Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Building Trust with Your Parrot

Today I was stroking my yellow naped amazon parrot Delbert’s foot. I was marveling at how such a little tiny creature would sit there so relaxed while I gently touched him. Seriously, it really is a moving experience when you think about it. An animal that can easily fly away from me or perhaps bite me hard enough to draw blood is allowing and enjoying me touching his feet. I think that is really cool. And in a weird way, a proud moment. The pride comes in because I know it is the choices I have made when interacting with my parrot that allows me this wonderful privilege.

Building trust with your parrot is a very realistic goal. What it requires is tossing out those old school notions about how to interact with animals. You are not going to be the boss, your bird does not have to obey you, and your parrot doesn’t have to do anything right this second.

Instead you are going to be your parrot’s partner, his provider of all things wonderful and most of all, you will be his friend.

Here are a few tips to help you start building a trusting relationship with your parrot.

1. Avoid using force to get your parrot to do something you want.
2. Avoid doing anything that creates a fear response. (You will need to learn to be very attentive to your bird’s body language so you know what the slightest fear response looks like.)
3. Avoid doing anything that creates aggressive behavior. (Just as with fear responses you will want to become very familiar with aggressive body language to avoid creating it.)
4. Empower your parrot to choose to participate. Let him walk or fly away when he wants to.

Some may be thinking “With my parrot having all that freedom to choose how in the world will I get him to be well behaved and do what I ask when needed?”….like step up when it is time to go back in the cage. This is where learning about how to train with positive reinforcement will be very important.

Positive reinforcement training will teach your parrot that when he does cooperate with your requests wonderful things happen. Like he gets treats, head scratches, cuddles or attention. Or all of the above! When you use this approach you get a parrot who can’t wait to do what you ask. And best of all you get a parrot who really enjoys interacting with you.

Follow these tips and not only will your parrot learn to trust you, but you will also find your relationship will blossom. Making that connection with a parrot is very rewarding for you both when you train with positive reinforcement. You can learn more about how to train your parrot and build trust from my DVDs Parrot Behavior and Training: An Introduction to Training and also my Live Workshop DVD The Basics of Parrot Training. Also check out the DVD Understanding Parrot Body Language to fine tune your sensitivity to fear and aggressive behaviors.

I get lots of emails about people having turned their relationship with their companion parrot around by following these strategies. I can’t wait to hear your story!

Happy Training!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Help! My Parrot Laid an Egg

A veterinarian once said to me there are two times in birds life when it looks like it is dying. When it is dying and when it is laying an egg. It is no wonder I sometimes get emails from panicked parrot owners when they see their feathered friends “give birth” to an object that seems to be as big as their bird.

Egg laying can be problematic. Therefore if you would prefer your parrot be a companion bird and not a breeder, first be sure to avoid doing things that lead to reproductive behaviors. There is a great article about this in the free sample of the digital publication Good Bird Magazine.

But what do you do if your bird does lay an egg and you have no intentions of adding more parrots to the household? Here are a few tips to help you out.

If your parrot lays an egg, leave it alone for a few days. Watch your bird to see if she shows any interest in the egg. She may ignore it as first. Parrots often take a few days to lay a full clutch of eggs. This can be as many as three eggs. Leaving the egg alone for awhile gives your bird time to lay more if she is going to, and then wait and see if she decides to sit on them. Many parrots will simply ignore the eggs as times passes. If this is the case, go ahead and remove the eggs and throw them away.

However if your bird does show interest in the eggs, you will want to try another strategy. Parrots often show strong aggressive behavior when they have eggs. Wait for a moment when your parrot is not attending her eggs. Remove the eggs and addle them. This means to shake them vigorously. The goal is to break the yolk inside the egg. This will prevent the eggs from hatching if they are fertile. Then put the eggs back. Handling the eggs will not cause your parrot to abandon them. If you know the eggs are not fertile (for example there is no male around) addling is not necessary. Just let your parrot sit on the eggs.

During this time your parrot may stay tight to her eggs most of the time. She may eat and poop infrequently. And when she does eliminate it is usually in large amounts and sometimes smelly (from holding it for long periods of time.)

The reason you do not want to pull the eggs is that this can stimulate your parrot to lay even more eggs. To make the shell of the egg your parrot must pull calcium from other parts of the body. Too much egg laying can cause your parrot to be calcium deficient which can be life threatening for your bird.

Eventually when the eggs do not hatch your parrot will abandon them. Once this happens you are free to pull them and throw them away. It may take several weeks for your bird to give up.

Remember your first line of defense is to prevent egg laying by avoiding doing things that encourage reproductive behavior. Do this and you won’t ever have to worry about your parrot laying an egg. Of course if your parrot is a boy and he lays an egg, you might want to get your money back on your DNA sexing test.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rules for Parrots

Sometimes it seems there are a lot of rules when it comes to parrots.

Never have a parrot on your shoulder.
Your parrot should always be clipped.
Your parrot must obey the step up command.
You must show your parrot you are the boss.
Never let your parrot higher than your heart.
Never let your parrot out when other pets are around.
Your parrot must sleep in a sleep cage.
Your parrot must get 12 hours of sleep at night.

That is just a short list of things we have been told about parrots. And I am here to say I do not ascribe to a single one of those rules. I am sure those rules were designed with the intent to help people with their parrots. However I often find when I challenge commonly held beliefs about animals it opens the door to a whole new way of thinking. And in many cases it enhances my life with my parrots and other animals in ways I never could have imagined.

Here is an example of “rule breaking” in my house and why it is absolutely permitted. I allow my pets to learn to interact with each other. I recently added a new member to the family. A bunny! Her name is Loretta and she is a Holland Lop Eared rabbit. Initially she was intended to be a temporary visitor, but it soon became clear she and I made a connection. My spare bedroom became her new home. She is litter box trained so it was no trouble to give her free range of the room. My two cockatiels also fly free in this room. They are skilled fliers and I quite rightly assumed if they ever felt uncomfortable near the rabbit they would just fly away.

However what I have discovered is that the rabbit is enriching for the cockatiels and vice versa. The rabbit will hop over to a pile of Timothy hay and immediately a cockatiel will fly down to join the bunny. I change out the litter in the litter box and everyone comes over to investigate. If I sit on the floor with the bunny, I immediately have a cockatiel fly down and land on my knee. Many times I walk into the room to find the cockatiels foraging on the ground while bunny is flopped on her side observing and relaxing.

It reminds me of when I worked in a behavior lab in college. There was a bunny and a crow that had free range of the lab. The two would often be found interacting together or with the same enrichment item. It also reminded of zoos that would put a snake in with a tortoise. There seemed to be evidence that the presence of another animal helped reduce stress.

I can relate. Some of my most relaxing moments are when my dog is resting by my side, while a parrot preens my eyebrows, or sitting with a bunny in my lap and a cockatiel on my head.

People sometimes are gravely concerned about having animals together such as dogs and parrots. Certainly some dogs may be a danger to another animal and are best kept separate. (Even rabbits are capable of some pretty scary stuff) However it is important to note that dogs can definitely be trained to behave around other pets. I have plenty of daily evidence in my home that parrots and dogs can coexist without incident. Rebecca O ‘Connor wrote a great piece about how dogs are very much able to differentiate their behavior around different birds. http://heckledbyparrots.com/blog/2008/12/dogs-parrots-some-training-tips/

And in this one from her falconry blog you can see pictures of her dog and falcon together. Falconry is a perfect example of how a dog and a bird can be trained to work as a team. Furthermore the dog has to know the difference between the bird that is hunting and the one being hunted. http://operationdeltaduck.com/blog/2010/12/looking-for-ducks-in-the-desert-part-3/

I think we often underestimate just what learning machines animals are. Rather than placing rules and restrictions on everything I think it is wise to assess the risk/benefit for each individual situation. Then decide what works best for your household.

Despite being told for years not to allow parrots on our shoulders, I have found roughly 90% of every audience I lecture to does not follow this rule. My guess is that for those folks the benefits far outweighs the risk. And it certainly does in my household. Time to see if my Blue Fronted Amazon parrot is in the mood to sit on my shoulder and preen my eyebrows! This is one rule I look forward to breaking every evening.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc