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Five Bird Behaviour Myths

There are a lot of myths that circulate in the bird-owing community. Most are caused by simple misinformation, or outdated information that has since been updated by new research and observation, and some are purposefully propagated for personal or financial gain. Some myths are generally not harmful, but some can seriously compromise the wellbeing of your bird and your relationship.

Myth #1
Birds bite because they hate their owner/the owners spouse, etc.

Bird emotions are difficult to discern and are often greatly anthropomorphised. It’s nice to label our birds “happy”, “excited” etc, but many people become stuck when their bird is labelled “mean”, or even “hateful”. These label are counterproductive to solving the actual issue. Using labels allows people to accept tthe label as “just the way it is”; that bird is mean, or aggressive, or hateful, and it will always be so. If we put aside the labels, and just look at the behaviour without attaching emotion to it, we can often see other reasons the bird may be acting that way. The screamer may be seeking a contact call from his or her flock and only gets an answer (yelling) when he or she screams. The biter may be fearful of hands. The plucker may have a skin infection. These are all real-life situations that would be missed if an emotional label were put on the bird.

Myth #2
The bird that bites is trying to be dominant.

Most companion birds do not have a lineal hierarchy as humans see it. In most flocks there is not one “alpha” bird that tells all the other birds what to do, especially with parrots. Behaviour issues are, almost with out fail, either learned or a product of the bird’s health or environment. Dominating, or attending to dominant, any bird will lead to either increased reciprocal aggression, or fearful or “phobic” behaviour. It will certainly lead to a damaged relationship and distrust.

Myth #3
Finches, canaries, doves, pigeons and other non-parrot birds do not need toys.

This is untrue. While many of these non-parrot companion birds may not chew or enjoy battling it out with a block of wood, many enjoy bells, toys with things to pull, and most can become enthusiastic users of foraging toys. Even if they do not actively use the toys, changing the cage by adding new kinds of perches, changing the arrangement, adding safe plants or safe artificial plants, etc, can add excitement in their lives and fosters their natural curiosity.

Myth #4
Only handfed parrots make good pets/parrots only make good pets if their new owner hand feeds them

This is 100% untrue. There are thousands of people all over the world who have wonderful, fulfilling relationships with older wild-caught or younger parent-reared parrots. These relationships are just as close and just as affectionate as any with a handfed bird, no matter who did the handfeeding. The handfed bird doesn’t know anything but people; they are often unable to even properly communicate with other birds. Working with a parent-reared or older untamed bird can be a challenge, but the rewards are unlike anything else. There is nothing in the world like the trust and love of a bird that knows it’s a bird, and chooses to be with you anyways.

Myth #5
Birds that bite/pluck/scream/lay eggs/masturbate/are not tame would be best as breeders and not as pets.

There are many reasons this idea is ill-conceived. For one, can you imagine if dog breeders choose their breeding stock by these criteria? There would be a lot of aggressive, self-mutilating dogs. It doesn’t make sense to take the risk of passing on traits that might even have the possibility of being inheritable. Secondly, almost all of these unwanted companion bird traits are learned or supported by the care they are receiving. Additionally, most companion birds (except finches, canaries etc) are handraised and wouldn’t have the first idea what to do in a breeding situation. Many breeders refuse to use handfed or pet birds as breeders because they rarely make top-notch breeders. Reproduction is also not a personal “want” with birds- it is a biological response to internal and external indicators. A poorly behaved bird is not acting out because he or she wants to nest- he or she is acting out either because he or she is successful at doing so (gains some kind of valuable response or reward from acting that way) or because they are biologically urged to do so by their environment and their bodies. In both cases this can be dealt with by the owners by training and changing the environment around the bird.

When learning about the animals we live with, it can be difficult to tell fact from fiction. It’s up to the individual owner to decide for themselves what seems right and logical for the species they are working with. However, by using reputable sources, and continuing to educate ourselves, we can more easily discern the truths from the myths.

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