On October 6/7 I had the pleasure of being the headline speaker at the 2018 Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza. The Parrot Palooza is the huge annual event with the biggest sale of the year at the Bird Paradise store.
Located in Burlington New Jersey, Bird Paradise is one of the largest bird stores in the US. They have an enormous selection of toys, bird food, and supplies to choose from. The annual Parrot Palooza event is one of the biggest parrot events in the country and the world. With over 2,000 attendees coming from far and wide, it's a parrot extravaganza like no other.
In addition to headline speakers, the Parrot Palooza also features: free food, door prizes, penguine races, face painting, chinese auction, parrot shows, make your own bird toy, pumpkin carving, cage building contest, toy making contest, vendors, and huge sale. Fun for bird lovers of all ages.
Now the first time I had gone to Parrot Palooza was back in 2010 when Truman was still a baby. Back then it was a smaller event and didn't have the enormous parking lot tent. I got to meet Dr. Irene Pepperburg from the Alex Studies and attend her talks. So now, 8 years later, it was my honor and pleasure to get to fill that same role as headline speaker at the Parrot Palooza as the Parrot Wizard.
What can I say? The birds were good. Kili did all of her tricks like a champ. Truman was a chatter box as usual. Rachel was big and pretty and drew a lot of praise. All three wore their Aviator Harnesses all day long and were ambassadors for how a pet parrot should safely go outside.
Countless people asked me "how did you get that harness on them!?" or exclaimed, "my parrot would never let me stick one on it." Every time my response was, "we don't get the harness onto the parrot, they put it on themselves." When the parrot is trained how to put on the harness and wants to put it on, it looks something like this:
Truman meets a Golden Conure
Michael presenting at Parrot Palooza
Parrotsrus with Curacao
Lori with Rachel
Lori, the one who adopted Santina from me, came to the event to help us out. Rachel and Lori quickly became friends. Lori really enjoyed the Palooza and said she was "still grinning from ear to ear... Beautiful friends. Beautiful Parrots. Great time!!" She was thrilled to meet people she had been following online and mentioned, "for me, I enjoyed meeting instagram people."
It was a thrill getting to meet so many fans at the event. I signed books and chatted with parrot owners. My presentations were routine but enthusiastically watched by huge audiences. Kili helped me demonstrate how exciting trick training can be and Truman and Rachel helped illustrate how parrots can be taught to play with their toys.
All in all, it was an exciting event, great food, wonderful participants, big sales, and an all around fantastic way for people to be excited about their pet parrots. Here's a video recap of all the Parrot Palooza action:
There are so many great reasons why you need to get an Aviator Harness and start taking your parrot outside!
First of all, safety! No matter how bonded your parrot is to you, no matter how well trained it is, no matter whether its wings are clipped or not, any parrot can accidentally fly away and be lost outside. Quite likely your parrot will not be able to find its way back to you and will not be able to survive on its own. For this reason, a leash is a great safety net.
Now I certainly don't recommend using a harness as a primary means of keeping your parrot from flying away. Your bond, relationship, training, etc should always be the main reason that your parrot chooses to stay with you. The harness is merely a very unlikely backup plan just in case anything unexpected goes wrong. Think of the harness as a seat belt and not as a chain. Just because you wear a seat belt, isn't a license to drive dangerously. Instead, it is only an important line of protection in the event that something unexpectedly goes wrong. Some folks make excuses not to wear a seat belt, maybe even calling it uncomfortable, but it is the best safety catch in the event of an accident. Likewise, for your parrot's safety it is a reasonable compromise.
That said, the harness should not be a point of torture. Forcing a terrified parrot into a harness just for the purpose of taking it outside is cruel and counterproductive. The bird will be so distraught by the harness on its body that it will not have a chance to notice or enjoy the surroundings. This will also harm the parrot's relationship with you. It is better to take a parrot out in a travel cage or not at all than to mistreat it by misusing a harness. But, there is a way to teach the parrot to wear the harness voluntarily.
Parrots are very intelligent and capable learners. So if we teach them the purpose and method of putting on a harness such that they agree to wear it, then there is no problem. The most important thing that I teach my students is to ask the parrot if it agrees to wear the harness and until the parrot says yes (through its behavior), you are not to make the parrot wear it. Instead, I teach parrot owners how to use positive reinforcement and a carefully developed training regime to teach the parrot to want to wear the harness.
Watching my videos, you might get the impression that it's easy to put a harness on a parrot. And guess what? It is! On a parrot that was properly trained to wear it that is. Of course it is not easy at all to wrestle a resisting parrot into a leash and maybe impossible the next time when it knows what it is used for. However, after spending the initial effort to complete the training, they really do put the harness on easily for the rest of their lives. Realizing how long parrots can live, that's a lot of years of great harness wearing and outdoor adventures that you can have. It more than justifies the cost and effort to learn to teach your parrot to wear a harness properly.
This is just the beginning! There are so many more ways you can involve your parrot in your outdoor life and the Aviator Harness is your tool to being able to do that! Hiking in the forest, roller skating, maybe even rock climbing are just some possibilities. Get your parrot more involved in your active life.
The good news is that when you order a copy of the book and an Aviator Harness from ParrotWizard.com. the $19.99 Harness Training DVD comes free! Patiently follow the steps in the book and DVD to harness train your parrot and you can partake in outdoor Aviator Harness Adventures with your parrot for life!
So what are you waiting for? Your bird isn't going to learn to wear a harness by itself! If you want to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with your parrot, you have to start somewhere. You have to set yourself a goal to get the tools and start using them. Then, you have to take a deep breath and calm down. The harness training process requires patience. Patience is the quickest way to successfully teaching a bird to wear the aviator harness. Any attempt to rush this process will only set you back when the bird develops a distrust for the harness. This is where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Slowly work on following the steps you'll learn from me until the parrot is completely comfortable with the harness. And then you can scale mountains and do anything outside as long as you and your parrot are having fun!
Some potential parrot owners wonder at what age is it best to get a parrot? It is a very important and responsible question. And I don't mean what the age of the parrot should be when it is acquired but rather what the age of the owner is.
You'll hear a lot of people saying how young people are too young to have a parrot, old people are too old to have a parrot because the parrot will outlive them, and everyone in between is too busy with work and kids to have a parrot. That doesn't leave any age at which a person could responsibly acquire a parrot and yet lots of people of all ages do it all the time.
What it really comes down to isn't age but responsibility. Instead of focusing on how old someone needs to be to make a good parrot owner, what it really comes down to is what they are able and willing to put in. Anyone at any age who is going to neglect and take poor care of an animal, shouldn't subject a living being to that.
So instead of looking at an age, let's look at some qualities and requirements that parrot ownership entails. First of all, taking care of a parrot takes money. Quite a lot of it because our human lifestyle often is not conducive to keeping birds in our homes. Not only do you need to budget toward direct bird expenses such as a cage, toys, perches, and food, but also indirect expenses such as changing to non-PTFE cookware, possibly altering doors/windows to provide a safe environment, and having sufficient savings for emergency vet care.
Money alone isn't enough though. Time is perhaps the single biggest expense of parrot keeping. It takes a lot of time to keep a parrot. Cleaning, feeding, and training are big time consumptions but just spending time with the parrot and making it a part of your lifestyle is by far the biggest. Everyone thinks they will have time for this and at first they usually do. However, you really have to think ahead by years and decades because parrots live for a very long time.
Another way in which age can indirectly play a big role in parrot care is the individual's standing and authority within the household. Does the potential parrot owner have the authority within a family to say, doors/windows have to remain closed while the parrot is out or choose how much money is spent on the animal's care? This does not only have to do with age but in general with the person's standing and relationship within the family. Ideally, the entire family should be in agreement and on board with sharing their entire home with a parrot.
You will hear lots of people say “you should not get a parrot that will outlive you” or “anyone over 50 should not get a baby parrot because it will outlive them.” And although it may not be the most sensible thing for an 85 year old to get a hatchling, the reality of parrot ownership is that few people actually keep them long enough for natural death by age to be the biggest factor. Many parrots are rehomed or die from other causes. Instead of solely focusing on keeping a parrot for its entire life, it is best to focus on giving a parrot the best possible life while in your care. Also, regardless of how long you intend to keep the bird, it is best to prepare it for life with or without you. If you should for any reason have to give it up or not be around any more, it is best to prepare that parrot to do alright living with other people.
My parrots have been socialized extensively to other people so I know that even without me, they will still be comfortable being cared for by others. These birds are great with my wife, family, and even random strangers. I do not deliberately get a parrot that I don't plan to keep, but on the other hand if this turns out to be the case, they are prepared. I had to rehome Santina the Green-Winged Macaw to a new owner and all of the training and preparation helped her adjust to her new home an owner very quickly.
Although taking care of a parrot is both time consuming and expensive, it really comes down to how big of a priority and passion it is for you. Just about anyone with any paycheck can afford at least a smaller parrot if it is one of their top passions. However, if you have a car modding hobby, a drinking hobby, TV watching past time, etc that are a higher priority than the pet, then perhaps not enough time/money will be left for the bird. But for someone for whom parrots are a life passion, most of the time they can find a way to make it work out. What you put in largely affects what you get out.
I hope this little summary helps you understand that it is not so much about age but about priority and responsibility that it takes to be able to be a good caretaker for a companion parrot. You can learn more about how to take care of a parrot and develop a great relationship with the help of my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots.
Ever wonder if a parrot can make itself go deaf from its own screaming? Do parrots hear better than humans? Do parrots have particularly sensitive hearing? Read on to learn about parrot hearing!
I'm surprised to learn that some people think parrots have sensitive hearing. I have observed this mindset a few times over the years so I would like to address it in greater detail.
For example in my "Shot My Parrot Dead" trick video on youtube, there have been numerous viewers objecting to me yelling at Kili when pretending to be mad. Vicky Abramowitz commented, "Cute trick aside. Why do you two knuckleheads have to shout? Parrots have sensitive hearing. Try to keep that in mind."
At least they don't think the parrot is actually dead like a thousand other comments but they are still misinformed about avian hearing. For those still questioning if the parrot really dies or not in the video, then be sure to check this analysis video.
I had researched bird hearing years ago when I began taking my parrots flying with me in airplanes. While it is recommended that people, and even dogs, wear hearing protection while flying in small piston airplanes, there is no option for parrots. I was interested in whether or not there was a danger to my parrots. I learned that it is not. However, with little information on the subject and continued discussions, I decided to share with you what I have learned.
So how does bird hearing compare to human? Not as good. First of all, birds lack a certain organ that helps funnel in sound waves into the ear cavity. What could that be? Oh yeah, external ears! Birds do not have those floppy things sticking out of their heads. I guess so much for my idea of making bird-earrings or glasses (birds have excellent vision so I guess they won't be needing them anyway). Birds lack external ears to be more streamlined for flight so that is already one hearing advantage that they lack.
Not only do birds lack external ears, their internal ears are actually covered by feathers. You can't normally see their ears and could almost think they don't even have any. However, when the feathers are parted, we can in fact see that birds do have ears. The feathers covering the ear openings help keep wind out while flying and reduce wind noise similar to a fluffy mic muff cover. However, this adds a further reduction in sound that reaches the bird's ear.
As we travel deeper inside a bird's ear, the next difference we can find is a more primitive ear structure. Like their reptilian ancestors, birds have just one inner ear bone called the columella (analogous to the stapes bone in mammals). One of the defining features of mammals that distinguishes them from reptiles is the evolution of a 3 boned ear structure featuring the malleus, incus, and stapes ear bones. This 3 boned ear structure allows mammals to have more sensitive hearing, particularly in the higher pitch ranges.
For this reason, parrot hearing is limited to the 200 Hz-8.5 kHz range while humans can hear in the range of 31 Hz-19 kHz. That means your parrot won't hear the deep bass notes and high pitch cymbal crashes in your music. However, they can hear just fine across the human vocal range.
Ornithology 3rd Edition Frank B. Gill, Page 193
What this chart shows is that birds, with the exception of owls, need sound volume to be louder in order for them to be able to hear it in the first place than humans do.
This means that a parrot cannot hear a watch ticking, a pin drop, or leaves rustling because they simply are not loud enough for them to be able to hear. Since their hearing drops off precariously in the high pitch range, this also means that high pitch sounds have to be very loud for them to hear them at all. But don't worry, before you start speaking loudly to your parrot like it's your grandfather, parrots can hear normal human speech at 70db just fine! A quiet whisper just meets their minimum hearing threshold.
Now what about noise, how much does it bother them? Not nearly as much as it bothers us! Besides the somewhat reduced hearing ability in birds, they are better equipped to handle noise. This should be no surprise to parrot owners. Why is it that when a parrot screams in your ear, you can go temporarily deaf in that ear while a parrot can scream all day without causing hearing damage to itself or the other parrots near it? It turns out that it has to do with the inner ear hair cells.
Hair cells detect the transmission of sound vibrations and turn them into an electrical signal that gets processed by the brain. Extreme noise or prolonged exposure to loud noise in humans damages these hairs and causes hearing loss. However, in birds these hair cells regenerate and return full hearing ability! "Most NIHL [Noise Induced Hearing Loss] is caused by the damage and eventual death of these hair cells. Unlike bird and amphibian hair cells, human hair cells don’t grow back. They are gone for good." (National Institute on Deafness).
And this all makes perfect sense. Humans as all mammals, evolved from small nocturnal ancestors who relied heavily on hearing for navigation and predator avoidance. This explains why birds have superior vision but mammals have the better hearing.
But what about parrots being able to hear and learn to mimic sounds so well? Just because parrots learn to mimic speech and sounds exceptionally well does not mean they have the best hearing apparatus. This is mainly coming from their brain. Parrots live in a different time scale than we do. They can see and hear quicker than we can! They can distinguish more sounds or sights per second than we can. Similar to how blind people can learn to listen and distinguish sounds better, parrots can take the lesser sound they hear and do more with it!
If loud noise bothered our parrots, they would try harder to evade that noise and also wouldn't be so noisy themselves. If my yelling act bothered Kili too much while making the Shot My Parrot Dead video, she would have simply flown off to a quieter part of the room. People don't give the animal enough credit for having the sense to be able to take care of itself. Saltyspirit made a good observation in the video, commenting "It's amazing how he doesn't mind him yelling."
But before you get the impression that I'm suggesting that you yell at your parrot, think twice! Not because I'm worried for your bird's hearing. No, it will be just fine. Because of your hearing! Giving your parrot the impression that you're into yelling too could encourage the parrot to join in. You on the other hand will experience hearing loss and unlike your parrot, your hearing won't restore itself.
In conclusion, parrots have less sensitive hearing, less hearing frequency range, better hearing perception, and innate protection against hearing damage. So use the Parrot Wizard approach to quieting your parrot down or invest in a good set of ear plugs.
Rachel, my wife's Blue and Gold Macaw, has been going through terrible twos for the last few years. This is the adolescent period where much changes in a parrot's life. It grows up from being a naive baby to an independent adult. Most parrot owners are quite surprised by the changes that happen when the parrot stops being cooperative during this stage.
The age at which adolescence hits will vary by species. Roughly speaking it's around 1-3 years old in the small parrots, 2-4 in the medium, and about 3-6 years old in the large ones. During this period, the parrot's behavior can change unexpectedly. The bird will be more testing, bold, fearful, and all around cranky. Allegiances with other birds and humans can also become reversed. It's an all around jumbled, confusing, unpredictable, and unpleasant experience.
The once sweet baby now bites the hand that feeds. It might prefer someone it didn't like before or seem all around intent to hunker down in the cage and not even come out. When asked to step up, the bird runs away, bites, or just flat out ignores so what to do?
Predicting that Rachel will go through this, I began preemptive training early to help combat the worse of the symptoms of parrot adolescence. I trained Rachel to step-up using clicker and target stick, taming, harness, and some tricks beforehand. But as the age started to come, Rachel's behavior was still in a slow decline. It is difficult to realize an imperceptible downward slippery slope until it jumps out and bites you. Sometimes literally.
My wife Marianna, who raised Rachel since she was a baby, learned about parrot adolescence the hard way. It wasn't until she got bit by the baby she raised that she got a full grasp of what the "terrible" in terrible-twos means. She actually got to a point where she was uneasy around Rachel because the bites seemed to be random and unexpected. So, to help her out, I decided to do some step up re-training with Rachel to get her to be more reliable at stepping up and off again.
Rachel already knew exactly how to step-up from previous training so it was more of a matter of rekindling motivation for stepping up and lots of practice. It seems strange having to go back to such basics with a parrot that knows complex tricks. But, when hormones are causing the bird to be edgy and bite, it's what you gotta do.
If Rachel forgot how to step up entirely or would entirely refuse to, I would start the initial step-up training all over again from scratch. However, since we caught it in time while she was still stepping up but not as reliably, it was a much easier fix. I just literally went to giving Rachel a food treat every single time she would step up. She got back into it quickly once she realized she was getting food for such easy stuff.
Normally we begin to take step-up for granted because the parrot is usually reinforced in other ways for participating. For example, step-up and you get to come out of cage. Step up and I'll give you attention. Step up and get a head scratch. Step up so you could do a trick and earn a treat. There is usually a subtle bit of positive reinforcement on an intermittent reinforcement schedule built into the parrot keeping lifestyle that I share. However, when the biological changes that the parrot is going through cause it to suddenly dislike things it normally likes and people it normally trusts, you have to go back to much more basic operant conditioning to remind it what to do.
This came as no shock to me as I had already gone through the same with Kili, Truman, and countless bird owners I have coached. However, it always pins you harder when you were the one that raised your bird and you second guess yourself. This is why a clear mind, good attitude, right approach, and persistence really matter. It's all an uphill battle while slowly slipping downhill when the bird is going through this. With good training and the time for the bird to grow out of the age, everything will settle in place.