Friday, December 18, 2009

Transitioning Baby Parrots to a New Home

All that training paid off! The baby parrots have transitioned to their new home at the Kaytee Learning Center. I mentioned in a previous blog, that one of the best things we can do for a young parrot is train him. Young parrots are sponges. During this critical time of development they are often quite receptive to new things and new experiences. Instead of waiting until a behavior is needed or when a problem develops, I highly encourage people to build a foundation of behaviors early in a young parrot’s life. Just like taking our pups to obedience classes, we can offer the same type of early instruction to set our young parrots up for success.

Beni the blue throated macaw and Wrigley the double yellow headed Amazon parrot are evidence of how well this works. Traveling with them was stress free thanks to advance training. And their first day at the center was remarkably easy. As soon as we arrived at Kaytee we brought the parrots to a meeting room and let them out. They were completely unaffected by the new environment and eagerly interacted with John and Michelle their new caretakers. They didn’t even need time to adjust to the new space. The first few clips in the video are from that first session.

As the week progressed we tried flying them with new people and in new environments. Our biggest fear was some large windows in the main room of the Learning Center. The windows had decals on them that birds can see, but are clear to humans. If the parrots got flying fast, we worried would they see them? Both Beni and Wrigley had experience with windows and mirrors at my house. Smearing bar soap on these surfaces can help parrots learn to avoid these hazards. This is an “old zookeeper’s secret.” There are many zoo bird houses that feature glass barriers. To help birds acclimate to them bird keepers smear soap on them. Over time they gradually wipe the soap off until it is all gone.

Our hope was that the decals would offer the same function, but could stay on the windows forever. The good news is that they did. During one session Beni headed towards a glass door and in mid air did a 180 and headed a different direction. In another session he circled the room and got going pretty fast, each time he headed towards the windows he banked and kept going. After that we felt pretty confident, the windows would not be an issue.

Throughout the week Beni and Wrigley interacted with a number of different people and in several new environments. They did really well. In fact on the last day they participated in another school program. This one was for high school students. Wrigley stepped up on each student and Beni flew to a dowel rod each student was allowed to hold. Beni also did his flighted retrieve and Wrigley flew over the students as they sat on the floor. The teacher for the class was kind enough to share his photos of the event. You can see them at the end of the video clip.

I wrote a blog a while back about “Preventing the One Person Parrot.” Because Beni loves attention and had been receiving it primarily from me for the past three months, I was a bit of a distraction during training sessions. Beni would often seek me out and fly to me. However because the goal was for him to interact with others, I was careful to avoid giving him attention or treats for flying to me unless I cued him. Instead everyone else would now be the ones to deliver treats and attention. It also meant I did not get as much footage of his training sessions. I had to hide to help improve his success with others. It did help and I am happy to hear he continues to be working really well for everyone at the Kaytee Learning Center.

The week flew by and before I knew it was time to say goodbye. They are in good hands and as you can see from the video are already well loved by the staff. I heard the baby parrots recently made their debut at a company meeting and performed perfectly. They will be great ambassadors for their species and will help a lot of people learn about responsible parrot care. I am honored to have had them in my life and will look forward to visiting them in the future. I hope their story has helped you with the parrots in your home.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Traveling with Parrots

Twenty hours in a car. That is how long it took to get the baby parrots to their new home. And I am happy to report the journey proceeded without incident. This is in part because of some advance training. Both Beni and Wrigley had already learned to enter crates. I had practiced moving them in the crates and eventually going for short drives. On the days we did not work on this behavior, the crates were always set up with treats hidden within. This meant if they felt like exploring an open crate on their own when they were out playing they would discover something special inside.

Needless to say, they soon learned to check the crates for goodies first thing. For the long drive I decided I wanted to use something larger than a crate and purchased some collapsible wire cages. I set these up where the crates usually sat. Transitioning to the new travel cages was a breeze. I also loaded them up with tons of toys which were too tempting for the baby parrots to resist.

Beni and Wrigley had also experienced several new environments in their training. This meant the hotel rooms were just another interesting place to explore, instead of a potentially frightening experience. I also brought along some familiar perches to give them a recognizable prop in a new environment. These ended up being their preferred roosting location for their nights in the hotel room.

Even though the drive was tiring and when we arrived it was snowing, there was still time for a bit of playing on the hotel beds as the video clip shows.

Their transition to their new home at the Kaytee Learning Center went really well too. But I will save that for the next blog!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Training Baby Parrots

It is a bittersweet week. The baby parrots, Beni and Wrigley have completed their training with me and are about to make the journey to their new home at the Kaytee Learning Center. I know I will miss them terribly, but at the same time I am excited to see them get started as avian ambassadors, teaching the world about responsible pet ownership and conservation. Here is a video clip of all they have learned…plus their first appearance at a school!

As I reflect back on our time together, I realize they have taught me as much as I have taught them. Every time I have the opportunity to train it is a learning experience for me as well. A few important lessons I am reminded of are as follows:

Training a young parrot is much like a new puppy or kitten. In order for them to learn to behave well in our homes, it is ideal to provide instruction early on. There were days in the beginning when I was frustrated when the babies would land on an unsanctioned perch. But I knew that meant I needed to either remove the temptation and/or heavily reinforce the birds for sitting on approved perching. In the beginning this took my undivided attention when they were out exploring. Now after being reinforced for the correct behavior so many times, my confidence is high that they will be playing and perching in acceptable locations. So much so, that I can often leave the room and check on them periodically. By investing the time to train desired behavior in the beginning, I can look forward to a well behaved parrot down the road.

When a parrot is quite young we have a great opportunity to expose them to many things they may encounter later in life. Many young birds are receptive to new things. By pairing these things with known positive reinforcers, we can set them up for success. This means it is good goal to plan on introducing things like nail clippers, towels, new people, etc. Both Beni and Wrigley experienced those things and much more.

Food is a great reinforcer….but it is not the only one. I presented a paper at a bird trainer’s conference a few years back about expanding your list of reinforcers. The more I grow as a trainer, the more I love to experiment with this. Baby parrots are usually great candidates for using other reinforcers. In many cases they are curious and interested in things like toys, play, attention and tactile reinforcers. I used all of these, as well as food to train the baby parrots. As you watch the video clip, take note of those other reinforcers.

Even though both birds have learned so much, their training is not done. In fact it is never over. These parrots will be learning for the rest of their lives. What we see in the video will only last if it is reinforced. Just because it was trained once doesn’t mean it sticks forever. This means every behavior I or their future trainers want to see repeated needs to be reinforced. Behaviors that are undesired should go unreinforced and/or redirected to acceptable behaviors. So the journey does not end here! I will look forward to hearing and sharing updates on their progress in their new home.

I will try to get another blog up about their transition to their new digs once we make the trip. I hope you have enjoyed following their story.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Parrots and Children

Recently, the baby parrots had their first introduction to children. This was going to be a big new experience. There were four children who were very excited to meet the parrots. There were also three adults (including myself) to make sure the situation was safe for everyone involved.

Because this introduction was also occurring in yet another new environment, the baby parrots were going to have to adjust to two criteria at once. This is usually not an ideal training situation. Usually it is advised to focus on one criterion at a time. To help make the transition easier, the first goal was to have the children sit patiently and quietly on the couches while Beni and Wrigley took a look at the new environment. The kids did great!

Wrigley came out first and was definitely a bit distracted by the super tall ceiling, high paned windows and open space. Our host’s house has a two story living room. Wrigley needed a few moments to look around. But once he relaxed he flew calmly over to the oldest child, Jay and decided his head was perfect for perching. Jay responded in the best way possible. He held still and kept calm. Wrigley stepped from Jay’s head to my hand with ease, and we were all impressed with Jay’s reaction.

Beni came out and quickly relaxed in the new environment. He was ready to fly to his perches and to me right away. Both birds were receptive to treats, and the children asked if they might hold a parrot. Because both birds appeared relaxed we thought we would give it a try. After some instructions for the children, Wrigley stepped onto their arms. Beni tried to fly to one child’s outstretched arm. But we decided a macaw might be a bit too heavy for these youngsters. Instead Beni found his way to my friend Rebecca’s arm a few times.

After a while the birds began a few more exploratory flights. Wrigley even ended up on the ceiling fan, but flew down within just a few minutes. This was an important experience for him. In the future he may be in other rooms with high places to perch. I wanted to be sure he had some opportunity to recall from much higher perches than those he had experienced in the past.

As time passed 3 of the 4 children ventured onto to other activities. Beni and Wrigley were also starting to lose interest in the session. John stayed focused on the birds. The big grin on his face made us think “future bird trainer!”

Lessons I learned from the experience are that we need to explore some more diverse environments. I have some ideas for the next venues to address that.

I also think I will have one parrot out at a time if my attention will be directed elsewhere. When working with the children and Wrigley, Beni wanted to fly to me. Normally I step aside when he flies before he is cued and he will land on a perch. I then cue him to fly to me so he can learn a cue is required for permission to launch to me. However because I was focused on an important task with another parrot and child, I had set it up so that Beni could easily land on my head or shoulder. This is a behavior I would prefer he not do. But I had not set either of us up for success in that particular moment. However as mentioned, that can be easily addressed in the future by making sure I will be able to give him my full attention next time.

Another piece learned from this excursion is it's time to start training some specific behaviors, flight patterns and/or routines for these guys. This will help give them direction and focus when they are in front of a group of people. Time to brainstorm!

*Special thanks to Rebecca for the pictures and to Jenny and all the young bird trainers!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Teaching Parrots to Like New People and Places - Making Progress!

Beni and Wrigley are progressing nicely. To keep things moving forward we traveled to another new environment. Travel in the crate would be a bit longer this time as our destination was about 20 miles away. My friend Heather is an animal lover and also manages a hotel. She was happy to have us visit.

I had a feeling based on our last excursion that the baby parrots would do fine. So I came prepared to videotape their reaction to the new environment. As the video shows, to them it was just another fun place to be. There were no flights in which the parrots seemed confused or unsure of where to go. They simply headed to their perches, to me or Heather, however Beni did discover that the luggage cart was quite fun. He ended up sliding down the sides like a fireman. Who knew enrichment was so easy?

Both parrots responded well to Heather. One factor that could have been a distraction for them was that Heather was wearing dark nail polish. I have not worn nail polish around the parrots, so this would be a new experience. I had Heather offer a few treats slowly at first. Fortunately neither parrot reacted to the nail polish. They did however really want to work on the buttons on Heather’s shirt. A few treats, toys and head scratches for staying on the hand or a perch seemed to get their minds off of buttons.

As in our past excursions, both parrots started playing with toys. Beni sat calmly while I put the harness on him. And both parrots were recalling like champs in the new space. After about 45 minutes of training and fun, Wrigley starting grinding his beak as if he was ready to take a little snooze. I decided it was time to return to the crate. As usual Wrigley was a dream. Beni hesitated, but went in. Back at home they both went in and out of the crates freely for goodies and toys before they returned to their cages for an afternoon nap.

Our next goal is to find a larger space and add a few more people to the mix.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

Saturday, November 7, 2009

This Parrot is Gonna Be a Talker!

Wrigley the double yellow headed amazon was quite entertaining last night. He is certainly starting to stretch his vocal abilities. He is mostly just producing sounds at this point, but every once in a while says "good bird", "hi", "hello" and does a little aria. He seems to be trying to copy the sounds my yellow naped amazon Delbert makes...including "Hi Delbert!"

I just had to share a video clip as I find it fascinating watching him develop his vocabulary....and he is pretty cute too.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Introducing Parrots to New People

It was another big day for the baby parrots. I packed two familiar perches, toys, treats, my dog and the babies into the car for another excursion. This meant a little more time in crates for each parrot. Beni the blue throated macaw still has some hesitation on occasion with the crate, so we practice entering the kennel daily. However he did pretty well with the experience today. I do think he is becoming more accustomed to it.

Wrigley the double yellow headed Amazon on the other hand seems to find crate travel akin to luxury cruising I think. He loves it! It is definitely a solid behavior for him.

My dog Waylon came along because our destination included fun doggie times too. We were off to my friend Sue’s house. She is a dog trainer who runs a website called Raising Canine. Her site offers instructional courses for professional animal trainers. Her dog Jimmy Jo and Waylon are buddies.

Sue is new to parrots so this was going to be a fun learning opportunity for the babies and for Sue. I was extremely happy to see the baby parrots show absolutely no hesitation when they emerged from the kennels. Their body language showed they were at ease with the new environment. Each flew around the room a few times, but found their perches rather quickly and was ready to present behaviors. After snacking on a few treats from Sue, they were ready to fly to her.

This quickly turned into the baby parrots wanting to be on Sue all the time. She’s fun! She’s a treat dispenser! Beni is quite fond of head scratches in addition to treats. I wanted to see if he would be open to a new person touching him. To transition to this, I started giving Beni a few head scratches. Sue slowly took over. Pretty soon Beni was all but melted on the perch soaking up some all over touching. Beni later let me put his harness on and also spent a chunk of his time playing with toys alongside Wrigley on top of a crate.

Their next test was to see how they would respond to a new dog, Jimmy Jo. Jimmy Jo gets pretty excited around birds as his breed (Springer spaniel) was designed to hunt for birds. Just to be safe we had Jimmy Jo on the leash. He barked a lot but never tried to go after the birds. The baby parrots just sat there with a “what is with this guy?” look on their faces. I can happily report they were pretty much unphased by yet another new dog. Although one did somehow manage to poop on Waylon’s nose.

Going back home, meant going back into the crate. I had a feeling this might be tough after having so much fun at Sue’s. But I came prepared. Instead of their usual treats, I brought a nice hunk of birdie bread to use to reinforce going back into the crate. Smart move on my part, if I do say so myself. Wrigley went in perfectly. Beni did pretty well too.

They did so well at Sue’s I’d say we are ready for yet another new environment tomorrow!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Help! Lost Parrot.

It has been a busy week for me. First I spent five days teaching in Colorado, then I had fun entertaining the VP of the Parrot Society of Australia, and then ……I came down with the flu.

But in the middle of all that, my new DVD arrived!! Actually it is a joint project from Robin Shewokis of the Leather Elves and yours truly. Both Robin and I can’t count the number of times we have had an email come across our desks that started with the words “Help! Lost Parrot!” I can sympathize with the anguish the author of that email is experiencing. I once had my parrot fly out a door. I was able to quickly get him back, but for those moments my heart was pounding.

Robin and I have long discussed the need for a comprehensive teaching tool to help people get their bird back or prevent the loss of one due to an accidental escape. And finally this summer we were able to film it, as well as collect tons of parrot vocalizations, prepare lost template flyers for over 50 species and put together useful checklists and resources.

“Get your Bird Back” includes a 27 minute instructional DVD and a separate CD ROM full of additional resources. It is designed to help parrot owners should that day come that their parrot escapes. It will also help parrot owners prepare in advance and prevent an escape. We both hope parrot owners from all over the world can benefit from this resource.

You can buy a copy today at this link. Or simply visit

Barbara Heidenreich

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Baby Parrots Take a Trip

What an adventurous day. The baby parrots took a small excursion….. planned of course. So far both Wrigley and Beni have had the chance to spend time in each room of my house and also the back yard. They now appear relaxed and comfortable in these environments. This means it was time for us to push the envelope and try a completely new environment. I had done quite a bit of training to get both birds ready for spending more than just a few minutes in a crate for travel. And it paid off. Both birds entered their crates without hesitation. I had already worked on walking them around the house in the crates, and also placing the crates in the car and taking a short drive around the block. Today we took it a bit further and drove to my friend’s house.

I packed a familiar perch, lots of treats and a few toys. My friend had recently hurt her ankle and was stuck in her room with her foot propped up on a pillow. Time for some feathered entertainment! I placed the crated parrots on the bed. I set up the portable perch. Now it was time to open the crate doors.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how what you think will be so predictable often ends up being exactly the opposite. I was so sure Wrigley the double yellow headed Amazon would be calm as a cucumber and Beni the blue throated macaw would be wide eyed about the new environment. Instead Beni could have cared less. He was just thrilled to be hanging out with people and sucking up tons of attention. He flew with confidence to the perch, to my hand and to the top of the crate. To him it was just another room.

Wrigley on the other hand had to take a moment to observe his new environment. He then launched into a few loops around the room before finally landing on his familiar perch. But once that moment passed he was all about exploring, flying to my friend for treats and playing with toys. That was actually my favorite part. The fact that both parrots were comfortable enough in just a few minutes to play with toys was a great sign. It also meant all that time spent practicing behaviors in new environments was working. Beni and Wrigley are learning to generalize their behaviors. This is an important goal for these future ambassadors for their species.

Although they did really well in the new environment we did have one small set back. The crate training suffered a small breakdown. Beni was not so eager to enter the crate for the return trip home. This means the short drive was too big of an approximation for him.

Training Beni to crate has been a challenge from the start. I think this is because his first experience in the crate was a 4 hour drive from the breeder’s place to mine. This was more than he was ready for at the time. This has meant a lot of work on this behavior, and no doubt we will spend another session just practicing some repetitions of going in and out of the crate for our next sessions, and building our approximations from there. Even though there was a slight glitch, the good news is we can get back on track. Thankfully, even less than perfect situations can be turned around with a little positive reinforcement.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Parrot Training in New Environments

If you are a parrot training fan, you have probably already trained your bird to do a few cute things like maybe wave or turn around on cue. Have you ever tried to ask your parrot to present those behaviors in a new environment? Such as a bird club meeting or at a friend’s house or maybe the veterinary hospital. For some parrots this can be very challenging. Suddenly your outgoing social butterfly freezes up and seems to have forgotten all the things you have taught him to do.

In truth he probably hasn’t forgotten, he is just not yet learned to present behaviors in other environments. The process of teaching an animal to present a behavior under many different conditions is called generalization.

Beni, the blue throated macaw has done so well with harness training it was time to let him experience some new environments while wearing his spiffy blue harness. First we visited different rooms in my house. The bathroom was particularly fun. He got quite excited by his reflection in the mirror. I think he even tried to say “hello” in macaw language.

He did well in each of the rooms of the house. They weren’t much different from what he was used to. He would take treats, and fly to me and other perches on cue. However when we ventured into the back yard, it was a different story. This environment was quite unusual for him. So we took it slow. For the first few days I kept the sessions short and gradually walked him to more areas of the yard. He accepted a few head scratches and treats after some initial looking around, but did not look quite as relaxed as I wanted.

Finally today he started to seem a bit more comfy. I thought now would be a good time to try a favorite strategy of mine. One great way to help a bird move onto the next steps toward generalization is to cue a super simple behavior over and over a few times. This gives the bird something to focus on that he knows earns some positive reinforcers. What Beni does best is fly to me. I grabbed a familiar perch and placed it in the yard. With the leash safely wrapped around my wrist, Beni recalled like a champ. Next thing you know his body language looked much more relaxed and he began to show an interest in exploring this new world with confidence.

For Beni, recall is an easy behavior. For your parrot it might be something like saying “hello” or lifting his wings or foot when cued. Any behavior your parrot offers readily is ideal for this strategy. Your bird may need some time to desensitize to the environment first before he will present behavior, just like Beni did. But after just a few sessions of looking around, Beni was ready.

Once Beni has a few more days of relaxed body language in the back yard, it will be onto another new location and a repeat of the process. Eventually Beni will learn that presenting behaviors in any environment is easy and earns you favorite things like head scratches and treats.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harness Training Your Parrot

Ah, the harness. So many people want to train this behavior. And for many parrots this is a very difficult behavior, and for trainers a behavior that can try your patience. However this doesn't mean a caregiver should give up on positive reinforcement to get there. It just means preparing to take some time, maybe a lot of time.But for me that is absolutely A-OK.

For those of you who have been to my seminars and seen video clips of parrots sitting for blood draws and perched patiently while they receive an injection, you no doubt realized those are behaviors that were trained with tiny, tiny approximations and took some time to train. I recently read the manuscript to a friends book in which she said "you can be sure that shaping with the smallest approximations is what is behind the most impressive behaviors"

We have a tendency to take for granted that our parrots should do things we want, when we want. Especially when it comes to behavior we accomplish easily with other species such as our dogs.

I implore people wanting to train this behavior to take a moment to pause and relax and say "it's OK if it takes me two years to train this behavior" It probably wont take you that long, but it will let you calm down and not feel pressured to get the behavior done right this second. Go at the pace your bird dictates works for him.

I often tell people what if this was a lion or a porcupine....what would you do if that animal did not want to go in the harness? : ) (I mention the porcupine because at one zoo where I consulted we did work on training a porcupine to wear a harness) Force will likely cause aggressive behavior or an animal that wont come near you. And as has been mentioned before, our goal with positive reinforcement is to create an eager participant and in turn continue to foster that wonderful relationship we can have with an animal.

I too have been working on this behavior. I started maybe 1 year ago with one of my amazon parrot's and have worked on the behavior off and on. I went through a lot of experimentation. Different harnesses, different shaping plans, etc to try to find the easiest methods. I have also worked on this behavior with the two young parrots currently at my house. One has mastered the behavior and one is still learning. Once everyone (and another one I want to start on this behavior) is trained I will have a comprehensive teaching tool for this behavior. However here is a sneak peak to get people started. It doesn't have all the steps outlined, but it may help you get some ideas.

The bottom line is that difficult behaviors require small approximations, using high value reinforcers, training when the animal is most receptive to those reinforcers, going at the animals pace.....and time. Be patient. You have many years ahead of you with your parrot.

PS The harness I am using is the Aviator Harness.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Preventing the One Person Parrot

There was a recent discussion on my yahoo group about innate vs. learned behaviors. It seems the two are not so mutually exclusive. There are many behaviors we tend to chalk up to genetics and assume we can never change. But the good news is even these so called hard wired behaviors are often heavily influenced by experience. This is especially important as we work to shape the behavior of our parrots.

Beni the blue throated macaw is a great example. As his photos show, he can be a love……once he gets to know you. Guess who he knows best now? Me. I spend more time with him than anyone. And all those wonderful head scratching sessions, treat fueled training times and fun play encounters make me a special person to Beni. Although I certainly enjoy this, Beni has more important things to do in his future than just be my buddy. Soon he will be teaching others about responsible pet ownership and parrot conservation. This means Beni needs to play nice with others too.

Even though parrots may have a tendency to choose one person as their preferred companion, I know that I can use positive reinforcement training to teach Beni that it is fun to interact with other people as well.

Recently one of the staff members of the Kaytee Learning Center came to visit the baby parrots. This was the perfect opportunity to help both Beni and Wrigley learn that other people are also great fun. John will be the baby parrots primary trainer at Kaytee. I was very pleased to see Wrigley warm up to John right away. Within the first hour he was rolling over onto his back for play sessions and flying to John on cue.

Beni on the other hand was not so sure. He did fly to John that first session, but showed body language that indicated he was not so sure about the situation. One thing that was not helping is if I was in close proximity to Beni. Because Beni can fly, if he saw me, he would often choose to come to me instead of John. While I am flattered all that great training has worked to build a strong relationship with Beni, I really want Beni to respond positively to other people. To help Beni and John succeed, I decided it would be better if I did not interact with Beni for the rest of the visit. Instead John would let Beni out of his cage, and also deliver all treats and toys. And it worked!

Eventually we were able to work up to a session in which Beni enjoyed lots of head scratches from John. The goal was to reduce my value to Beni and increase John’s. It did mean I had to temporarily reduce my interactions with Beni a bit, and let John do more fun things with him.

The good news is even though Beni may want to choose one person as his favorite, we can teach him he doesn’t have too. Everyone is a blast.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baby Parrot Names

Recently I mentioned that the young parrots at my house had been given new names. This created a few puzzled responses from folks. I thought I would elaborate as I now know a bit more about how the new names were chosen.

The double yellow headed Amazon parrot was previously called Joker. His name was given by the breeder with the thought that it might be changed at some point by the folks at his new home at the Kaytee Learning Center. This was the same situation for the blue throated macaw formerly known as Jackson.

The staff at Kaytee had a brainstorming session and came up with some clever ideas.

Joker’s new name is “Wrigley” as in Wrigley’s double mint gum…..double yellow headed Amazon…get it?

Jackson’s name was changed to Beni, because this is the name of the region in Bolivia where blue throated macaws are found in the wild. This macaw species is quite endangered. Connecting his name to the plight of his wild cousins can help raise awareness to parrot conservation.

So there you have it! Beni and Wrigley. I have to admit their new names have grown on me.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Wants a Parrot that Talks?

Everyone! Well, sometimes it seems that way. One of the popular requests I receive is for information on training a parrot to talk. The truth is there is no guarantee that you can get a parrot to talk. Otherwise we would think of great talking parrots as a dime a dozen and everyone would have one. You can be a great trainer, but part of the equation is the bird and its learning history.

If you are one of those people who has a parrot who is trying to copy sounds, all I can say is “Woohoo!” You have it easy. All you have to do is create the situations in which your bird is likely to make a few sounds, reinforce and then put the sounds on cue.

One of the parrots staying at my house for some training is a double yellow headed Amazon parrot, newly renamed “Wrigley” (Yes, Jackson and Joker have new names. Jackson is now Beni and Joker is Wrigley) Wrigley is already showing an interest in talking. One thing that helps is that my yellow naped Amazon parrot Delbert talks up a storm. So Wrigley hears Delbert’s phrases and sayings throughout the day.

This morning when Wrigley stepped onto my hand to come out of his cage he blurted out “How are you!” I must admit I had a little tingle in my stomach. It is exciting when a parrot starts to pick up sounds you like. And one of my training mantras is “if it happened once, it will happen again” I suspect I will be hearing a lot more of our Wrigley in the days to come.

Those of you who do have parrots that talk probably have noticed that they often get chatty when there is a loud continuous sound such as the vacuum cleaner or water running. This is a great way to encourage your parrot to vocalize so that you can reinforce sounds you like. Here is a little video clip of Wrigley practicing his various sounds with the vacuum running in the back ground.....and a slight interruption from Beni. Enjoy!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Training a Parrot to Love a Towel

How much do I love this behavior? Let me count the ways. Training a parrot to look forward to being wrapped in a towel has become one of my favorite behaviors to train. I think in part because I know most parrots at some point in their lives will likely be wrapped in a towel for a medical procedure. Knowing that I can reduce stress that may be part of that situation by using positive reinforcement, makes it easy to add this behavior to my list of training goals.

In my DVD Training a Parrot for the Veterinary Exam, I go through the approximations of training this behavior with a yellow collared macaw and also a hybrid macaw. Both were re-homed birds who had a history of unpleasant experiences with towels. This makes it a little more challenging to train the behavior, but certainly not impossible. It just means taking it slower, using smaller approximations and of course lots of positive reinforcers. And as you can see in the video, both birds learn towels are now associated with good things.

One of the great things about working with young parrots, is often they have not yet been exposed to things in a way that might create a fear response. Both Jackson and Joker, the young parrots at my house, have seen a towel. But I have been very careful to make sure all towel encounters include positive reinforcers.

Joker thinks towels mean you get to roll around on your back and play with toys. Jackson thinks towels means you will get your head scratched for a nice chunk of time. My own yellow naped Amazon parrot, Delbert will fly to a towel if he sees one in your hand. He has had so many pleasant experiences associated with a towel he can’t wait to get into one.

People often ask what happens to all that great training when you go to the veterinarian and the parrot is restrained in the towel for a not so pleasant procedure. Will a traumatic experience cause the behavior to fall apart? The answer is “It depends.” If the experience is extremely difficult, the bird may need to be retrained on the behavior. However if you bird has a very long history of positive reinforcement with the towel, one not so great experience will probably not cancel out the plethora of wonderful times he has had in the towel.

Of course the best approach is to train the behavior to the point that actual restraint in the towel is not a problem for your parrot. Jackson and Joker are well on their way towards that goal.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Parrots Who Can’t Wait To Do What You Ask

Joker the yellow naped Amazon parrot made me proud today. As mentioned in an earlier blog, both Joker and Jackson the blue throated macaw showed some hesitancy in returning to their cages after a few hours spent outside their cages training and playing. With some positive reinforcement training Jackson got back on track rather quickly. Joker was a bit more challenging. This is because he primarily works for food treats. While play, toys and attention can be good reinforcers for him, when the behavior is a tough one, treats are by far the best solution in his case. However this means timing training sessions for when he is most receptive to a goodie. Jackson on the other hand will do practically anything for a head scratch at most anytime.

Usually when I open Joker’s cage door, the first thing he wants to do is stretch his wings and fly around for a bit. I usually wait until after he has expended some of the energy before seeing if he is interested in a training session.

However this morning he stuck around the cage, while I removed bowls, cleaned, etc. “I thought to myself “Hmmmmm, maybe this is a sign he is ready for a session right now.” I pulled some treats out of my pocket and sure enough he was ready for some training. We went through a number of repetitions of him entering the cage for a treat and exiting for no treat. What made me so proud was that instead of leaning away or even sitting upright, he began leaning towards the cage door as if to say “Hurry up! I want to get inside that cage!” I love it when positive reinforcement creates a parrot that is an eager participant, one that can’t wait to do the behavior because he knows it will result in great consequences.

This is also Joker’s response to a crate as well. He almost can’t wait to go inside one. Even though at the moment training sessions are timed for when Joker is most interested in treats, overtime that will be less important. All those excellent training sessions will add up and Joker will learn returning to the cage, or entering a crate anytime you are cued is worthwhile.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Training Two Parrots at the Same Time

Working in free flight bird shows for so many years, you quickly learn or develop techniques to work with more than one bird at a time. At one zoo where I consulted we flew 17 macaws together as a flock. They all lived together in one giant aviary. But we taught them all to wait on perches to be cued to step up. Otherwise we had 17 birds flinging themselves at us in hopes of getting a treat. Yes positive reinforcement can be pretty powerful. But when used to reinforce what you want, you can change chaos to cooperation.

Training two parrots I suppose is a cakewalk compared to 17. But even so, training more than one bird at the same time presents some challenges. With the two flighted baby parrots at my house, one of the challenges is that one bird, Jackson the macaw, is always looking for a cue that might mean he gets to come over and get a treat or get some attention. This means poor Joker, the Amazon parrot, gets the short end of the stick if I am not careful. If I cue Joker to fly to me and Jackson sees it, he will try to get to me first and make sure there is no room for Joker.

To address this I look for moments and situations in which Joker can see my cue and Jackson can’t. I also look for ways to reinforce the bird not needed at the moment for staying put. For example, I might get the macaw engaged in playing with a toy, or reinforce him with treats for sitting calmly nearby while I work with the other parrot.

When I work with Joker on entering a crate, I reinforce Jackson for sitting on my left hand. Joker walks into the crate on his own and I can reinforce him with my right hand. Both parrots are relaxed and comfy and earning reinforcers for doing behaviors I want. If I only need Jackson, usually Joker can easily be redirected to some fun toys as seen in the photo above.

Some people opt for only working with one bird at a time. This is certainly an excellent option. However I found that one bird will pace if left in the cage and ends up being a big distraction to the other parrot. Therefore having them both out and reinforcing one for staying out of the way, or training while one is preoccupied has worked well for these two parrots.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Training a Parrot to Lie on his Back

“Uh, excuse me! You need to stop being so cute. Really. I am having a tough time getting to all those other responsibilities I have.”

I think that is the inner dialog I have whenever I am working with Jackson. But seriously look at that bird! How cute is he? Makes a person just want to play with parrots all day long. Doesn’t it?

Believe it or not, this is a behavior I am training Jackson to do. (Not look cute. He does that on his own.) What I am training him to do is lie on his back. He actually learned to do it in record time.

I will explain the steps I used to train this behavior. Jackson will step up readily. He enjoys sitting perched on my hand for attention, treats and head scratches. With Jackson perched on my hand I started the behavior by gently bringing my right hand towards his back. I reinforced him for remaining calm and relaxed. Sometimes I reinforced with a treat and sometimes a head scratch or cuddle. Overtime he became quite comfortable with my hand resting on his back.

The next step was for me to bend slightly at the waist and support Jackson’s back with my right hand. I then straightened back up and offered him a treat. This method allowed Jackson to experience being on his back in tiny increments of time. Eventually I extended these intervals to about 30 seconds.

At this stage I wanted to work towards having Jackson hold this position without having his feet hold onto my left hand or using my right hand to support his back. This meant moving to the couch as seen in the picture.

This time when I bent over, he rested on my palm on the couch. Overtime I was able to slide my hand out from under him. He also began to gradually loosen his hold on my left hand with his feet. This allowed me to cover him with head scratches which he adores. Next thing you know, Jackson doesn’t want to move from his new favorite spot on the couch. Ah, the power of positive reinforcement!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

Monday, August 31, 2009

This Blue Throated Macaw Knows his Best Angle

Apparently Jackson the Blue Throated macaw has modeling experience. It seems more often that not he strikes a very specific pose. It’s almost as if he has rehearsed it. Hmmmmmmm. Judge for yourself!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Great Day of Parrot Training

Not too many things compare to a great day of parrot training for me. And today was one of those days. Crate training is an important behavior for the two baby parrots, Jackson and Joker. They both traveled from the breeder to my house in crates. Both seemed pretty comfortable in the crates for the four hour drive, but the next day they were a bit hesitant to consider entering a crate again. (Four hours in a crate was probably a bit more than they were ready for) Since then I have been working on retraining the behavior.

I was very pleased today when both parrots entered their kennels voluntarily. I had to break it down into small steps. In other words I reinforced with treats and attention any movement towards the crate and eventually stepping inside it (Find more details on training this behavior in my second DVD Training for the Veterinary Exam).

Joker, the Amazon parrot, was by far the star on this behavior. I had also loaded the crate with toys. He kept running in and out to play with different toys as well as get treats. At one point I worked with Jackson (the macaw) on another behavior in another room, Joker was being so quiet I had to check on him. There he was asleep on his perch inside the crate! The door was off the crate so he had the choice to be anywhere at all, and he chose to be in his crate. Woohoo!

Jackson also was a training superstar today. The behavior at which he excelled was harness training. Harness training can be a really difficult behavior. It often involves some manipulation of the wings to achieve. Many parrots are not too comfortable with this. Because of this it is really important to focus on pairing positive reinforcers with the situation. Fortunately Jackson is a sucker for a good head scratch. He practically melts. Using head scratches as his reinforcers Jackson sat calm as can be while I gradually adorned him with his harness two times. It is really important that Jackson views this behavior as something that results in copious amounts of good things. And right now he is learning harness time, means scratches galore.

Joker is also working on the harness, but doesn’t respond as enthusiastically to head scratches as Jackson. This means using other reinforcers to train this behavior. One reinforcer Joker likes is playtime. He will roll around on his back and kick his little feet up in the air. Right now I am pairing the presence of the harness with playtime, toys and also food treats. He is progressing a little slower than Jackson on this behavior, but his excellent crate training makes up for it.

My reward was some playtime with both birds after our nice training sessions.

Barbara Heidenreich

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When a Parrot Does not want to Go Back in the Cage

Having a baby Blue Throated Macaw (Jackson) and baby Double Yellow Headed Amazon (Joker) parrot in the house is fun. And apparently it is fun for them too. I like to think so as my house has a number of very entertaining play areas for parrots. There is this super cool play stand, perches all around the house, and two training areas loaded with all sorts of toys and treats.

So when the sun rises, the birds are ready to stretch their wings, participate in some training and play, play, play. This makes for a great morning for the birds, but at some point they do need to return to their cage for a little down time for everyone. This can be a challenge when being outside of the cage is such a blast. Why go back inside if all the fun happens outside?

When I felt one of the birds leaning back on my hand when I approached the cage one morning, I knew it was time to take action. If I forced the bird into the cage, I pretty much knew I was asking for trouble. What would happen is, in the future the birds would be even more hesitant to go back inside.

Instead we had a training session right then and there. As soon as I felt the lean, I stopped in my tracks and took a step back from the cage. When Jackson’s body language relaxed I gave him some head scratches for sitting calmly on my hand while we were close to the cage. Over time we were able to get closer and he even stepped on a perch in the cage for a treat. I then let him step right back on my hand and come back out.

We repeated this until he was back to stepping into the cage easily. He learned going in the cage doesn’t mean all the fun stops. I now also rotate different toys into the cage, so that every time he goes back there is a new toy to play with. This helps keep this behavior strong.

Because this behavior can be challenging, I know I will always be careful to look for body language that says the bird is uncomfortable. And if I see it I will slow down and go through these steps again. This will be important to helping to maintain that behavior for the long haul. For now I am also going to be sure to give myself plenty of time to return the birds to their cages, just in case I see any hesitation. I don’t want to have a set back by not planning ahead.

Barbara Heidenreich

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Baby Parrots!

My blog has been kind of quiet lately. But my house hasn’t! Both are the result of some new visitors to my home. Two baby parrots. Jackson is a young Blue Throated Macaw and Joker is a young Double Yellow Headed Amazon parrot.

These two adorable youngsters are here for some training. The Kaytee Learning Center is their intended home. There they will help educate people about responsible pet ownership, as well as be ambassadors for conservation education. (Blue Throated Macaw numbers are quite low in the wild, and captive hatched Jackson will help spread the word and raise awareness!)

Because of their role in education there are some specific training goals I am working towards with these two birds. They are both flighted and will not only educate at the Kaytee Learning Center, but also at special events. This means both birds need to be comfortable with travel, be comfortable wearing a harness and interacting with new people in new environments.

For some birds, those can be challenging behaviors. With Jackson and Joker being youngsters they are a little more receptive to change at the moment. I am taking advantage of this time in their development and exposing them to many new things and pairing these experiences with positive reinforcers.

They recently met two new people and also some puppies! Both birds responded as I had hoped. No fear whatsoever…….just a bit of curiosity. They flew to new people for treats. However they soon discovered playing with one new friend’s curly hair was more tempting than a treat. I had to spend the next day teaching Jackson that other places were for perching….not heads.

It is an easy trap to fall into. A parrot flies to someone’s head and starts to have all sorts of fun. That makes flying to heads reinforcing. This means that flying to heads is likely to happen more often. To address this the following day, whenever Jackson tried to fly to my head, I simply stepped aside. He is a very confident flyer at this point and remained aloft and looked for another perch. As soon as he landed I reinforced him. This quickly got him back on track. It was now hard to land on a head and super easy to land somewhere else. Plus you get a treat for it. Problem solved!

These two young parrots will be with me for a number of weeks. I will continue to post on their training and their progress. Keep checking back for updates!

Barbara Heidenreich

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Training a Scared or Aggressive Parrot To Step Up

In 2002 when I first struck out on my own as an animal training consultant I did some work with a parrot sanctuary in Texas. At this facility, the birds were stepped up onto hands wrapped in towels. Often this approach means force is being used to train the parrots to step up. We all really wanted the birds to learn to step onto hands voluntarily. It was my job to train it with positive reinforcement. I had 50 parrots to work with. All either showed fear responses or aggressive behavior towards hands. (Many of these birds can be seen in my first book “Good Bird!” A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companions Parrots”)

What I quickly discovered was that asking a parrot to go from two feet firmly planted on a perch to one foot on the hand was a BIG approximation, one that most birds would not do with that kind of history. I had to find a way to make smaller approximations. So I developed a technique of placing my hand at the end of the perch and using the target to get small steps towards my perching hand. This way if your parrot is not ready he does not need to get on your hand, but can still make progress towards making it happen and you can reinforce it. Here are some photos of me demonstrating it in my DVD and another at a facility where I consulted.

At the time few skilled training professionals were working with parrots with such challenges and I am quite confident I had not seen this particular method elsewhere in my years of training. Certainly early in my career I learned from other great trainers the importance of letting the bird approach the hand and reinforcing small approximations. But what to do with a parrot that is really struggling with aggressive behavior or fear responses towards hands right when he is at the cusp of touching a hand was not something I had seen someone demonstrate. It was actually fun to explore options and experiment until I found a technique that worked pretty consistently.

Since then I have had the chance to practice it and fine tune it with at last count over 1000 parrots at workshops I teach. I do very freely share this technique in my DVDs and almost everyone gets to see a demo of this at the live seminars. In the DVD you get so see a parrot go from lunging so hard at my hand that he almost knocks over the perch, to eagerly pulling my hand closer so he can step up on it.

The bird is a blue and gold macaw belonging to a friend. I had never really interacted with him much before we filmed and by no means was he already trained. We filmed over a weekend. It took two twenty minute sessions to go from lunging to "can't wait to get on your hand!" I still smile every time I play that clip at a seminar. Makes me happy to see a parrot's behavior change so dramatically.

The DVD that features this clip is called Parrot Behavior and Training #1 . Click here and you can see the "before" and "after" with the lunging blue and gold macaw about half way through the video featured in the player on this page.

Hope it helps inspire a few parrot people out there! Happy training : )

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Help for a Friend of Parrots

I try my best to keep my posts fun, entertaining and hopefully educational. This one is a bit tougher to write. Those of you who have attended my parrot training workshops get to see lots of video clips. Many of them feature a good friend of mine named Terry Debrow. I met Terry years ago through a parrot sanctuary called Parrots and People. Terry is good people and over the years I have had the pleasure of getting to know her family well, including her amazing grandson Colton. Colton even did some office work for Good Bird Inc a few summers ago. He has always been a very responsible young man and a support to his family.

I was devastated to hear he is the victim of a great injustice. He recently joined the air force and moved to California to pursue what was for him a dream career of analyzing photos taken by planes.

He was admitted to the VA hospital for routine gall bladder surgery. Apparently a resident was allowed to perform the surgery and nicked his aortic valve. There was attempt to fix it, but follow up was not sufficient. The end result is that Colton has had both of his legs amputated due to lack of blood flow. To top it off there is serious talk of discharge from the military due to his condition. The family is beside themselves. Not only has Colton’s legs been taken away from him, they fear his career will be too. And at this point this young man has been powerless to do anything about his circumstances.

I am sharing this story as I think it is important for people to know what happened to Colton. He is still in ICU and the future is very uncertain for him at this point. I do hope people send some positive energy his way. Here is a link to a news story done by a local television station.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Make a Wish and Parrots

Clicks and flashes from cameras were going off like popcorn. Was it paparazzi there for the likes of Paris Hilton, or Britney Spears? Nope, it was way better. Wow. What an incredible afternoon. It was Lance’s Make a Wish day.

Lance is an 8 year old boy challenged with a form of muscular dystrophy. His wish was to have a parrot. A young green cheek conure was hand raised for him. A cage and gobs of supplies were donated by Kaytee/Superpet and Petland. I was asked to donate training materials. And since he is local, I was invited to attend the party in which he received his parrot. And what a day it was. Cake, balloons, family, friends……..and there in the middle was Lance just head over heals for his new parrot.

Lance’s grandmother told me he had a way with animals. And she was right. Instead of squealing and recoiling when the small parrot snuggled against his neck, he gently leaned his head towards the little bird. Lance’s hand moved with perfect precision to lightly stroke the bird’s feathers. The conure was relaxed as can be, preening, stretching and even getting a bit sleepy curled against Lance’s neck. The Kodak moments were precious and frequent.

Lance also impressed me when he cut the cake and offered the first piece to his great grandmother and then his grandmother and then everyone else in the room before he had any for himself. I was told he is usually quite shy, but he boldly came over and asked me a few questions about how to train his parrot. Apparently he has already been studying and is eager to get started.

I gave his grandmother some tips on how to deal with a young parrot chewing too hard on fingers during play and a stack of Good Bird Magazines to go with their DVD’s and books already received. It is obvious his family is an amazing support system and huge animal lovers too.

I am hoping Lance will keep in touch and let me know how things go with his conure. I am humbled and honored to have been able to play a small part in his special day.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Training a Scarlet Macaw to Trust after a Stressful Situation

Attitudes about animals can vary greatly. However even when things are not ideal, we can make an impact on attitudes by modeling a positive reinforcement approach to parrot handling.

At a workshop I was teaching, we had no birds for on hand for training demonstrations. During the lunch break one of the attendees volunteered to run home and bring a scarlet macaw. While I was lecturing the bird arrived. I heard a commotion behind a wall and ran to see what was happening. I was a bit surprised to see the macaw hunkered down in a cardboard box. Several people were trying to get the bird out of the box and moved into a wire holding cage. The parrot eventually moved into the larger cage, but was clearly stressed by the whole situation.

We left the macaw in peace to calm down. After awhile we could see the bird still needed some more assistance to recover from its ordeal. We offered some apple for a boost of sugar and soon the parrot looked more relaxed.

What started out as very traumatic soon turned to incredibly impressive. By offering more apple I soon found I had made a new friend. I opened the door and let the macaw climb out. I started working on training targeting and some approximations towards step up. At one point the bird calmly crawled back into the holding cage garnering a few laughs from us all, but soon came out for more interaction. We stressed to the owner the importance of an appropriate transport cage and to never put a scarlet macaw in a cardboard box again. This meant I would need to train this bird to go back inside the wire cage before the day was over.

To make it possible we needed to add a stable perch to the cage and also slowly turn it on its side so it would eventually fit in the car. We did all this with the macaw sitting on top of the cage. It is amazing what you can do when you get creative, but stick to your kind and gentle approach. Adding the perch and turning the cage was done so gradually the parrot was completely unphased by it. He simply crawled along the outside to remain on top as we turned it.

By the end of the seminar the macaw had made great progress towards stepping up, but was not quite there yet and was not crawling into the cage by following a target. I gave the class permission to leave if they wanted, but said I will be continuing to work with this bird if you want to stick around. Nobody budged. In a matter of 15 minutes the macaw stepped up onto my hand and allowed me to gently place him in the travel cage. I even got a round of applause. Woohoo!

The now calm bird even allowed a few head scratches during the process. While this parrot’s start on that day was not what we had in mind, it was an important lesson in what a dramatic change is possible in such a short time when you train with positive reinforcement.

We explained to the owner a better approach to transporting and interacting with her scarlet macaw and I think she was thankful to learn she had other options.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Absolutely Nothing to do with Parrots

Heavan in a coffee mug

Just had to share. While in Australia I learned one can bite the corners off of a Tim Tam cookie, dip the end in cocoa, coffee or hot milk and suck the liquid through the homemade cookie straw. Did you hear me? SUCK THE HOT LIQUID THROUGH THE HOMEMADE COOKIE STRAW. OH….MY…..GAWD. As Julie Andrews sings “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good” because this is just too fabulous. The cookie dissolves from the warm liquid in your mouth. I could only get one sip before it fell apart. But that just meant I had to try with another cookie. Aw, shucks, that one melted, too bad.

If you are in the US go to World Market, grab yourself a packet of the original chocolate Tim Tams and reward yourself , your spouse, your child or BFF. Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Alone, but not Lonely, with Parrots

I had an entire island to myself. An entire island I tell you. And not just any island. A island that is home to rare and unique species that have never seen a predator. Not a single one. This lead to a weird birding experience for sure.

“Petah” my “Skippah” met me at 9:00 AM to provide a 5 minute water taxi ride to Ulva Island. On the way he pointed out fairy penguins bobbing in the water. I couldn’t see them, but managed a “I think I see them” to continue in my denial that my eyes are wimpy at best.

Peter told me I was the only one visiting the island that morning. He is the only water taxi service running at the moment so I guess he should know. He told me he would be back to meet me at noon.

I started up the path and right there in front of me were two little Kakarikis (New Zealand parakeets) Up in a tree was a Tui singing his amazing song. At the first beach I spotted the infamous Weka. As it was an early special sighting I cautiously moved closer, snapping pictures. What an idiot! After about ten minutes of creeping around the bird, the Weka practically hopped in my lap.

I was told you can nearly step on birds on Ulva Island due to their lack of fear having had no experience with predators. This was too cool. Every beach I encountered had few Wekas who literally were more curious about you than you might be of them.

As I trekked through the wooded parts of the Island I kept an eye out for one of my main bird objectives…the Kaka. This forest parrot is known for being super smart and bold with humans. Being a good bird watcher, I would stop and listen, move quietly and check for movement in the trees. I did manage to see quite a few of the species famous for making the island their home. But no Kaka.

On one side of the island I discovered the Fantail. This little bird practically flew to my feet. This is because he hopes you will stir up some bugs as you tromp through the sandy beach. Having a blast with Wekas and Fantails I was a bit slow to leave the gorgeous beach and work my way back to meet Peter. I realized I was going to have to book it fast so as not to be late.

As I practically ran through the forested island trails, birds were coming out of the woodwork. It was then I realized this is opposite to any birding experience I had had in the past. Instead of quiet, you are supposed to be a big ol’ clod and make noise. Suddenly little Tomtits were my best buddies, a flock of Creepers foraged over my head, the Kakarikis gathered and what did I finally see? A Kaka! Right there off the trail. He could care less about my presence. And of course I only had 10 minutes to get to the boat on a trail that is supposed to take 45 minutes to walk.

Fortunately Peter understood my tardiness. He obviously has an appreciation for the native wildlife and Ulva Island. On the way back he brought the boat to a screeching halt two times. One so I really could see a group of fairy penguins up close in the water, and the second time to see a yellow eyed penguin taking a break on the surface. Thanks Peter. It was the perfect end to a perfect day, alone on Ulva Island with parrots.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Single people who want to see Kakapo Parrots

Four hours driving followed by a rolling ferry ride and I am on Stewart Island. Snacking lightly on Dramamine kept the “barfies” away. Yippee.

When I arrived the sun was setting. My host was waiting for me at the boat with a van to whisk me to my very own private cottage…make that my very own private cottages,…. make that my very own efficiency complex. Yup. I am the only one here. Not even the caretaker spends the night. I am loving it as it actually feels like I am a local with my own property in this tiny community. The total amount of paved roadway is 26 kilometers for the whole island.

I grab a flashlight (Or torch as they call it here. Which to me means big giant flames to signal the occasional car, but in reality means wussy pale yellow circle on the ground) and wander down the hill to the only restaurant/pub in the hood.

At the pub there is actually a guy with a shirt that says “orginal gangsta” so now I KNOW I am in the real hood….population 300. I order up a “Tui”…the beer named after the bird. As I sip my kiwi beer “Doug” whose nickname for tonight is “Dave” tells me an interesting tidbit of news. Stewart Island is home to the “Singles Ball.” For the last five years “Dave” has organized an event for singles from around the world to meet and be merry on the tiny island. He gets sponsors, live bands, an endless seafood buffet, beach bonfires and 250 people! People have come from as far as Denver, Colorado. So far two marriages have resulted from the event. I noticed no ring on “Dave’s” finger, so I am guessing he hopes to one year find a female fit for a fisherman at the ball. If the rubber boot fits…..!

What does this have to do with Kakapos? Well the singles ball is in August. And once a year a Kakapo is brought from the Kakapo Recovery Project to even tinier Ulva Island, which is a short water taxi ride from Stewart Island. So if you are single AND want to see a Kakapo, pencil in August and September for a vacation in New Zealand. You can visit the Pub (farthest south in the world) where I met “Dave”. Who by the way is nicknamed this because he was wearing a sweater today that resembled that of an alleged serial killer named Dave.

What an evening. My thoughts of serial killers quickly dissipated as I enjoyed the most outrageous starry southern night on my walk back to my cottage. Even David Lynch could not make up this place.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Finland. Land of Orange Winged Amazons ….and Rambo.

Orange winged Amazon parrots seem to be very popular in Finland. At my recent two day workshop in this fine and friendly country I had the pleasure of working with a number of orange winged Amazon parrots. In Finland wing clipping is not the norm, so all these Amazon parrots were flighted and quite a joy to work with.

One in particular was a cutie named Rambo. (Yes, Sly Stallone’s impact is worldwide.) Rambo was confident as can be. She also had a very healthy appetite. You have food, she is your buddy. Guess who was one of my favorite training subjects? In fact she turned out to be many people’s favorite training subject. She learned a nice recall and return to perch cue, as well as some preliminary harness training. This is often a tough behavior to train with birds who are mature and not into all over touching. Milla, who organized the event, spent some time working on this behavior and made some progress. As is often the case this can be a difficult behavior to train that requires very small approximations. Being flighted, Rambo was good at letting people know when too much was being asked of her. It will take some time, but this group demonstrated some great natural talent for training and I am sure they will get the behavior trained soon.

Some other stars of the seminar included a Jardine's parrot who had some issues with hands. This meant no stepping up on the hand, only on the shoulder. This proved to be a challenge when the seminar was over and the bird did not want to go back in her cage. We did some creative maneuvering of her cage and were able to get her to enter. However I was super pleased to received a video clip less than a week later of the Jardines parrot stepping up voluntarily on the hand. Way to go Eve!

Also impressive was a whip smart, confident, flighted cockatiel. This bird learned super quick and made the rounds of the room visiting whomever she pleased. She spent a good chunk of her time supervising my computer : )

Really we had so many impressive training candidates that weekend. A green winged macaw, two umbrella cockatoos, some greys and more Amazon parrots. A big treat was that the national news came to visit. They filmed portions of the seminar as well as an interview with me and pet supply store owner and club member Jarko. I hear the news story really got the message across about positive reinforcement. Even more exciting is that it aired n 5 countries. When I made it to Helsinki, I got to watch the newscast on a big screen TV in the lobby bar of the hotel. Sigh, for a moment I felt bigger than Sly Stallone.

All Photos Courtesy of Jarmo Tutti

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc