Monday, October 31, 2011

The Good Bird App is Here!

I have been working on this one for awhile, and it is finally here! Announcing the Good Bird app for Android phones! Iphone users your version is almost ready : ) The Good Bird App let's you practice training my parrot Delbert to talk on cue. In other words you get to practice capturing behaviors and inserting the cue. If you just want to hear Delbert talk and give him treats there is an option for that too. Here is the link to download the Good Bird app for Android phones:

Here are the instructions:

Train Delbert the Parrot
Here is your chance to practice training a parrot. The animated Delbert is based on professional animal trainer Barbara Heidenreich's talking Yellow Naped Amazon parrot. You will notice Delbert says quite a few things. The vocalizations the animated parrot makes are actual recordings of the real Delbert. Your goal is to try to capture one of his vocal behaviors and put it on cue.

When your session begins Delbert will start offering behaviors he knows how to do. When Delbert presents a vocal behavior you want to train, reinforce him with a food treat. Simply place your finger on the treat and slide it into his beak. Just like in real life, if you quickly and consistently reinforce the behavior you want, the parrot will offer it more frequently. When this happens pick a cue and try to insert it just before you think the behavior will be offered. You will notice a variety of cues to choose from. The cue gains meaning when inserted just before the behavior is presented and then reinforced. If you have played correctly Delbert will present the behavior you have chosen on cue. To practice your training skills, delete the session and retrain the behavior using a different cue.

Repeat the process for all the different behaviors Delbert knows. You can save your training session and come back to it later. You can also delete your sessions and start over at any time to fine tune your training skills. The animated Delbert learns quicker than a real parrot, however just like in real life you may need to be a patient and observant trainer in order to capture the behavior you want.

Play with Delbert the Parrot
Have fun cueing Delbert the Yellow Naped Amazon parrot to talk and sing. Select your cue and watch him present his behavior. Be sure to reinforce him with a treat for being a good parrot.

Here is the link again. The app is educational and fun and it costs just $1.99. I hope you will check it out. I will post  links for the iphone version as soon as it is available.

Barbara Heidenreich

Medicating Your Parrot

I have an older blue-fronted Amazon parrot. She is at least 25 years old. Since she was an adult when she came into my life she is likely quite a bit older than that. Her body is certainly showing evidence of aging. She was diagnosed with arthritis a number of years ago and has been taking glucosamine daily ever since.

Giving her glucosamine is fortunately relatively easy. Avian veterinarian Dr Scott Echols gave me a resource for excellent quality supplements. I learned from him that supplements are not well regulated and you can’t always be sure you are buying what it says is on the label. The source he recommended is a company called Usana. I buy glucosamine tablets from them and pulverize them. I sprinkle the powder on cooked quinoa (a high protein grain) that my parrot adores.

To pulverize the pills, I use a mortar and pestle, a tool I was introduced to in college chemistry class. It just takes seconds to get a fine powder when you use this ancient tool. I bought mine for a few dollars at World Market. I also use the mortar and pestle to pulverize the heart worm pills I give my dog. Despite their claim to be tasty, my dog is not fond of them. After I grind the pill up I mix it with palatable treats such as cheese or tuna juice. They taught us about acids and bases, how to make soap and the formula for alcohol. But now it turns out the handy dandy mortar and pestle was the best thing I gained from chemistry class.

I also recently learned about another way to give medications that has exciting potential for the parrot world. Dr Susan Clubb and I recently lectured together at the Kaytee Learning Center. She mentioned she has delivered some medications transdermally, especially Haloperidol for parrots with feather destructive behavior. I LOVE this idea. Can you imagine simply gently rubbing a medicated cream onto your parrot’s foot? The medication is then absorbed through the skin. This wonderfully non stressful way of delivering medication is perfect to help maintain trust between the caregiver and bird. Too many birds learn to fear their owners when they end up being toweled over and over to be medicated. It can take a long time for some parrots to trust humans again. Unfortunatley this method is not yet readily available for all types of medication.

This predicament caused by restraint is why I made an eBook to help people learn how to train their parrot to take medication from a syringe. It is a pretty simple behavior to train and one I demonstrate at most of my parrot training workshops. Best of all it also helps avoid having to restrain a parrot to medicate it. However most people don’t take advantage of this resource until it is too late and the bird is already sick. This is a resource to use now, before your parrot is ill. To encourage people to train this behavior right away, I actually offer this resource for free. All you have to do is visit this link for the free eBook offer. You will need to go through the motions of “buying” the eBook. You will see a box for a promo code. Enter the code PARROTRX. This will take the balance of your order to $0. Don’t click “Make Payment” unless the balance says $0. You will immediately be sent an email with a link to download the book.

Please note the eBook works best on PC’s. We had a hard time finding a resource that would work well with both PC’s and Macs. (Wish those two would play nice with each other.)

Just recently I received this wonderful email:

"I want to let you know that your video on medicating birds was extremely helpful. I was able to train my 30 year old Congo African Grey parrot to accept oral antibiotic medication within minutes of being offered the medication in a syringe while he was sitting on a free standing perch. I have been toweling him for years and it was never a positive experience for either of us. I was absolutely shocked when he immediately accepted the antibiotic solution. Your video helped turn an unpleasant experience into a fun event. He willingly swallowed more of the antibiotic than he ever swallowed when held in a towel. Thank you so much for your video. I just wish I had known about it sooner!

Emails like this make my day. It makes me happy to know there is one more parrot who has learned taking medication can be fun! Medicating a parrot is something all parrot owners will likely face at some point in their bird’s life. I hope you find the ideas and resources above helpful to you when that day comes.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Happy Parrot Sounds!

“Happy” is one of those words that is open to interpretation. However anyone who shares their life with a companion animal knows there are definitely times when our parrots seem to be happy.

One moment for me in which I am pretty sure my blue-throated macaw Blu Lu is happy is when she first goes out into her aviary every day. After she takes a few bites of her diet she starts to squeal. She seems to be expressing a joy for life in those moments. Because I tend to associate the squeal with moments of fun for her it is a sound I have tried to reinforce in the house. For example if she happens to squeal when inside I give her lots of attention or squeal back. At first I was reinforcing squealing because I thought it was cute. It turns out my decision was beneficial in other ways.

When I return to the house after errands or travel, my parrots tend to greet me with a plethora of vocalizations. Delbert my yellow-naped Amazon parrot offers every word and song he knows, which I love. Blu Lu used to let out a blood curdling scream when she was thrilled I was home. I definitely did not want to reinforce that behavior. She quickly learned the scream got her nothing. However the squeal most definitely got a response and pretty soon my welcome home from Blu Lu turned into a squeal.

Listen to Blu Lu's squeals. Note there is no picture for this example.

My other Amazon Tarah also learned to replace screaming with a pleasant sound. Tarah now whistles when she wants attention or recognizes I am home. When you look at vocalizations, even language, as just another set of behaviors that get reinforced you begin to see how much influence we have over the sounds our parrots emit.

Many people speak of their birds learning to say the right thing at the right moment. If you look at the principles of learning it certainly makes sense that a parrot can learn to generalize a series of words for certain conditions. For example, anytime Delbert shows body language that indicates a fear response, I usually say “That was scary.” He has now associated that phrase with a fear response. He often will say “That was scary” right after he was frightened by something. Of course had I used the words “That was fun” in those moments, he would have learned a phrase that seems inappropriate to us. It is not so much the words that matter, but what they are paired with and under what conditions. Delbert will also say “That was scary” at other times when no fear response is happening. And because I might decide to put the words on cue, I could train him to say the phrase whenever I cue him. It truly is amazing the power we have to shape what and when our birds say when they vocalize.

When Blu Lu vocalizes outside in her aviary I am not in control of the reinforcer. She is! For her in those moments those vocalizations seem to be intrinsically rewarding. I am usually far from her sight, listening and smiling knowing my parrot is having a great time. Pay attention to your parrot’s vocalizations. You might find you are reinforcing some great sounds, and maybe some not so pleasant ones. Fortunately you have the power to make sure the great ones happen more frequently. To learn more about stopping your parrot from screaming for attention just fill out the form below to receive a free article about how I trained my parrot Tarah to whistle for my attention. Keep an eye out for the Fall 2011 issue of the digital publication Good Bird Magazine. It also has an article about common mistakes people make when trying to address parrot screaming problems. It is due out soon!

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Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc