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