Rebecca O’Connor, graduate student at the University of California- Riverside, knows why parrots screech and bite and it has a lot more to do with human behavior than the bird’s. She’s written a book incorporating animal-training techniques, detailing how to improve the manners of an ill-mannered bird by rewarding good behavior while keeping a handle on your own emotions.
Part of an emerging group of behaviorists who reject old ideas of punishing and dominating birds, O’Connor is gaining national attention with her book, “A Parrot for Life: Raising and Training the Perfect Parrot Companion,” which was published in February 2007 by TFH Publications and has gone into a second printing. The book recently was picked up by national pet supply chains PetSmart and PETCO.
From my own experience, birds don’t know the difference between positive and negative attention. With Pepper (my African Grey) he gets just as much amusement from watching me laugh at his antics as from yelling about them. Loud, emotionally-laden speech and drama might seem salient to a bird, and the bird might imprint that to get you to do X all it has to do is throw all its food on the floor or give you a nip. Obviously its hard not to react or be frustrated, but its a better idea to just ignore behavior you don’t want to see ever again. You are your bird’s best friend, and attention from you is likely the best reward and motivating tactic.
I lucked out, somehow I managed to raise an extremely well-behaved parrot (how, well I dunno). He may not let me sleep in too late on weekends and about 50% of his food ends up on my bedroom floor, but I still wouldn’t trade him for anything.