Toweling: Friend or Foe

by Wilhelm Kiesselbach


Date last edited:  06/20/12








Every caregiver of a parrot, large or small must be prepared for the occasion when their bird needs to be restrained.  It may be to get him out of the cage quickly, for reinforcement, during training, to clip wings, toenails or to grind the beak. In all cases, the only way to restrain a bird without trauma or injury is to towel him. Veterinarians do it all the time.

Toweling is relatively easy and will not affect your relationship with your bird. The secret is not to let your bird see your hands. (Note: Never use gloves. Gloves resemble hands too closely.)

How to go about it:

Toweling is most effectively accomplished in a confined area. If it is in a room, try to do it in a corner.  If it is done in the cage, you may need to remove perches and toys first.  A darkened room helps because it will momentarily "inactivate" the bird.  If a bird is very docile, you may do it directly from your hand.

The size of the towel should depend on the size of the bird. Larger is not necessarily better because you’ll lose control of the towel or lose the bird in it. Once the bird is in position, drape the towel over him and get control of his head, preferably along the jaws with your thumb and index finger. Use your right hand if you are right handed and your left if you are left handed. Once you have his head, slide one side of the towel underneath him and wrap him in it so the wings are pinioned against his body. Holding on to his head you can now make sure that his head is clear so that he can breathe and has the opportunity to bite the towel. Remember, the towel is the culprit and neither you nor your hands.

If you are restraining a larger bird, a good way to totally control him is the "three finger hold". You use your index finger, your thumb and your middle finger by putting your index finger over the top of his head, while the thumb and middle finger are positioned along his jaws on either side.

It is VERY important to remember not to exert pressure on the chest by grabbing the bird gently around the wings. Pressure on the chest can impede the breathing and inflict serious injury. Usually the towel represents a sufficient cushion.

Helpful Tip: Toweling gets easier with practice. The time to do that is when you can do it playfully and not in an emergency situation. After the bath wrapping the bird in a towel is a way, or playing hide and seek on the couch with a towel is another. After a while the towel becomes a "friend" and not a "foe".

It is important to be decisive and quick about it. Never chase the bird or get yourself into the position to keep retrying to towel him. The longer it takes, the more traumatic and difficult it gets. Also, he who hesitates gets bitten! (Garry A. Gallerstein, D.V.M.). When you get ready to release the bird, release the head last.  Even the tamest bird will bite when frightened.

As in everything you do with your bird, be confident, gentle and affectionate. Nothing will make your bird more nervous than your very own nervousness. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is when you are sure of yourself.

I had to towel a Sulfur Crested Cockatoo, twice a day, for a six weeks to medicate him. After a while, he would come out of his cage and sit down on the floor, waiting for the towel.  I am not sure that he absolutely loved it, but he did not fear it and he did not associate it directly with me. Sweetum, a Congo African Grey, on the other hand hates the towel. When he pouts and refuses to come out of the cage for our daily interaction session, all I have to do is show him the towel and he’ll be out of the cage like a flash. After that interlude, he’ll step up like an angel, inside the cage and out.  Literally for weeks, until the next time. It is important to mention, that he never holds the toweling against me.


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