French Version

Consultation Report: The Avian Bronx

by Johanne Vaillancourt

Translated by Marlène Picard (Mooghie)


Clients, students and the problematic parrot gang.

A while ago, during a day of field work with my students, we were invited to assist some clients that had real problems of cohabitation with their six parrots, that is: two Greys of Gabon, one Umbrella Cockatoo, a Severe Macaw and especially, the inevitable duo of Bare- Eye Cockatoo.

When we arrived, we found clients that were motivated and, more important, well prepared for our intervention.

They had prepared a short list of the "behavior problems" that to them were the most pressing (they told us that other problems (of all sorts) could be addressed later on).


Here is part of the frightening list:

The Bare-Eye Cockatoo (2 males)

  • To stop destroying the living room door.
  • To be able to sit at the table.
  • To be able to go to the living room.
  • To be able to spend time in the kitchen without being bitten.
  • To be able to wear regular shoes without having your feet bitten.
  • To be able to look at them without being attacked or bitten.


The first parrot
To be able to successfully catch it without being attacked.
To be able to successfully catch the second bare-eye without being attacked by the first.
To be able to hold the bird when out of its cage.
To prevent it from attacking the second bird when frustrated.
It will be nice and suddenly will bite seriously.

The second parrot
Has to stop attacking the Greys.
Has to stop picking at feathers.
Show him how to play without frustration.


Severe Macaw (female)

  • That it stops screaming! To make it relax so that we can relax.
  • Has to stop attacking visitors.
  • The women: that it stops attacking me when I go near.
  • The women: that it stops attacking me when I intervene with other birds.
  • Has to stop attacking other birds.


Grey of Gabon (male and female)

  • They both bite us seriously.


And the list grew longer and longer... It's tough to be a parrot lover!

It seemed that the consultation was about the parrots fully invading the house territory by subdividing it into smaller territories that each individual bird or couple felt a duty to protect fiercely. A real Avian Bronx where each gang was currently ruling. The birds were fighting among themselves to defend their respective corners of land and the poor people were relegated to the not so desirable territories. What a mess!

The turf war was taking place more specifically in the kitchen and the dining room, rooms in which humans were considered "persona non grata". In fact, it is when they informed me that they had been unable to take their meals at the table for over two years, under penalty of reprisals from the couple of Bare Eye Cockatoos (the kingpins of the place), that I really knew the extent of the problem of this poor couple "ghettoized" in their own house.


The division of territories were as follows


  • Both Bare-Eye Cockatoo had monopolized a chest near the table in the dining room within which the more than accommodating humans had added another box (a hiding place), and placed several toys. Impossible to go by the table without feeling the painful wrath of the cockatoos.

Bare eye cockatoo           Bare eye cockatoo and its toys.

  • Near the door of the dining room was installed the cage of the Severe Macaw. Nearby, our complacent human beings had built another box for the pleasure of the little macaw. It would engage anyone into hostilities the moment they dared approach within a meter: birds, dogs and humans included.

Severe mackaw           Severe mackaw's toys box

  • This charming little Severe Macaw had also transformed into a human-territory the man of the house. The Macaw would attack his wife, guests and often other birds and dogs in the household who dared to advance towards its human pet.
    • The Greys had monopolized the higher levels in the room, again thanks to the kindness of the humans who had installed for them, a variety of ropes and perches suspended from the ceiling.


    Grey of Gabon parrot in the higher level...

    • In addition, the kitchen counter, historically neutral, had with great difficulty been taken over as a newly conquered territory by the Greys.

    • Only our poor Umbrella Cockatoo had no defined territory and tried as best it could to avoid the territories of the others, trying to get from point A to point B without losing too many feathers.


               Umbrella cockatoo and its territory

    Gang warfare

    The gang ruling over all of the territory was undoubtedly the Bare-Eye Cockatoos, not only did they protect their conquered territory but were also constantly trying to conquer new spaces within the kitchen / dining room. Thus, kitchen cabinets, the space under the table, the floor and the dining room wall with the large window overlooking the street were completely under their control. They reigned over the lower parts of the kitchen / dining room and were on the look-out for the territories now belonging to the Grey gang. Only the living room area had been saved by the humans because of a sliding wooden door which served as a barricade. In fact, when we arrived, the poor door was in bad shape and about to succumb to the white assailants.

    Bare eye cockatoo and its territory.

    Greed was the law, the Cockatoo gang, like gangsters, were regularly into turf wars in the higher territories (under the leadership of the Grey gang). The latter were defending their space as best as they could, leaving a few flight feathers and a piece of territory every time. In addition, the Cockatoo gang would regularly attack the Severe Macaw's box and since there was nothing to conquer in the Umbrella Cockatoo's domain, they were content with chasing it and giving it a hard time throughout the house territories, even those that were not coveted yet. The Bare-Eye Cockatoos were the warlords over all of the house territory.

    These cockatoos were real despots, always in search of a victim or a site to be annexed to their existing holdings, and humans were no exception to the rule. These were not to linger ever in the Cockatoo Bronx (kitchen / dining room). They were relegated to a very feeble right of access - with a very short time limit. The humans in the house had no right to look directly at the Cockatoo gang. If they had the misfortune of looking at them... they immediately were punish as the commoners should... Ouch!


    The functional analysis

    When I am face with this type of situation, my admiration for Cockatoos knows no bound ... What sophisticated intelligence! What adaptability in a world so distant from that of their ancestors! Naturally, the most difficult for me is to refrain from demonstrating the face of a pious apologetic and to adopt the appropriate concerned attitude when facing my clients. Do not misunderstand me, I am not in the wrong... because I know that at the end of the consultation that little problem of "gangsterism" will be solved and we will all laugh at it (if the humans cooperate... of course).

    Client-man with one of his parrots.

    The first thing that was obvious in this house, you will laugh, was the kindness and gentleness that was evident from the couple (the humans). This kindness towards their birds, the love, and especially this desire to please them, to not annoy them for fear of making them "unhappy", was the sole and unique reason why the bickering had persisted for so long. These were individuals who were giving their undivided attention to their parrots. They were people who loved much... too much in fact.

    Let me explain: the parrots enjoy full freedom when the humans are at home, which is great. But in their desire to make their birds happy, the humans had forgotten to be, and this has fed this natural rivalry of parrots, to the point where it had seriously affected the quality of the cohabitation within the social group that they formed with the birds. The birds are, as you know, very intelligent animals, but not very flexible on the subject of compromise, especially if they are not absolutely essential to their needs or their well-being. They live in the moment, as prescribed by their genetic, since they have never learned to do otherwise. In summary, it means that these birds are only poorly socialized rascals!

    The absence of a (proper) socialization among our pet parrot, which includes some limitations and reasonable rules of conduct, does not make them happy, quite the contrary. Since they have not learned to properly behave socially, they develop (often at the expense of others), behaviors that seem to work for them, and they repeat (in the most natural way) those who have benefited them, those that seem the most favorable. Then, after a blunder (from the human point of vue), no sanction can be applied, since they do not recognize (stupidly) having acted in a bad way. If a penalty is imposed, it is applied as an unexpected and sudden event, for which they see no justification. At this point, because the parrot is an intelligent animal, it lashes out and tries to impose its own rules, since it knows no other way, and that has always brought back the expected dividends.

    A vicious circle then ensues: blunder ... punishment ... and re-blunder ...and again punishment!
    At that point, the humans need help simply because they do not have the objectivity necessary to be able to analyze the situation.

    The result was delirious: the parrots had developed a lot of insecurity about their environment, and came to create boundaries within their territory (the house) while trying to "protect" those areas that were gradually taken the reassuring shape of territories, from which were excluded one by one irritating figures.

    Client-female with distorted thinking parrot.

    Over time, a form of "distorted thinking" had been adopted by the birds. The lack of benchmarks and inconstancies in the socialization (education) ended up creating distortions in the mode of representation of the bird against the correctness of certain situations in its environment. That is, it no longer perceives the world around it as it is, but as it thinks it does. At this point, his thoughts are not rational, but automatic.

    Automatic thoughts impose themselves, they are not rational. In this house, there was no logical reason for the implementation of all these territories and especially not this debilitating behavior of hyper protection of the latter. These attitudes appeared gradually and eventually became embedded, and this was probably the result of a single individual in the group, and the allelomimetic nature (imitation of individuals in the group) of the parrot did the rest, so much so that eventually the whole group ended up acquiring this unreasonable mode of thinking in that security meant the protection of its own little territory.

    The parrots gave themselves a huge workload by controlling and protecting their territories. The notion of play and freedom was no longer part of their lifestyle. They had, for some obscure reason ... to protect territorial limits other than their cages ... A full time job!

    It was necessary to correct the imbalance in place by restructuring the thought processes of the birds, to reform them to allow the acquisition of new and better adapted behaviors. Of course, to accomplish this, we had to reshape quite the same conceptualization with the humans: attempt to make them understand that it was their attitude that produced and maintained the territorial behavior of their feathered critters.

    Since there was no question of undoing the structural organization of the house, I decided to leave the trunk and the box to the Cockatoos, since they also served as play areas, however, I recommended to my clients to remove the hiding box of the macaw who also served as her nest (she had recently laid eggs), which, of course, terribly exacerbated her territorial behavior.


    At work!

    With the help of the students, we started the work with the Cockatoos (the group leaders), since these were so uncontrollable that they would have compromised any attempt to work with any other bird in the house.

    Parrots and pizza= nice treat

    We started by sitting all together at the dining room table, the central core of the Cockatoo territory. The reaction was immediate and the assaults began from all sides. I designated two students who quickly grabbed the two Bare-Eye Cockatoos. Then the students began petting the birds while giving them sweets, which was accepted in no time by the two Cockatoos who wanted more. Naturally, the behavior of territorial aggression would resurface at any time, and you had to be very careful if you wanted to keep your fingers. The objective was to demonstrate to the birds that there were many benefits to cooperating (petting and treats) and that humans, guests and residents, could be a lot of fun (something that they had obviously forgotten for some time).

    On this issue, the clients absolutely needed outside help, as they had over time developed a real fear of their birds and refused to hold them or manipulate them.

    Then, we invited all the other birds: Macaw, Greys, and Umbrella included, to come and share a meal at the table of the dining room along with the Bare-Eye Cockatoos.

    All were more than happy: imagine the scene ... pizza ... in a territory that had suddenly become neutral ... the table.

    How nice not to have to constantly check behind! All the birds cohabitated peacefully throughout the meal.

    After lunch, we began the same work with the Macaw and the Greys with their assigned group of students, while the first group continued to recreate the notion of play and fun for the Bare-Eye Cockatoos by playing with various games.

    Then we gathered all of the birds and mixed the territories to ensure that everyone understood that from now on, the dining room and kitchen had become a common territory to share as much with the birds than humans.

    Already, in the minds of the parrots, significant changes had begun: they seemed more carefree and were collaborating happily to play exercises and manipulations.

    After the feathered beasts had understood the principles of the new arrangements, there were still the "human" clients to convince ...!

    We started by doing manipulation exercises with the Bare-Eye Cockatoos: petting, scratching, games, doing the Bunny Hop, the baby, playing dead, etc. The clients and birds cheerfully lent themselves to such exercises, and distrust and fear gradually dissipated in the minds of both parties.

    Grey of Gabon showing off           The clients practice the prescribed exercices with their parrots.

    We exchanged birds, we took two at a time together, kisses, treats, all are happy about this turnaround so spectacular ... but oh so predictable. Then we did the same with the other birds, and the Macaw, so exclusive in his favors, fell into the game and happily agreed to be handled by the women client (who had never yet been able to approach this bird when her husband was near). From the moment the terrible Cockatoos began to change their perception, all the others quickly followed suit.

    The rest of the day was spent playing and having fun with all the parrots. In only a few hours, the birds had passed from a street gang to Psittacines from a good family.

    Still to this day, humans and birds continue to live in perfect harmony, all eat at the table and share equally the great collective territory that is the house. Gregarious behaviors and the joy of living are back and are now the standard in the household. Life is slowly and gently moving forward.

    Severe mackaw now enjoying being petted.           Bare eye cockatoos once again accept human contact.

    This situation, with a happy but predictable end, could have ended with far more tragic consequences. Indeed, when opening the case, at the question "Have you ever tried to resolve this problem?" that followed the question "Do you consider that your parrot has developed one or more behavioral problems?", we learned that these clients had already received at home an "avian behavior consultant" who, upon evaluation of the situation, had "advised" to isolate the Bare-Eye Cockatoo couple in the basement as a resolution to the conflict. No Cockatoos in the kitchen and dining room = elimination of the problem.

    Fortunately our clients had enough sense (and loved their birds) not to carry out such expeditious, yet insidious, advice. Imagine the damage ...

    Always be wary of "advice" of this type when it suggests bird exclusion to end an unpleasant situation. Marginalization here would only have increased the perception of insecurity that was the source of the "weird" behavior of the birds.

    Exercice-games are an excellent form of interaction with parrots.

    No parrot deserve to be spotted and excluded from its social group. This is the most direct path to further sinking (even more) into the "dark side of the force", that is, the problems related to anxiety.

    All that needed to be done here was to change the perception of the birds about their environment and to bring them back to a more normal, controlled and realistic level.

    Within hours, we have managed to change the thinking process of the birds by especially modifying the thinking process (too toxic) of the humans.

    Now the clients know that they must interact positively with their birds and, through fun exercises- games, maintain the bird's good disposition towards respecting the social rules within the group.


    A story, after all, with a happy ending!




    © Johanne Vaillancourt 2005 (french) - 2012 (english)

    Mr Magoo and Maggie, Bare eye cockatoo (cacatua sanguinea), CAJV
    Kali and Gazou, African grey (psittacus erithacus erithacus), CAJV
    Flocon, Umbrella cockatoo (cacatua alba), CAJV
    Picasso, severe macaw (ara severa), CAJV