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


Unknown said...

It was great to get the opportunity to watch and read about your work with the babies! Loved it!


Sid Price said...

Nice work Barbara,

Mary @ StaleCheerios said...

I've enjoyed reading their story.

The video was great. I especially liked the part at the end with the kids laughing and clapping. It looked like you, the birds and the kids were all having a great time!

Mary H.

Anonymous said...


This all looks wonderful!! I can't wait to start training with you and the babies! You’ve done such an amazing job!! As always!

Thanks and I will see you soon!!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful video!!! Very heart-warming...