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

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