How to Get Your Bird Used to Toweling for Restraint

How to Get Your Bird Used to Toweling for Restraint

Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

and Why It’s Essential

This is a follow-up to our recent post about learning how to restrain your bird using the zombie death grip.

The grip goes hand-in-hand with toweling a bird when you need to restrain it for maintenance like nail trimming or a first-aid emergency.

Speaking of emergencies. You have to love technology (or not). It’s been a very wet summer so far much of which has come in the form of storms.

Severe storms triggering a loud screeching sound emulating from my phone reminding me that I may have to vacate my location or kiss mine and my birds arse goodbye.

Murphy’s law states “anything that can go wrong will,” I’ve often found Mr. Murphy highly optimistic. One morning more than one of you reading this will wake up and find that a thunder boomer caught your bird off guard and triggered night frights. 

This caused a large broken flight blood feather while flailing it’s wings in the scary darkness. Your bird will be stressed, in pain and pulling the remaining broken blood feather out, is above your pay grade.

An Emergency Is Not the Time to Find Out Your Bird Is Afraid of a Towel and Its Travel Carrier.


You don’t want to have this conversation with your bird while F3 tornados are touching down across town

Begin rant

Why do captive bird keepers seem to be the only sanctimonious pet owners there are?.

I spent 25 years reading raising and showing dogs, I never saw this kind of attitude.

“I learned it this way and you’re wrong, I’m leaving your Facebook site”!

Once again I dared to hold a small bird the way it was shown to me by more than one veterinarian and bird behaviorist.

There are a couple of very prolific and talented authors on Quora. They both have a sizable flock.

Whenever somebody writes about “what kind of bird should I get” “what’s the right bird for a small family” “what’s it like to have an African grey”there is the persistent answer is “don’t even think about it”!

“It’s too much work, they’re noisy and messy”. My favorite is “you need to spend 6 to 8 hours of face time with the bird,” coming from somebody who has for birds so it is opaque to me how he is able to spend 24 to 30 hours of face time each day with his for feather companions?

“Why can no one but you have birds Mr. or Ms. Quora answer person”? Why self-righteousness?

Back in the day, circa 2004/2005 – we used to hold open houses at the birdie boutique up in the Jefferson Park area of Chicago.

Once a month for close to 14 months I believe (before the facility burned to the ground) we would have upwards of 300 people and 100 to 150 birds descend upon our 10,000 ft.² space – to learn about keeping birds as pets.

We had rescues alongside of breeders with veterinarians available to answer very specific questions. We had a beacon nail trimming booth. We had guest lecturers.

Personally, I handled between 500 to 1000 different birds that year. Thus the foundation of my knowledge base was laid.

After the fire, we morphed into a company more focused on the Internet. Seems to be the up-and-coming trend these days.

I’ve built cages in countless homes throughout the Chicago metropolitan area and saw that birds were situated properly.

We’ve interacted with tens if not hundreds of thousands of people via email and help desk tickets Exchanging images and videos.

The information we present will always be as accurate and bird-safe as is humanly possible.

Because you disagree with our actions, threatening to not buy from us only confirms what we already know.

If everybody agreed with us 100% of the time, now THAT would be suspect.

The trigger to this land was a video (below) I uploaded to YouTube showing how a toy is big is the bird itself could be easily accessed providing a brilliant foraging and enrichment opportunity (courtesy of Catherine).

“How dare I traumatize that little bird”


So the body of this blog post goes to a place that not enough caged bird keepers go to and that’s common sense maintenance and good bird care.

End rant

We received an inquiry from a Birdie Brunch subscriber.

“I found your pages on the need for and techniques of towel training very useful. Unfortunately, we didn’t know about this need when our female African Grey was young.

In the video of the woman getting her parrot used to the towel in her lap, she did many things with the bird that ours will not permit – so we couldn’t even get started down that suggested path.

Kiele will step up and she will let me lightly stroke her beak. Sometimes, she will bend her head down to let you rub the top of her head. But that is it as far as touching goes — at least with me.

She is a bit more relaxed with a couple of regular visitors to our house.. I’m wondering if you have any more videos or write-ups that could help me get her more relaxed and playful.”

Great question! Let’s walk through the steps we can take:

Try sitting on the floor alone or with another human with the towel to be used in your lap. Have your bird so he or she can watch you and not feel threatened.

Just as you would with a baby or young child begin to play peekaboo with the bird. As your bird begins to show some excitement and enthusiasm for the game, begin to move closer.

After a few peekaboo sessions, get yourself comfortably seated on a chair and take the towel with the long ends hanging over your lap.

Put your bird on your lap on the towel with your bird’s head facing you and begin rubbing and scritching, whatever makes your bird comfortable and relaxed.

Begin to pick up either side of the towel very slowly while saying “peekaboo”.

Do this for another few sessions until you can bring both of your hands (while holding the towel) together while your bird remains comfortable in your lap but is now wrapped loosely by the towel.

As you’re doing this speak in a calm and soothing voice making sure you’re lavishing praise and providing high-value treats like sunflower or millet.

The goal will be for you to be able to take a towel to wherever your bird is perched and lay the towel over the bird then ask your bird to “step up” with the towel on your bird and partially on your arm.


We want to get your bird comfortable in the towel with the towel being used to restrain the bird’s wings. Restrain your bird’s neck with what we affectionately call the zombie death grip which doesn’t choke your bird because parrots have cartilage rings in the trachea. Do be careful not to compress the bird’s chest because that will interfere with its breathing and could suffocate them.


You can let the bird chew on a corner of the towel while you’re performing whatever grooming or maintenance you doing. Just don’t stuff the towel into the bird’s mouth if you are getting bit just move your thumb and forefinger a little higher up the bird’s neck under its beak and you can avoid bites altogether.


The process is similar for your bird to engage anyone or anything. Your bird wants to make your toys her toys. That’s why advocate the use of clicker training to help build trust with any bird. 5 to 10 minutes a day will change the relationship between you and your bird regardless of age.


Another game helping make towels more easily accepted and bird friendly is wing-around-the-towel. This is especially useful for birds with clipped wings deprived of flight an essential source of exercise. 


There are wing flapping exercises that you will want to do with your bird to keep its chest muscles toned – find bird exercise videos here – but a simple exercise of chasing your bird around the towel, making it a fun game will aid in the acceptance of said towel while providing happy calorie-burning activity and human interaction.

Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. My birds don’t like Mr. Towel.
    I never had a problem with Stormy getting into his backpack because I introduced it to him as a toy when he was still in the store. I interacted with him daily from the time he was 3 weeks old and he was hand fed by the proprietors. I occasionally fed him and when he was being weaned I hand fed him the weaning pellets and had some home with me when he came home at 5 months. He met his cage when he was about 3 months. It always came with me so he had good feelings about it. However, there ae times that he won’t get into his cage at night. Usually all my birds get into their cages at night because they know that they will not get their night time “yummies”. But occasionally he wants to stay on the top of the cage. All I need to do is pick up a towel – not threaten him with it – and he runs down to his cage. Sometimes I go near to the cage and I let him fight with it a little but he goes into his cage by himself.
    Gabriella is another story. She is a rescue. I got her when she was 2 years old and she was always growling, lying on her back ant trying to scratch me, and did she bite. She needed to be toweled quite a bit to get her back into her cage. As she got older (she is now 20) she mellowed out and generally goes into her cage by herself. If she needs to go to the Vet or anywhere else, she no longer fights or bites. I open her cage about an hour before it’s time to go and then I close to door. Since she is already out, she steps up and now goes into her cage on her own. I think she (and all my birds) know that they will get a special treat after the visit.
    Once, during a hurricane, a tree fell outside and she thrashed around, breaking a feather. At the time I was not comfortable pulling the feather and it was the middle of the night. At that time she let me towel her, examine the feather and put her in her carrying case surrounded by the towel, until I could take her to the vet in the morning.
    Funny thing about Gabriella. While she is afraid of Mr. Towel, she loves to take showers with me and that means exposure to towels. How ever, in the bathroom I refer to my towel as “Mr. Cuddle” and I always make remarks as I dry myself off like “Ooh, mr. Cuddle, it’s so nice to be cuddled after our bath”.She knows what cuddles are and accepts the bathroom and Mr. Cuddle without any problem!

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