One of the easiest and most important behaviors to train your parrot to do is to step onto a scale. It is very helpful to your veterinarian to have a record of your bird’s weight throughout its lifetime. Ideally, you want to weigh your bird about once a week. This will give you a very good idea of what is normal for your parrot. If your bird loses or gains a lot of weight this can be a signal to you that something may be wrong with your parrot.
The first thing you need to train your parrot to do this behavior is a gram scale. This is the type of scale that will measure your bird’s weight in grams. You want it to measure in increments of 1 gram. This will give a very precise indication of your bird’s weight. You can find this type of scale in stores that sell office supplies. In this type of store you will find the scale in the mailing supplies section. Some people use scales to weigh items that are going to be shipped. Another place you can find a gram scale is in a kitchen supply store. Some people use scales to weigh food when cooking or preparing a recipe.
The scales you will find in these stores will usually have a flat top. This surface might be slippery. To make it more comfortable for your bird you want to attach something to the top like a piece of thin foam or fabric. I use thin foam from a craft store and attach it with double-sided sticky tape. Also look for a scale that sits low on the table. This will make it less likely the scale will tip over when your bird is standing on it.
Some birds may find it more comfortable to stand on a perch. You can also modify a flat top scale by adding a perch to it. Some companies make a perch that you can rest on top of the scale. You can also secure a perch to the scale with hardware. For a bit more money you can also find scales made specifically for birds that have perches already attached. Any of these types of scales can work to weigh your parrot.
When you are ready to train your parrot to get on a scale, be sure to place the scale on a very stable surface. If the scale moves or wobbles it may frighten your parrot. If you have a parrot with a long tail, such as a king parrot or conure I recommend placing your scale at a corner of the table. This way your parrot can stand on the scale and his tail can hang over the edge of the table. By making sure his tail is not touching anything you will get a more accurate weight.
In order to train your parrot to step onto the scale, it is helpful to train your parrot to target first. This means you want your parrot to orient his beak towards a chopstick or closed fist as a target. You can then use this to lure him towards the scale and eventually onto the scale. Remember to offer him a treats every time he moves closer to your target and scale.
Some parrots may show a fear response to the scale. If you see this try placing treats all over and near the scale. Let your parrot explore the scale and get the treats on his own. Don't try to force him onto the scale because that will only increase his fear.
For scales that have a perch on top, this will be just like asking your parrot to step from your hand onto another perch. Look for body language that says your bird is interested in stepping on the perch. If he is leaning away, then he is afraid. Approach the scale slower and offer your bird treats for staying upright and interested. Be sure to offer your bird lots of goodies when he steps onto the perch.
Pretty soon your bird will learn that he gets treats whenever he goes to the scale. As soon as the scale comes out, he might try to get to it as fast as he can. You veterinarian will be very pleased and impressed if you train this behavior. Most of all it makes it super easy for you to monitor your bird’s health and it is stress free for your parrot. Try this one at home with your parrots!
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc (www.GoodBirdInc.com) 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.
For more information on how to train your parrot visit Good Bird Inc
Barbara's Force Free Animal Training www.BarbarasFFAT.com
Copyright 2014 First appeared in Fledglings Magazine by The Parrot Society of Australia