Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oops! I Scared my Parrot!

I made a boo boo today. Delbert my yellow naped Amazon parrot is flighted. He loves to get up to top speed first thing in the AM and cruise around the house. He has a few favorite landing spots, one of which is on top of the microwave. Well for some god awful reason I felt compelled to do a little house cleaning the other day. (Trust me, it was purely a strategic move to avoid a big ol’ pile of work waiting for me on my desk. When the stack gets to overwhelming, I turn into little miss clean freak.)

In my cleaning frenzy I thought “Boy it must be slippery when Delbert lands here.” Of course I had no evidence to support that thought. However I still decided I should place a nice non slick substrate on the microwave. My material of choice was a piece of a purple yoga mat.

Having forgotten about it the next day, I let Delbert out as usual for some zoom, zoom, zooming around the house. Full steam ahead he rocketed for the top of the microwave. If he had the words to express his thoughts, I do believe he would have said “Holy you know what!”

His confident expression turned to eyes wide open followed by some strategic aerial maneuvers to get the heck outta Dodge as they say. Guess who spent the rest of the morning retraining Delbert to step onto the microwave?

Sometimes we take for granted that a bird should do something we request, like stepping onto an unfamiliar or changed perch. There are many times I have watched someone quickly bring a parrot up to a perch, only to watch that bird lean far away to avoid it. In many cases people start wriggling their wrist and force the bird onto the perch. This often leads to a bird who leaps off of the perch once on it or shows body language that indicates he can’t wait to leave.

I much prefer a parrot who eagerly steps onto a perch. To get this kind of response, I pay attention to my bird’s body language. I try to make sure the bird is as comfortable as possible. I will offer treats as we approach the perch. If the bird ever shows the slightest fear response, I stop moving towards the perch. In essence I break even this behavior into small approximations. Over time the birds learns stepping onto a new perch means lots of treats.

At a recent parrot behavior and training workshop I taught, I went through this process with two parrots. I wanted a hyacinth macaw to step onto a table. It took me about 10 minutes of tiny of approximations to finally get her to step onto the table. During the process I had to stand in some weird positions so that she was comfortable. But she did it! A little poicephalus parrot also went through these steps. In just a matter of seconds she learned to step onto the table as well. I then went on to work with her on getting comfortable with a towel. You can see pictures from this event on my twitter page .

Slowing down and taking a few extra moments can make a world of difference to a parrot, especially when your parrot is afraid of something new. So even though I created a little set back for Delbert. We were able to get past it with a just few minutes of training.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Parrot Training Diet?

That is such a weird concept to me. It seems to suggest you need a fancy diet to get your parrot into training. This is not my experience. The more parrots I meet, the more I find the strategy of micro managing of diets to be outdated.

I decided to write a blog on this topic because people who have signed up for my mailing list automatically get sent a series of three video clips in which I demonstrate how I trained my Amazon parrot to let me trim his nails. Some of the questions I keep getting are “What are you feeding him that he like so much?” or “What kind of diet is he on to be so motivated?”

It is funny to me because….I really have not done anything too special : ) Here is the lowdown. Every day I feed my parrot about 1/3 cup of pellets, 1/3 cup of mostly veggies and some fruit, a few sprouts and sometimes a small piece of birdie bread.

He usually leaves some behind, drops a few items he may not prefer, and sinks a few things in his water bowl. But essentially he gets a tiny bit more food than he likely needs to be satiated and maintain a healthy weight. Here is a photo of the leftovers in the morning.

For his training session I use sunflower seeds and pine nuts as treats. He only gets these for training, good behavior throughout the day and sometimes in foraging toys. But he pretty much never just gets them dumped in his food bowl.

First thing in the morning I open his cage door and pull out his leftover food. We usually have a training session within the next 30 minutes. After that he hangs out and plays. Usually late morning I offer him the rest of his diet and it stays with him until the next morning when we start all over again.

That is it! No fancy schmancy intricate scheduling or manipulating of diets or weighing of my bird daily to calculate the perfect amounts of food.

I think a few important elements that have made this work in my house is

1. The diet amount is more than he needs, but not excessive
2. I save treats for training and to reinforce good behavior
3. I train when he is likely to be most receptive…right before breakfast

So rather than getting too wrapped up in strict diets and regimens, try these simple strategies and see if they can help your parrot gain some enthusiasm for what you have to offer. Check out the videos  and you will get an idea of what can happen.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Parrot Training Information in Different Languages

I have long said if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, it will be OK. I have had a pretty good ride. One of the cool things I get to do is travel around the world to teach people about parrot training and behavior. Not a bad gig if I do say so myself.

Traveling a bunch means trying to find a way to communicate with many different parrot people of many different nationalities. I wish I was proficient at several languages, but I am afraid English and enough Spanish to be dropped in the middle of Mexico are about it.

Fortunately there are some very kind people out there who have generously translated my writings. Here are two that have been translated to Russian. How cool it that?

Wow. That Bird Sure Can Scream! In Russian
My Bird is Afraid of Everything in Russian

I also have some translated articles on parrot training in magazines in the following countries:

The Netherlands

My first book Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots was recently published in Spanish

And The Parrot Problem Solver is soon going to be released in Japanese. Woohoo!

I am really floored, honored and so very happy people are finding these resources helpful in other countries. It really is a nice big warm fuzzy to think something you do may help people and their parrots around the world.

It is not as fabulous as having a real live person translate something, but I did add a google translator to my blog. It is on the right hand side under by bio. It is not perfect but it can help give the idea of what is going on in my writings. I hope it helps foster this global growth of the positive reinforcement approach to working with parrots.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

Friday, April 10, 2009

Playing with Parrots. Make it Count

One of the things I do with my parrots is I turn playtime into training time. For example my yellow naped Amazon parrot Delbert loves to play with toys. Woohoo! I am happy to let him have a blast. But when he is out playing I try to arrange the environment so that he also might learn something else that is of value to me. I want him to think towels are the best place on earth. This is to prepare for the day he may need to be restrained in a towel for a veterinary procedure.

You will notice in this video clip that I have placed a baby blanket (my preferred restraint material. It is easy to manipulate) on the counter top where Delbert usually likes to play in the morning. Everyday I provide a few different items to play with in this area. Today it was an empty vitamin bottle and a plastic ball.

Essentially I am pairing positive reinforcers (toys he likes) with the towel. Next thing you know I am incorporating movement of the towel in our play time. It makes me very happy to see him having a great time and also knowing I am working towards reducing the potential stress of the restraint procedure.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sneak Peak at Parrot Training Videos

This has been a long time coming. And I am finally glad I have it to share with you. My filmmakers were kind enough to put together a 3 1/2 minute video that shows clips from all three of my DVD's. It kinda gives a sneak peak as what to expect from each one. If you see some things in there that intrigue you, you can learn more about the DVD's at this link

If waiting for a video in the mail ain't your thing ; ) that is OK too. If you sign up for the Good Bird Inc mailing list, you can receive three video clips over the next three days that demonstrate how I trained a parrot to let me trim his nails from start to finish. They are free as I hope they will provide inspiration for people to learn more about training their parrots with positive reinforcement. It really does work.

In the meantime here is the video featuring clips from all my DVD's. Enjoy!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Getting a Parrot to Bathe

In many cases parrots love to bathe….as my Yellow Naped Amazon Delbert is happy to demonstrate here.

Jeez! Even my dog loves a bath. Honestly he would jump in the shower with me everyday if he could. But that is another story. Back to parrots. We are often told how important it is for a parrot to bathe. And yes I do agree. Many times a bird that has not bathed in awhile will have feathers that look tattered and unkempt. Some individuals may even engage in feather destructive behavior when bathing is lacking from their lives. And of course as Delbert has demonstrated, for some birds…it is just plain fun! Which is reason enough to want to make sure your parrot is getting regular bathing.

Unfortunately some birds do not respond with such enthusiasm to a bath. This can be quite the dilemma. Do you bathe your parrot against his wishes? Or do you never give him a bath? Or do you do my favorite….train it! Yes that is right. You can actually train a parrot to take a bath.

Rather than force a bath upon your bird and possibly reduce his trust in you. You can break it down into baby steps and train it. Tex Hankey wrote a great story about this very process with one of her cockatoos. It is in Good Bird Magazine Volume 3 Issue 4. I recently saw Tex at a conference and she said her parrot has continued to progress and actually now enjoys taking a bath. Prior to training he showed a fear response to the spray bottle and the mist it produced.

Other ways to introduce bathing to your parrot include hanging wet lettuce leaves near a perch. This can be enriching and get your bird accustomed to water on his feathers on his own terms. Other ideas are to present water in different ways. You may try a flat shallow pan, a fine mist, big droplets, or if you have an outdoor aviary, you may try a combination. For many years I presented free flight bird shows at Disney World. When parrots were done with shows, they often had the chance to hang out in the “bath cage.” This 8 x 8 enclosure had a mister, a sprinkler and a shallow bath pan available for birds wanting a bath. But it also had dry areas so that birds could avoid the water if they chose to.

If you are looking to add a parrot to your home, you can avoid this problem by finding a breeder who exposes his or her baby parrots to misting and bathing while the bird is still young. This practice goes a long way in helping create a parrot who eagerly anticipates a bath…just like Delbert. He likes his bath so much I sometimes find it hard to coax him to leave the bath perch. I actually have to hide the spray bottle to send the message that bath time is over. Now that is a parrot who loves a bath.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc