French Version

The fleeing parrot

by Johanne Vaillancourt

Translated by Marlène Picard (Mooghie)



A prey animal

The parrot is a prey animal, meaning that it is genetically designed to serve as a meal to another animal (ouch!). This is a fundamental rule the parrot knows right out of the egg! The parrot is not an animal that attacks, quite the contrary; it is not programmed to face adversity or to confront its fears. It does not know how to attack, if threatened it will fly away, and simply wait until the danger is over before returning to its original location (if it feels so). Even when a parrot is hand-raised (hand-fed), its natural state will be of a prey animal. All of its physical and mental being, its instincts, its emotions and reactions are the result of this state.
It is evident that it also possesses innate behaviour adapted to this very special condition, in particular, the flight response, the behaviour of abandonment when confronted to a menace.


The flight response

There is a significant difference between the behaviour of predatory animals and those of prey animals. Humans know naturally and intuitively how to behave and communicate with dogs. Like us, they are hunters. We have much in common: equipped with binocular vision, we know how to stalk attack and defend ourselves. We are predatory animals and the instinct to confront the threat is conceivable as a primary reaction. The urge to flee comes second if we do not feel confident enough in front of a too sturdy aggressor.

The opposite is the rule for our parrot. Fleeing is the first option. It does not know how to attack or fight. In a defence mode, the left side of the brain will be sought. It will then be helpless, emotionally incapable of thinking, in a state of panic. The whole takes place under an enormous push of adrenalin and the bird struggles in a state of confusion and total terror.

So thus, the logic of the human and canine reactions is completely set against that of the parrots. It is important to take into account this enormous difference in our relation and our mode of communication with our bird. Here is among others why the "educational" methods used with the dog cannot bring results with the parrot: the one is predatory and the other prey. In the parrot, safety is the possibility of escape. It is a secondary method of defense (in the presence of danger). its main strategy of survival and the only really effective one in its natural housing environment.


To escape, one must first have the opportunity

The parrot must be able to react naturally in front of a real or imagined danger.
Parrots are shy and of a very suspicious nature; they worry about everything that is unexplored or any attitudes that may seem like an act of predation. Anything new, unusual or alien is prima facie a threat. The trigger that activates the flight instinct can be a visual stimulus, for example the sight of a predator (newcomer or a foreign object in a new environment), even if Paulie has trimmed flight feathers.

The act of fleeing always involves flying among parrots. Although very large species such as the macaws or cockatoos use very little that mode of transportation in our homes (the space being often too small for such large wings), the mere fact that they can fly confronted by a threat serves to reinforce their sense of safety and security in their environment. The trimming of the flight feathers (still too common these days) can be a cruel and crippling operation and infinitely damaging to the birds. Contrary to popular belief that suggests that we should cut the flight feathers to prevent accidents among our pet parrots, it is largely this (barbarian) practice that causes the most misfortunes:

  • Broken immature feathers (blood feathers)
  • Cracked or broken beaks
  • Cracked or broken breastbone
  • Concussion, etc.


We must understand that even if the bird's flight feathers are shortened, the bird's first instinctive reaction to danger will be to flee. In its attempt to fly, it will risk severe injuries perhaps in hitting a wall, the corner of a piece of furniture, or in falling down. A parrot that cannot move easily will feel vulnerable, become anxious and fearful and will run the risk of developing learned helplessness and undesirable behaviors such as screaming, biting, going so far as self-harm.

If you do decide nonetheless to trim the flight feathers of your bird, do so in order to slow it down and not to handicap its travel.


The pet prey

The pet parrot remains a prey with the instincts and behaviors that define its state, and since we are talking about innate attitudes, this state is immutable. However, the parrot is an intelligent animal that can learn to adapt its instincts, learning to recognize non-threatening elements in its "human" environment and thus to control its fears and associated automatic reactions. It is the human's task to socialize its parrot in this artificial environment in which it has to evolve, to teach the bird to distinguish the true "scarecrows" from the false or imaginary ones.


In a nutshell


  • You must avoid actions that may be seen as an act of predation.
  • The introduction of a stranger must be done away from the cage, or better still, fit out a security place (ideally in height) where from the bird will not feel threatened.
  • Choose a safe place for the cage where the parrot will be able to see what is happening around him, preferably in a corner and with the rear against a wall - not before a large window (predators, usually come from the sky).
  • The safety of the bird is linked to its knowledge of its territory. Visit with your parrot one by one the various rooms in your house.
  • Never isolate your parrot from its social group, your family. To him, it is its greatest guarantee of safety and security.




© Johanne Vaillancourt 2002 (french) - 2011 (english)

1 et 2  Arianne, cacatua moluccensis, Christine Cadoux
Jade, psittacus erithacus erithacus, Catherine Chenail