Retooling the Flock

A screaming parrot is an insecure parrot. Retooling your communication to create ironclad assurance can eliminate all that noise.

Retooling the Flock

Loud, raucous and incessant flock calls usually indicate an insecure parrot.  That insecurity can be driven by fear, obsession, loneliness or food.  And that insecurity is driven by lack of choice and lack of understanding.  It is the caged parrot that has no other means but voice, to try to attempt to gain those answers. A flighted parrot, outside a cage, only need take flight to obtain security (usually found with our proximity). Whether clipped, flighted, caged or out and about, parrots who are consistently concerned about status will consistently ratchet up that call and scream.

I've heard some behaviorists say "the bird has to learn it has to be in it's cage, on it's stand, in their aviary quietly".  I believe the bird needs to be shown it is his cage, stand or aviary to be in, and he is secure in that location because his flock is listening and always returns.  

Before a good lesson in refined Marco Polo flock calling, a parrot requires assurances that there is understanding, and communication.  There's a great way to define and edify that understanding.  And you already take part in this action innumerable times a day.  

The approach.  We approach and request "step up" many times a day for many reasons.  Or we approach and ask for flight onto our hand or arm. The approach we use defines the trust and security between a companion parrot and parent.  Adding one moment in the middle of your approach will create a new view of that relationship for your companion parrot and deliver a new confidence for your bird.  Which will in turn affect their flock calling.

By habit and routine we may just saunter right up to our baby without pause and go straight into a step up or physical interaction of petting.  It happens so often, there is an understanding between us and our bird that "here we go", and there's no choice in the matter.  Again, speed and assumptions on our part remove a moment of communication.  We miss it. No matter how long you've been together a parrot appreciates being able to consider and then accept an offer or request.  They need the ability to say yes.  And they need the confidence to know they have that choice. Again, we are working on security and confidence.  Because insecurity and lack of confidence inside the flock leads to flock calling of epic decibel ranges.  

Here's where we insert that new addition of confidence and a vocalization modification.  I'll use my own flock for example.

Every bird in our home has their own personal flock call word or phrase.   Butters, our B&G Macaw, uses the word "hi".  During the day I may want to have her company for many reasons.  I'll walk in the room she is in, caged or not, and walk to a few feet away from her.  I take a moment to see her body language.  I'll say, "HI! Butters."  She'll disengage from her thoughts, preening or toy play and look at me and say, "Hi." back.  I take another moment to see her body language.  She's open and aware, I walk up to her closely and say "Hi Butters. Can I pet you baby?"  She either lowers her head or raises a foot for a step up and off we go.  The word "hi" has taken on a meaning.  This doesn't take long, a day or two for the bigger birds, a week for the little ones.  Why longer for the little ones?  Because they are instinctively ready for flight.  By nature they assume every thing is a threat first.  The bigger parrots by shear size and natural status assume everything is optional for their attention.

The approach slowed down with a verbal cue brings an agreed upon word or phrase that you define together as good, safe and assuring.  That word carries alot of power.  Used consistently with loving results, that word becomes iron, an irrefutable truth of safety and security.  

From reading this walk through, you may think this process will eat up alot of time.  It doesn't. We added 90 seconds to the process.  And some birds won't wait to move forward as long as others.  Simply because your relationship is strong.  Which of course is fabulous.  But still, pick the word or phrase you want to deliver that message of security.  And use it at every transition, greeting and approach.  This is the first step to retooling the flock call.  And given the time to blossom into a normal vocalization, the retooling part will seem instantaneous.

Applying the new found communication words or phrase is a proactive step. Reactive communication starts when they switch over to the new words/phrase from the random vocalizations.

To build up that new confident flock call simply make your own flock calls first, with the chosen words/phrase. Randomly, when they are doing their own thing. When you find yourself, and them in separate moments, call out. Call out until you get a response. There is no wrong response, a scream or screech is valid. First things first. They need to identify YOUR flock call. Because that's what this is, it's your personal Vocal I.D. When they answer, no matter the form, walk on over so they can see you, and call again, but a little quieter. You may get silence, you may get a head turn, and you may get another call. Again, you are letting them know this is the preferred flock call and it is your personal I.D.

When they quiet, leave their sight, or room. Wait for them to call, they may call right away. Give them just a few minutes, then proactively flock call again. Again, there is no wrong response by them, when they answer immediately go to them so they know the call gets results. Use your flock call again, but quieter. They will match your tone, or will over time and exercise.

This exercise continues until they learn that word or phrase. It may take a few days or even weeks. The idea is simple, teach the word while affirming it's meaning and result. By lowering the tone on the affirmation flock call (the second one when you go back in to see them) you will eventually lower their volume.

They may hijack your phrase or word, and change it a bit, that's great. Again it's a team effort. Now there may be some that never learn the word or phrase but do change their cadence and volume. Our cockatiels are like that. It's not the word for them, it's the musical quality. And tones are just as powerful as words. Some parrots prefer that to words.

Once you've got correlation, understanding and application to the new flock call. Now you can apply that knowledge to situational needs. When leaving the room, call as you walk out. They'll call back. Flock call when you are out of sight. They will call back. It is different for every parrot, but flock calling is assurance. And you may find yourself flock calling for 10 minutes, just because they enjoy that comfort. As companion parrots, their personal needs will dictate things. Over time though the consistent nature of that reassurance and it's unbreakable pattern will lead to less calling.

This type of communication is about time investment, and consistency. When they feel they can "bank on it" the need disappears. I no longer have flock calling with Felix. I say "I'll be right back." He sounds his dinner plate and knife clang. I can be MIA for an hour in the house and not a word. I flock call out for him though. He calls back, "It's all right!" This took 2.5 years.

Butters learned "hi" and "Comere!" in 1 week and 1 month respectively.

As far as flock calling when we are on the phone, or when visitors come over, that type of vocalization is more about inclusion, not reassurance. Phones are items of interest taking your attention. Visitors are new personalities inserted into the flock. Both issues change rules and understandings of rules between flock members.

I'll write an article about specific communication for specific results. It's the same theory as retooling, applied and edified proactively for specific events. There's a very important behavior modification that goes along. It's not the parrot's behavior, it's yours. Our voice and actions are our lines of communication.

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