Your Baby Grey is Coming Home!

This is for all the ones out there either looking or expecting their new arrival!  I think it's great to know what to expect!  I hope you'll read this and take everything in!  It's a really good read!

A Letter to My Babies' New Parronts
by Bobbi Brinker

It is vitally important to be patient, gentle, and considerate of your new Grey. He doesn't know you. He is in a strange place with strangers. He will undergo a brief grieving period. He has lost all that was familiar and loved - the other babies he played with and his beloved and trusted caregiver.

The adjustment, as far as food, cage, and toys are concerned, should be a brief one. It will take a little longer for him to know and trust you. The bird-human relationship is based on love and trust and this takes time to develop. Without love and trust, there can be no relationship.

Early Environmental Management
Baby GreyYour new Grey bird may be cautious and watchful during the early days and weeks. He will want to learn the lay of the land and adjust to the new sights and sounds of your home. He will need to adjust to your other birds (if any) and other companion animals you may have. Because of careful early management, he will be inclined toward acceptance, but don't assume it. A bird is not a domesticated companion animal and all who wish to have a satisfactory relationship with him must earn his trust and love.

If you have other companion animals, keep them quiet or away from him for the first few weeks - because of safety considerations and because the bird needs time and space to adjust to the presence of predator animals. Don't overload him with too much confusion or noise. If you have children or grandchildren, caution them about running up to the cage, gesturing wildly, speaking loudly, or screaming. Birds often are frightened of children because of their abrupt activity, sudden noise, and impulsiveness. Adult family members should be cautioned to avoid sudden movements or speaking in a loud voice.

The adjustment period should last about three weeks. Be patient. Don't rush him. He doesn't know how loved he is and how anxiously awaited he was. Hold down the excitement. Be calm. Allow him time. Let him explore the cage and become familiar with it. The toys will be new and exciting and he will want to check them out. He will accept you but he must be given time to do so. He needs to become comfortable - with you and his new environment. The care you take in the early weeks and months will pay a rich dividend.

Prior to using a noisy appliance like a nut chopper, a blender, an ice crusher, a vacuum or steam cleaner, call out "BIG noise." "Biiiiig noise". I warn my babies before using any of these noisy appliances and they are accustomed to hearing a potentially scary noise just after the warning. I call out the warning, turn the appliance on and then off immediately, and then warn them again so they know which loud or scary noise will be heard after the final warning.

Don't invite the family or neighbors over to see him just yet. Let him come to know you. Be careful to avoid accidents - take your time. Try not to let any "bad" things happen. Once he knows and trusts you, he will be able to accept an accident as just that. Hold him securely. Don't let him fall or be off balance when on your hand or knee. Don't push him into accepting intimate petting until he is ready.

Arrange for your baby Grey to come home at a time when you will have a weekend or several days with him. Get your annual vacation out of the way before you bring him home. If you must go away for a weekend trip, take him with you. Don't leave him home alone or board him for at least the first year.

Remember he is just a baby and will need more sleep and more food than an adult bird. If you have a sleep cage, use it so he will have undisturbed sleep. Give him all the food he will eat. He will not get fat. He has weight to put back on after weaning. He should have food available at all times. Weigh him daily for at least the first 6 months. Record the weight. Learn what is normal for your Grey - there will be small weight changes over time. Small losses - a downward trend for several days will call for a trip to the avian vet. The vet should see him immediately if there is a large loss on any one day.

To accustom your Grey to variety in shapes, colors, sizes, and textures, it is important that he be exposed to small quantities of pellets other than the base pellet you have chosen. Samples are readily available from most of the bird food companies. Put a teaspoon or so of one of the sample pellets in with the base pellet. He may like one sample pellet better than another. Experiment to see which of the sample pellets he likes. There is no need to buy a large quantity; you may find he hates the sample. The pellets I recommend as a base pellet are Harrison's, Hagen's and Ziegler's.

If your new cage has an adjustable grate on the bottom of the cage, position the grate at the higher position in the beginning. If he takes a tumble, he won't have so far to fall. Some birds are paper chewers. If your bird is a paper chewer, leave the grate at the higher position permanently so that he doesn't have access to the waste tray. If the cage doesn't have an adjustable grate, pad the grate with a towel or old blanket. Put a piece of newspaper over the padding. He should be familiar enough with the cage not to fall after a few days. Babies who are allowed to learn to fly are sure-footed, agile, and confident. It will be unusual for them to fall.

Bathe your Grey daily. He should become accustomed to being bathed each morning but as long as he has time to dry before bedtime, he can be bathed at other times. An early introduction to bathing is very important. I begin spray bathing the babies when they are partially feathered - around six weeks of age.

Never leave your bird alone with other companion animals. Never allow the slightest physical contact with another companion animal. In any confrontation, the bird always loses....eventually. The bird is fearless, he doesn't know his life may be in grave danger. Cage or crate other companion animals when you are away if these animals have the free rein of the house. They should never have access to the room where the bird is caged - whether you are home or away.

The Importance of Trust Building
Greys are, I believe, motivated by fear and escape. The companion animals to which you are accustomed are not so motivated. Therefore, the most important order of business is the building of trust. Trust is fragile. However, the longer the trust "agreement" between you and your Grey is unbroken, the sturdier it is.

Our birds are clipped for their safety and are unable to escape when their natural fear overcomes their trust in us and in the safety of their environment. The bird's association with humans must be exclusively gentle, loving, kind, and positive. Each positive interaction proves to the bird that humans are understanding and trustworthy caretakers. My baby birds have the history with me that all outcomes are positive and praiseworthy but this history must be developed individually with each new human they encounter. Trust building human behavior and a history of positive outcomes with humans adds to the bird's database of trust and enhances the companionship potential that exists in these intelligent and sensitive birds. In this way, fear can be dropped to a lower order of importance and your bird's personality can blossom in a trusting and secure human environment. The Consequences of Punishing Management

What are some of the human behaviors that should be avoided if we are to neutralize fear and establish a critically important atmosphere of security and trust?

  1. Isolation as a tool for behavior modification.
  2. Laddering as an exercise in dominance or as punishment.
  3. Jerky or unpredictable movements.
  4. Unsteady, too large, or too slippery perches.
  5. Dropping him to the floor.
  6. "Earthquaking" or shaking the bird.
  7. Slapping the cage.
  8. Glaring.
  9. Hitting the beak.
  10. Covering the cage during non-sleep time.
  11. Shouting.
  12. Forcing the bird to do something he does not want to do.

Do any of these things and I will guarantee that your sweet bird will no longer be sweet. Most of these punitive techniques are designed to deal with biting. Biting is not a natural behavior. Grey birds swiftly learn that biting is one of the quickest ways to get through to humans who ignore or fail to understand what is to the bird a reasonable or normal preference. Learned biting can be difficult to overcome because it has become a first reaction rather than a last resort. Therefore, all reasonable measures must be taken to avoid teaching a bird to bite. Biting is and should be a last ditch option and employed only when a bird has no other way to "tell" us he doesn't like something that is happening. A gradually accumulated history of positive interactions is the way to avoid a biting Grey.

The well-researched side effects of aversive or painful or punitive punishment across species are:

  1. Withdrawal from all interactions with the punisher.
  2. Reduction in overall responding.
  3. Escalation or an increase in aggressive behavior.
  4. Becoming fearful of anything that is related to or similar to the punishing situation or person
  5. Increasing another negative behavior or displaying unwanted behavior at a high rate in another place or circumstance.

Sound familiar? These are commonly seen behavioral responses when dominance-based management is used to affect the conduct of a Grey.

Only benign punishment may be used. An example of benign punishment is to calmly and persistently remove the bird from your shoulder when he "misbehaves"; i.e., making holes in your clothes, chewing on jewelry or ears, pulling your hair, etc. He can be removed for a period of ten seconds with the "Up" request, placed on a nearby t-stand, and then returned to your shoulder with "OK". Greys are a safe bird for shoulder sitting and many enjoy it immensely. They like the closeness to the beloved one. Teach him that "OK" means he is allowed to sit on or return to your shoulder. Constantly praise him when he is demonstrating the behaviors that you would like repeated in the future. This is how to train a bird.

The One Person Grey
To permit the narrowing of the life experience to one person goes counter to the Grey family or flock ethic. While there is a favored person in the life of most companion animals, it is reasonable to expect that our companion birds will be at least civil to other kind, gentle, and understanding adult family members. The relationship that a bird will permit has to be accepted without hurt feelings on the part of the less favored family members

Games people play:

  1. Passing the bird from one family member's hand to another family member's hand with lots of praise for courage and civility.
  2. The favored person can facilitate civil relationships with others by praising the bird lavishly for being accepting of the attentions of others.
  3. The less favored family members can offer the bird treats. It is important for the less favored to be calm and gentle, as the bird will have less tolerance for a "bad" experience.
  4. The less favored family members should approach the bird with the hands held behind the back and speak softly and reassuringly.

Gateway Management
Allow your Grey to come out of the cage on his own if he is reluctant to step up for you in the early days. Learning to trust a different hand than the one he was accustomed to may take several days.

It is of no consequence if your Grey bird is "higher" than you. Greys like to be up high. They should be allowed to perch on the top of their cage playpens since there are no height dominance issues. The motivation for perching in a high spot is safety, not dominance with your Grey. They feel safer when they have a 360-degree view of their world. The need for safety is biologically hard wired. I have to stand on tiptoe to retrieve my nine year old male Grey from atop his cage toy holder and he has never failed to step up for me.

My babies are praised each and every time, without fail, they step up or down for me. Stepping up or down is such an easy form of communication to establish and the result of stepping up and down is always positive for my babies. Your Grey will expect to hear praise and expect that nothing "bad" will happen when he steps up or down. Often my babies' first words are "good bird" because they have heard it so often.

Watch his body language carefully. He may be unwilling for you to pin his toes. Some are more accepting than others. Some babies will accept pinning from me but not from the new owner. If the bird nips at your fingers during transport when you pin his toes or indicates he is unwilling for you to pin his toes, don't do it during the early days and weeks. He may be more accepting later. Make sure he is balanced and steady on your hand. Take a few seconds to have him come out of the cage on the "up" request. If he doesn't step up promptly, pick up the two long front toes on one of his feet, brace his weight under his foot on your forefinger, and lift him straight up slowly. The other foot will come up. Some youngsters will step up more willingly if both hands are held palm up prior to him stepping up. I do this as a signal to a baby that I want him to step onto my hand. When you are returning him to a perch, before saying "down", place his tail behind the perch. He will step backward onto the perch. Never let go of one foot until the other foot is securely on the perch.

My babies have never experienced human aggression of any kind. Everything that they have learned has been taught with kindness and love. The worst thing you can do would be to take one of these Greys, or any bird for that matter, and begin to employ a dominance-based form of management. This will significantly impact your bird's behavior, make his life miserable, and seriously reduce his suitability as a companion bird.

Grey parrots aren't devious, manipulative, arrogant, or any of the characteristics that are sometimes used to describe bird behavior. These are wild animals one generation out of Africa who will do what pleases them, and one thing that pleases every wild animal is to feel safe and protected. S

o, if they are to also do what pleases you, you must make it worth their while. Praise, approval, acceptance, love, gentleness, and understanding are the key to a "good" companion bird and it is these things that will make a bird want to please you. Aggression, however natural it may be to the human animal, will never work. Birds will not and cannot adjust to this type of interaction. YOU are the one who must adjust to living with a bird.

Theoretically you have come to me for a sweet tame Grey bird, so it doesn't make sense to undo the very thing that makes my babies so special.

We can't influence everything when it comes to behavior. Some behaviors are hard-wired. And that which cannot be influenced must be worked around. The range of behaviors that can be influenced is vast and supported by a well-documented body of science. Most importantly, that body of science has shown that behavior can be influenced with gentle, kind, loving methods. Positive, caring, and supportive understanding works as well with birds as it does with friends, kids, and husbands.

Your Grey will guide you in what he is willing to accept. The care you take early on will pay handsome dividends later. Be aware. Watch carefully. Follow his lead. And you will be the parront this sweet baby bird deserves.