It never ceases to astound me that I know so little about Parrot behavior after over 40 years involvement with them. Today was just one of those days that you sit back after and shake your head in amazement. It all began normal enough until around supper hour when I received a frantic phone call regarding a mature Green Winged Macaw who was acting so aggressively his owner was afraid he'd injure someone if I didn't come immediately. After a brief conversation I headed out to see what I might do to help out this rather frustrating situation.
Upon arrival I was ushered into the house to meet a large, rather unassuming Macaw perched quietly on his stand. He looked at me indifferently, then continued to chew his wooden toy without a second look. "Was this the same Macaw that was wrecking havoc in his home and family?" The owner talked to me about his recent aggressive attacks, and then proceeded to praise him for ruffling his feathers at a family member. The owner's "Gooddd Boy!" had me puzzled, and concerned but I simply continued to observe him watching the room with one eye, while chewing more angrily on a piece of pine block.
Moments later the other family member simply walked past him into an adjoining room and as soon as they were even with his stand the Macaw lunged, growling angrily, feathers ruffled, eyes pinned in fury . The family member yelled in fright and rushed by as fast as they could, fearing a nasty bite. The owner scrolled the bird with a , "now that isn't ok, behave" to which he immediately relaxed and went back to chewing his wooden toy. I decided to check out this behavior by also walking past. Nothing. He watched me with interest and remained calm.
I was puzzled but also realized that the owner was in fact praising the aggressive behavior in her Parrot. The family member hurried out of the room, past the Macaw but the look in the owners eyes told me all. The family relationship was in trouble and the Macaw was in fact feeding on the owner's negative feelings towards the other person. After further discussion the truth became apparent and indeed the family was in the midst of a situation that brought out angry and hurt feelings. I advised that the family seek outside family counseling to help with their own problems. The Macaw would continue as he was, aggressively attacking others in the family until their own relationship was back on even, calm grounds.
I sat several hours with the Care-giver and her family members talking about the situation with the Macaw's aggressive attacks. I told them honestly that they had created the problem, that the Bird was simply reacting to emotional and physical stress in his environment and compounded by the Care-givers approval and praises. After explaining in-depth exactly what the Parrot understood from all this I advised that from here on the Care-giver re-frame from giving all praise except when he behaved in a passive, non-threatening manner towards others in the household. Where possible the other members in the family where to offer him a treat when it was safe to do so, even if through the cage bars into his bowl, and then walk away. The owner was not to place the Macaw into positions which had left him in control of the situation; such as on his play stand close to the doorways. The family was again recommended to seek outside family support to help them deal with the current issues which had instigated the aggressive reactions. I will continue to visit and observe the Macaw's behavior when and if required during the process, for as long as it takes to be certain the future is safe in his current home.
As an Advocate and Rescuer we face a multitude of situations. We become family counselors, animal behaviorists and students of the human/Companion dynamics that unfolds before us each and every day. We never finish learning, the journey takes our lifetime but what we learn will change lives.