Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making New Things Fun for Your Parrot

My parrots just blow me away sometimes. Or perhaps it is better to say that training with positive reinforcement blows me away. I recently brought Delbert, my yellow naped Amazon parrot to a new location for a photo shoot. He is fully flighted and an extremely competent flyer. Before letting him out, I made sure the room was safe for a flighted parrot. Windows and mirrors were all covered, dogs were outside and no one was allowed to open a door unless he was safe in his travel cage.

New environments can sometimes be pretty frightening to parrots. Delbert has been around a number of new places, but not near as much as I would like him too. So I was going to have to really observe his body language and see how he responded. What I wanted to avoid was my bird flying around the space in a panic.

My first signal that things were probably going to be OK was when he started chatting away while we were doing the final set preparations. He watched from his travel cage and starting asking “Ya wanna come out?”, “Are ya ready?”, “Here we goooooo”

Letting him look at the space for about 20 minutes was a great opportunity for him to acclimate. There are some things that usually evoke a fear response in parrots such as things moving overhead, quick movement nearby…but sometimes it’s the things you don’t expect that you have to watch out for. This is when reading your bird’s body language becomes super important. Although he had been looking at it for some time, a long narrow cardboard box was simply unacceptable. Any steps too close to that would send Delbert circling around the room. Fortunately because of all his recall training he would land on my hand after a few laps. We opted to remove that box while Delbert was far away from it.

Another thing that proved a challenge was the backdrop. The colored drape would occasionally move. This especially happened the moment Delbert would launch off of my hand for a cued flight. Although it took him a bit of time, the way he gradually got past this challenge was by doing simple behaviors and getting reinforced. Delbert loves flying to new people. So for some of our photos he got to fly back and forth between me and new people. This meant treats and attention that he loves. Pairing doing simple A to B flights and getting reinforced made the background fade into …well, the background!

Delbert presented excellent flights on cue, posed like the super model he is for his close ups and enjoyed preening the hair on every head there. He also ended the day snoozing on the photographer’s shoulder, beak grinding away. I suppose technically a photo shoot is “work” but I have to admit it sure felt like fun to me….and I think for Delbert too. (I think we were done shooting way before he decided it was time to wrap it up.) What made it fun was reading his body language and remembering to use positive reinforcement to make sure the experience was a good one for him too. Hmmmm, maybe he has a future in modeling. Look out Zoolander… comes Delbert!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc


Mary Kontrary said...

Delbert sure is a doll! Very handsome, and those eyes!

I've been acclimating my CAG Nickel to accept new places since she came to live with me a little over a year ago, and now she is eager to go to new places with me. I can't recall a time in the past six months when she's exhibited nervousness at being in a new place & meeting new people. She is shy, but as long as she she is either on or near me, she seems to feel safe & likes to interact with others.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree, reading body language is a top priority. Since realizing this, my amazon (Cairo) has become much less of a terror :)

Bryan said...

Delbert definitely looks photogenic. He's lovely!

I totally agree changes can be really frightening to parrots. I could recall my Senegal Parrot, Kermit frantically panicking when attending his first bird outings.

But after constantly bringing him out to new places, letting him socialize and meeting new friends and people every week, he appears more to be more confident and less intimidated by the changes around him.

Since then, I've always make it a habit to bring all birds out for gatherings every week.