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


Sid Price said...

Boy Barbara this is SO true. Just this last weekend I modified one of Mijo's (yellow nape too) favorite perches because it was atop a coat stand and you can imagine what was being deposited on the coats! Well since then it has taken him until today to revisit that place after making several daily "fly-bys".

Anonymous said...

I have a wild-caught Goffin that is bonded with me, 20 years, but does not like change. He was full feather and he had chewed through his perch and probably crashed down to the floor of his cage. I cannot find an exact replacement (it was about 3.4 by 1.25 inches by 18 long, nice and big rectangular shape with end caps) So I got two dowel perches that more or less filled the two end caps and put that in the same place the old perch was. He hates it so much he won't use it, he just clings to the side of his cage. He has chewed off all his feathers which he had done in the past. Very frustrating. It's been over a week.

Barbara Heidenreich said...

If you can I would take that perch out and go for a more gradual process of introducing a new perch and try pairing it with positive reinforcers. This means giving him treats, head scratches, cuddles (whatever he likes) with the perch nearby. If it is creating a fear response it is too close. Baby steps at his pace will get you their faster than too much too soon : )