Friday, December 31, 2010

Harness Training a Macaw

I have already written a bit on parrot harness training, here on my blog and also in Good Bird Magazine. However it is one of those behaviors that people just can’t seem to get enough of…therefore here is a little bit more!

Every time I train this behavior it is yet another opportunity to refine my techniques. I am a huge proponent of training this behavior with a very strict positive reinforcement approach. Sadly there are lots of video examples of parrot harness training on the internet that claim to be positive but still clearly show the parrot does not have a choice in the matter. When you hear the trainer telling the bird “no” or “stop” or “hold still” or you hear the parrot vocalizing his objection, or even trying to escape but being blocked you can bet there is coercion being used. Harness training can be a difficult behavior to train with some parrots and I can see where one’s patience can be tested. However the pay-off of avoiding coercion is worth it. Some of you may recall Beni the Blue Throated Macaw I trained for the Kaytee Learning Center. I loved how he would just become a giant fluff ball when he saw the harness. It meant he was going to be showered with head scratches, which he loved. I am aiming for the same response with Blu Lu.

Blu Lu is also a fan of head scratches. Thankfully this often makes harness training a lot easier. A parrot that is receptive to touch is far easier to teach to wear a harness than one who isn’t in my experience.

Once it was clear Blu Lu liked to be touched I immediately starting pairing head scratching and cuddling sessions with the presence of the harness. I then gradually worked through approximations of putting the harness on followed by head scratches. We took our time. This is because I don’t want her to ever panic when the harness is on. This meant short sessions and small approximations. In the video clip she is up to letting me place it under both wings. She still needs some sessions to work on tightening the strap and leaving it on for longer intervals of time. Eventually the process of putting it on and taking it off will go faster than what is shown in the clip. But for now this is the pace that is working for her.

My goal is that when the harness comes out, Blu Lu will be happily anticipating head scratches. That is what positive reinforcement is all about…eager participants. Enjoy the video. I will post more as she progresses on her harness training.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2010.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best Talking Parrot Contest

Do you have a talking parrot? Enter him or her in the Best Talking Parrot Contest. Good Bird Inc is looking for talking parrots of all kinds to participate in an upcoming DVD. You parrot could be one of the featured stars. You also have a chance to win some fabulous prizes from KAYTEE and Good Bird Inc.

Here is how to enter. Visit

o Read the terms of the contest. By participating in the contest you agree to the terms.
o Create a profile page for the parrot you wish to enter
o Upload as many videos as you wish.
o Share the link to your parrot with friends and family so they can vote for your parrot.

To get you inspired here is a clip of Delbert my Yellow Naped Amazon parrot sharing some of his favorite words.

I look forward to watching video clips of your special parrot!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The First Two Weeks Training a New Parrot

What a difference a few weeks makes. Blu Lu the Blue Throated Macaw from the conservation project the Bird Endowment has now been here about two weeks. In her first week here although quite cooperative I would describe her as hesitant. In other words the environment was so different to her that she was slow to get out and explore.

Because she is a flighted parrot I really wanted her to get those wings flapping and get to know the perches in the house. She quickly learned to fly to a PVC perch that was similar to one she knew from her time at the breeders. But I had to spend some time teaching her to fly to other perches in the house. You can see this process in the video clip.
The training has paid off! Now she is showing the kind of confidence I would expect out of a more seasoned flyer. She knows where her perches are and has figured out how to maneuver through doorways and around corners. So far she has not made too many attempts to fly to places that are not sanctioned for parrots. However when she has, I have returned her to an acceptable perch and reinforced her there with a toy, head scratches or a treat. My goal is to make the perches I want her to use the most reinforcing places in the room. Because Blue Throated Macaws tend to be active and inquisitive parrots (someone once described them to me as the engineers of the parrot world) this means I am going to have to be very attentive to this, especially in these early stages of training. Fortunately I just had a fabulous outdoor aviary finished that I hope will help keep her enriched throughout her lifetime. (More on that in future blogs!)

Besides facilitating flight training right away, I have also been very attentive to Blu Lu’s eating and weight. When a bird transitions to a new home, that dramatic change in environment can also cause a bird to eat a bit less. This is because the bird may not be feeling comfortable and is more focused on paying attention to the new surroundings and circumstances. Blu Lu responded to pine nuts even at the breeder’s house. So I was able to weigh her as soon as we arrived at my home. She easily stepped onto a scale to get a pine nut. I then started positioning her food bowl right next to the scale when she was out in the mornings so she would simply perch there to eat. Her weight fluctuated in the 20 -30 gram range at most. And has leveled out around 600-615 grams. I also paid close attention to the quantity of food she was consuming and types. Because she is a young parrot it is especially important she is eating a healthy, plentiful and varied diet. This can help set the precedent for the rest of her life.

We have also been working on meeting new people, being receptive to touch, harness training and more! I will save those for upcoming blogs.
I am a big fan of the Bird Endowment for many reasons. One being that I trust their funding goes directly to helping Blue Throated Macaws. When you order products from Good Bird Inc you will notice an option to donate to parrot conservation. All the money collected has gone to The Bird Endowment. And it is that time of year to send them a check! If you would like to donate to the Bird Endowment, please consider pressing the optional donation button for parrot conservation when you make your next purchase. Thanks for supporting parrot conservation in the wild and positive reinforcement training for companion parrots!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Introducing a Child to a Parrot

Blu Lu the Blue Throated Macaw made a new friend today. Before she arrived at my place I am not sure if Blu Lu had met any children or not. But her initial reaction to Camryn showed she was not sure kids were to her liking.

When three year old Camryn first arrived at my house she had “happy feet.” She was dancing and wiggling until she found some parrot toys to play with. Blu Lu flew up to a high perch and looked down on the activity. After awhile she was willing to come over to the adults in the room to munch on some pellets and pine nuts. Pretty soon Blu Lu was willing to stay put if Camryn moved closer. 

Eventually Blu Lu decided her belly was full and head scratches and cuddling were in order. Camryn’s mom and I were both happy to oblige. This again paired a positive reinforcer with the presence of the little girl.
Camryn joined us on the couch and brought a slew of parrot toys with her. After a while this proved to be too tempting for the much more relaxed Blu Lu. Camryn shared the toys and Blu Lu discovered kids can be fun!

The process took about an hour and a half, but it is time well spent. For Blu Lu to be a great ambassador for Blue Throated Macaws it is important for her to feel comfortable around the many different people she may meet in the years to come. Today was a great start on that training.

Here is a short clip of some of the interactions. Enjoy!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2010 Good Bird Inc

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Training a New Parrot!

I have a new addition to my flock of parrots. Meet Blu Lu a Blue Throated Macaw. Blu Lu was hatched at the Bird Endowment. The Bird Endowment is dedicated to Blue Throated Macaw conservation. They support conservation efforts in the field by providing nest boxes and sponsoring the work of field researchers who monitor the nest boxes and the tiny wild population that exists. Because there are so few left in the wild, another way the Bird Endowment is helping preserve Blue Throated Macaws is to maintain a genetically diverse flock of them in captivity. These birds live in large flight cages and are encouraged to behave like parrots, not pets. If for any reason the wild population should go extinct these birds may be the last hope for potentially replenishing the wild with Blue Throated Macaws.

Breeding is encouraged so that this flock is robust should that day come. However sometimes parrot parents don’t do their jobs. And unfortunately Blu Lu was a bit neglected by her parents. This meant hand raising her. Because of this her inclination to be around humans would make her a less than ideal candidate for the Bird Endowment flock. I was approached to see if might like to take Blu Lu under my wing and train her to be a spokes bird for her species. I said “yes” under one condition….Wendy Craig of Wendy’s Parrots would have to finish her hand raising. That is because besides being a caring, responsible and knowledgeable breeder; Wendy knows how to train with positive reinforcement. This meant from the time she arrived at Wendy’s she was already learning how to step up, step onto scale, recall, etc voluntarily via positive reinforcement. During that phase of development parrots are sponges and it means there is an important opportunity to shape behaviors that are important for a parrot’s life in a home. Check out my article called “A Good Start to a Good Bird” in the Fall 2010 issue of Good Bird Magazine for more about this.

Blu Lu’s name came from famous blues singer Blu Lu Barker .The Bird Endowment has a tradition of naming the birds after famous blues artists. I felt it fitting to follow suit. As a music fan myself, many of the other animals in my home are named after musicians (Waylon, Delbert, Joe Cockertiel)

Blu Lu has just arrived. In the blogs to follow I will update everyone on her training and progress. So far she is just adjusting to her new environment and getting to know new people. She is already great at stepping up and stepping onto a scale thanks to Wendy. Here is a video clip of the night she arrived. (Please excuse all the boxes in the background. I was temporarily storing some items at my house) It was a long day of driving and we arrived after dark. I gave Blu Lu some time to look around and get some treats from inside the travel cage before she came out. As you will see she adjusted rather quickly thanks to her previous training at Wendy’s. More videos and blogs on her progress to come. Check back soon!
Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2010