One day I received a call from breeder, she had a Severe Macaw, with polyps, that could no longer produce. Rather than have her euthanized, she wanted us to take her into the rescue. Girlfriend arrived in a small cage with 1 perch and no toys. Her job had been to make babies for the past 15 yrs. I was a bit skeptical at first but agreed to take Girlfriend. I chided myself thinking, what have I gotten myself into, this bird was completely untamed and hadn’t been handled in at least 15 yrs.
I moved her into a large Macaw cage with just a couple of small toys already hanging in it. Most breeding birds have never seen a toy, it is not their “job” to play or be distracted from reproducing. It was also equipped with several perches. Girlfriend simply chose a perch and stayed there, not sure what to make of a cage after having flight previously. She also had no idea what pellet was, one more challenge for her and I to overcome.
The first couple of weeks went by with Girlfriend being very nervous, with just cause, and me just providing for her physical needs. If I dared to look at her or talk to her she became anxious and flapped all over the cage. She would simply sit and observe as I talked to the other birds while cleaning and feeding. She also watched as they were gotten out of their cages and interacted with me, the scary human.
The next couple of weeks Girlfriend settled down a bit, not becoming so anxious when I approached her cage. I began to reach in the bottom of the cage to clean, rather than slide the grate out, and would hum to myself as I cleaned, never looking up. This went on for a couple more weeks. She would also now let me look directly at her and talk to her without becoming alarmed.
After a while of putting treats in her bowl I began to offer them from my hand through the bars. I took a while but she eventually started to come closer, wanting the treat. She was rewarded for each step toward the treat by having it put in her bowl where she was more comfortable retrieving it. The big day finally arrived when she took the treat from my hand, even if it was through the cage bars, and it was followed by lots of praise.
As time passed and I continued to lean into the cage to clean she would come down the side to look at me. I would give her a quick look and keep cleaning. After a couple of months of this and now being able to look rather directly while leaning in the cage, I began to think that yes, we could do this! We just had to keep it on her terms and at her pace. I was finally rewarded with the feel of something gently puling my hair one morning while cleaning. I just continued with my job after looking at her with a “good girl”. The next day she began to preen my hair while I cleaned.
Slowly, I began to reach toward her with my hand in the cage to offer the treats from my hand. It took a few days but she did begin to trust my hands reaching toward her. The step up teaching had begun. We continued to work until during the 6th month, Girlfriend stepped onto my out stretched hand. The trip from there was quick to lead to scritches. I had won her trust!
I do not recommend taking in breeder birds to put in an indoor cage normally. This is extremely frightening to them and goes against all they have known in their lives. At the time Parrot Outreach was still run from my home and the birds had their own space without all the family hubbub disturbing or frightening them. These birds deserve to live out their lives with the flight they have always known in the great outdoors. This story is simply to let people know that if you remain patient, take things on the bird’s terms and speed, you can earn their trust. Girlfriend was adopted into a loving home where she is the only bird and remains with her family today.