Monday, May 18, 2009

Parrot Training Super Stars Around the World

I have been in Finland and France teaching some parrot training workshops, and I thought I would share some stories from the road.

People are invited to bring their birds to my seminars. This has been quite an education for me. Every time I teach I meet 10 or so new parrots. During the seminar I try to find a way to connect with these birds and demonstrate how to teach new behaviors. I never know what will happen or what to expect. Instead I learn to just go with what the bird gives me.

This weekend in France I met an umbrella cockatoo. Usually I don’t ask for any background on the birds, but I was told this one was quite shy and nervous and probably would not respond. I had forgotten this by the time I went to see if she wanted to interact.

She was sitting quite relaxed and comfy on a perch on top of her transport cage. I offered her a treat. No interest. I then slowly wiggled my fingers near her head to suggest to her I would be delighted to scratch her cute head. Her body language seemed to say she was still comfy so I moved in closer. Pretty soon she was all about the head scratches. I did a short demonstration on how to use a head scratch as a reinforcer to train a parrot to do something. And the cute cockatoo obliged by taking steps closer to me for more head scratches.

I returned to her later in the day and offered some treats. This time she took them readily. So I worked on teaching her to turn around on cue. She was super responsive the next day as well. I then went on to train her to allow a nail file to touch her nail and some foot manipulation. She was still an eager participant. So I decided to train her to take medication from a syringe (for our avian veterinary professionals in the audience.) The cockatoo quickly learned to touch the tip of our home made syringe with just her tongue and take a drop of water.

Everyone just fell in love with that cockatoo. On the breaks several people came and interacted with her. She clearly enjoyed their attention.

Later I learned she almost did not come to the seminar. There was concern she would be too nervous. They also forgot to tell me “she hates women!” Her caregiver was so happy to see her so calm, and enjoying interacting with so many people…men and women. He really cares for his birds and I think seeing how well positive reinforcement worked for his umbrella cockatoo was really rewarding for him too.

Each parrot training workshop seems to have a surprising superstar like this umbrella cockatoo. I must admit I have such fun working birds like her, that I have to remind myself to stop on occasion to make sure the audience gets to take their scheduled breaks. Even though many times I am training the same behaviors, it is always fun for me to try them with a new parrot. It is such a rush when they understand what you want. It is also an honor when they seek your company after a successful interaction. It is all about creating that amazing connection with a parrot.

I will share some more superstar parrot stories from my workshops in blogs to come.

All photos courtesy of Francois Ducrocq and the Association Europeenne de Perroquet.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2009 Good Bird Inc


Christie said...

Great article, Barbara. My favorite part is where you found out after the fact that this bird is known for not liking women. :-) Guess you got past that ok. Thanks for writing this story. Christie

Lisa said...

I also thought it was an awesome little story and i was amazed by the labels the bird had been given to the reactions that you got from the bird .. I thought that was veryyy interesting!! :)

*Lisa* from Australia

Unknown said...

Sorry, I'll speak in french..

Merci Barbara d'avoir si bien fait le report de cette rencontre entre vous et Kukuc, cette femelle Cacatoès.
J'étais au fond de la salle, j'ai longuement et minutieusement observé cet oiseau et la relation qui naissait entre vous deux.
je connais Dominique, l'éleveur, qui n'osait pas faire venir son oiseau, car elle était timide ( une étiquette !!!).
Ce que j'ai vu, moi, dans cette expérience, c'est un perroquet qui a découvert que les humains pouvaient la comprendre, la sortir de son mutisme, et qu'elle pouvait attirer l'attention pour que l'on s'occupe d'elle.
J'ai vu un perroquet qui a envie de travailler, d'apprendre, de participer avec les humains.

Je l'ai dit, je connais bien Dominique, c'est un super éleveur, qui aime ses oiseaux, et qui en prend soin, tant psychologiquement que physiquement.

Dominique avait peur que cette séance de travail soit trop pénible pour Kukuc... et le premier soir, Dominique était heureuxd de voir que "sa" Kukuc était tellement interessée par le travail, la relation avec Barbara, puis avec Marie, notre traductrice.
Barbara : il faut continuer à enseigner partout dans le monde le respect du Perroquet de Compagnie, la valeur scientifique et pratique du renforcement positif.
Bous avons beaucoup de travail à faire, et nous le ferons, ensemble !
Thank you Barbara !!!! se you soon in France... we have to work .. positivly !!!

Patrice said...

Interesting article. Barbara, you are a perfect parrot trainer.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the pygmalion effect at it's best. And probably worked out better that you had forgotten the cockatoos background.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! PR does it again! I'm going to have the pleasure and privilege of interacting with some birds at a rescue soon and am looking forward to using some PR to get to know them. Macaws, Amazons even a Moluccan Too. I'm nervous but excited. I'm hoping I can at least make a friend or two out of the bunch. Thanks for sharing your stories Barbara they are very inspiring.

ilona said...

Loved the story, Barbara. This is also true with humans. I teach 3rd grade and hesitate to read the little cards from the 2nd grade teachers that describe the child's behavior. 9 out of 10 times it is not what was on that card. I am learning so much from you. Thank you!