You decided to get a new bird. You’ve gotten that bird, and you’re excited. What are you going to do now? That bird is finally in your home. There’s quite a bit to focus on. Here are some tips to get you started.

Step 1: Acclimate your bird to the cage

Now, you’ve either adopted or purchased a bird, and it’s the start of a wonderful adventure. You and your bird are going to live a long time in this house together. First, it’s important that you acclimate this bird to its new home. Birds are very much creatures of habit, and when you change their environments, it can be very upsetting to them. So, don’t expect everything to be perfect right away. You want to make him feel comfortable. The best way to do that is to take some of the things that the bird has had in his environment before, perhaps at a shelter or at a store or at the breeder, and bring those familiar things, including the familiar food that that bird has been eating, into his or her new environment. Maybe his or her old food is not the best diet in the world, and that’s fine for now. We can work on that later. Bring those items and that food into his or her new cage, so that that bird recognizes something familiar in the environment. Remember, this bird is going to be overwhelmed. To your bird, you’re a new person, and if you live with other people, your family members are new, too. It’s a new home, a new cage, a new environment, new sounds, new smells, new sights. All these things can be really overwhelming to bird. So, when you first bring the bird home, you want to have the cage set up in advance, so that you’re not fumbling around in the cage as you try to get the bird in it. Gently open the carrier, or whatever the bird is in, and let the bird just go right into that cage.

That cage must be a familiar and a safe place and ultimately, a place that the bird likes to spend time. You don’t want it to be a prison or jail or a place of punishment. So, you must make it attractive. The best way to do that is to put toys or whatever objects were familiar to your bird before into the cage in advance, and then put some of the birds familiar food, even if it is not the most ideal diet, into the cage, and let the bird just sit there, look around, and take it all in. Don’t try to handle the bird right away. Don’t approach the cage and start talking loudly. Let the bird just sit there, look around, familiarize him or herself with the surroundings, hear new sounds, see new sights, and just get used to things.

Perhaps start by putting the cage in a quiet room somewhere. The cage ultimately may end up in a place in the house where there’s a lot of traffic, especially if the bird is a really social species, like a cockatoo or African gray or other kind of bird that really needs a lot of human contact and a lot of attention. But, when you first bring the bird home, you want to socialize the bird gradually. If you have children in the house, particularly young children, try to keep them calm and not too loud or crazy running around. If you have other pets in the house, like dogs, you don’t want a loud barking, either. Remember, the dog is a predator, the same as a cat. Even if your dogs and cats are friendly pets, you don’t want them up against the cage, freaking out the new bird. Introduce them slowly, over a period of days. Let the bird acclimate to his or her surroundings gradually.

Step 2: Talk to your new bird

You don’t want to force the bird to come out of his cage onto your hand or somewhere else at first. Start first by just talking to the bird in the cage. You can go close to the cage, letting the bird see your face and hear your voice. Birds are very responsive to their owners, and they will recognize who’s taking care of them. Talk in a soothing, quiet voice. Birds like high pitched sounds, in general, and respond to tones that are higher. So, if you’re saying your new bird’s name, you may want to say it in the same tone repeatedly. Teach the bird is his name. Maybe you don’t have a name for the bird yet. Maybe you need to figure out what the bird’s personality is like before you can come up with a name. But do start using some of the same words over when you speak to him or her.

Step 3: Gently handle your new bird

If the bird is amenable to coming out of the cage, let him or her stand at the threshold of the cage, right at the open door for a while, and then eventually trying training him or her, over a period of time, to step on to your hand. Maybe this bird has been held before and is already comfortable standing on your hand. But if the bird isn’t comfortable stepping up onto your hand, take a favorite food item and hand it to the bird through the cage bars, at first. Then let him or her stand at the open cage door threshold, and hand him or her a little treat. Ultimately hold the treat in your hand farther back, so that to get that treat, he or she needs to step onto your other open palm to reach the other hand that’s holding the treat. This is something that can take weeks to train a bird.

Step 4: Add objects to the cage

You don’t want to overwhelm the bird with dozens of toys; rather, a couple toys in the cage to start are fine. Again, if there are familiar toys from the bird’s last environment to place in the new cage, that’s great. If the bird didn’t have those, then offer him or her a couple of different toys with different textures or different colors. Some birds like to chew on wood, while other birds like cork or paper. Different species have different needs. Cockatoos are real chewers. Amazons also can be real chewers. On the other hand, I have a pious parrot that has had the same toys in his cage for years and years, because he’s not really a chewer. It just depends on the species of bird and on the bird’s personality. Let your bird be your guide. Offer him or her different textures and colors and see what he or she gravitates to. Then you can offer other toys that are like the ones he or she seems to like. I have a cockatoo that I have bought so many different toys for, but he only likes one toy – just a bunch of different colored wooden sticks sticking out of a ball. Over the years, I have learned that I do not need to spend a lot of money buying him all kinds of fancy toys, because all he really wants is those sticks. I have wasted lots of money on lots of other things but learned that he always chooses the simple sticks, and they make him happy.

We all have preferences – preferences for food, for clothing, for colors, for music, and for many other things, and so do birds. So, get to know your bird, and see what he or she gravitates to in terms of textures, colors, sounds, sights, and even tastes of food, and then go with that.

Step 5: Establish a bond of trust

When you first get your bird home, you start to get to know him or her. Your bird is getting to know you, too, and he or she doesn’t know that you’re well-intentioned. If you have a bird from a shelter, perhaps that bird has had a bad experience with people previously. There’s a trust that you must build, a bond that needs to be solidified. Your bird must learn that you’re the caretaker; you’re the person who provides food and entertainment and toys.

Some birds are afraid to be left alone. For these birds leaving some kind of noise, even if it’s quiet noise in the room when you’re out, can be comforting. I’m a big fan of television. I like to leave something on TV so my bird can watch something and hear sound. Some people just leave music on. Either way, birds become acclimated to certain sounds, and that way they’re not feeling alone. Remember that these birds in the wild are very, very social, and they’re used to lots of noise and a lot of activity. When we bring them into our homes, we stick them in cages. Typically, unless you have more than one bird, or you’re home all the time, that bird is going to spend a lot of time in the cage alone. You really want that cage to be a place of safety and happiness. So, offering a TV or music or something else that provides the bird some comfort and some company is very, very important.

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