Cage-bound Bird: Underlying Causes and Symptoms:
A cage-bound bird is one who will not leave his or her cage. It is an attained phobia. I parallel this condition to agoraphobia — the generalized fear of a bird to leave his or her home or a small familiar “safe” area.
This anxiety disorder is usually caused by a lack of socialization and long-term neglect. Birds, bought as pet, are initially provided out-of-cage time, but as the novelty wears off, these times become fewer and fewer and eventually stop entirely. The result is a bird that is kept in a cage the entire time.
Generally, these birds are provided with very litlte social interaction, nor are bird toys or any other sort of entertainment available to them. The major daily events are the times the water is changed and food is provided.
Eventually, the bird gets scared of “the outside world,” considering the cage a sanctuary of safety. Most cage bound parrots become terrified or even aggressive, if removed from this “safe place.”
When rehabilitating a cage-bound bird, it is very important to remember that any aggression, screaming, and other unwanted behaviors are generated by fear. Attempting to correct these behaviors without correcting the underlying condition will cause further harm to this bird. Before trying to resolve any other undesirable behavior, the initial phobia of leaving the cage needs to be corrected.
The fact is that most cage-bound birds become this way from spending too much time in their cages, oftentimes without good human interaction. Even when provided with toys and other distractions, a cage is still just a cage.
Birds need the stimulation of relationships with others in order to flourish, and leaving a parrot in a cage without interaction can lead to severe mental disorders, including feather plucking or even self-mutilation. Playing the radio or leaving on the television is no substitute for interaction and a bonded relationship either with a person or another bird.
1. Provide the bird with the largest cage you can accommodate; preferably with a bigger door. The larger cage will enable this bird to get more exercise and the larger door will make it easier for him or her to come in and out when he or she is ready.
Cage Placement: Never place a parrot cage out in the open. Birds are prey animals and placing the cage in the middle of a room or a high-traffic area is going to cause undue stress on a bird. Their natural instinct will tell them to “get away” — but the confinement of the cage makes that impossible. The resulting constant stress has been linked to feather plucking and other behavioral diseases, including phobias.
The ideal placement for a bird would be a location with two walls behind it – like a corner. This again makes the cage seem more like a nest and, therefore, increases the bird’s sense of security. A parrot who feels safe is more likely to climb out of the cage than one that is terrified.
The cage should have outside food and water access so that you can provide for the parrots daily needs without scaring him or her, or putting yourself yourself in harm’s way.
2. Make the environment safe, open the cage door and walk away.
The very first step outside of that cage must be taken by the parrot at his or her own pace. This is very important. Forcing him or her will make things worse.
Before opening the door, look around for anything which could potentially pose a danger to your bird (open fire place, for example) or scare your bird.
The second step would be to place some treats or his or her favorite toys right by the cage door, on top of and/or near the cage visible to the bird to further entice him or her to leave his “safe place.” Oftentimes, birds may run out, grab the treat or toy, and quickly run get back into the cage, but the whole point is that they DID come out of the cage. It’s an excellent start.
However, please do not leave the cage open ALL the time – only when it is safe for the bird to come out. For their own safety, I keep my birds in their cages during the night. Some noise outside (such as a wild animal catching a prey or the mating call of some feral cats) could cause even the most well-adjusted bird to blindly fly into a wall. In the dark of the night, they wouldn’t be able to see what they fly into. This could lead to severe injury or even death.
3. Role-modeling by Other Birds: One effective way to coax a cage-bound bird out of its cage is to place other birds in the same room — preferably birds that are adventurous and enjoy coming out of their cages. Eventually, this will encourage the phobic bird to come out as well.
4. Perch Placement: Placing a perch near by the door, preferably poking out through the door will allow the bird to easily walk in and out of the door.
5. Place play gyms and perches in other areas of the room. Having places to fly to will also help, as being able to see where he is flying to increases the bird’s confidence.
6. Do not clip your bird’s wings. Clipped wings could be contributing to him not wanting to come out of the cage. Clipped wings may have caused painful falls in the past. Also, the ability to fly increases the bird’s confidence. If the bird’s wings are currently clipped, I would recommend allowing them to grow out. None of my birds have clipped wings and they do not fly into windows or crash into things – an argument often used by those who recommend this practice. Having lived with birds with clipped wings in the past, I can tell you that a bird walking on the floor is far more at risk of injury and death due to being stepped on or not being able to get away from danger (like a neighbor’s dog or cat) than a flighted bird in your home.
7. Spend quality time with the bird on a daily basis. Make him or her feel safe and trusting towards you. Sit next to the cage, with the door open, and talk calmly with the bird. Offer him or her treats from your fingers (provided you can do so without being bitten).
Don’t place your hands, arms or face inside the bird’s cage. Birds are naturally protective and territorial of their immediate space. Doing so is likely to result in a painful bite and disturb your relationship.
8. Be patient. This process can days, weeks or even months. In time, the bird will come out, as his or her natural instinct to forage and interact with the world will win out over the fear.
9. Facilitate the moving around outside the cage. Once you find the bird outside of the cage a number of times, additional steps to expand the bird’s territory / safe area should be taken.
For example, place a ladder from the cage door to the floor allowing the bird to explore further.
Sit progressively farther and farther from the cage, while continuing to talk to your bird and offering treats. Many birds will climb outside the cage to come closer to you. When they do, do not move your body to pick him or her . This movement might scare the bird. Allow him or her to come to you at his or her own pace; and move away from you if he or she gets scared. It takes time and patience. This process cannot be rushed.
Once the parrot has learned to leave his or her cage it is time to begin the process of teaching him or her that humans are safe and can be trusted.
Training and Behavioral Guidance:
- Pet parrots generally present challenges, such as excessive chewing – especially at certain stages in their life. They do discover their beaks as method of “disciplining us” once they are out of the “baby stage” and they can generally be somewhat naughty, and it really is important to learn to understand them and to guide their behavior before an undesirable behavior has been established. Undisciplined parrots will chew on electric wiring potentially causing house fires. They regard anything in your home as a “toy” that can be explored and chewed on; destroying items that you may hold dear or are simply valuable. Even a young bird that has not been neglected and abused requires proper guidance; this becomes even more challenging when it involves a rescued bird that may require rehabilitation.
- Web Resources: I put together web resources for you to help you understand your pet bird and properly direct him. Please visit the following website to learn more about parrot behavior and training.