So Your Baby Eclectus is Growing Up- Now What
One of the challenges of living with companion parrots is understanding the motivation behind their actions and reactions, which can change from day to day, week to week and even hour to hour. Why?
First off let me say that not all Eclectus go through the stages at the same age, some do it earlier, some much later and some not at all. Just like people, Eclectus are all individuals. This article is meant only to provide a guideline of what to expect and approximately when to expect it with your pet Eclectus. That way you will have some idea of what is going on, and perhaps a bit of insight on how to handle it. Much like a human baby, your Eclectus will go through various behavioral stages on their way to becoming an adult. The way you handle these stages can shape the development and personality of your feathered one, as well as, how it relates to his/her human flock.
One other question always asked is when do they start talking. Some Eclectus talk crystal clear as early as three or four months old, others have nothing to say until after their first birthday, and some (though rare) don’t talk at all. I have been asked to compare the talking ability of an Eclectus to an African Grey. From my point of view the Eclectus is every bit as good a talker, and I might add, as intelligent as any African Grey.
The first stage you may encounter shortly after bringing your baby home is what I call the insecure stage. He/she caws loudly and continually while you are in or out of its sight. She/he is trying to make sure you know its there and needs to be cared for, cuddled, loved and fed. The only caregiver your baby has known is gone, everything in their world is new and they are scared! Patience and kind loving care will reassure your baby and the continually cawing will eventually stop, just in time for the terrible twos to hit with a vengeance (maybe).
Testing Stage – Terrible Twos
The terrible twos start somewhere around four to six months and as late as nine months. This is a testing stage, lunging, biting, growling, screaming, general defiance (in some cases, not all). Your young feathered one has determined that he/she will be fed, loved, cuddled and now feeling safe and secure wants to see if he/she can also be boss, alpha bird, head of her/his flock (you get the picture). Nope, your feathered one cannot be the boss and you need to lovingly let them know in no uncertain terms that you are the alpha bird and head of his/her flock. The best approach to ensure that your bird understand this is through positive reinforcement, not punishment. Sometimes timeouts do work with certain birds, however, in some birds this can cause separation anxiety.
Feathered ones don’t understand punishment, what they do understand is that they have been hurt (causing loss of trust) or should you scream at your feathered one he/she will see it as a screaming competition, what fun! Believe me in a screaming contest with an Eclectus, you will lose every time, so don’t even start! Your ear drums will thank you.
Eclectus are very intelligent and empathetic, they can tell from just your tone of voice or facial expressions that you are displeased with them. Most times that coupled with positive reinforcement is enough to encourage compliance. All though it make take a time or two or even several times for a strong willed bird to accept the fact that he/she is not going to get their way.
Ahhh…….. the adolescence or the teenage stage starts somewhere between 12 and 18 months. This is an interesting time. Your bird looks like an adult, may even
display some sexual behaviors and once in a while you may see a glimmer of the adult bird they will become. However, right now your Ekkie is still a youngster and is trying to be independent of its parents as he/she would in the wild.
This is a confusing time for the young bird! The hormones may be stirring, but they’re not old enough to breed and raise babies, yet. Being a pet, your bundle of feathers will always be dependant upon you for the necessities of life…..so much for being independent! This situation sometimes leads to screaming behavior because they really don’t know what they want, nor how to get it. When they scream for you, don’t go running, answer them as a contact call, tell them they are fine and you are right there. It’s up to you to assist her/him in discovering the independence available to them. During this time he/she learns to play and entertain themselves independent of you and still feel safe and secure.
This does not mean that you can’t play with them, cuddle or spend quality time with your young bird. It does mean that now you need to consider their feelings, moods and wishes, as well as, what you want. To impose your will on your Eclectus against their will during this time, can break their spirit and create an overly dependent, needy bird who wants only to be with you. Or the bird will go to the other extreme, becoming a resentful, distrusting, biting bird who wants nothing to do with humans. Either situation is a recipe for disaster and the two biggest reasons companion parrots lose their homes.
During this Adolescent phase, being territorial especially around their cage, playstand and food bowls, along with some aggression can be expected, not always but sometimes. This can include biting the hand the feeds them. This too will pass. There are several schools of thought as to how handle this territorial situation. Some feel that using a perch to remove the bird from the cage when it is not willing to come out is the way to control the situation. My feeling is that the cage and playstand do belong to our Eclectus, Taco. So when she gets territorial, we let her remain in her cage or on her playstand until she is ready to come out and be social. I see no reason to impose our will on her when she just wants some time to herself. This arrangement has worked quite well in our family’s 16 year relationship with Taco.
There is one exception, in an emergency requesting your ekkie to step up and out of the cage without hesitation is imparrative. Taco knows that tone of voice and has never hesitated to step up and leave her cage or play stand.
It also seems that during the Adolescent stage, problems emerge which appear to be the result of improper socialization or weaning by the breeder or hand feeder. If you encounter excessive screaming, biting or disturbing behavior, a visit to your vet should be your first course of action, to rule out illness. Then after your bird receives a clean bill of health, contact a reputable behaviorist (ask for references) to assist you in working through the problems.
Hormonal Stage – Sexual Maturity
It would appear that somewhere between two and three years old, Eclectus hormones start raging and sexual maturity is reached. Sometimes the Solomon Island Eclectus become sexually mature earlier than two years and it seems that the larger Eclectus species, such as the Vos Eclectus may reach sexual maturity later than three years old. During this time, your bird can be sweet and cuddly one minute, territorial and aggressive the next. You more than likely will be perceived has your pet’s mate. He/she may try to feed you (regurgitation), rub against you or display other sexual behaviors. This does not mean you need to put your pet into a breeding situation. It means that for the time-being you will need to be careful how you handle your beloved Ekkie. So you don’t accidentally stimulate your bird. It’s best not to stroke your bird on the back, under the wings or tail and limit contact with your Ekkie’s beak. Once the hormones subside, that type of physical affection should be fine. The first few years of sexual maturity can be very intense, after that, it seems that things even out and your mellow bird returns, even during hormonal periods.
Don’t let hormonal aggression come between you and your Ekkie, remember adopting a parrot is a life long commitment. Working through this stage in your Ekkie’s life will be well worth the effort and you will be rewarded with many more years of companionship.
Middle Age Stage
As your Ekkie reaches middle age, and his/her environment remains constant they become quite predicable, the mood swings are far and few between. Perhaps it’s that you both have learned what to expect of each other and understand what makes the other tick. I also have been told that middle age and older Ekkies continue to learn new words and behaviors. So I guess I am safe in saying you can teach an old bird new tricks! (I know that was bad.) At sixteen, Taco still picks up new words regularly adding to her large vocabulary.
I don’t think this discussion on Ages and Stages would be complete without addressing the expectations of your Eclectus or other type of parrot as they become elderly.
Over the years, I have talked with people that have the pleasure of sharing their life with an elderly parrot. In my discussions, I learned that parrots age much like their human companions. They exhibit decreased mobility, arthritic and swollen joints, loss of hearing, cataracts and failing vision.
People who share their home with elderly parrots give these suggestions to ease the ravages of age. It is a given that you have already been advised by your vet of your bird’s medical needs and ways to easy any discomfort. Next, you can move the bird’s perches, food bowls and toys lower and in closer proximity to give them easier and better access around their cage. Provide a basket with a heating pad wrapped in a towel to ease the pain of arthritic joints, and share your time and attention with them as you always have. However, just like their human companions, these birds still have much to offer and continue to learn well into their 50’s, 60’s and beyond.
A well-adjusted, independent companion Eclectus is a joy to behold. My Companion Eclectus, Taco is now over 16 years old and truly a beloved member of our family.
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