It was great having a chance to present at Parrot Palooza again this year. My headline presentation was 5 Things you can do with your parrot today to improve your parrot's behavior.
Here is a brief summary of the talk followed by a video of the actual presentation.
#1 - Double up on toys
Parrots are extremely intelligent animals that get bored easily. They need a lot to keep them occupied. Otherwise they will find other ways to occupy themselves and these things generally don't mesh well with the household. If a parrot is out of the cage and bored, it may opt to fly around and chew on moldings, furniture, your keyboard or phone, and wreak havoc on a home.
Locked away in the cage, a bored parrot may be more limited in what it can get its beak on. If destroying toys isn't the go-to option, the next one will be destroying perches. However, when both of those are short to come by, their next favorite misbehavior tends to be screaming! Parrots love the sound of their own voice, which can be quite loud, and they can go on all day. Unlike you, parrots aren't prone to hearing damage or loss so there's nothing to stop them. When the screaming runs out, then parrots turn to feather plucking or self-mutilation. Once it starts, it is often difficult or impossible to reverse. Likewise, bad behavior is seldom untaught.
For these, reasons it is far more worthwhile to pile up the bird toys and shovel out hoards of splinters from the bottom of the cage than to leave the parrot to entertain itself. You will want about 8-12 toys in the bird's cage at any given time and 5+ perches to help them get around and get access to those toys. Not only do you need the quantity of toys, but also the quality. Find bird toys that will last your parrot about 2 weeks. That means that after about 2-4 weeks, there is nothing but the chain or rope left behind because the parrot destroyed all of the rest. Toys that last for less time are great too but you will have to keep replacing them frequently so it will get costly. Learning your bird's chewing abilities and habits will help you shop smart and find the toys that will be the right level of challenge to keep your parrot interested and chewing for a reasonable length of time.
Be sure to check out the selection of bird toys and particularly the Woodland Parrot line of artisan bird toys from the Parrot Wizard store.
#2 - 12 hours of sleep
It is very important to give your parrot 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep all year round. This not only ensures that your bird isn't misbehaving from being sleep deprived but also helps tone down the hormones. By reducing the effects of seasons, through variation in daylight cycles, you can largely reduce the highly undesired consequences of a hormonal parrot. A lot of biting, territorial aggression, excessive preference for specific people, and unpredictable mood swings can be curbed by managing the light schedule.
You can cover the cage with a black bed sheet when it is time for the parrot to fall asleep and until it is time to wake up. My preferred way is to have the bird room lights on a timer so that they turn on and off automatically to help control the bird's sleep schedule. Some black out curtains or automatic shutters on a timer are also important in order to keep the sun out when the natural daylight period is longer than 12 hours.
#3 - Provide a tree stand
A fantastic way to improve or maintain your parrot's behavior is to provide a tree stand or activity center for your parrot away from the cage. All too often, people allow their parrot to hang out on top of the cage or playtop. This breeds some pretty strongly undesirable behavior. Parrots tend to be territorial and weird around their cages as it is. And on top of the cage it only gets worse. With a tall cage it is difficult to reach the bird so it runs to the distant ends of the cage while you are chasing and it only makes things worse. Instead, having the daily routine of taking the bird to a remote playstand every day not only provides the parrot with something to do but also strengthens the bond.
It's important to provide an extensive, exciting, climbable tree stand with the ability to hang toys. A simple Training Perch or Tabletop Perch is not suitable for this particular purpose. Simple perches are great for the purpose of training or interacting with the parrot. However, when you wish to put the parrot down and for the bird to keep itself busy, a complete tree stand or activity center is required.
Now having a bare tree stand alone isn't enough either. Just like in point 1, double up on those toys! Don't let your bored get bored and revert to undesirable behavior. Outfit the tree stand with toys, ropes, swings, foraging opportunities, and as many things to do as possible. Don't fill the food bowls with food though! Fill them with foot toys and activities instead.
The Parrot Wizard line of NU Perch Climbing Trees provides tree stands ideally suited for this purpose! These, ready to ship online, purpose built tree stands are designed so that your parrot could actually get around on them and reach the toys and activities you set up. The Parrot Wizard Trees are highly customizable to assist you in creating a captivating out of cage experience for your bird! Explore the Parrot Wizard Lifestyle to further learn how you can use the complete line of Parrot Wizard products as behavioral bird furniture to perfect your parrot keeping experience!
#4 - Enrich with variety of foods
Keep your parrot engaged with a more interesting variety of foods. Mix things up and keep it entertaining. Now this isn't to say to feed your parrot unhealthy. It is very important that you research and determine a healthy staple diet for your parrot's well-being. About 50-80% of the diet will be for nutritional purposes. However, for the remainder of your bird's daily intake, providing alternative, fun, and interesting foods will enhance their behavior as well.
Rather than just giving your bird it's favorite treats all the time, holding them back and getting your parrot to explore an assortment of tastes will actually drive better behavior! The parrot will be kept more busy weaving through the different foods, picking and choosing, deciding what it likes and doesn't like. Getting favorite foods all the time just doesn't do that. And a great benefit of this is that the favorite foods will become even more effective treats for training.
Explore a variety of natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds for your bird. Not the typical seeds you see in a bird-store seed mix, but completely different stuff. Flax seeds, quinoa, sweet potato, papaya, and other exotic things like that. You can shop for some special mixes or come up with your own. But as you expand your parrot's pallet from just pellets + seeds to a wide variety, your bird will be more engaged and also drive a higher motivation for training. Which leads me to the 5th thing you can start doing to improve your parrot's behavior.
#5 - Clicker Training
Incorporating clicker training into your daily routine with your parrot will greatly improve your parrot's behavior in so many ways! First and most obviously, you can use clicker training to practice essential skills with your parrot such as step-up, handling, and flight recall. However, the benefits go far beyond just the basics. As you continue teaching your parrot more and more things, you will inadvertently be making the more basic things second nature.
In order to perform many of the tricks that you can teach, your parrot will inevitably have to step-up, be touched, or be in close proximity to hands in the process. As the parrot focuses on dunking the basketball or sorting colors, it won't even notice the proximity to hands or step-ups that it is doing while focused on a goal. This builds a much higher and more automatic level of good-behavior for general pet interactions with your bird throughout the day.
Not only does a daily training habit help build a relationship, it also helps the bird burn off energy in a productive way. Rather than screaming, getting overly amped up and biting, or becoming too destructive, by performing daily training you are having the bird spend energy in a beneficial rather than harmful way! It's a win-win. The bird learns good behavior and the bird is less tempted to engage in bad behavior simultaneously because it is more calm and relaxed after training!
Treat training as a necessary part of your daily parrot care routine. Just as it is important to change food, water, and cage papers, treat training as an equally simple, quick, and essential part of parrot care! Just a few minutes of focused training every day will go a long way in improving your parrot's behavior both directly and indirectly for life!
Grab a copy of my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. It comes with a free bonus clicker and target stick to get you started right away! In addition, you'll want a Parrot Training Perch Kit as a comfortable platform for engaging in the training. Not only are the Training Perches going to make it easy to do the training, they will also help your parrot focus and be in the mood for training every day!
So, there are 5 things you can do to start improving your parrot's behavior! Of course, there is a bit more to it, but these 5 things are a great start. You can start making big progress toward having your perfect magical parrot keeping experience with these 5 things. I hope that this advice can help you improve your parrot's behavior and I hope that the Parrot Wizard supplies I came up with will aid you in making this parrot behavior be as simple to achieve as possible! Wishing you success.
Here is a video of my presentation at the 2019 Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza:
Kili & Truman buckled up their harnesses and rode on my shoulders the few blocks to the new house. I had a bug problem at the old apartment so I've been leaving as much behind as possible and only bringing clean things. This is why Truman's old aluminum cage had to be abandoned and not because there was anything else wrong with it. This is also why I opted to move the birds wearing harnesses rather than carriers.
We walked in through the bird room door and surprised Santina. She was sitting on the edge of her stand, excited to have company. Santina watched eagerly as her first bird visitors were settling in to the room next door. Kili & Truman watched me assemble water bottle holders, mount perches, and add toys to their bare cages. I bought two water bottles for each cage and mounted both brackets. Although I will normally only be using a single water bottle, when I need to go away for a weekend I will be able to leave twin water bottles for the unlikely event of a failure (in 5+ years using water bottles for my birds I have not had a problem).
The parrots sampled the toys as I was putting them into their cages. Truman gave his approval for a long strand of stars and Kili immediately began chewing up a cute shredding toy. These parrots love new toys, places, and situations. This is why it was an absolute non-event to move them to a new house. They have not shown the slightest sign of upset such as not eating, being quiet, or just inactive.
The reason it was so easy to move to a new house with my parrots without them freaking out is because we have already done this plenty of times before! Every outing, every trip, every household change we have ever made was a preparation for the unknown but inevitable eventual move. People often ask me "I am moving to a new house tomorrow, what can I do to make it easier for my parrot?" At that point it is already too late. The time to begin preparing your parrot for a move is now.
I occasionally took Kili and/or Truman with me to visit other people's houses. I took the birds for drives and outings. I had the parrots living out of their travel cages during trips and when we went camping. I even had the parrots living in completely different bird cages when we were visiting Ginger's Parrots Rescue. All of these different encounters prepared Kili & Truman to live in any sort of cage or house. And since they get excited about new toys, moving to a new cage with new toys is an opportunity rather than a burden for them.
Not long after I had the birds on top of their respective cages, Kili hopped over to Truman's cage and kicked him off to the smaller one. The funny thing is that the first time I let them out since, the first thing Truman did was to go and climb up into Kili's cage and stay there. It was as though she convinced him that if he just yields the bigger cage to her that she won't beat him up for it.
As for Santina, well she came from a rescue so she was already used to other birds. I could tell that Santina was excited to see other birds around and not upset. Kili & Truman have been to places with other parrots so to them it was no surprise to see a big bird next door. The move was such a non-event that it makes for a boring story. But that's what you want it to be. So begin preparing your parrot for any sorts of unforeseen changes by socializing and traveling with your parrot now.
I have now had Santina for over 3 months but because of her questionable health, I had to keep her separate from Kili and Truman on prolonged quarantine. Now that she has taken medication and her infection cleared up, things are all set for the introduction.
Since it is difficult to impossible to truly disinfect colored toys and large porous perches, I opted to play it safe and discard all of the old stuff. Having already spent thousands on her vet care, what is loosing a few toys to make sure this illness doesn't rear its ugly head again? Since Santina would need a new stand in the big room anyway, I took this opportunity to set things for the long run.
I bought a ton of different branches and got to work piecing them together for a macaw megastand. This one incorporates more branches than the original and is entirely free hanging for easy cleaning. I also think that hanging stands are ultimately more natural for birds because they incorporate some natural motion and sway. This stand is so big and heavy that it is stable enough that Santina was not bothered by it. In fact one of the first things she did was to climb up to a high swing mounted on the already hanging structure.
Santina spent all day watching me build her new housing so she was more prepared for it when the time came to try. A tour of the room and features coming soon but in the meantime here are photos and video of Santina's new crib.
I flew by airline to Phoenix, Arizona for a few days to help my favorite rescue, Ginger's Parrots. Although not new on the scene, the rescue recently incorporated and acquired 501c3 status. On Saturday we held a Grand Opening event for Ginger's rescue to celebrate making everything official and to draw attention to the organization.
Ginger's Parrots is a new kind of rescue specializing only in certain species of parrots and with a different approach. Most rescues inevitably become overfilled with parrots as the number of unwanted birds only grows while the birds live long. So instead of focusing on quantity, Ginger focuses on quality instead. Running the small rescue out of her own home, Ginger works individually with the parrots to prepare them for pet life. Rather than trying to get the birds adopted to anyone that will take them, her focus is to make the birds as good or better than baby parrots that can be bought at stores. If the birds are good, they have a much better shot at staying in the same home than in the condition they were brought to the rescue.
The Grand Opening Event brought a nice turn out and collection of donations. I offered a talk on my well-behaved parrot approach as well as a harness training demonstration. During the demonstration with parrots from the rescue I was able to demonstrate the harness desensitization process with visible progress. One of the Senegals was doing so well that I challenged him all the way to voluntarily walking across the perch to sticking his head into the harness collar.
As the event continued, I signed copies of my book, the Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. The rescue event was a very suitable place for selling these books as Ginger applies the techniques I teach in the book on her rescue flock. Also she wrote the foreword to the book based on her success applying my methods to a whole lot of parrots.
I had already been to Ginger's rescue twice and conducted a lot of training work with the birds, setting in motion an approach that Ginger has continued. However, we have bold goals for these birds so there are further skills they could learn. This time, I set a goal of initiating harness training with the birds so that Ginger could take them out and socialize them with people more frequently. Considering the novel no-clipping policy at the rescue, outdoor safety can only be assured with a harness or carrier. The trouble with a carrier is that it doesn't get hands on time with the birds so it narrows everything down to harness.
Since the main focus of the rescue is Senegal Parrots, aggression is the key target for rehabilitation. Ginger has noted a tremendous decline in biting while an increase in confidence with the birds since they've been flighted. Although the birds are capable of flying away, they generally don't. They merely use their awareness of being able to fly away to drive their confidence to cooperate without reverting to biting. One challenge, however, has been to keep the Senegals from fighting with each other as they are no longer geographically isolated because they can fly.
One of the solutions to reduce territorial issues with the parrots (while also simplifying cleaning) is to eliminate the long standing trees (which were arranged one per bird) in favor of a more communal approach. We wheeled all the tree stands out of the room and set out to make a full new set of hanging play gyms instead. I shipped ahead a bundle of NU Perch sticks I was donating for the bird room remodeling. On the spot we bought a few additional supplies and in 2 afternoons built 8 original play gyms and hung them from the ceiling. The all hanging approach eliminates base cleaning and makes a single cleaning of the floor a lot easier. It also provides an unstable platform that stimulates the birds to think more about getting around. It has been a blast watching the birds get around their stands because they tip and rotate in place as they climb. When one parrot flies off a stand, the remaining parrots end up going for a merry go round ride. The birds were so preoccupied with the new stands that they were too busy to get into fights with each other.
To ease the transition to the new stands, I played a targeting game with the birds to encourage them to climb around. Not only was I able to get them to climb to all ends of individual stands but between stands as well. One particular Senegal who has been really difficult to tame, really took to target training. In a single attempt, I was able to teach him to target. I'm sure he'd been watching the other Senegals and had it all figured out. He was just waiting for the opportunity to be involved as well. In no time I had him climbing between playgyms and flying to other perches for opportunities to target.
A different Senegal has recently regained his flight feathers but was unsure how to use them. He seemed very eager to target but just didn't fly for it. So I put together a set of Training Perches and began the perch to perch targeting method of teaching him to fly. Before the evening was over, the parrot that just didn't know how to fly across 4 inches, was flying 15 inches between stands with ease. An interesting thing is that he wasn't really doing it for the food. He was much more eager to fly across the gap to target (ultimately for a treat) than directly for a treat lure. Since the birds get to watch each other targeting, they see a particular excitement for the opportunity to play. The motivation they exhibited in targeting around the room far exceeded their hunger for treats motivation.
The morning after the event and upon the 5th harness training session, I got a harness entirely on the promising Senegal. Ginger and I took him to a Sunday morning parrot group that meets at a park with their birds. Although this was sooner than I would have liked to put a harness on a parrot in this stage of training, we went for it for lack of time. However, I knew this would not be a problem because this was a super tame bird that doesn't mind being held. He was not upset having the harness on (which is important to avoid trouble putting it on next time) but he did want to chew it. To reduce chewing, I grasped him in my hand, through a towel, or did things to occupy his attention as much as possible. Once at the park outing, he was preoccupied with the activity and paid less attention to the harness.
I taught Ginger about socializing the parrot to complete strangers and went from very controlled interactions to random interactions based on my 12 step socialization approach. The Senegal went from hand to hand, allowed people to scratch him, and didn't bite anyone. The outing was a tremendous success and we got a harness upon him with ease for another outing the following day.
Since that Senegal Parrot is extremely hand tame and enjoys laying in hands, I held onto him a lot to keep him from chewing the harness. Since the squeeze of my hand is more noticeable than the harness it took his mind off of it. I began playing a game with him and in no time taught him a new trick which is to allow me to toss him in my hand like a bean bag.
The event, bird room remodeling, training, and outings have been a tremendous success. Not only have we made big improvements but we also set things for continued improvement in the future. I signed countless books and talked to parrot owners. Although I hope these things were educational, most of all I hope that they were inspirational. Rather than expecting someone who came to one of my talks - or met us on an outing - to have the skills to succeed, I hope to leave them with the inspiration to continue their education and to set goals of what to achieve. I want people to realize that parrots young or old, friendly or mean, can all learn these basic pet skills. If I can teach these rescue parrots to wear a harness or target fly in such a short span of time, then surely any parrot owner can achieve these things with a little more patience.
I have been writing this book for the last half year but more importantly it is the culmination of five very intense years of parrot education, training, consulting, and performing. I've taken everything that I have learned, applied it, and then wrote down for you the essentials that you can apply to your bird. This book isn't there to teach you how to teach a million tricks or become a performer. It's about how to achieve a well-behaved parrot and ultimately a mutual relationship!
It's not that I think I know better than others, but I just was never very pleased with the other books I've read about parrot keeping. Many of them are obsolete and don't recommend best practices. But even some of the books I agree with, I just found terribly boring. They are written by experts for experts and really leave the common parrot owner in the dust. Parrot owners don't need the nitty gritty technical stuff, they need something accessible that they can apply and that will work! I understand this because I'm a pet parrot owner and it wasn't long ago that I was desperately seeking help on the most basic things.
Instead of teaching you how to do absurdly complicated tricks with your parrot, my book is there to teach you all the essential stuff from merely approaching your parrot's cage without it freaking out to being able to grab it. A lot of emphasis is placed on taming, health, safety, and other things that are essential elements of keeping a pet parrot. Also the first chapter is entirely about how to choose a parrot in the first place for folks who do not yet have one and attempts to answer the classic question, "what kind of parrot should I get?"
In my book, I tell it how it is. I don't try to sugar coat things or make a parrot owner out of everybody. The purpose is to help those who want the help and to get them to achieve a good relationship with their parrot. The book takes a very balanced approach keeping both the parrot's well-being but also the parrot owner's sanity in mind. I realize that people are busy, have other commitments, may not have the means to buy fancy stuff. That is why my book is down to earth and really about finding a way that anyone can make it work rather than a professional approach to training performing parrots.
Unlike any other parrot book I've ever come across, mine presumes that parrots are flying creatures and takes an approach to keeping them as such. Despite the recommendation of keeping them flighted, the book presents countless ways to get more out of your parrot than if it were clipped! Flight safety, flight recall training, flight trick training, and managing flighted parrots are key themes throughout the book. Even if your parrot is clipped you will find this book extremely helpful and I think it will convince you that you can still have a relationship with your parrot by allowing it to fly. Better yet, you will have a better behaved, healthier, safer, and more fun parrot than it could ever be while clipped!
Problem solving receives an entire chapter in the book. Solving problems such as biting, screaming, plucking, and even flighted related issues are extensively covered. However, the main purpose of the book is to present an approach to follow from day 1 to ensure that those problems don't arise in the first place. This information is all based on problems I have solved in my own parrots or have helped others solve with theirs.
You'll find it interesting that I barely wrote any of this book at home. It has bits written all over the world on planes, trains, and automobiles. I've been writing it on the go during my travels. Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia are some of the places I was in while writing the books. During those trips I got to observe parrots in their natural habitats so it was especially encouraging to me to help owners find the best compromise between a parrot's nature and desirable household pet qualities.