Home > Behavior, Changing Behavior, Training > An Unexpected and Enjoyable Encounter

An Unexpected and Enjoyable Encounter

Rocky in action playing 'toss' instead of showing previous aggressive behaviors such as chasing, biting, and lunging.

This unexpected encounter brought a great smile to my face and an enjoyable start to my day. Just the fact that I can attach the descriptive words “enjoyable encounter” with my Moluccan Cockatoo Rocky, is one that brings a smile to my face. It brings a smile because it proves to me several things: behavior of an older bird can be modified, Rocky benefits from it, my husband and I benefit from it, we can have a happy household again.

Let me give a quick background on Rocky. I brought Rocky home with me a little over four years ago. Rocky is a re-home and came to my house when he was eight years old. Rocky had many behavior issues. With time, education, advice, patience, and learning what reinforced these negative behavior issues, I was able to change many, well almost all of his negative behavior issues. One issue is what prompted me to sit down and type this entry in my blog today.

One issue I still work on with Rocky is his behavior when he is out and my husband and I are in the room together. When my husband and I are in the same room together with Rocky, Rocky clearly shows signs of how he would like me to leave. If I ignore these signs, his form of communication will increase. This form of increased communication begins with a look in my direction. Then it will increase to him getting down from where ever he is and running over to me on the floor. He’ll tip his head sideways to look up at me and then he runs back toward the direction of my husband. If I still exist in the environment, he’ll run over faster. If I don’t move, he’ll move in slower toward my foot. If I were to leave my foot there, a bite would soon happen. How do I know all of this? Well, I know because I experienced it once. One bite was enough of a punisher for me to start working on changing this behavior.

The body language and forms of communication were all there. It begins with a look in my direction, clue #1 that predicted behavior is about to occur. I don’t wait for times like this to occur to begin wondering how I should tackle the problem behavior. When I have the time in which to think about how to change or prevent predicted behavior, I’ll get a plan in place. Sometimes that plan works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, I’ll come up with a different plan. How I tackled this particular behavior, was one thought out before the behavior could occur again. If I wait until the behavior to happen before I begin trying to work on changing it, I could do things that reinforce the undesired behavior. For example, if I run, it reinforces Rocky’s behavior of chasing after me. Yea, not a good plan in changing the behavior. By no means does this mean I should stand still and endure the bites. Oh, I ran the first time. Actually I hopped onto the countertop. After that encounter is when I began thinking of how I could change the behavior.

I observed Rocky in different environments such as in his cage, in the aviary, with me when we were alone, and when he was with my husband when they were alone. I noticed Rocky seemed to enjoy tossing things. Bingo! I tried tossing a ball with Rocky when we were home alone. He would run across the floor and chase it and toss it into the air. He began tossing it back to me. Because he kept tossing it back to me, I kept tossing it in increasing distances across the room. Slowly I increased the distance, and he continued chasing it and bringing it back to me. We would do this several times a week while my husband was not home.

Rocky running and playing fetch with a ball in the aviary

Now came time for the weekends. Our whole back yard is an enclosed aviary. This is one of the best and safest ways we could provide outside time with our birds. My husband and I love sitting in the back yard with our birds. Rocky and I would be sitting at the patio table relaxing while I sipped a cup of coffee. All was fine until my husband would get out of bed and grab a cup of coffee and head to the back yard. Rocky’s body language would immediately change. If he was sitting on me I would feel his feet tense in his grip. His feathers would flatten and his eyes would slightly change shape. Off the chair he would go running and whistling after my husband. My husband would pick him up and come and sit at the table. Rocky would turn and look at me. “Here we go!” I thought. I would get that look that resembled as though Rocky was asking me “Are you seriously still here consuming my oxygen?” Getting that look was a cue to me. I’d head to the lawn and grab a ball. The tossing and fetch game would begin.

Fast forward to this morning. My husband was sitting at the dinning room table reading his morning paper. I was standing at the kitchen counter getting the dishes lined up to feed the birds. The birds were all still in their cages awaiting their morning veggies. All of a sudden my ears perked at a noise I thought I heard. “It couldn’t be” I thought as I turned and looked in the direction of the hallway. Yep, the noise I heard alright was Rocky’s nails clicking on the hardwood floor as he ran down the hallway and stopped in the opening to the kitchen and dinning room. “Hi” he boisterously shouted with his crest high in the air. My husband said “Hey its Rocky” in an excited voice. I said “Oh dear, its Rocky” when I felt my heart begin to pound faster. It scared me. Him on the floor unexpectedly with my husband and I in close proximity to each other scared me. Yea, my heart should be racing.

I looked at my husband and said “How in the heck did he get out?”. I then realized I went in and opened his door to put almonds in his cage this morning and changed my mind on opening the door when I could stick the almonds in his foraging toy right in front of him. Yea, I forgot to lock the door when I changed my mind.

Well here he was, bright and chipper and fully alert on the kitchen floor on this fine and dandy Friday morning. “Peek A Boo!” he yelled as he headed right toward me. I sat the dishes down on the counter and I knelt down to greet the approaching Peek A Boo’er. “Hey Rocky” I said as I offered my hand for him to step onto. As predicted, he declined the invitation and turned and headed toward my husband sitting at the dining room table. I turned my head to glance around the kitchen for an object to use to help me with my idea rewarding an alternate behavior instead of taking any chances in reinforcing an undesirable behavior such as a lunge toward the foot, or a faster pace in running toward me. There sat a rubber ball I had bought for Murray with the intention of using as a foraging toy. It was fresh out of the dishwasher and resting on the counter for the past 5 days until I figured out what I wanted to do with it.

“Hey Rocky!” I said as I tossed the ball in the air. Rocky hadn’t yet reached my husband, so I was quick to interject before he had the opportunity to increase his speed in running toward me and not in a good way. Rocky’s crest went up as he turned his head to see me and this big, red ball being tossed in the air. His body quickly turned to follow his head and here he came. Because this had been well-practiced in previous times, I waited to toss it until he reached me. When he stood still in front of me, it wasn’t my foot he was focused on, it was the ball being tossed overhead. I tossed it toward the dinning room. “Doooot” Rocky squealed as he ran toward the ball. He reached it and tossed it. “Yea!” I yelled as I clapped my hands. Here he came tossing the ball in my direction and the games began.

It wasn’t long and I was laughing so hard. Rocky was excited and playing and my husband sat there pretending to read his paper. I caught him numerous times looking over his paper and smiling watching Rocky and I. I soon stopped squatting on the floor and decided to just sit down and enjoy this unexpected and very enjoyable encounter. An enjoyable encounter with one fantastic and well-behaved Moluccan Cockatoo. It didn’t take long before Rocky climbed up my leg and was sitting on my arm while I began preening his head and kissing around his eyes. He would stop and look at me and I would tell him how much I loved him. He replied with “Is Rocky a good boy?” “Yes, Rocky is a good boy.” I replied. Oh how this bird warms my heart and changed my life. Yes, this bird that was highly suggested being put to sleep for all of his negative behavior issues. “I love you Rocky” I said as I leaned in for another smooch on top of that beautiful pink head of his. “Rocky is a good boy.”

In this video: Rocky calmly playing ball instead of chasing me out of the room. Notice my husbands feet at the dining room table.

  1. November 5, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    My macaw, Hannah, loves doing this same thing. We play ball on the bed a lot. She finally gets the ball in just the right position and she turns over on her back and plays with it in her feed for a few minutes, then back to throwing it back and forth.

  2. Rebecca Gerondale
    November 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

    This makes my heart sing. Thank you for taking the time to share this and most of all for taking the time to really observe and learn from Rocky. You are both better for having done it. he’s beautiful and has just about the best home a bird could have.

  3. Rebecca Gerondale
    November 6, 2010 at 9:46 am

    and I love the video and pictures. such a joy!

  4. Pam H
    November 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Good job, Lara! Both you and Rocky have made such great strides in your relationship!! One day it may be Freddie who needs to watch his toes. I love watching Rocky throw the ball back to you. He seems to be having so much fun. I am so happy that he found his way into your life.

  5. tania_a_crawford@yahoo.com
    March 10, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    I had posted a plea for help because my mini macaw was attacking my feet viciously any time she was on the floor while everyone else in the household was granted safe passage and one of the responders referred me to this post. Through reading this post and the supportive comments to my plea on avianavenue, I changed my attitude toward her, stopped feeding the drama and started engaging her attack attempts as opportunities for learning and fun. In four days, our relationship has improved significantly and the attacks have pretty well ceased. I’m amazed at how quickly the change in me was reflected in her behavior. I was ready to never allow her floor time (which would have been a huge pity) and now, just four days later, floor time has become a time of bonding. Pretty remarkable.

  1. May 9, 2014 at 11:10 pm

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