[ reprinted with permission from The Bailey Foundation]
Forming a bond with an older bird who is either rescued or adopted is not as difficult as it may seem. The bond will grow very slowly and surely. First and foremost the bird needs to feel secure in order to start to establish a bond with you. At one time in your birds life when he was a little baby he was most likely fed either by his natural parents or a breeder. The mushy food or formula was most likely warm and tasty to him. This may have been the only time in his life that he felt secure and truly loved.
Therefore I find it will be much to your advantage to take the bird back to this particular stage in his life to bring back a feeling of love and warmth and security. It will start the bonding process between the two of you.
Beginning on the very first night of the birds arrival what I suggest is that about a half hour before the bird is to go to sleep for the night you can prepare a small bowl of warm oatmeal. I usually use Quaker Instant Cinnamon and Spice. Even though it has some sugar in it I have never found a parrot who doesn’t love it and you want to give him something he’s definitely going to love to eat. Set the bird on the counter with the bowl and let him have a taste. Then proceed to spoon feed him with a regular teaspoon. He will love it. Talk softly to him as your feeding him. He may even bob up and down just like a baby.
The bird on the counter is going to be at around your waist level which is a good level for you to be working with him. He’ll realize you are in control since you will be so much taller than him. The warm mush is going to make him forget his fears for a few minutes. Your soft voice and talking will soothe him as well. After the meal his beak may be quite messy. Even if it’s not you need to tell him he’s made a big mess and now you’ve just got to clean up that sticky messy beak. I use the end of a wet paper towel. Show it to him and tell him you’re going to use it to clean his messy beak. Very slowly approach his beak with the wet paper towel. Tell him he can’t go to bed with a sticky beak so this has to be done. It may take a while. But slowly and carefully you can get his beak cleaned up. His beak was most likely cleaned in a similar fashion when he was a baby. He should allow you to do this.
I feel this procedure should be done every night for the first five to seven days. In the process of repeating this routine you will be gaining his trust. He will be going to bed with a warm full crop even if he’s only picking at his regular food. He will be allowing you access to touch his beak something that will prove very handy in the years to come. You will also have him very used to being on the counter top which is the best place I feel to work with a sick or injured bird. I did this with both Ollie and Spike and found it really assisted both the birds and myself in starting the bonding process. Ollie is not a messy eater but Spike and Mozart could win a contest for the worlds messiest beaks. They both get set on the countertop every night after dinner for their “beaky wash.” It saves me a lot of cleaning up from them scraping the mess on their playgrounds or cage bars. Spike even lifts his left foot – the one he always holds his food in – and lets me wash the dirty foot every night after his beaky wash. I do not think I ever could have accomplished this without the little oatmeal ritual we followed.
I started this with Ollie on about the third day because he wasn’t eating well and he continuously cried the baby Macaw cry. As soon as I started this his crying stopped and he started eating. I think they don’t quite know how to start to form a bond so we have to show them. They are also hurting and afraid. It was so successful with Ollie once I started it that I did it from day one with Spike with tremendous results.