Tuesday, November 18, 2008

My Parrot is Afraid of Toys

Positive reinforcement strategies involve focusing on kind and gentle methods to teach your bird that circumstances that were once frightening now result in desired consequences. To better demonstrate how to apply the principles let’s work through an example. Imagine trying to introduce a new toy into the cage of a bird that responds with fear behaviors:

As the conscientious companion parrot owner approaches her bird’s cage with the new toy, she notices her bird quickly moved to the back of the cage away from the approaching toy. Rather than put the toy in the cage, she decides to take a few steps back until her bird shows behavior that indicates comfort. She then gently and slowly places the toy on the floor in her bird’s line of sight. Each day the companion parrot owner gently moves the toy slightly closer to the cage. All the while noticing if her bird responds with any behavior indicative of fear. If she notices fear responses, she moves the toy away from the cage until the bird shows calm behavior. Over time the companion parrot owner has been able to get the toy so close it is right next to the cage. She then gently hangs the toy on the outside of the cage away from food or water bowls. (This is because she does not want her bird to driven away from his resources by fear.)This process is known as systematic desensitization. It is the idea of gradually exposing a subject to fear producing stimuli, arranged from least frightening to most frightening in combination with a relaxed state.

After the companion parrot owner has achieved this success, she then focuses on using positive reinforcement to train her bird to approach the new toy. An easy way to do this is to use a target. If a bird knows how to follow a target, the owner can present the target to her bird in the cage away from the toy. She then gradually moves the target closer and closer to the new toy. Each approximation is reinforced with food or another desired positive reinforcer. If her bird is especially fearful, many small approximations may be required. It also may take several training sessions for her bird to move close enough to the new toy to touch it.

Now that her bird is close to the toy, the companion parrot owner can work on teaching her bird to touch the toy. One strategy to encourage this action is to place treats on the toy. At this stage in the process her bird might be willing to take the treat off of the toy. This can also be further encouraged with more reinforcement offered from her hands after the bait is eaten. After her bird retrieves several treats placed on the toy, it is likely her bird may touch the toy without the need for a treat as a lure. At this point a bridge and reinforcer can be offered after the bird makes the effort to touch the toy. If touching the toy is particularly challenging, a treat can be held in such a way that the bird must accidentally touch the toy to retrieve the treat. If needed, approximations can continue to include touching the toy for longer periods of time or actually manipulating it with the beak.

Paralyzed with fear? Unlikely. Parrots are more prone to seek opportunities to escape or avoid a situation they find frightening. Avoidance is certainly contradictory with the goal of trying to create the best relationship possible with a companion parrot. Focus on showing sensitivity to fear responses and using positive reinforcement to turn a fearful feathered friend into a confident companion.

For more information on training your parrot visit http://www.goodbirdinc.com/

Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get your Flighted Parrot Back Home Safely

It has been a very busy few months and I have had a hard time getting to the blog. It has been in the back of my head for a long time that I would love to make sure more resources are out there for people with flighted parrots. Too many times I see postings on chat groups in regard to lost birds.

I have posted an article about what to do when a flighted parrot is lost here on this blog, but now it is also available on my website. Here is the link.

It has detailed information on what to do when a parrot flies off and how to retrieve it. Please feel free to share the link with other lists. I hope it will help people get their birds back.

Also I know how panicked people can be when they are searching for a beloved parrot. So I have also prepared some free "Lost Bird Flyers" I don't have all species represented yet, but if you have a nice picture of your bird you would like to share we can make one and post it for others to use.

The flyer is designed so that all you have to do is enter your contact info and details on where you last saw the bird. You can add other items too if you want. But the basic template is there for you.

I recommend downloading the flyer, adding details and printing some to keep on hand. That way if you do ever end up on a search for your bird, no time is wasted making flyers. They are ready to go. Here is the link for the flyers.

I hope you will find these useful. Please feel free to cross post.
Photo: Scarlet Macaw provided by Chris Biro.
Photo taken by Barbara Heidenriech

Barbara Heidenreich

Parrot Podcast at
Copyright 2008 Good Bird Inc