Kelly Cegla, CVT & Jennifer Blair, DVM
Introducing your bird to toweling is very important. Safe restraint using a towel is necessary for administering medications, performing some grooming and veterinary procedures, and managing the occasional emergency at home. Toweling does not have to be scary. With the proper socialization and training, birds will quickly become comfortable with the toweling process.
The ‘towel game’ can be used to get your bird used to the idea of having a towel over and around him. While it is easier to start working on these patterns with a baby bird, adult birds are quick to learn as well. You can start by sitting on the floor by yourself or with another human. It is best to sit low to the ground with the towel so it is not threatening. At this stage, your bird should be sitting across the room from you – this allows him or her to watch you from a nonthreatening position. From this position, you can begin to play peek-a-boo, a game that many birds enjoy immensely. Take the towel, hide your face behind it, slowly lower the towel, and say “peek-a-boo”. The more excited you are by the game, the more interested your bird will be. As your bird becomes more interested in what you are doing, you can begin to play the game closer and closer to your bird.
After your bird is comfortable with the peek-a-boo game from a distance, you can start interacting with your bird. Try laying the towel on your lap with the long ends hanging down on each side. Place your bird on your lap and put one hand under each end of the towel. Slowly lift the ends of the towel up while saying “peek-a-boo”. Start slow, then eventually, you can bring your hands together making a cave with your bird and your face inside. You can also do the same exercises with the towel laying flat on the floor, gently lifting each corner until you are eventually lifting the corner up and over your bird – look for your bird and say “peek-a-boo”. Make it a fun game and reward your bird’s calm behavior with treats or praise. Eventually you will be able to walk over to your bird on a perch and drape the towel over him or ask him to step up onto a towel-covered arm.
Once your bird is comfortable with the towel, you can begin gentle restraint of your bird in the towel. Choose an appropriately sized towel for your bird. Hold your bird around the neck with your index finger and thumb placed beneath the mandibles and lower beak and the palm of your hand gently holding your bird’s back and wings within the towel. Unlike mammals, birds have complete cartilage rings in the trachea so you can not easily choke a bird. However, do not squeeze or constrict your bird’s chest or abdomen. Birds have a unique mechanism for breathing, and constriction of these areas can actually lead to suffocation. You can offer a corner of the towel for your bird to chew on while you perform grooming or other procedures.
There is no wrong way to begin getting your bird used to a towel as long as your bird is interacting and enjoying the process. Successfully learning this skill will help reduce your bird’s stress during veterinary or grooming visits and may actually save your bird’s life in an emergency situation.