Why a parrot should not sit on your shoulder?

It appears that there are always misunderstandings when it comes to keeping, dealing with and raising a parrot/parakeet. Behavioural problems are among the most common problems in parrots/parakeets and are the main reason that many parrots eventually end up in shelters. The most important and most common behavioural problem in parrots/parakeets, which are kept as companion birds, is UNCERTAINTY. For young dogs there’s puppy training, for owners of parrots/parakeets until recently there were few opportunities to learn skills in handling and raising parrots / parakeets.

The Dutch Parrot Foundation considers it an important objective to provide owners of parrots/parakeets with information. Encouraging walking and cycling with parrots/parakeets is obviously a part of this. Courses and workshops are provided for owners, veterinarians and students. A common rule is that a parrot that is insecure will look for a higher place to perch. That is the main reason that a bird will sit on the shoulder. In this higher position, such a bird often shows defensive behaviour. It has been indicated as dominant behaviour while the behaviour is actually based on UNCERTAINTY. The owner has no control over the bird when it is in this position. It is common for owners to be bitten in the face or ear when allowing the bird to sit on the shoulder. Such birds often do not want to step upon the hand, are “one-person-birds” and show fear and panic reactions in various situations. These birds also tend to bite people other than the owner and exhibit screaming, picking behaviour etc.

It is the experience that birds sitting on the shoulder, although liking the owner do not really respect him/her. Finally, it is often the behaviour of the owner that causes the bird to feel insecure and want to sit on the shoulder. Uncertain lap dogs, skittish horses, insecure children etc. are often made insecure, even if the one who did this had the best intentions. If a bird sitting on the shoulder is startled, the bird can fly in all directions without the owner seeing it coming and without the owner being able to intervene. This can lead to undesirable and dangerous situations. Such a situation is highly undesirable while on a stroll through the city, while cycling or during a visit to the zoo.

The owners' argument that it is so easy to be able to have the bird on the shoulder during vacuuming etc, ignores the importance of the bird. It is good to remember that falconers have been walking with their birds on their hand for thousands of years. The argument of the bird being heavy or easier on the shoulder is unthinkable and illogical. Falconers are in a tradition of thousands of years dealing with wild (predatory) birds in captivity and have developed considerable expertise in dealing with these birds. Falconers can for that matter, despite numerous differences with parrots/parakeets act as an example. Compared to the falconry keeping parrots/parakeets is still in its infancy, and there is hardly a tradition based on expertise. It is the responsibility of The Dutch Parrot Foundation to avoid problems and to defend the interests of parrots. For this reason, the rule during our walks with parrots/parakeets is that owners of these birds carry them on the hand and not on the shoulder.

Jan Hooimeijer

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