Rocky has had a very hard life for a long time. We don't know how long. We don't know how old he is. I know someone, likely his first family, bought him a nice, heavy-duty cage of the proper size and configuration for a cockatoo, and that cage has stayed with him since, but many if not all of the homes in between that family and ours have been poor, downright bad, and in at least one case I know of, abusive. At best, he wasn't getting the attention and nutrition he needed. And in one home, they apparently thought it was funny to blow marijuana smoke in his face to “get him high.” Yes, you read that correctly. We are peripherally acquainted with that person, and I have not bumped into him since Rocky came home to live, but when I do, it's not going to be a pleasant conversation for him.
As a result of all these homes, the number of which we don't know either, Rocky has a lot of issues. He is afraid of a lot of things. For example, a broom that is sweeping is fine. A broom you are carrying is terrifying. He doesn't mind if I wear a hat, but he's afraid of a hat paired with sunglasses, even on his mama. Our large, overweight, elderly Lab Gigi goes THUMP when she gets up or lies down because she's arthritic and awkward. He's heard her do that multiple times a day for months, yet it still startles him, even if he's looking at her when she does it. If we drop something, he's startled. If we say certain swear words (and Hubby uses one of those as a verb, a noun, an adjective and an expletive interchangeably), he cringes. If we raise our voices – and in a house with musicians, and two dogs, and a mama who's often at one end of the house playing with birds while daddy's at the other end, you occasionally have to raise your voice – he cringes. Yesterday, Jack was barking, Rocky was screaming, the other parrots were having a squawk fest, and Mama raised her voice to be heard, and Rocky trembled, and Mama had a huge guilt attack.
I tried to teach him “high five” and my open hand in that position terrified him. I tried changing it to a low five, but it was too late. Open hands are scary.
Playing of any sort has to be gentle, slow and low voice and there isn't much playing that fits that category. He likes music, and he likes it live, so when we practice, he sometimes dances. If you hand him a toy, you have to show it to him and bring it up from below. Even a favorite toy, made of Tinker Toy parts, scares him if you don't bring it up from below.
Someone apparently used a spray bottle for punishment, so the misting bath that the other birds love is out. I'm trying to acclimate him to it as “fun” rather than “scary,” but it's a slow process. He takes a bath in his water dish, which is obviously inadequate at best, and he doesn't like the spray bottle, so yesterday I took him into the kitchen – and we have only just been able to go into the kitchen the last few days – and ran water and played in it and offered him that alternative. I leaned on the counter in front of the sink with Rocky on my arm and at first the crest went up and he displayed, but I kept splashing the water and I dribbled a bit on him and petted his head with a wet hand to show him what it was, and the crest came down. He sat on my arm with that giant beak right next to my face and I kissed his beak and I talked about how much fun baths are and while he didn't accept the offer, at least he considered it.
No matter how often I tell him I love him and what a good bird he is and scratch his head and snuggle him, he still lifts those big black eyes up and looks at me with wonder like, “Really?” I don't know how long it's been since he had people who petted and kissed him, if he ever has.
When he's scared or upset about something and the crest is up, he's still likely to lean toward me and hold up his foot to be picked up, but a raised crest is usually a precursor to a bite in 'toos, and I always insist “put your head down” (head means his crest) before I pick him up. I know he wants reassurance and he probably would put it down as he stepped up or soon after, but I would like for my blood to stay inside my body, so I will verbally reassure and keep telling him to relax and only offer my arm after I see the crest go down.
Every week, it seems, we discover a new thing that scares him and the list is getting so long that we sometimes forget and do something that's a trigger. Then we feel guilty and Rocky gets extra snuggles in the hope that it will make him feel more secure. Some people might say we're spoiling him, but as my brother is fond of saying, you can spoil critters without fear that they'll grow up and go bad and end up sticking up a gas station someday. And in Rocky's case, he's had such a bad time for so long that he's long overdue for some good times, plenty of kisses and head scritches and all the junk mail he can shred.