Thursday, March 13, 2014

Get to Know the Wild Side of Your Pet Parrot

Having a parrot as a pet is pretty special. Because so many families have dogs and cats as companions, many people are very familiar with the behavior of these animals. But parrots are a bit different. Even though our companion parrots live in our homes, they still do things their wild cousins do. This means it is very important for people who live with birds to learn about the natural history of the parrots in their lives. For example if you share your home with a cockatiel you may have noticed he likes to spend time on the ground or that he prefers certain types of treats for training, like millet spray. If you were to look at wild cockatiels you would understand that foraging for grass seeds is a very normal behavior for them and it would help explain why your bird likes being on the ground and eating millet sprays so much.

I recently was lucky enough to work with a very unusual parrot named Sirocco. Sirocco is a kakapo. This is a very rare parrot found in New Zealand. Even though kakapo are parrots, they are very different from other species of parrots. Learning about kakapo natural history became very important when it came time to train Sirocco. Here are some things I learned about kakapo and how they affected Sirocco’s training.

Kakapo are nocturnal. This means they are active at night. Because of this our training sessions with Sirocco did not happen until the sun went down.

Kakapo are very solitary birds and do not preen each other in the wild. This meant we would not be able to use head scratches to reward Sirocco for good behavior. To him this would not be a fun experience. So instead we focused on using his favorite treats.

Kakapo are flightless. Even though kakapo have very big beautiful wings, they do not fly. Instead of training for flight we focused on things like targeting, step up and walking alongside us.

Kakapo can eat very large amounts of food. Just before breeding season the males put on a lot of weight so they can focus on calling for females instead of spending time on eating. When I was working with Sirocco it was at the time of year when the males are gaining weight. Sirocco was very interested in treats and our training sessions could go on for a long time. This meant I needed to have lots of treats with me and also have lots of ideas for behavior to train during a session.

Kakapo are excellent climbers. They like to roost in trees in the daytime. Remember kakapo can’t fly, so they have to climb up there. This means they have very powerful legs and a strong grip. For some of our training we wanted Sirocco to stand on a platform or station. This meant we had to build something that was easy for a kakapo to climb.

All the facts I learned about kakapo were very helpful to know when it came time to train Sirocco. Pick up a book about wild parrots and study the species you have in your home. If you can, go outside and watch parrots in the wild. There is so much information you can learn about wild parrots that will help you be a better caregiver and trainer to the feathered companion in your home.

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc ( provides parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos. 

Barbara Heidenreich
For more information on how to train your parrot visit Good Bird Inc  
Barbara's Force Free Animal Training
Copyright 2014  First appears in Fledglings Magazine by The Parrot Society of Australia

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