Parenting Our Birds: Shelby’s Story

smshelbyMy husband and I are parents and teachers (H.S. and Elem.), and as I’ve often said to new teachers who don’t have children of their own, “I’m a better parent because I was a teacher first, and I’d have been a better teacher if I’d been a parent first.” This article has two purposes: 1) Obviously, how we parent our birds, and 2) It is directed specifically to Cockatoo parents who have significant others, children, or frequent visitors who do not have patience, tolerance, or feelings of kindness toward your birds.

Shelby, our Bare-eyed Cockatoo, was weaned at 4 months and brought home two weeks later, probably too early, who knows. She cried like a colicky baby every night, driving our 17-yr-old son nuts (“you paid MONEY for that??”). First of all, she KNEW our son didn’t like her, and so she started biting him. Just think if he’d been an “adult” or my husband…this could have gone way wrong. I, being the parent, told our son…you’d better change your attitude or she WON’T change hers, and you’d better mean it because she knows the truth. Our son, who does love animals, did change, and started holding her and talking to her, sometimes only for a minute or less, and Shelby became very sweet with him. They like each other now.

Back to the screaming and crying…we couldn’t watch a movie in the same room! So, we treated her like an infant…she’s fed, she’s clean, she’s been held and “read to” and cuddled, she’s played…she must be TIRED! We started putting her to bed as soon as all the other needs were genuinely met and she’d call loudly in her covered cage for quite awhile for several nights. Then, all of a sudden….she’s been PERFECT ever since!

I really do mean perfect!

So, now she’s decided to take my husband’s glasses apart. He tells her no, she knows what that means, and if she doesn’t comply, then we take her to the cage (no cover, just cage) or tree stand. This is after he tries to distract her with toys we keep by the sofa and recliner. If she is in a nippy mood — it happens, nothing painful, just nippy — after a firm “No!” and no compliance, then she’s taken to the tree stand or cage, no harsh words, just not in our laps anymore at that point. She tests…but she doesn’t push anymore….and this will be an ongoing thing…she’ll always be a “2 yr-old”. Another point…we don’t “ask, whine, or argue” with her, nor do we with our kids or students. She’s praised all the time for “going potty” properly, doing something funny or new, and we ALWAYS answer her when she says “Hi Shelby”, which is her way of asking us to say “Hi” to her. She is always validated for good or normal behavior.

Now, another point that I want to share…my husband LOVES Shelby, and I was the one who wanted her in the first place. He ADORES her and talks to her first when he comes in from school. She KNOWS this and adores him back. IF he didn’t like her and found her noise to be an uncontrollable nuisance….well, back to the human child…how does your significant other or child think a child would react knowing certain adults or children in the home didn’t like/appreciate/accept him?

Cockatoos know when people care and when they don’t. I’m concerned for any cockatoo parent and their family if a family member has truly lost patience and doesn’t like your bird. You’ll have a tough time making progress. I personally believe, and please forgive me if this remark is offensive – it’s certainly not intended to be, that your significant other, child, or frequent visitor needs the behavior help as much as your ‘too does, and if ALL of you change how you deal with your ‘too, your ‘too AND your family will be healthier and happier.

I hope this is helpful, and while I speak directly about Cockatoos, we parent our other birds the same way – Parrotlets, Canaries, Finches, Bourke’s Parakeets – as well as our Miniature Schnauzer and our cat.


Shelby isn’t so interested in Steve’s glasses anymore. Although she sometimes tests him, she quickly realizes she won’t get her way, so moves on to other activities.

She never whines or cries. She tends to make the annoying repetitive flock call or another call which resembles my call to my son Trevor when I’m upstairs and he’s in the basement…a two-syllable call she says loudly and repeatedly — when everyone is home, busy, and ignoring her. She never does this when I’m the only one home, and she certainly doesn’t get lots of attention from me during the day because I work from home in a different room from where she is. She’s very quiet or talks to herself and plays with her toys.

She LOVES company and loves to play rough, using Steve as her favorite jungle gym.

If your kids are loud, you can expect your cockatoo to be loud. If your kids argue with one another, well, I wouldn’t want to think how Shelby would sound joining in on that! There’s no arguing or yelling in our household…and I can only shudder to think how Shelby would sound if there were.

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