Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sirocco the Kakapo: What to do about Parrot Aggression

Second in the series of blogs on training Sirocco the kakapo. Click here to read the first blog.

Sirocco finally did show some of his undesired behavior. But it wasn’t sexual behavior, it was aggressive behavior. Every night after a pleasant session in the public display area of his enclosure, Sirocco would be released to roam about the larger off-exhibit section. At the top of the hill in the off-exhibit area is where Sirocco had a supplemental feeding station. Each night we had to climb the hill to clean and restock the station.

Kakapo are inactive and slow moving during the day. At night they are an entirely different creature. They can run through brush with incredible speed. When Sirocco heard us at the top of the hill, he raced to meet us. Although Sirocco does many things that are very parrot like, kakapo are at the same time so different from any other parrot I have encountered. I studied his body language as he approached us, trying to determine if he was interested, sexual or was it something else. There were three of us there trying to understand what this bird was communicating. When he tried to bite my boots it finally became clear. We definitely witnessed our first full on display of aggressive behavior. In addition to getting a better handle on body language associated with aggressive behavior we also needed to determine the triggers. We came up with a long list of things we thought caused Sirocco to aggress. (Movement, darkness, squatting down, location, and later I learned that male kakapo will also defend their bowls/territory.) In the end we decided the best thing to do is to have one person prepare his feeding station while he is being trained in the display away from the area where he aggresssed. Then when it is time for him to go explore we wouldn't be near his bowl to trigger aggressive behavior.

However we knew there might be other situations in which avoiding him might not be possible. After Zealandia he was going to return to Maud Island. He would have free range of the island and would likely be coming to visit the rangers at their houses. This meant there could be a situation in which Sirocco might show aggressive behavior. Knowing this we decided it would be worthwhile to train him to do a behavior that is incompatible with attacking. We decided upon stationing. In the display on Zealandia we had already been  training this behavior. A series of logs and stumps made for great training stands and stations for our evening sessions. Our plan was to make several stations near the houses on Maud. If Sirocco had enough history for being reinforced on a station he may very likely choose to go there to get reinforced rather than aggress. Also rangers could redirect Sirocco to his station prior to any undesired behavior being exhibited.

To reduce the likelihood Sirocco would show aggressive behavior near his feeding station we started training him in the daytime. As I like to say he was a “rock star.” He immediately grasped the concept and proved once again how eager and ready he was to learn. As you can see in the clip we gradually added criteria to his stationing. For example we increased the amount of time between delivery of reinforcers. We added some of his known triggers such as movement, squatting down and turning our back to him. By training in the daytime we took away one of the factors that seemed to contribute to aggressive behavior. This allowed us to have successful interactions that we could reinforce. Overtime we could gradually add training this behavior closer to sunset and finally in darkness. As you can see from the video, Sirocco was all about it and ranger Linda did a great job training him. Next time: Sirocco Talks!

Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Training Sirocco the Kakapo

Last May I had the incredible opportunity to meet seven highly endangered kakapo chicks. (Read more and see video here) During my visit one of our conversations centered on a very famous kakapo named Sirocco. Many of you may know Sirocco from the viral video from the BBC TV Series Last Chance to See. Sirocco mated with zoologist Mark Cawardine’s head. I came to learn his behavior was a mixed blessing. On the one hand it lead to a video that threw a great deal of attention to the Kakapo Recovery Program, a program that is having success in part due to public support. On the other hand Sirocco’s persistence was endangering his safety.

During breeding season male kakapo have a desire to mate that is quite likely stronger than any other parrot species I have encountered. Males have nothing to do with nest building or raising offspring. There job is to attract females and mate with as many as possible. They do this through a unique series of tracks (trails) and bowls (small depressions in the ground). Each night these flightless and nocturnal parrots march up the tracks to their bowls. Once the bowl is tidied up the male settles in and begins to suck air into air sacks on his chest. This allows him to produce a low frequency booming call designed to entice females to visit. If a female or just about anything passes near his bowl, the males charges and mounts.

Sirocco is different from other kakapo in that he was hand raised. A respitory illness when he was just a nestling meant he needed extra care. It was learned too late that having been raised without other birds meant Sirocco would never develop an interest in female kakapo. Instead the objects of his affections are people.

The way kakapo live and are now managed is to allow them to behave as naturally as possible. This means they are free to roam their island habitat. Sirocco was no exception. However unlike other kakapo he chose to visit the human accommodations on the island. For a newcomer to the island a Sirocco encounter was at first thrilling. However as the videos I watched revealed things turned sour quickly when Sirocco would relentlessly try to climb up to people’s head to mate. Sirocco even built his bowl near the trail to the outhouse and would ambush rangers on their way for a pit stop. Imagine a 3000 gram parrot who is determined to climb to your head? Even for those with experience with parrots this could be a challenging situation. The concern was that someone might accidentally hurt Sirocco trying to deter his advances.

Having learned Siroccos story I realized positive reinforcement training could help! I was determined to come back and help get Sirocco’s behavior on a better track. I had been traveling to lecture like crazy this fall. I literally came back from one event on a Sunday and flew to New Zealand the next day. But this trip felt more like vacation than work. Even after 20 hours of flying and a 7 hour time difference, I was energized when I landed in Wellington.

My first night meeting Sirocco was one of observation and lots of discussion. He was living in an enclosure at Zealandia, a haven for New Zealand wildlife. Sirocco was there temporarily as an ambassador bird for the project. Over 4000 people came to see a kakapo, for many their first ever. The second night was when the fun really began. It was time to see if Sirocco would respond to training. I like to think I projected a calm exterior, but inside I was tingling with excitement. I approached Sirocco exactly the same way I do any parrot I am meeting for the first time. I showed him what I had (pieces of macadamia nuts), assessed his body language to see if he had any interest and then slowly and carefully offered a treat. His reaction? More macadamia nuts please. Sirocco was clearly going to be an excellent student. He quickly learned to target. He started stepping on arms when cued, and stepping off. It soon became clear we were going to need to come up with a long list of behaviors to have on stand-by because he was learning so fast.

Although it was a blast for me to train Sirocco, the goal was for his caregivers to learn how to influence his behavior. Subsequent sessions were spent making sure the rangers were feeling comfortable with getting Sirocco to do some simple behaviors and train new ones. Things were going so well Sirocco’s minder, Linda and I were wondering if we were ever going to see any of the problem behavior I was there to address. Our moment came several days into his training. I will save that story for the next blog. More to come!

Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Five Most Memorable Moments as an Animal Trainer....So Far

As the year comes to a close, it is a time for reflection. Here are some memorable moments for me in the animal training world. Enjoy!

Bottoms Up!
For five years I was part of a team that presented a bird show at the State Fair of Texas. One of my roles in the show was to do a short segment with a yellow naped Amazon parrot that sings seven songs. While we were on stage a man in his twenties was pacing back and forth off to the side. It was evident things were a little off. As the parrot was singing his little heart out I turned to look at the audience. Rather than smiling faces I saw a giant bare bottom! This meant the audience was getting a great view of the other side. Neither the bird nor I reacted. Instead we continued with our routine. Several men from the front row tackled the guy and pulled him aside. I chatted with many audience members after the show during the meet and greet and hardly anyone noticed. I was amazed.
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Thunk, Thunk, Thunk
For many years I presented bird shows at Disney World in Orlando, FL. One routine involved having a large Eurasian eagle owl fly over the audience and land on a stump at the back of the house. For a fun volunteer experience a guest was invited on stage and the owl would be cued to fly towards and just over the head of the volunteer to land on another perch. This was to give the guest an awesome Kodak moment. However on this particular day the owl flew from her release box with a heavy astro-turf mat clutched in her talons. (The mat is used to catch droppings as she waited for her release.) As she flew to the back of the house the mat hit each and every guest in her flight path in the head. When she landed she sat with the mat firmly in her grasp. Owls have a tendency to hold on to things in their talons at all costs. I couldn’t help but burst into a fit of giggles. In fact I was laughing so hard I was crying. This was because I knew she had to fly back. This meant more face-thunking. Like the great performer she was, she completed the routine flawlessly with her giant mat in her clutches. I know I enjoyed that show immensely. I think the audience members not in her flight path did as well.

Kakapo!
I have met my fair share of celebrities; however no one has made a greater impression on me than Sirocco the kakapo. Sirocco is famous for getting frisky with zoologist Mark Cawardine in this viral video. Kakapo are one of the most interesting species of parrot. They are unique in so many ways. They are nocturnal, flightless, solitary, lek breeding, giant and incredibly endangered. After learning Sirocco’s sexual behavior was a problem, I volunteered my services to see if I could help. Getting to train such an unusual, rare species was thrilling and rewarding. Sirocco took to training like a fish to water. He proved to be an incredible student. My most rewarding moment was when in one session he redirected his sexual behavior to the object we had designated. It convinced me we could get a handle on this problem behavior. I will also never forget traveling with him from the big city of Wellington to his summer home on Maud Island. It took a few car rides, a plane and a boat to get there. To make his boat ride less bumpy he sat on a lap in the cabin and took in the view. Surreal!

Out Go the Lights
I lecture a lot. Sometimes for 6-8 hours in a day. And I love it. I never seem to tire of it. Perhaps it is the pleasure of interacting with an audience. One of my favorites audiences are the folks at Parrot Festival. This annual event is targeted towards anyone with an interest in parrots. One year I was about three quarters of the way through my lecture when the lights flickered and then went out completely. The room had no windows. The doors from the room led to a dark hall. It was truly pitch black. Rather than panicking, somehow we calmly segued into a lengthy Q and A session about parrot behavior problems in complete darkness. People had to shout out questions because a raised hand could not be seen. Amazingly it all went pretty smoothly. Finally the generators kicked in and we continued with the presentation. Turned out the entire grid had gone dark. To add to the excitement a plane flew so close to the hotel we thought it was going to crash! See a clip from my lecture on Parrot Behavior Problems here.



In Your Face
I was lucky enough to make an appearance on the Jay Leno show back in 2000. Once again I had that infamous singing parrot with me. Prior to seeing if the bird would sing, Jay asked me a few questions. While I was answering I was reinforcing the parrot for sitting on his perch and waiting patiently. I was offering sunflower seeds which meant a little extra chewing activity for the parrot. Somehow the bird’s vigorous opening of a sunflower seed resulted in a perfectly aimed shell hitting Jay right in the face! I don’t think either of us could have planned it better. Fortunately the parrot went on to sing his song….although he took his sweet time which made me sweat bullets for a few seconds there. However it was a memorable segment and for a short while was part of their opening sequence for the Tonight Show.

Barbara
Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Friday, December 9, 2011

Too Many Parrot Feathers? Send them to the Feather Distribution Project

Are you one of those parrot lovers who saves your bird’s feathers? Are they now just gathering dust and you are not quite sure what to do with them? Or perhaps you have been struck by the holiday spirit and like the idea of giving a gift that would be very meaningful to someone else. I have the perfect solution for you: The Feather Distribution Project.

Awhile back I was very fortunate to hear Anthropologist Dr Jonathan Reyman lecture on a topic I found fascinating. He explained that feathers were an important part of the culture of native peoples who live in Pueblos of the southwest. As I recall he explained years ago he was doing some work in this area and was asked by the Pueblo Indians if he could help them acquire feathers. Although not connected to the parrot community, Dr Reyman took it upon himself to make a repository for parrot feathers that could be distributed to the people of the Pueblos.

I did not quite understand the impact of this until I had the opportunity to visit two Pueblos myself. It was explained that our group of travelers worked with parrots and could help with feather acquisitions. Although fiercely protective of their culture and ceremonies, we were given a very special presentation that explained the important role feathers play in their religious ceremonies. While the presentation was enlightening what was even more impactful was the deep emotion and gratitude coming from our hosts. We experienced this at both Pueblos we visited. A parrot feather in a vase may be nice for us, but to them it is a connection to the spiritual world. Learning this really affected me. From that moment forward I have saved every feather my parrots drop and sent them to the Feather Distribution Project.



It has been super easy. I have a large baggie that is always ready and waiting for feathers. Once the baggie is full, I label it with the species of birds. I then put everything in a mailing tube to protect the feathers and send them to:

Dr. Jonathan E. Reyman
Illinois State Museum Research & Collections Center
1011 East Ash Street
Springfield, IL 62703-3500

The feathers are not bought or sold. They are given to the Pueblo Indians who submit request forms. This can potentially help protect parrots from being used for feather commerce. In the past Pueblo Indians often had to resort to eBay to acquire feathers…and where those feathers come from and how acquired is often unknown.

The feathers can be dirty, damaged and just about any size. The feathers are cleaned and sterilized at the museum. Damaged feathers are fine because feathers are sometimes cut into elaborate designs. Please only send parrot feathers. Feathers from native North American birds cannot be legally distributed via this avenue.

So if you are not sure what to do with your parrot feathers, consider sending them to the Feather Distribution Project. I can guarantee the recipient of your feather gift will be extremely grateful.

Barbara
Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Good Bird App is Here!

I have been working on this one for awhile, and it is finally here! Announcing the Good Bird app for Android phones! Iphone users your version is almost ready : ) The Good Bird App let's you practice training my parrot Delbert to talk on cue. In other words you get to practice capturing behaviors and inserting the cue. If you just want to hear Delbert talk and give him treats there is an option for that too. Here is the link to download the Good Bird app for Android phones:

Here are the instructions:

Train Delbert the Parrot
Here is your chance to practice training a parrot. The animated Delbert is based on professional animal trainer Barbara Heidenreich's talking Yellow Naped Amazon parrot. You will notice Delbert says quite a few things. The vocalizations the animated parrot makes are actual recordings of the real Delbert. Your goal is to try to capture one of his vocal behaviors and put it on cue.

When your session begins Delbert will start offering behaviors he knows how to do. When Delbert presents a vocal behavior you want to train, reinforce him with a food treat. Simply place your finger on the treat and slide it into his beak. Just like in real life, if you quickly and consistently reinforce the behavior you want, the parrot will offer it more frequently. When this happens pick a cue and try to insert it just before you think the behavior will be offered. You will notice a variety of cues to choose from. The cue gains meaning when inserted just before the behavior is presented and then reinforced. If you have played correctly Delbert will present the behavior you have chosen on cue. To practice your training skills, delete the session and retrain the behavior using a different cue.

Repeat the process for all the different behaviors Delbert knows. You can save your training session and come back to it later. You can also delete your sessions and start over at any time to fine tune your training skills. The animated Delbert learns quicker than a real parrot, however just like in real life you may need to be a patient and observant trainer in order to capture the behavior you want.

Play with Delbert the Parrot
Have fun cueing Delbert the Yellow Naped Amazon parrot to talk and sing. Select your cue and watch him present his behavior. Be sure to reinforce him with a treat for being a good parrot.

Here is the link again. The app is educational and fun and it costs just $1.99. I hope you will check it out. I will post  links for the iphone version as soon as it is available.

Enjoy!
Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/

Medicating Your Parrot

I have an older blue-fronted Amazon parrot. She is at least 25 years old. Since she was an adult when she came into my life she is likely quite a bit older than that. Her body is certainly showing evidence of aging. She was diagnosed with arthritis a number of years ago and has been taking glucosamine daily ever since.

Giving her glucosamine is fortunately relatively easy. Avian veterinarian Dr Scott Echols gave me a resource for excellent quality supplements. I learned from him that supplements are not well regulated and you can’t always be sure you are buying what it says is on the label. The source he recommended is a company called Usana. I buy glucosamine tablets from them and pulverize them. I sprinkle the powder on cooked quinoa (a high protein grain) that my parrot adores.

To pulverize the pills, I use a mortar and pestle, a tool I was introduced to in college chemistry class. It just takes seconds to get a fine powder when you use this ancient tool. I bought mine for a few dollars at World Market. I also use the mortar and pestle to pulverize the heart worm pills I give my dog. Despite their claim to be tasty, my dog is not fond of them. After I grind the pill up I mix it with palatable treats such as cheese or tuna juice. They taught us about acids and bases, how to make soap and the formula for alcohol. But now it turns out the handy dandy mortar and pestle was the best thing I gained from chemistry class.

I also recently learned about another way to give medications that has exciting potential for the parrot world. Dr Susan Clubb and I recently lectured together at the Kaytee Learning Center. She mentioned she has delivered some medications transdermally, especially Haloperidol for parrots with feather destructive behavior. I LOVE this idea. Can you imagine simply gently rubbing a medicated cream onto your parrot’s foot? The medication is then absorbed through the skin. This wonderfully non stressful way of delivering medication is perfect to help maintain trust between the caregiver and bird. Too many birds learn to fear their owners when they end up being toweled over and over to be medicated. It can take a long time for some parrots to trust humans again. Unfortunatley this method is not yet readily available for all types of medication.

This predicament caused by restraint is why I made an eBook to help people learn how to train their parrot to take medication from a syringe. It is a pretty simple behavior to train and one I demonstrate at most of my parrot training workshops. Best of all it also helps avoid having to restrain a parrot to medicate it. However most people don’t take advantage of this resource until it is too late and the bird is already sick. This is a resource to use now, before your parrot is ill. To encourage people to train this behavior right away, I actually offer this resource for free. All you have to do is visit this link for the free eBook offer. You will need to go through the motions of “buying” the eBook. You will see a box for a promo code. Enter the code PARROTRX. This will take the balance of your order to $0. Don’t click “Make Payment” unless the balance says $0. You will immediately be sent an email with a link to download the book.

Please note the eBook works best on PC’s. We had a hard time finding a resource that would work well with both PC’s and Macs. (Wish those two would play nice with each other.)

Just recently I received this wonderful email:

"I want to let you know that your video on medicating birds was extremely helpful. I was able to train my 30 year old Congo African Grey parrot to accept oral antibiotic medication within minutes of being offered the medication in a syringe while he was sitting on a free standing perch. I have been toweling him for years and it was never a positive experience for either of us. I was absolutely shocked when he immediately accepted the antibiotic solution. Your video helped turn an unpleasant experience into a fun event. He willingly swallowed more of the antibiotic than he ever swallowed when held in a towel. Thank you so much for your video. I just wish I had known about it sooner!

Emails like this make my day. It makes me happy to know there is one more parrot who has learned taking medication can be fun! Medicating a parrot is something all parrot owners will likely face at some point in their bird’s life. I hope you find the ideas and resources above helpful to you when that day comes.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc
www.GoodBirdInc.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happy Parrot Sounds!

“Happy” is one of those words that is open to interpretation. However anyone who shares their life with a companion animal knows there are definitely times when our parrots seem to be happy.

One moment for me in which I am pretty sure my blue-throated macaw Blu Lu is happy is when she first goes out into her aviary every day. After she takes a few bites of her diet she starts to squeal. She seems to be expressing a joy for life in those moments. Because I tend to associate the squeal with moments of fun for her it is a sound I have tried to reinforce in the house. For example if she happens to squeal when inside I give her lots of attention or squeal back. At first I was reinforcing squealing because I thought it was cute. It turns out my decision was beneficial in other ways.

When I return to the house after errands or travel, my parrots tend to greet me with a plethora of vocalizations. Delbert my yellow-naped Amazon parrot offers every word and song he knows, which I love. Blu Lu used to let out a blood curdling scream when she was thrilled I was home. I definitely did not want to reinforce that behavior. She quickly learned the scream got her nothing. However the squeal most definitely got a response and pretty soon my welcome home from Blu Lu turned into a squeal.


Listen to Blu Lu's squeals. Note there is no picture for this example.

My other Amazon Tarah also learned to replace screaming with a pleasant sound. Tarah now whistles when she wants attention or recognizes I am home. When you look at vocalizations, even language, as just another set of behaviors that get reinforced you begin to see how much influence we have over the sounds our parrots emit.

Many people speak of their birds learning to say the right thing at the right moment. If you look at the principles of learning it certainly makes sense that a parrot can learn to generalize a series of words for certain conditions. For example, anytime Delbert shows body language that indicates a fear response, I usually say “That was scary.” He has now associated that phrase with a fear response. He often will say “That was scary” right after he was frightened by something. Of course had I used the words “That was fun” in those moments, he would have learned a phrase that seems inappropriate to us. It is not so much the words that matter, but what they are paired with and under what conditions. Delbert will also say “That was scary” at other times when no fear response is happening. And because I might decide to put the words on cue, I could train him to say the phrase whenever I cue him. It truly is amazing the power we have to shape what and when our birds say when they vocalize.

When Blu Lu vocalizes outside in her aviary I am not in control of the reinforcer. She is! For her in those moments those vocalizations seem to be intrinsically rewarding. I am usually far from her sight, listening and smiling knowing my parrot is having a great time. Pay attention to your parrot’s vocalizations. You might find you are reinforcing some great sounds, and maybe some not so pleasant ones. Fortunately you have the power to make sure the great ones happen more frequently. To learn more about stopping your parrot from screaming for attention just fill out the form below to receive a free article about how I trained my parrot Tarah to whistle for my attention. Keep an eye out for the Fall 2011 issue of the digital publication Good Bird Magazine. It also has an article about common mistakes people make when trying to address parrot screaming problems. It is due out soon!



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Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc
www.GoodBirdInc.com

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interview with a Zoologist


I recently got to participate in an uber cool project. A very creative writer named Gaby Dunn decided to interview 100 people in one year. Her subjects are about as diverse as you can imagine. One title on her list was a zoologist/zookeeper. My degree is in zoology and I have certainly scooped up my fair share of poop in zoos, which apparently qualified me for the interview.

Gaby and I met in New York City, the night before Hurricane Irene was to arrive. The weather was picture perfect as we chatted over drinks and dinner, just a few blocks from the Museum of Natural History.

I will let Gaby tell the rest of the story. Here is the link to the interview. 100 Interviews

Barbara Heidenreich
Good Bird Inc

Monday, August 1, 2011

Heidi Fleiss Prostitutes to Parrots – More Parrots Please

Like a lot of parrot lovers I was anxious to see the new Heidi Fleiss Prostitutes to Parrots program on Animal Planet. I had known it was in the works for quite a while now. The name Heidi Fleiss immediately conjures up all sorts of salacious stories and no doubt was the hook to get people to watch. However as a parrot person my hook was the twenty macaws! Finally a program featuring parrots. There are millions of parrot people who have been waiting for the world to learn what we already know. Sharing your life with a parrot can be truly amazing.

Clearly Heidi adores her parrots and her concern for their well being is genuine. I got that and I do think other parrots lovers could relate. However I do wonder about the folks who don’t have parrots?

The most important personalities overlooked in this program where the stars themselves, the parrots. Parrot people do tend to be labeled as crazy. Heidi herself keeps referring to herself as acting like a crazy parrot person. While there were a few things about her parrot care that could be less odd, I do understand why she loves her birds. But without spending some time focusing on what it is about parrots that makes them so important to her I don’t think the rest of the world got the message. Instead we see Heidi being obsessive and reclusive playing with a mob of macaws who don’t seem to do much of anything except take over the house and bite the hired help.

I know that is not the image I want people to see when they think about pet parrots. And I tend to think that is not what Heidi would want either. Television is a powerful tool. It can entertain but it can also educate. I think there is a huge opportunity to help people understand the powerful positive aspects of life with parrots. People can learn what makes them special, how to provide excellent care, what to do about those biting behaviors, how to provide a great habitat for them (and why spending $2000 a month on pistachios is probably not such a good thing for parrots.) I do hope if the show lasts beyond the pilot the producers will let us get to know the parrots. There is a story there that people want to see.

Right now it seems most television is about when animals attack, or about people who hoard animals or keep dangerous pets. It reminds me when it was OK to dress chimpanzees in tutus and have them ride bikes. People flocked to the attraction and money was made. However at some point somebody stood up and said that is the wrong message to send about animals. And now most of the world doesn’t support that type of animal experience.

I think we are at similar crossroads with animal related TV. Where is the television that showcases the positive impact animals have on our lives? I personally have no interest in those animal attack type programs and I have a feeling I am not alone on this one. Let me know what you think in the comments below and I will make sure to let Animal Planet know what you would like to see when it comes to parrot related television.

Barbara Heidenreich
www.GoodBirdInc.com
Copyright 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Building Trust with Your Parrot

Today I was stroking my yellow naped amazon parrot Delbert’s foot. I was marveling at how such a little tiny creature would sit there so relaxed while I gently touched him. Seriously, it really is a moving experience when you think about it. An animal that can easily fly away from me or perhaps bite me hard enough to draw blood is allowing and enjoying me touching his feet. I think that is really cool. And in a weird way, a proud moment. The pride comes in because I know it is the choices I have made when interacting with my parrot that allows me this wonderful privilege.

Building trust with your parrot is a very realistic goal. What it requires is tossing out those old school notions about how to interact with animals. You are not going to be the boss, your bird does not have to obey you, and your parrot doesn’t have to do anything right this second.

Instead you are going to be your parrot’s partner, his provider of all things wonderful and most of all, you will be his friend.

Here are a few tips to help you start building a trusting relationship with your parrot.

1. Avoid using force to get your parrot to do something you want.
2. Avoid doing anything that creates a fear response. (You will need to learn to be very attentive to your bird’s body language so you know what the slightest fear response looks like.)
3. Avoid doing anything that creates aggressive behavior. (Just as with fear responses you will want to become very familiar with aggressive body language to avoid creating it.)
4. Empower your parrot to choose to participate. Let him walk or fly away when he wants to.

Some may be thinking “With my parrot having all that freedom to choose how in the world will I get him to be well behaved and do what I ask when needed?”….like step up when it is time to go back in the cage. This is where learning about how to train with positive reinforcement will be very important.

Positive reinforcement training will teach your parrot that when he does cooperate with your requests wonderful things happen. Like he gets treats, head scratches, cuddles or attention. Or all of the above! When you use this approach you get a parrot who can’t wait to do what you ask. And best of all you get a parrot who really enjoys interacting with you.

Follow these tips and not only will your parrot learn to trust you, but you will also find your relationship will blossom. Making that connection with a parrot is very rewarding for you both when you train with positive reinforcement. You can learn more about how to train your parrot and build trust from my DVDs Parrot Behavior and Training: An Introduction to Training and also my Live Workshop DVD The Basics of Parrot Training. Also check out the DVD Understanding Parrot Body Language to fine tune your sensitivity to fear and aggressive behaviors.

I get lots of emails about people having turned their relationship with their companion parrot around by following these strategies. I can’t wait to hear your story!

Happy Training!

Barbara
Barbara Heidenreich
www.GoodBirdInc.com
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Help! My Parrot Laid an Egg


A veterinarian once said to me there are two times in birds life when it looks like it is dying. When it is dying and when it is laying an egg. It is no wonder I sometimes get emails from panicked parrot owners when they see their feathered friends “give birth” to an object that seems to be as big as their bird.

Egg laying can be problematic. Therefore if you would prefer your parrot be a companion bird and not a breeder, first be sure to avoid doing things that lead to reproductive behaviors. There is a great article about this in the free sample of the digital publication Good Bird Magazine.

But what do you do if your bird does lay an egg and you have no intentions of adding more parrots to the household? Here are a few tips to help you out.

If your parrot lays an egg, leave it alone for a few days. Watch your bird to see if she shows any interest in the egg. She may ignore it as first. Parrots often take a few days to lay a full clutch of eggs. This can be as many as three eggs. Leaving the egg alone for awhile gives your bird time to lay more if she is going to, and then wait and see if she decides to sit on them. Many parrots will simply ignore the eggs as times passes. If this is the case, go ahead and remove the eggs and throw them away.

However if your bird does show interest in the eggs, you will want to try another strategy. Parrots often show strong aggressive behavior when they have eggs. Wait for a moment when your parrot is not attending her eggs. Remove the eggs and addle them. This means to shake them vigorously. The goal is to break the yolk inside the egg. This will prevent the eggs from hatching if they are fertile. Then put the eggs back. Handling the eggs will not cause your parrot to abandon them. If you know the eggs are not fertile (for example there is no male around) addling is not necessary. Just let your parrot sit on the eggs.

During this time your parrot may stay tight to her eggs most of the time. She may eat and poop infrequently. And when she does eliminate it is usually in large amounts and sometimes smelly (from holding it for long periods of time.)

The reason you do not want to pull the eggs is that this can stimulate your parrot to lay even more eggs. To make the shell of the egg your parrot must pull calcium from other parts of the body. Too much egg laying can cause your parrot to be calcium deficient which can be life threatening for your bird.

Eventually when the eggs do not hatch your parrot will abandon them. Once this happens you are free to pull them and throw them away. It may take several weeks for your bird to give up.

Remember your first line of defense is to prevent egg laying by avoiding doing things that encourage reproductive behavior. Do this and you won’t ever have to worry about your parrot laying an egg. Of course if your parrot is a boy and he lays an egg, you might want to get your money back on your DNA sexing test.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011
www.GoodBirdInc.com

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rules for Parrots

Sometimes it seems there are a lot of rules when it comes to parrots.

Never have a parrot on your shoulder.
Your parrot should always be clipped.
Your parrot must obey the step up command.
You must show your parrot you are the boss.
Never let your parrot higher than your heart.
Never let your parrot out when other pets are around.
Your parrot must sleep in a sleep cage.
Your parrot must get 12 hours of sleep at night.

That is just a short list of things we have been told about parrots. And I am here to say I do not ascribe to a single one of those rules. I am sure those rules were designed with the intent to help people with their parrots. However I often find when I challenge commonly held beliefs about animals it opens the door to a whole new way of thinking. And in many cases it enhances my life with my parrots and other animals in ways I never could have imagined.

Here is an example of “rule breaking” in my house and why it is absolutely permitted. I allow my pets to learn to interact with each other. I recently added a new member to the family. A bunny! Her name is Loretta and she is a Holland Lop Eared rabbit. Initially she was intended to be a temporary visitor, but it soon became clear she and I made a connection. My spare bedroom became her new home. She is litter box trained so it was no trouble to give her free range of the room. My two cockatiels also fly free in this room. They are skilled fliers and I quite rightly assumed if they ever felt uncomfortable near the rabbit they would just fly away.

However what I have discovered is that the rabbit is enriching for the cockatiels and vice versa. The rabbit will hop over to a pile of Timothy hay and immediately a cockatiel will fly down to join the bunny. I change out the litter in the litter box and everyone comes over to investigate. If I sit on the floor with the bunny, I immediately have a cockatiel fly down and land on my knee. Many times I walk into the room to find the cockatiels foraging on the ground while bunny is flopped on her side observing and relaxing.


It reminds me of when I worked in a behavior lab in college. There was a bunny and a crow that had free range of the lab. The two would often be found interacting together or with the same enrichment item. It also reminded of zoos that would put a snake in with a tortoise. There seemed to be evidence that the presence of another animal helped reduce stress.

I can relate. Some of my most relaxing moments are when my dog is resting by my side, while a parrot preens my eyebrows, or sitting with a bunny in my lap and a cockatiel on my head.

People sometimes are gravely concerned about having animals together such as dogs and parrots. Certainly some dogs may be a danger to another animal and are best kept separate. (Even rabbits are capable of some pretty scary stuff) However it is important to note that dogs can definitely be trained to behave around other pets. I have plenty of daily evidence in my home that parrots and dogs can coexist without incident. Rebecca O ‘Connor wrote a great piece about how dogs are very much able to differentiate their behavior around different birds. http://heckledbyparrots.com/blog/2008/12/dogs-parrots-some-training-tips/

And in this one from her falconry blog you can see pictures of her dog and falcon together. Falconry is a perfect example of how a dog and a bird can be trained to work as a team. Furthermore the dog has to know the difference between the bird that is hunting and the one being hunted. http://operationdeltaduck.com/blog/2010/12/looking-for-ducks-in-the-desert-part-3/

I think we often underestimate just what learning machines animals are. Rather than placing rules and restrictions on everything I think it is wise to assess the risk/benefit for each individual situation. Then decide what works best for your household.

Despite being told for years not to allow parrots on our shoulders, I have found roughly 90% of every audience I lecture to does not follow this rule. My guess is that for those folks the benefits far outweighs the risk. And it certainly does in my household. Time to see if my Blue Fronted Amazon parrot is in the mood to sit on my shoulder and preen my eyebrows! This is one rule I look forward to breaking every evening.

Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Friday, June 10, 2011

Parrot Conservation and You!

Parrot people are pretty amazing. One of the things I find so wonderful about people who share their lives with parrots is that they often are the same folks who are saving parrots in the wild. Yup, it’s true. Parrot owners are a huge source of funding for parrot conservation. I love that!


The connection they make with the parrots in their home often leads to learning more about their wild counterparts and what is being done to protect them. I have to say that is exactly what happened to me. I had budgies as a child, but my first large parrot came into my life in 1987. Ever since then I have been fascinated with learning more about parrots. Not long after that I learned about a very unique parrot called the Kakapo.

This large (2000 gram) flightless bird struck me as the coolest parrot ever! I thought it was so interesting that the males climb mountains, build a bowl, suck in air and boom for a mate. For a behavior geek like me this is truly fascinating. When I also learned they were one of the rarest parrots on earth I became even more interested.

When I finally had a chance to visit New Zealand (the home of the Kakapo) I did my best to try to connect with the folks saving these birds in the wild. On my third trip to this beautiful country I finally had my opportunity.

The story of the Kakapo Recovery Programme is pretty inspiring. Kakapos were nearly wiped out completely by introduced stoats, rats, dogs and cats. Animal heroes such as Richard Henry and Don Merton went to great lengths to find safe island homes for the few remaining birds. These birds now live on Codfish Island and are closely monitored. Unfortunately they need more than an island to survive. They need genetic diversity, higher numbers and a plentiful food supply during breeding season. Different strategies have been implemented to address these issues and so far they seem to be working. Kakapo numbers are up to 131 individuals (from a low of 50). However as you can imagine 131 birds is still a small population and there is much more work to be done.

As a parrot enthusiast I wanted to know what I could do to help. As with any conservation project it requires people who care and of course funding to keep it going. We brainstormed some ideas on that day (and my head was spinning with even more on the flight home.)

Our visit took a pleasant unexpected twist. An opportunity to visit with some Kakapo chicks was possible. We only had one spare day to make it happen. The odds were against us. It was a 12 hour drive, flights were coming up as $1000! And time was not on our side. Miraculously we found a travel agent who found us reasonable flights. The next day however the airport closed down due to weather and our scheduled flight was canceled. We finally took off at 4PM. The next flight was delayed due to mechanical errors. My heart was sinking. Finally we made it into the air! We landed at our destination around 8PM and were whisked away straight to seven Kakapo chicks!

Have you ever met someone that awed you? That moved you? That made you want do important and worthwhile things with your life? Meeting the Kakapo chicks did just that for me. Knowing these individuals represented hope for the species and that each bird was so incredibly important made this encounter so emotionally moving for me. I could not stop replaying the events in my head for days. Here is a video clip of the encounter. http://youtu.be/GI4Q0KvaDD0

I hope the video gives you a little taste of the moment and hopefully moves you to take action to save rare parrot species. You can support the Kakapo Recovery Programme directly via their website. You can learn more about the Kakapo from the film The Unnatural History of the Kakapo. You can also follow Sirocco the official Spokesbird for the project on facebook.

The parrots in our lives give us such joy. I know every time I interact with my birds I will reflect upon my Kakapo encounter and be inspired to help parrots in the wild. If you have additional ideas to help raise awareness and funding please be sure to add your comments. Your ideas can help Kakapo and other species such as the Blue Throated Macaw.

Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Parrots and Sense of Smell


I always find it interesting how knowledge changes. We are told one thing for years and then suddenly Whammo! There is undeniable evidence that what you have heard for as long as you can remember is inaccurate.

Remember when everyone used to think parrots were trying to dominate you? Thankfully that notion is for the most part eeking it’s way out of the parrot community. But here is one that I have often thought about and finally have evidence! Do parrots have a sense of smell? Certainly the physical evidence shows they don’t have a lot of receptors for scent. We are also told their taste buds are limited compared to ours. However we certainly see parrots respond eagerly to foods they appear to like. We can only assume taste must be involved in there somehow.

Scent on the other hand has still been a big question mark for me. I often ask myself if they have a poor sense of smell why do parrots emit such interesting odors? Those of you who have Amazon parrots certainly know what I mean. There is a very strong odor that seems to emanate from their respiratory system. That odor must mean something to someone. And my guess that someone is another Amazon parrot.

I have had this discussion with many veterinarians and we often come to the conclusion that perhaps they have scent receptors for that particular odor. However even with that information I have never noticed a parrot actively smelling something. I had never observed a parrot investigating something with his nares in the way a mammal might with his nose.

On a recent trip to New Zealand I finally met a parrot who clearly responds to smells. The bird in question is called a kaka. They are similar to a kea, but smaller and browner in coloration. The keeper told us this bird responded to smells. And she was right! He would press his nares against your hair or skin, inhale and then preen himself. You could actually hear him inhaling as he did it. The keeper mentioned they often offer strips of fabric with different scents on them for enrichment. She said he responds with great enthusiasm.

Here is a video clip of Robin Shewokis and me getting sniffed.


We were also told that a researcher is currently working on testing scent detection with kakapo, kea and kaka and has some interesting results. I can’t wait to read that paper when it is ready. Time to perhaps officially change one of the truths we have often held to be true about parrots. Exciting!

Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is a Parrot the Right Pet for You?

Not too long ago Kaytee launched a survey to gather more information on the reasons people relinquish parrots. Many readers of this blog and subscribers to the Good Bird Inc mailing list contributed their experiences to the survey. Dr Susan Clubb evaluated the results and produced a very in-depth document that is available on the Kaytee website. The results were quite intriguing and I highly recommend parrot enthusiasts read the report.

I, like many others, have found sharing my life with parrots to be extremely enlightening, fulfilling and enjoyable. In turn I try to make sure their life is equally engaging. I have been fortunate to meet many bird lovers who successfully share their lives with parrots. Their presence can help us learn to appreciate these amazing creatures and also their wild counterparts. I personally believe helping people connect with animals is important to making us better human beings. We can learn to be kind, gentle and nurturing.

However in order for that connection to have the effect I hope for, people need to have the tools for success. This means being prepared for a life with parrots. Knowing what to expect can help prevent families from getting into a situation that might not be the right fit for their household. And sometimes all it takes is a little information to help prevent behavior problems that can lead to parrot relinquishment. To help potential parrot owners be informed Kaytee has created a new resource that is based on the results of the survey. It is a twenty minute video called Bringing Birdie Home.


If you are a new parrot owner or are considering acquiring a parrot, I highly recommend you watch this video. It provides a brief introduction into what to expect. You will learn about diet, veterinary care, household dangers, behavior and training, enrichment and managing the mess. It will get you started on the right path and help you enjoy your life with a parrot. The video is a free resource and is also available as a pdf. All of us involved hope resources such as Bringing Birdie Home will help prevent parrot relinquishment and allow people to experience the joy of sharing your life with a parrot. I do hope you will check it out and share it with others. Here is the direct link to the video. http://youtu.be/zbhhAFVJjE8 Cross posting/sharing is encouraged!

Barbara Heidenreich
www.GoodBirdInc.com
Copyright 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

Managing Parrot Mess

Once a zookeeper, always a zookeeper. I admit I was trained well. When I started my career in zoos back in 1990 I worked for the best kind of boss a newbie could have….a stickler for cleanliness and exceptional animal care. The standards were high but they were enforced with a gentle hand. I never resented having to keep animal enclosures meticulous. I remember at one zoo where I worked we had to rake a dirt floor to remove animal waste and debris. One of my coworkers commented you are raking the dirt to make a pile of dirt to throw away. He was right …even the dirt had to be clean! I admit that was a bit of overkill, but to this day I take pride in putting my animals first.

This means every morning the first thing I do is prepare parrot diets and clean enclosures. I aim to have a training session and one on one time with my birds every morning. Enrichment is changed out daily. And access to sunshine and fresh air for my parrots is also on my daily check off list. Taking care of the animals comes before checking email, taking a shower or diving into the day’s workload. Sometimes this means it might be 11 AM before emails get answered.

I suppose it could easily become a chore, but in reality I thoroughly enjoy that part of the day. I probably even take a little longer than I should just to allow more time to enjoy the companion parrots in my life.

One of the really great benefits to being a zookeeper is you very quickly learn ways to effectively and efficiently clean parrot enclosures. I have often thought parrot rescues should take a tip from zoos and set up there housing just as a zoo would instead of using cages designed for people’s homes. You can thoroughly clean 30 large parrot enclosures in a jiffy with the right set up. We don’t quite have that luxury in our homes. But there are some things you can do to make the job easier.

Here are a few cleaning tips:

• Spray water on caked on food or droppings and let it sit for 10 minutes. You will find it wipes up easily after a few minutes of soaking.

• Keep a set of cleaning utensils (sponges, paper towels, garbage bags, clean paper) in every bird area. It saves you a lot of walking.

• Invest in an electric carpet sweeper. These are great for picking up big chunks and keeping daily clean up quick and under control.

• Use washable throw rugs under parrot perches. Have plenty of extra on hand to trade out when dirty. I have found inexpensive ones at IKEA.

• Buy rolls or bundles of newsprint at packaging stores. I get mine at Eco-Box. Place layers in the cage. Remove layers as they get soiled.

Have you got a great cleaning tip? Leave it in the comments below. Lots of parrot lovers will thank you.


Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Petting Your Parrot

People often warn of the dangers of petting your parrot. Usually they are referring to the kind of touching that leads your parrot to believe you two would make lovely children together. This might include stroking under your parrot’s wings or near the base of his tail. This is often accompanied by your parrot affectionately regurgitating some smelly gooey food to share with you. This then often leads to your parrot attacking anyone who dare comes near the two of you…. a literal pair of lovebirds.

Touching parrots in a way that encourages courtship and sexual behavior is “just asking for it.” In other words you are setting yourself up for behavior problems that could include aggressive behavior, chronic egg laying, territorial issues and more. Check out Pamela Clark’s article on Hormone Production in parrots in the free sample of our digital publication Good Bird Magazine for more on behavior problems resulting from reproductive behavior.

Humans are super tactile creatures. We just love to touch things. And touching our pets can be a magical experience. My friends who visit my house say they get to be Snow White when they are here. Birds land on their heads. Small furry mammals hop into their lap and snuggle up against them. I love playing Snow White too and I could not imagine it being as much fun if I did not get to touch the animals. Therefore petting the parrots and other animals in my home is a big part of life. However it is done with forethought. Especially when it comes to parrots.

People tend to pet animals from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails. This does work for many mammals. Birds on the other hand…not so much. Parrots can get used to being stroked this way. But I would say it is not their preferred method to be touched. Most parrots prefer to have only the feathers on their head touched. And get this…they want you to stroke towards the beak, not the tail. A parrot who is enjoying having his head scratched will fluff all of his feathers up in response to touch. Check out Delbert, my yellow naped Amazon parrot enjoying a head scratch.



A few favorite spots on most parrots include under the beak, nape of the neck, over the ears and just above the nares. Parrots can’t reach these feathers to preen. Therefore they rely on other parrots or their human companions to take on this task. I believe this is why they are more receptive to touch on their head’s as opposed to other parts of their body.

There are of course parrots who do like having their bodies touched. Blu Lu the blue throated macaw is one such parrot. Even on her body she prefers the feathers are scratched opposite to the way they grow. As mentioned earlier I do have to be careful that touching her body does not lead to sexual or courtship behavior. So this is offered in moderation. I want her to be friendly with many people and encouraging a mate-like relationship with me will make that goal difficult to maintain.

Take a look at how your parrot responds to touch. Is he tolerating it? Or do you have a magic touch and he is getting a tad over stimulated? Hopefully you have found the happy medium, just enough to make it fun for you both.

Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Parrot Toy Safety

Apparently whenever a weird sound comes from my yellow naped Amazon parrot’s cage I say “Are you all right?” Because now my bird, Delbert offers an “Are you all right?” whenever he falls off a perch or plays so rough with a toy it drops to the floor of the cage. He has also learned to say “Is that scary?” at what always seems to be the appropriate moment. Gotta love a talking parrot!

However the other day instead of “Are you all right” I heard a very bizarre half growl, half screech. My bird was very distressed. It turned out he had loosened one of the clips that is used to hang toys in his cage. And now he managed to get it stuck on his beak! He was definitely not happy. Fortunately he was able to remove the offensive clip on his own. However it was a good reminder that even the most innocuous, every day item can sometimes be a hazard.

I am very careful about what toys go into my parrot’s cages. I pay attention to the length of exposed chain, loose threads, breakable parts, types of metal, where manufactured, what types of colorings and more go into each toy my parrots might be exposed to. This is all in an effort to allow my birds to have as much fun as possible with minimal risk. But the truth is there is always some risk that goes unforeseen. I never would have thought the typical clip used for parrot toys might get stuck on my bird’s beak. Now I make sure each clip is screwed down tightly daily.

Another risk I did not foresee has to do with foraging toys. Foraging for enrichment is an awesome way to enhance your parrot’s life. I use a variety of foraging toys with my parrots including the foraging green from The Leather Elves seen here with one of my cockatiels. Cockatiels being grass seed eaters love to forage on flat surfaces.


I also make it a point to rotate toys every day. This is to keep going back into the cage a very rewarding experience for my birds. One day I went to put a foraging toy in the cage that had not been used in a while. I opened it up to refill it only to find a plethora of mold! I had inadvertently left some old pellets in the toy. Thanks goodness I checked before putting it in my parrot’s cage.

Does this mean I will no longer use foraging toys or use clips to hang toys? No. Their benefits far outweigh the risks. (The number of parrot behavior problems that can be circumvented with the help of enrichment is enormeous!) It does mean however that I will be more diligent about checking toys for leftover food and screwing down clips. Having a parrot or any pet for that matter comes with risks and responsibility. In trying to give your pets great quality of life you will no doubt come up against situations that will require you to decide if the benefit outweighs the risk and are there things you can do to reduce risk. Some will decide never to use a certain toy, or keep their bird flighted or allow their bird near other parrots. And others will find ways to make those same situations work in their household. It is important to evaluate what works in your home. And what works for you, may not work for someone else.

In any case I am happy to report that today every parrot in this house is safely and happily enjoying their toys.

Barbara Heidenreich
http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Training Your Parrot to Like a Towel

Does your parrot high tail it out of town when a towel is in sight? More than likely it means at some point in his life something scary happened with a towel. Perhaps your bird had to be captured and restrained for a medical emergency. In a moment like that your veterinarian may have to take action right away.

However if your bird is healthy and not in need of immediate medical attention consider taking some time to train your parrot to LOVE towels. I say love because my birds have become obsessed with them thanks to some positive reinforcement training.

Delbert my yellow naped Amazon parrot will fly across the room to land on one. And as you can see in this clip of Blu Lu the blue throated macaw I hardly get to sit down before she lands on the towel in my lap. That is because she knows it means she gets to roll around on her back and get showered with head scratches. (I think it is adorable that she rolls over on her back all by herself.)

I also take advantage of this time to do things a veterinarian might need to do. These include wrapping her in the towel and moving her. It also means feeling her chest, looking at her vent and stretching out her wings. I also trim her toe nails when she is comfortably resting on her back on the towel.

To her it is all fun. I sometimes incorporate foot toys for her to juggle with her feet and beak. To me this is what it means to play with your bird in a towel.

An important part of this is that she is empowered to leave if she wants to. You’ll notice she sticks around for more. That is a good sign. A skilled flyer like her will just leave if the activity is not to her liking.

If you can’t get a towel even in the same room with your bird I do have a DVD that shows you how to train the behavior step by step. It is called Train Your Parrot for the Veterinary Exam. The birds in the video are mostly rescued birds with some bad experiences in their past. You will see even a bird with a questionable past can learn that towels now result in good consequences. There is also information on how to train your parrot to step on a scale, step onto strangers, enter a transport cage and more. (All of these are behaviors that can make life a little less stressful when it is time to visit your avian veterinarian.)

Having Blu Lu trained for toweling gives me peace of mind. I feel confident we have a good chance of keeping her next vet visit super positive.

To help you get inspired to train your parrot for a medical behavior I have a very special gift for readers of this blog. Just click on "free parrot training resource" and enter the code PARROTRX when you check out. It should let you get a free eBook on how to train your parrot to take oral medication.

Every parrot owner should train their birds for this behavior before illness strikes. It is an easy behavior to train and will avoid you having to grab and restrain your bird to give medication, which can cause your bird to lose trust in you. Train this behavior ASAP…you will be glad you did.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011
For quality information on parrot training visit www.GoodBirdInc.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Parrot Talks on Cue!


I recently received a link to a video that made me grin ear to ear. I absolutely love it when people watch one of my DVDs, read one of my books or an article I wrote and apply the information at home. A teacher’s greatest reward is a successful student. And the students of the day are Einstein the Texan Talking Parrot and her caregiver Marcia!

You may know them from my latest DVD Train Your Parrot to Talk. Marcia, Jeff and Einstein the African Grey Parrot all graciously agreed to appear in the DVD. In the DVD Marcia and Jeff shared their experience of living with a very gifted talking parrot. Einstein also lends her vocalizations to the accompanying CD ROM of talking parrot recordings. I have known Marcia and Jeff for a few years now. One thing they had not yet spent too much time on was putting Einstein’s many vocalizations on cue.

After receiving their copies of the Train Your Parrot to Talk DVD they went for it. And I am over the top excited for them. Check out this clip of Marcia demonstrating all the things she has already put on cue. This was all within a few weeks of the DVD coming out. You go girl! I love the "where's the mouse" behavior. Awesome cue!

If you have had success using the Good Bird Inc resources to train your parrot, drop me a line and tell me about your experience. I really do love hearing what you are doing with your parrots at home. Take some video and a few pictures too. Your story could end up in Good Bird Magazine and you and your parrot can be an inspiration to others. Just like Einstein.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc
For quality information on parrot training visit www.GoodBirdInc.com

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fun Video Clips of My Amazon Parrot Singing

My yellow naped amazon parrot Delbert was in the mood to sing this morning. He pretty much is every morning, but today I quickly set up a video camera to capture a few of his songs. Here they are. Enjoy!




To learn more about training your parrot to talk and to see more of Delbert check out the DVD Train Your Parrot to Talk

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc
For quality information on parrot training visit www.GoodBirdInc.com

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Go See a Bird Show!

What luck! This morning there just happened to be a Bird of Prey demonstration just a 5 minute drive from my house. This show was presented by Last Chance Forever a raptor rehabilitation and education organization. I have seen these folks before and am always impressed by their excellent training skills.

It was a windy day today but the trainers were attentive to this as well as some earlier spottings of a red shouldered hawk in the area and a loose dog. They flew a HUGE female Harris' hawk, a crested caracara (one of my favorite birds!) and a Lanner falcon. They had a few walk on's too (barn owl, screech owl and a red tailed hawk)

I enjoyed watching all the flying. It took me back to my bird shows days. But the best part for me was the caracara doing the infamous dollar bill trick. I have seen various parrots and corvids do this behavior, which is basically a retrieve, but never a caracara. As the presenter said they are not quite a hawk, not quite a falcon and not quite a vulture. They seem to be a combo of all of the above. Really cool bird in my opinion.

Of course the presentation was meant to educate a well as awe and I was thrilled to see my non animal trainer friend who was with me was totally into it. It is one thing to hear about birds, or watch them on TV, but once you have had an up close and personal experience it really can give you a deeper appreciation for animals in your home and the wild.

I hope the video clips give you a little taste of the experience. Go see a bird show if you can!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc
For quality information on parrot training visit www.GoodBirdInc.com

Friday, March 11, 2011

Parrots and Stress Bars

It is raining feathers in my house. I am so excited to report that Blu Lu the Blue Throated Macaw from the Bird Endowment is molting. That may seem like a silly thing to celebrate. Let me explain why I am so happy.

Blu Lu had a rough start in life. She was rejected by her parents. This meant she likely did not get fed as frequently or as much as she needed during those critical early weeks of development. When baby parrots miss feedings, become ill or are otherwise compromised it shows. One place where it becomes very evident is in their feathers. What is often observed when conditions are poor and a feather is growing in is what is known as a stress bar. The bar is a line that is visible across the feather. This line represents a weak spot in the feather. Without adequate nutrition the feather did not development properly at that spot.

The drawback to stress bars is that the feather is very vulnerable at this line. Many feathers break at the stress bar. Tail feathers and primary feathers (wing feathers) need the support of surrounding feathers to grow successfully. Without support they too can break.

Blue Lu did break a few tail feathers close to the base of her tail due to stress bars. And it will be important to keep an eye on her new growing tail feathers. New feathers initially have a blood and nerve supply. If one of the growing feathers were to break it could bleed and be painful. In most cases a little pressure can stop the bleeding, but if you are unsure what to do when a blood feather breaks, I do highly recommend you visit your avian veterinarian. You can find an avian at The Association of Avian Veterinarians website.

Fortunately once she was rejected by her parents Blu Lu was well taken care of by caring humans and her feather growth from then on improved considerably. However this first molt is a welcomed one. It means she will soon have a brand new set of very healthy feathers. Just one single broken flight feather can dramatically effect flight skills. It is often a matter of pride for many professional bird trainers that their birds are in perfect feather. It is a reflection of excellent care.

Blu Lu is already pretty stunning. But I can’t wait for her new spring wardrobe!

Barbara Heidenreich
For quality information on parrot training visit http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Training Parrots to Like New Places

Blu Lu the Blue Throated Macaw from the Bird Endowment has been making more progress. She is quite comfortable wearing a harness and her flight skills are superb. Another important part of her education is training her to be comfortable in new environments and with new people.

This means at this stage it is important for her to get out and about. In this video clip you get to see Blu Lu’s first trip to the Post Office. I chose the Post Office because it is close to my house and it has plenty of room for me to move Blu Lu farther away from new people or objects if she feels uncomfortable. It was also pretty quiet that day since it was a Saturday.

Just like lots of parrot training goals, I broke this down into steps or approximations that Blu Lu can accomplish easily. I have been building upon each successful session. The post office visit was short with few distractions. The next trip was longer with more people. The next visit was to a new location. By keeping each session as positive as possible I can make it more likely Blu Lu will enjoy visiting new places in the future. Since the video she has also visited a hardware store, the bank, the offices of the company that publishes my magazine (Good Bird Magazine) and has traveled frequently in the car. It does take some work to bring her with me, but it is important to my training goals for her.

Blu Lu is an ambassador for her species. If she is comfortable with new places and new people, she can visit lots of folks and help educate them about the plight of Blue Throated Macaws in the wild. The more comfortable she is with changing environments, the easier it will be for her to adapt to a new one she has never seen before. This means if there is a last minute call to visit a group of school children, we don’t need to panic. She will be ready for the visit.

This same type of training can be useful for helping companion parrots be comfortable with travel for a visit to your avian veterinarian or if your bird might need to be boarded sometime. Hope the video gives you some ideas for you and your parrots.

Barbara Heidenreich
For quality information on parrot training visit http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Friday, February 25, 2011

Parrot Training DVDs – Behind the Scenes

Oh have I got a fun video clip to share with you. Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes when making a DVD? Here is your chance to find out!

Whenever I film a DVD I am busy at work doing my part as the host or animal trainer. I do a little bit of work explaining my vision and shots I think would support it. But most of the real work is in the hands of the film crew that you usually don’t get to see.

Einstein the African Grey Parrot, who appeared in my recent DVD Train Your Parrot to Talk, has caregivers who find film and photography as interesting as I do. Jeff and Marcia were gracious enough to allow me to interview them for the DVD, and they also set up their own cameras to capture this glimpse into the making of a parrot training video.

I was also thrilled to hear that Marcia has already been putting more of Einstein’s vocabulary on cue using the instructional information in the DVD. I have my fingers crossed she will get that on film too so I can share it here. If you want to learn more about Einstein the Talking Texan Parrot and see more video clips of her visit her website. http://www.einsteinparrot.com/

An interview with Jeff and Marcia is featured in the DVD. And of course Einstein also makes an appearance. She also lends her voice to the CD ROM of talking parrot recordings you can play for your own parrot. You can find out more information at Train Your Parrot to Talk.

Barbara Heidenreich
For quality information on parrot training visit www.GoodBirdInc.com
Copyright 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Parrot Flight Training- Improving Skills

It has been a busy month releasing the new DVD Train Your Parrot to Talk, putting out another issue of Good Bird Magazine, presenting at Parrot Festival and somewhere in all that I came down with a nasty virus! However even though I have been rather busy, every day there has been time made for Blu Lu training. Yay! I just have not had time to blog about it until today.

Blu Lu the Blue Throated Macaw from the Bird Endowment is doing extremely well. One of the behaviors she has really been practicing is her flight training. You may recall I posted a video a while back about training her to fly to different perches in my house. I wanted to share a video clip of her progress since then. She is really mastering her flight skills. She has learned a nice quick response to my cue for recall.

She is sometimes a little slower than I would like flying to a perch when I cue her. But I suspect that part of the problem is that being with people is also a strong reinforcer for her. So going away from a person is tougher than coming to one.

One of the benefits to training your bird to fly to designated perches in your house is that it makes it very reinforcing for your parrot to fly to those spots. So instead of chewing up the back of a chair, or flinging papers off of the table your parrot deliberately opts to go to the perches.

I do have another place in the kitchen loaded with toys that Blu Lu goes to as well. These also work as reinforcers for her to stay in that area and have fun. This really handy strategy of making the behavior you want your parrot to do the most reinforcing option is based on The Matching Law.

You can apply this to so many aspects of living with a parrot. Think of it this way. If your parrot has the choice to do behavior A or behavior B, whichever one he knows will earn the most reinforcers is the one he will do. This means it is your job to make the behavior you want your parrot do more fun than the one you don’t want. For example make it more fun to play on play stand, than chew up the books on the book shelf.

The video clip does not show off her maneuvering skills. She literally can fly through every doorway and turn every corner in my house, which can be quite tight at times. She is a smaller species of macaw, but even so, it is quite impressive. She also does this with impeccable precision. You can literally “see” her making decisions on the wing as she decides where she will turn and where she land. I never get tired of watching a young bird master flight skills.

More videos to come as her training progresses……….

Barbara Heidenreich
For quality information on parrot training visit http://www.goodbirdinc.com/
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc