Fear desensitization

He’s not cuddled like he used to be and I know he’s going to get really stressed over this. He hates anything new and different. We bought him a nice stand once but it was white and he’s terrified of white (I can just see his reaction to a white lab coat). We all gave up wearing anything red years ago because he would panic if you walked by the cage. I have no idea how he developed these phobias – we got him when he was around a month old and they’ve always been there. He’s also afraid of certain foods (corn on the cob). <snip> Any idea about what we could give him to help calm him down and keep stress as low as possible?

To me your problem sounds like it requires a training solution and not a “drug” solution.  These phobias are all things that can be overcome with proper training methods, a little effort on your part, and of course some patience.  It sounds like you have the patience.

Have you made any organized efforts to train this bird to accept these colors or food items? and if so what methods have you attempted to use? If you have made the effort but mostly failed then is sounds to me like you are probably using the wrong training methods.

My own method of choice, for which I have had great success in over coming fear of hands in several Amazons, has been a form of “clicker training”.  I start out by teaching “targeting” (touch the end of a target stick, click and reinforce) and then work on something like a “Big Eagle” (full wing spread) or a retrieve (a close-up version of fetch). After the bird has learned these simple “tricks” then I know that he understands the basic rules of the training game we are now playing and is thus ready to begin learning to overcome his fears. The key to this is good communication skills and high motivation – both are trade marks of clicker training.

Now  that the bird understands that there are thing he can do that will trigger me to give him something that he wants, we can begin showing him some of those things – specifically related to the fear areas – and he will begin to see these items or areas as being a good thing rather than a bad thing – assuming we do not move too quickly.  I have taken a Mealy Amazon who would let me pick him up but would not let me touch him and within two weeks had him putting his head down to be scratched. I have done the same with a Salvin’s Amazon and a Lilac Crowned Amazon, though these two took me a bit longer due to not having trained them with the preliminary “tricks” first. I also use reinforcement training (basic clicker training) with my freeflight training and have had great success – currently flying 7 birds outdoors.

Chris Biro


It’s possible avian species are more resistant (or more sensitive) to the damage that haloperidol may cause in humans, but absent extensive evidence it’s prudent to assume avian species may also be damaged.

In humans, tardive dyskinesia usually develops (if at all) after prolonged administration.

However, the syndrome can develop, although much less commonly, after relatively brief treatment periods at low doses. [PDR]

The PDR also says:

Chronic antipsychotic treatment should generally be reserved for   patients who suffer from a chronic illness that, 1) is known to   respond to antipsychotic drugs, and, 2) for whom alternative,    equally effective, but potentially less harmful treatments are   _not_ [emphasis in original] available or appropriate.

Bird owners should be made aware that the drug causes irreversible brain damage (rarely, even after brief low-dose treatment) in some human patients and that avian species may be at similar risk. If a bird’s quality of life is poor, risking the use of haloperidol may be entirely appropriate. Such a case (“Chico,” a YNA) is described at:


[The article originally appeared in PBR.]

However, if the issue is purely cosmetic (e.g., seasonal plucking), risking permanent damage is, in my opinion, inappropriate. Others — perhaps never having seen the damage that may ensue firsthand — may decide the risk is acceptable even for cases of mild plucking