Forbidden Zones: Shoulder Sitting - - - by Liz Davies (aka "Mom")



Shoulder sitting is a privilege that is allowed only to the smaller parrots, and only if they do not bite.  Head-sitting is strictly verboten for all.  At least those are the rules in my house.  Let me explain why.

Not a Sanitary Issue

It’s not a matter of worrying about the bird defecating on me.  My experience has taught me that a bird that basically likes you just doesn’t do that.  Of course… if he or she is displeased with you and wants to make a "statement"... then all bets are off!  Bubba (our Black Capped conure) is allowed shoulder privileges, and for me this has almost (almost...) never been a problem.  For my husband, however, (who for some reason must live up to a higher standard in Bubba’s eyes) gets a dose of nasty poo on his shoulders or back at least once a week.  Sometimes we know why Bubba did it, sometimes it’s a mystery – but there is never any doubt in our minds that Bubba did it intentionally. 

Good manners are important

My honest feeling is that it’s just plain bad manners to sit on someone’s head.  Wanting to ride on your shoulder is understandable; it gives a great view and can be pretty comfortable for the bird.  Sitting on your head is different; it’s clearly a domination point and in my house that is absolutely forbidden.  It is also generally uncomfortable for the human, especially with medium to larger parrots.

Who is "Top Bird?"

A bird who is allowed to perch above your eye level is going to perceive himself to be “in control”.  This is bad news when it comes to step ups and other discipline.  Maintaining the upper hand (at best) or friendly cooperation (minimum) in the human-bird relationship is essential. 

Any bird who elects himself “head of the house” immediately becomes more difficult to live with on every level.  For smaller parrots, sitting on the shoulder does not present as much of a problem because they still have to look up to see your eyes.  But medium to large parrots are in a position to look down to see your eyes, and that means they are “top bird”.  You may never have seen the job description for “top bird”, but your parrot has – and he/she knows that “obedience” is not listed as an attribute.  When you are on top, you call the shots – and those who challenge your authority are… well… usurpers who must be punished (pooped on, bitten, screamed at)!

This drive to dominate is a deep need all parrots have.  It is a characteristic which is directly related to survival and reproductive success in the wild.  There’s no use in hoping your parrot will discard this important trait just because he’s now living in your home.

Facial Bites

The safety factor comes into play because of the bird’s close proximity to ears, noses, lips, eyes, and other sensitive tissues.  Look carefully at your birds’ face.  He doesn’t have a soft, sensitive nose or earlobes.  He has no clue that a nip or chomp there will cause you pain or even disfigurement.  Parrots often “beak” at each other – but they are built to do this with safety (tough beaks, fast-moving necks that can pull out of harms way quickly).

For us humans, facial bites are very emotionally disturbing.  We just don’t have the same reaction to a facial bite as we do to a bite on the finger, arm, or leg.  For us, it’s a much more serious interaction, and one that can cause emotional scars in the very young.  If you allow your bird to sit on your shoulder, you may never experience a facial bite.  But is it worth the risk?

Oh, Really, Liz.....?!?!?

Yes - there are photographs on this website of Pakshi sitting on my head and Jesse hanging on my shoulder.  Neither of them are allowed shoulder sitting, and head sitting isn't permitted to anyone.  But on the occasions in question, my husband was nearby with the camera and we snapped the photo because it was amusing at the time.  Then we removed the bird from it's forbidden perching zone.