Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cockatoos Are Not Suitable to Be Companion Parrots

We are macaw parrot people. Our experience with cockatoo parrots is limited to our male Goffin's cockatoo, Kid Kadra, a parrot juvenile delinquent if there ever was one. Recently, we were contacted by a parrot person living outside of Seattle who is having problems dealing with her cockatoo parrot Conan. Caitlyn is an experienced parrot person. In addition to her cockatoo, she has a flock including three conures, a Meyers, and a lovebird. As Caitlyn notes: I had worked with cockatoos prior to obtaining Conan but had never lived with one. Point being, I didn't go into this with zero experience, but he's the first large parrot that I have owned.

The Ideal

In spite of her parrot experience, Caitlyn developed serious issues with Conan. She contacted us looking for advice. We are putting her story out to the cockatoo parrot people in our audience. Stories like Caitlyn's reinforce our belief that cockatoo parrots simply are not suitable to be companion parrots.

Here is Caitlyn's situation:

I have an umbrella cockatoo, Conan. He is fifteen years old, and we know little of his history but from what we've heard, we assume that we are his third home. I got him from a couple who decided to rehome him because both of them worked full time jobs and, less importantly, he was sort of a screamer.

I brought him home to my parent's house, where I will live for another couple of years to finish my degree. He was cuddly as could be, though we were careful not to cuddle too much, and he screamed about as much as expected. He was in a relatively peaceful room with the other birds at the time. After he started to scream excessively, we brought him into the dining room where there is a lot of activity all day. He stopped for a couple of weeks.

Conan comes out of his cage daily, goes for rides in the car, and is supplied with toys 24/7. He's on a diet of pellets and occasional fresh food. He interacts with all members of the household. It seems as if he should be a rather happy bird. However, his screaming is once again becoming excessive. He used to do it only when nobody was in the room with him; however, now if he's in the mood (which tends to be every other day on average), he will scream regardless of how many people are in the room. He is given a warning, "no screaming," followed by a "time out" where his cage is covered for about a minute or until he stops. We've been doing this for about a month and have seen no difference in the frequency and he never heeds the warning.

Two of us work from home and are on the phone often. We have had to give up on the phone call several times because Conan's favorite time to scream is when we are talking to someone else. If it were only me, I would grin and bear it, but it's both of my parents, too. They have been tolerant so far, but they are reaching the end of their patience.

The more recent big problem is aggression. I'd expect it in the spring, but it is mid-summer now and shouldn't be this bad. He wasn't aggressive before and the previous owners didn't mention anything about it, but in the past month he has bitten me for anything from misplaced aggression, fear, a desire to go and run around on the floor, an aversion to going back into his cage, or just seemingly out of nowhere. He continues to be sweet and sociable most of the time, but I can't have him out without expecting to be bitten at some point. I consider myself to have a high pain tolerance, and I do not get nervous around him, but I can't live with this pattern of aggression for presumably the rest of my life.

Today was the closest I've ever come to a "straw that broke the camel's back" moment. Earlier in the day he had taken a small chunk out of my finger when I attempted to fix his water bowl, but that was of little concern. Later, I came home from errands and opened his cage, intending to take him out for a while. Instead of happily stepping out like normal, he lunged at my hand in a way that absolutely cannot be mistaken for anything but aggression. I've had him use his beak to balance before, and it's very different - this time his crest shot up and his tail fanned out and he jumped at me. On the floor, he ran after my feet, and when I crouched down to try to coax him onto my hand he lunged at my hands once again. I sat on a barstool while he climbed back up onto his cage. Completely confident in the notion that he would now step up from his cage (as he has done for the six months or so that we have had him. Even if he is grumpy on the floor, he always comes nicely from any spot on top of his cage) I walked over and offered him my arm in a deliberately slow way so he would not get excited. With no warning, he jumped at my head/chest/arm and when he missed, climbed back into his cage, proceeding to try to take off my fingers as I locked the cage door.

I just don't know what to do now. If this continues for even another day, it's going to become very hard to take care of him. As I said, I can't live with a large bird that behaves this way and I can't subject my family to it for another two years. I think if it was just the screaming, it might be manageable, but the biting has caused me to seriously think about whether I can keep him. I believe 100% in giving my birds a forever home, but maybe I'm in over my head with Conan. Obviously I'm at my wit's end, since I'm looking up rescues in the area. I really don't want to rehome him just so that yet another family can decide that he is too high maintenance; at the same time, I question whether this is the best place for him. He can't be happy if he's acting this way.

The Reality

I would really appreciate your advice on the matter. Giving him up is a last resort, but we're getting to that point.

Any advice for Caitlyn and Conan? We promise to pass it on.

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