will be unable to invalidate them completely and will be resigned to contend with them, and this for the psychological well-being of Polly (and incidentally your own).
As I have often specified, our parrots are neither dogs nor cats, let alone humans! They are parrots living in the company of humans and they need to be socialized to an environment that could not be stranger for them. Moreover, all attempts to make use of training techniques used (often wrongly) for dogs on our parrots will result in bitter failures and could cause great harm at various levels.
The parrot for its part, must make use somehow of ethnopsychology principles to try to understand us, humans, and our strange environment. We have our codes, our modes of expression and our rules, which must often seem very strange. Living with parrots is somehow the shock of the cultures, as much for them as for us.
The behavioural and cognitive "therapies" used with parrots (and their humans) follow essentially the same patterns and the same order as those used for humans with humans:
- Functional Analysis
- Goal Setting
- Implementation of a program
- Evaluation of results
It is important to understand that humans wishing to undertake a
behavioural "therapy" with his/her parrot must acquire the open
mindedness as the perseverance and coherence prerequisited for
The functional analysis allows the identification of various interventions depending on the environment, the parrot's temperament, including the characteristics of its species, and taking into consideration the issue identified as the problem. It aims to identify key problems, their foundations and their corollaries.
The key problems are, in a pragmatic approach, those that are most likely to be resolved positively. The solution of which will affect or rebalance the environment and subsequently, Polly's naughty behaviours.
The modifying actions to be taken will often (and most of the time) focus on the factors of retention of the behaviour/problem. Indeed, in most cases, if the disturbed behaviour is the residual echo of past traumatic events (impregnation hetero-specific to humans, inadequate or early weaning, lack of socialization, communication dysfunctions, physical or psychological abuses), this behaviour will have over time, acquired other meanings, a new function within the organizational structure of the bird. Often these relics perpetuate the behaviour.
Moreover, in several cases of actual behavioural disorders in parrots, the key problems are also often associated with environmental problems and resulting in psychological and interpersonal difficulties that foster significantly excesses (plucking, self-mutilation, anxiety, stereotypical behaviours, aggression, etc.).
From an empirical point of view, functional analysis is done through interviews with bird people (bird owners) and research with people (previous bird owners), including the pet store or the breeder, and ideally - though not always possible - field analysis: observation of the bird in its environment (at home, its interactions with his social group (human)), in addition to the review of its history, the methods previously used and the detailed review of previous failures. All of this allows us to define objectives and to identify key obstacles
It is essential to obtain the most complete cooperation of the human to identify properly the problem-behaviour: changes, loss of control, compulsions, frequency and duration of crisis episodes, etc...
Furthermore, it is important to take into account the psychopathology that is associated with the behaviour: anxiety disorders, phobias / panic, affective and emotional disturbances, etc... and disorders such as: plucking, self-mutilation, stereotypical behaviours, etc... Aggression and hypervocalisation more often than not are learned responses associated with specific situations and are more a dysfunction of communication (easily correctable with some good will on the part of the human) than a real behaviour problem.
It is understood that the deficiencies, interruptions or discontinuities in parental care in hand-raised parrots during the first-year of life of the bird, contribute more than significantly to the development of real behaviour problems - not only early but also late. At this point, the speaker here has different possible actions that will be discussed with the client, including:
A cognitive approach - learning to change or control the behaviour. It has an aim of adaptability; to teach the bird to change a behaviour. Cognitive activity affects behaviour and can be modified.
A behavioural approach - a series of actions / reactions designed to have the parrot react (to a situation) in a progressive manner. It is a stimulus (event) that acts on the bird and causes a response that will result in a positive or negative consequence (reinforcement). This is not to be understood as the use of a series of predetermined recipes, each case being different, but to establish an individual strategy for each parrot based on the its temperament, its history and its own situation.
The rest of the adventure depends on the willingness of the responsible humans to offer perseverance and coherence, and in most cases, we can expect to obtain rapidly some encouraging results. A hopeless parrot ... I have never met!
"Once solved, a problem is surprisingly simple." Paulo Coelho
© Johanne Vaillancourt 1996 to 2009
Pepette, cacatua alba, Maggy Costa
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Kiwette, ara auricollis, CAJV
Elmo, ara macao et Molly, anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, CAJV
Jade, pionus menstruus, Jean-Luc Robichaud
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