Understanding your companion parrot.

Kathy LaFollett
16 min readDec 27, 2018

Transcript from my morning session at the LeHigh Valley Parrot EXPO; 5/5/17

Sometimes it’s not clear what comes first, the understanding or the communication. I have a great friend from grade school. She immigrated from Germany in the late 60s to live with her Aunt and Uncle and cousins who had immigrated a few years before. Sandra spoke enough English so that she and I could communicate with each other, but it wasn’t until I stayed over night and became friendly with her family that we understood each other. Her Aunt and Uncle didn’t speak English in the home but her cousins did a bit. We spent many an afternoon working on communication. The understanding didn’t occur until a Friday afternoon when I walked into their home to a smell of fruity pastry. I looked at Sandra and said “What’s that smell!?” I must have said it pretty loud as her Aunt came around the corner and took me into the kitchen, filled a dinner plate with this heavenly pastry and Sandra and I ate. Soon Sandra’s Aunt was asking me in English if I really liked it. And that was communication with understanding. Building understanding with our parrot is the same thing. We’re bringing an immigrant into our home and we’ll need to find that toehold, much like that German pastry, to create understanding and communication between two languages. Parrots are foreign exchange students that will never leave.

Understanding our companions will require that same context, patience and empathy. And we’ll all benefit best when we locate that little toehold of sharing that sprouts communication. All it takes is trust, not the noun, but the acronym. T.R.U.S.T.

T. stands for TIME

I get one question more than any other during my day; How long will it take for my bird to “XYZ”? I always answer, “I don’t know, have you asked your bird?”

Parrot Time is not Human Time. Parrots live in the now. They are here, right now, doing that which they can and want to do, now. There’s no later, tomorrow or next week. There’s only the infinite now structured by our routine.

Humans qualify, store, section, collect, label, and spend time through measurements. We use seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years to store our time. We section off time through work, goals, projects and people. We view time in sections, and most of the time we aren’t looking at the section we are in, we are worrying about a section that isn’t here yet. We’re at home worrying on work, we’re at work wanting to go home type of cycle.

Somewhere we humans forgot the real value of time. In some cultures the elders of family and community are revered and respected simply for being old and full of wisdom. Now we put old people in buildings so they can live out the rest of their days quietly. We revered master craftsmen, scholars, teachers, preachers and those that spent a lifetime to become deep and wide in their knowledge and experiences.

The best relationships require time. Celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary means so much. You don’t marry the first person you date, and you don’t hand your house keys to a person you meet on the street. And two people investing 50 years together is a marvelous achievement.

We can only do three different actions with time. We can invest it, waste it or save it. That’s it. Investing our time pays off in more time or a better life quality. Wasted time is never to be seen again and brings no value add. Saved time creates more time to invest or save. The term “spending time” expresses no real action for our time. Looking at time in this manner it’s easy to decide where our time went. By investing time with our companion parrots we will create understanding and communication.

Parrots are simple. They are yes/no, up/down, yin/yang. It may seem that they are chaotic in opinion and action. But they are in the now. Now only requires what they have defined for that very moment. So you are either investing or wasting time in their eyes. If you have ever been dismissed by your parrot you have literally been told you are wasting their time.

R. is for RESPECT

Not just respect for your parrot, but for the sincere truth inside our lifestyle and it’s communication. It is imperative we respect the truth that time will need to be invested sincerely with no expectations to create the understanding and communication we desire.

Easier said than done for a human. The world has become an impatient place. Our days are filled with impatient people and work demands. We want what we want when we want it. And we are so busy wanting we forget why we really wanted in the first place. Expediency has wiped out our realities. That’s why I rarely fix parrots. I’m always fixing humans. Unreasonable expectations and expediency is a toxic mix for communication.

The real question we need to ask every morning is this; What do we want WITH our parrot, not FROM our parrot. We the human are not “keeping” a flock, or “owning” a flock, we ARE the flock. To our parrots WE are the flock. When we share our world with a companion parrot, they can not be bystanders. They must be participants. They need and want to be part of all we do as a flock. We need to respect the truth of this matter. We must realize we and they are the whole.

I helped a flock when the mom contacted me in a very frustrated state. She began simply; she was thoroughly frustrated and had been for weeks, and it had been building for months. I asked her to explain. She put together a grocery list of wants from her bird. A grocery list of reasons why she wanted what she wanted, and a third list as to why her bird just could not be tolerated one more minute in her life. This was the last stand. Which caught me completely off guard. This flock had been together for years. This flock had grown and prospered and been shared with friends and family for years. This flock, I thought, was one of the most stable I had ever met. But then, aren’t we all very good at showing others what we want them to see, rather than what is the daily truth of it all?

I asked her to tell me what the most pressing problem was to her, and to tell me what she wanted most.

“I want my bird to stop screaming”, she said so very frustrated. I asked why. That did not help her frustration. But, it had to be asked. You see the problem isn’t the parrot. The problem is the behavior issue on the human’s part. Turns out after 15 minutes of questioning she had a massive electric bill surprise. So after work, she’d come home and go right back to working through the evening. Her focus for expediency’s need to pay that bill wiped out all the routine her parrot needed for communication.

I suggested she call the electric company and work out a deal so we could concentrate on helping her parrot stop screaming. Which of course was just me concentrating on helping the human fix the real problem. She agreed with a bit of frustration in as much as she couldn’t understand why I was focusing on her bills and not on her screaming parrot. 40 minutes later she called me back. Her voice was relaxed, and I couldn’t hear a screaming parrot in the background.

“Where’s Pickles?” I asked directly.

“Oh, he’s eating his 4 o’clock grapes.” she explained.

Not having to work late, she was able to go back to her normal routines rather than going straight back into working after getting home. Because she handled the real problem she returned to the routines of communication her companion had missed so much. Their communication once broken, had been restored. Which allowed Pickles to understand his flock again. You see it wasn’t just grapes for Pickles. It was an action that said Mom was home with him now. Dad would be home soon. And dinner came next.

We must respect the core truths of our motivations or we will waste time on the wrong problems. And wasted time can not contribute to communication and understanding. Identify the real stress. Then stop. Disconnect. Unless you are standing in the middle of a burning building, you can stop and disconnect to reconnect to the real problem. I also suggest seeking medical help. You’ve a great caregiver in your home. You have a parrot. Consider your companion a house call that didn’t have to knock. Play with a parrot and try to stay stressed. It’s not possible.

Respect their gift of being the reminder that life isn’t that complicated. By simply doing that we are allowing our companion to participate in our solution. And they will identify with that roll! That is a powerful communication moment. Have you ever offered comfort to a friend or family member in need. Just hugging them and being with them during a hard time. Do you remember feeling them relax in your arms and “let go” for that moment? That release between the two of you was powerful. Your parrot can feel that same powerful moment offering you comfort. Companions affect biology positively. They lower blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. They raise endorphins and calming brain waves. They are powerful medicine. I self-medicate with my parrots every day!

Inclusion is a form of language. It tells our companion they belong, they are part of a flock and they are integral. Which is the core drive of a flocking companion.


We have to understand that they are exotic parrots. They can not be trained out of that truth. We have to wipe away unreasonable expectations. We are the humans, they are the exotics, but we are both intelligent, emotional, empathetic and cognitive. There is middle ground to be sown with language, communication and understanding. A parrot will always act like a parrot first. A reasonable expectation for a parrot is generally unreasonable for a human. Understand that truth.

When our parrots are behaving well to our expectations, they have chosen to modify natural instincts. Creating an understanding offers an active and constant communication, as parrots prefer. Inside a parrot flock, communication is a constant item. From sun up to sun down a flock of birds are noisy and busy and all their voices and choices mean something inside the flock. Unlike a human, who will leave a room with, I’ll see you later! A parrot could never act in such a manner. By building a busy and consistent communication we create a Flock Mechanism.

We have 130 linear feet of fence on our backyard property line. We set it up to be clear and comfortable to all. I watch all kinds of flocks come and go all day. But every flock that lands, has to start with one bird choosing to be the first to land. The first to think it’s safe and act on that decision. I can see all the others on the power lines jumping about, probably thinking, “WHOA! Harry is so gonna die!” They jump and chirp and wait to see if their flock mate’s action was death or smart. Then a second bird lights on the fence far enough from Harry so as not to die if Harry was wrong after all. Not too long after, the remaining members light on our fence. But first a single choice had to happen to notify the flock.

Once inside a strong and communicating flock a parrot will choose to meet the flock’s (your) expectations before their own, for the benefit of the flock’s health and happiness. That truth is a natural instinct. By creating an active, participating, respectful flock we literally tap into a nature instinct to choose our expected behaviors over their own instinctive ideas.

That truth is the core to communication and a Successful Companion Parrot Lifestyle. A flock driven by a strong language highway. Your communication creates the need for your companion to do what’s best for the flock’s health and happiness, which tends toward the human’s needs inside a human dynamic. We forget, by joining a parrot with a human we have created a hybrid flocking mechanism. It is still a flock mechanism and our companions will look for the same level of communication as they would find in the wild. It’s their nature.

In the wild a parrot can do anything. Anything they choose in flight or perch or ground. They have superpowers and with those powers they have full choice. Choices made are communication. One way to build your personal language highway with your companion is by offering Immersive Choice. Creating multiple options that offer multiple choice answers will give them the opportunity to communicate with you through choice patterns. Because every action choice is communication inside a flock.

You chose me today. I’ve already learned quite a bit about you simply by your choice. I’ve learned you are more concerned about learning to understand your companion, than you are in shopping for your companion. I’ve learned you aren’t hungry. There’s no food here. I’ve learned you have enough interest, or knowledge about me to chose not to do all the things that are available to you outside of these walls. What do you know about me by my choice to come here? Well you know my work and advocacy is important enough that I would choose to leave my flock, husband, and lifestyle to come here. I must be serious. You know my writing isn’t about the money, it’s about the message. You are holding free copies of my book. You know I love parrots. You know I care.

Here’s the interesting thing about trust and choice. Since we, in this room, chose to be with each other over the next hour, we have more trust between us, than currently exists between myself and those outside. By choosing me, I know you have already extended your time, concern, and trust to hear me out. I will give you back no less. Pretty powerful stuff, yes? Consider one more thing. If we should run into each other out on the floor, we already have common ground and will be quick to enter into understanding and communication, more so than someone who chose not to be here. Very powerful stuff.

Immersive Communication requires inclusion, participation and your involvement. You are part of the hybrid flock. By utilizing immersive choice and communication we offer a wider format of options that meet our parrot halfway between human need and parrot expectation.


Sincerity is the only state of mind for a companion parrot. They are in the here and now and sincerely mean everything they do. Humans, not so much. We tend to slide a few steps back from sincere. Sincerity requires full attention and participation. That’s what gets a human off track. To sincerely communicate and build a personal language path and understanding with our companions will require our full attention while we are investing that time. Sincerity is being fully aware. Fully focused in the moment and participating. We should focus on them because they are focused on us.

Consider the sincerity of that invested time. They build on sincerity, they will seek our soft, kind voice. They will appreciate slower movements with new ideas and a patient approach during new flock transitions.

And they will appreciate the power of disengagement. Overstaying our welcome leads to much frustration. Frustration creates stress. Stress removes communication, understanding and curiosity. Understanding and communication is simply a highway built of thousands of successful moments of interactions. Those moments add up. But if we create situations that end in frustration for us and them then the question we create isn’t What’s next? It’s now what. Stress kills curiosity. They and we need their curiosity alive and confident to build communication. And you can not start a successful conversation from the end of an unsuccessful one. So when you and your companion are working on something remember, disengage the process while things are going well and successfully. When you introduce a new toy, don’t make it a demand, make it an option. And disengage after that first no, or thousandth no. Just walk away with the object. Their curiosity will change the now what, to what WAS that? Curiosity can’t be born out of stress. And when you approach again, they will be so eager to see that thing again, just to make sure they were right, it will become a game in and of itself.

A small example of this; Felix and a new toy. Consider the story of the red block and hanging rope. Disengagement requires that I make anything new or intimidating “not his problem”. I walk into the bird room with the red block. It’s my problem, not his. I walk slowly by his cage with my red block and make sure I see his acknowledgement of what I’m holding. But I don’t stop or show it to him directly. It’s not his problem. I just keep walking all the way around the room. Then I leave it on a table not too far away so he can ponder it. That’s my toy, not his and so it’s not his problem. But now he’s curious, since it’s not a problem for him, he’s intrigued enough to stare at it a bit. There’s three stages to body language. Acknowledgement, Decision, and Action. Disengagement and Not Their Problem works between the stages of Acknowledgement and Decision. Which is why we need to be able to invest time to really become aware and intimate with their body language. So, back to Felix and the red block. I go back into the room and pick up the red block and take another walk, I walk past Felix’s cage, seeing his acknowledgement body language is relaxed, and then I turn around and say hello. “Hey Fee. See my red block? Pretty cool huh?” His decision body language is clear he’s leaning forward for a closer look. But I disengage and walk away. Not his problem. I walk around the room and back to a food bowl that is at the end of his big tree stand. I drop the red block in there and walk away. No stress has been introduced. He’s totally curious and now he’s totally in charge of whether he wants to make that red block his problem. But of course he does. He’s dying to see what it is. This new thing was never a problem, but it became an option.

Two ways to offer sincere invested time with our companions is through Layering Interactions and Observing Interactions.

Layering interactions will make a short amount of available time, a high quality moment. Parrots don’t judge time by quantity, but by quality. Never lament the need to leave the house for work. It isn’t that you are gone for 8 hours. It is how you spend the few hours or time you do have when you are with them. Quality is their concern. They are in the now. When interacting with your companion bring more than one activity to the moment. For example, when I share a meal with Snickers our macaw I also bring a spoon, small cup, a bowl of water and a block of wood in his favorite shape. He’ll eat, play with his spoon, try to use the spoon on the food, dip his cup in the water to drink, and use the wood as an anvil when eating. That last bit has been a Snickers signature move all his life. I’ve layered a 30 minute experience with so much depth and conversation there wasn’t a moment left to idleness. And when lunch is over he is so satisfied emotionally and physically he’s more than happy to spend the rest of the afternoon accomplishing the Snickers List of To Dos. (And there’s a lot on that list.)

Observing interactions is simply waiting for our parrots to decide what the game is and how they want to spend time together. By following rather than leading we can pick up on body language and the nuances we may have never noticed had we not allowed our parrots to lead the way in play and invested time together. A parrot’s body language is a powerful language path. Learn theirs, they are always learning ours. Once we learn their body language of happy, scared, hungry, interested, or NO! we can counter with appropriate actions of ourselves before any negative communication has to take place.

These are sincere tools and actions that require being fully participating in those moments we share with our companion. Communication and understanding will flourish!

T. stands for TRUTH

Sincerity and Truth are mutually exclusive. But you need them both to create communication that builds your language path of understanding. You can be sincere and not truthful. I can ask what color the sky is and your reply will be, blue. Which is a true answer, but not telling me of the impending black clouds of storm there lacked sincerity. But you will counter I did not ask about the weather. Sincerity is tricky for humans as we rationalize ourselves into corners. Rationalization is a human exercise evolved long ago to help us get through moments of stress and lack of control. Building your language path needs a sincere truth established between you and your bird. The simplest of all truths. Unconditional love. Notice I say simple, I did not say easy.

Unconditional love is that dedicated heart and mind where a promise is made and always kept no matter the challenges. A state of being that stands solid in flock commitment and promise. When we make our marriage vows we state “till death do us part”. It’s a serious lifelong commitment. No one is leaving until they are dead. Living inside a relationship with that unspoken truth creates a safe haven for mistakes, apologies, trying, failing and trying again. Of course life will bring tough situations to bear that may break oaths and bonds against our will. Illness, death and the like can’t be won. BUT if we approach with a full heart of unconditional love, we are already victorious in the moment.

And if we have built that strong Hybrid Flock Mechanism, your flock as a whole can survive the hardest of times to come out the other side stronger and still intact. That’s the whole point of creating a constant language highway with your parrot inside a strong flock. To get through, together. Parrots are amazingly resilient inside a strong and loving flock. I have seen the most challenging and painful experiences happen around very strong flocks. Situations that do not need explanation other than to say, they were shocking to watch, and an honor to help them go through. And when the storm passed, that flock stood strong, and still together.

And isn’t that what we all seek in our lives? A bond inside a family/flock unit that helps us navigate this confusing thing we call life? Unconditional love is the truth of the core that will yield an immovable force called Your Flock. The truth is, no matter how long all this takes, this should be a forever companionship. The other truth is, if we see each other in that light and help when the forever gets harder, all flocks benefit. Which is simply us, together, giving every parrot, everywhere, a happy home.

Remember this, there is such a thing as a micro and macro flock. Inside a huge group of birds, the macro flock, there are many micro flocks that will break off and do their own thing, but yet they belong to the whole. Their actions on the micro level will affect the macro, or whole. When I realized I was simply a micro flock in St. Petersburg, FL, I realized I could affect any flock around the world. So can you.