Friday, December 18, 2009

Transitioning Baby Parrots to a New Home

All that training paid off! The baby parrots have transitioned to their new home at the Kaytee Learning Center. I mentioned in a previous blog, that one of the best things we can do for a young parrot is train him. Young parrots are sponges. During this critical time of development they are often quite receptive to new things and new experiences. Instead of waiting until a behavior is needed or when a problem develops, I highly encourage people to build a foundation of behaviors early in a young parrot’s life. Just like taking our pups to obedience classes, we can offer the same type of early instruction to set our young parrots up for success.

Beni the blue throated macaw and Wrigley the double yellow headed Amazon parrot are evidence of how well this works. Traveling with them was stress free thanks to advance training. And their first day at the center was remarkably easy. As soon as we arrived at Kaytee we brought the parrots to a meeting room and let them out. They were completely unaffected by the new environment and eagerly interacted with John and Michelle their new caretakers. They didn’t even need time to adjust to the new space. The first few clips in the video are from that first session.

As the week progressed we tried flying them with new people and in new environments. Our biggest fear was some large windows in the main room of the Learning Center. The windows had decals on them that birds can see, but are clear to humans. If the parrots got flying fast, we worried would they see them? Both Beni and Wrigley had experience with windows and mirrors at my house. Smearing bar soap on these surfaces can help parrots learn to avoid these hazards. This is an “old zookeeper’s secret.” There are many zoo bird houses that feature glass barriers. To help birds acclimate to them bird keepers smear soap on them. Over time they gradually wipe the soap off until it is all gone.

Our hope was that the decals would offer the same function, but could stay on the windows forever. The good news is that they did. During one session Beni headed towards a glass door and in mid air did a 180 and headed a different direction. In another session he circled the room and got going pretty fast, each time he headed towards the windows he banked and kept going. After that we felt pretty confident, the windows would not be an issue.

Throughout the week Beni and Wrigley interacted with a number of different people and in several new environments. They did really well. In fact on the last day they participated in another school program. This one was for high school students. Wrigley stepped up on each student and Beni flew to a dowel rod each student was allowed to hold. Beni also did his flighted retrieve and Wrigley flew over the students as they sat on the floor. The teacher for the class was kind enough to share his photos of the event. You can see them at the end of the video clip.

I wrote a blog a while back about “Preventing the One Person Parrot.” Because Beni loves attention and had been receiving it primarily from me for the past three months, I was a bit of a distraction during training sessions. Beni would often seek me out and fly to me. However because the goal was for him to interact with others, I was careful to avoid giving him attention or treats for flying to me unless I cued him. Instead everyone else would now be the ones to deliver treats and attention. It also meant I did not get as much footage of his training sessions. I had to hide to help improve his success with others. It did help and I am happy to hear he continues to be working really well for everyone at the Kaytee Learning Center.

The week flew by and before I knew it was time to say goodbye. They are in good hands and as you can see from the video are already well loved by the staff. I heard the baby parrots recently made their debut at a company meeting and performed perfectly. They will be great ambassadors for their species and will help a lot of people learn about responsible parrot care. I am honored to have had them in my life and will look forward to visiting them in the future. I hope their story has helped you with the parrots in your home.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Traveling with Parrots

Twenty hours in a car. That is how long it took to get the baby parrots to their new home. And I am happy to report the journey proceeded without incident. This is in part because of some advance training. Both Beni and Wrigley had already learned to enter crates. I had practiced moving them in the crates and eventually going for short drives. On the days we did not work on this behavior, the crates were always set up with treats hidden within. This meant if they felt like exploring an open crate on their own when they were out playing they would discover something special inside.

Needless to say, they soon learned to check the crates for goodies first thing. For the long drive I decided I wanted to use something larger than a crate and purchased some collapsible wire cages. I set these up where the crates usually sat. Transitioning to the new travel cages was a breeze. I also loaded them up with tons of toys which were too tempting for the baby parrots to resist.

Beni and Wrigley had also experienced several new environments in their training. This meant the hotel rooms were just another interesting place to explore, instead of a potentially frightening experience. I also brought along some familiar perches to give them a recognizable prop in a new environment. These ended up being their preferred roosting location for their nights in the hotel room.

Even though the drive was tiring and when we arrived it was snowing, there was still time for a bit of playing on the hotel beds as the video clip shows.

Their transition to their new home at the Kaytee Learning Center went really well too. But I will save that for the next blog!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Training Baby Parrots

It is a bittersweet week. The baby parrots, Beni and Wrigley have completed their training with me and are about to make the journey to their new home at the Kaytee Learning Center. I know I will miss them terribly, but at the same time I am excited to see them get started as avian ambassadors, teaching the world about responsible pet ownership and conservation. Here is a video clip of all they have learned…plus their first appearance at a school!

As I reflect back on our time together, I realize they have taught me as much as I have taught them. Every time I have the opportunity to train it is a learning experience for me as well. A few important lessons I am reminded of are as follows:

Training a young parrot is much like a new puppy or kitten. In order for them to learn to behave well in our homes, it is ideal to provide instruction early on. There were days in the beginning when I was frustrated when the babies would land on an unsanctioned perch. But I knew that meant I needed to either remove the temptation and/or heavily reinforce the birds for sitting on approved perching. In the beginning this took my undivided attention when they were out exploring. Now after being reinforced for the correct behavior so many times, my confidence is high that they will be playing and perching in acceptable locations. So much so, that I can often leave the room and check on them periodically. By investing the time to train desired behavior in the beginning, I can look forward to a well behaved parrot down the road.

When a parrot is quite young we have a great opportunity to expose them to many things they may encounter later in life. Many young birds are receptive to new things. By pairing these things with known positive reinforcers, we can set them up for success. This means it is good goal to plan on introducing things like nail clippers, towels, new people, etc. Both Beni and Wrigley experienced those things and much more.

Food is a great reinforcer….but it is not the only one. I presented a paper at a bird trainer’s conference a few years back about expanding your list of reinforcers. The more I grow as a trainer, the more I love to experiment with this. Baby parrots are usually great candidates for using other reinforcers. In many cases they are curious and interested in things like toys, play, attention and tactile reinforcers. I used all of these, as well as food to train the baby parrots. As you watch the video clip, take note of those other reinforcers.

Even though both birds have learned so much, their training is not done. In fact it is never over. These parrots will be learning for the rest of their lives. What we see in the video will only last if it is reinforced. Just because it was trained once doesn’t mean it sticks forever. This means every behavior I or their future trainers want to see repeated needs to be reinforced. Behaviors that are undesired should go unreinforced and/or redirected to acceptable behaviors. So the journey does not end here! I will look forward to hearing and sharing updates on their progress in their new home.

I will try to get another blog up about their transition to their new digs once we make the trip. I hope you have enjoyed following their story.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2009