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.
Kili, Truman, and Rachel have been settling in the bird room together well. I have been getting back into flying them for exercise. For now, I'm just having them fly in the bird room.
All three parrots are at ease with each other and know their own perches well. They all already know their names and only fly when called. But now they are mixing it all together.
Flying three parrots for exercise can be quite intense. I alternate my attention between the birds. Each bird flies to receive food. While two parrots are busy chewing their reward, the third already finished and is ready to fly. This leaves at least one parrot ready to go at any time.
This routine not only keeps things moving for me - it sure does take a while to get three birds to fly enough to go through an entire meal - but it also gets a rivalry going between the birds that keeps everyone trying. If one of the birds gets lazy and doesn't come, I will simply move on to the next. The next bird is happy to have a sooner opportunity to come. Meanwhile the bird that didn't come gets punished by missing a turn and having to wait for the next chance to come around. This has been extremely effective and virtually eliminated disobedience.
In the past, flight training just one bird at a time, I would encounter a lot of frustration when the bird wouldn't come. I have limited time to spend on training, so when the bird isn't coming, the session will either take longer or the bird won't be exercised as much. Whenever the bird would stop cooperating to look around or worse yet just sit there for no reason, I would be powerless at that moment to keep things moving. But now with three birds training together, there is always a bird or two that will pick up the slack for the others. This keeps me from just standing around waiting for birds to resume cooperation. But not only that, it makes the lazy bird(s) realize that others are getting their treats! This fixes things in a hurry.
When the birds finish chowing down their food reward, they are attentively waiting for the next opportunity to be called. I occasionally mix up the order of the recalls to keep them on their toes. On the rare occasion that the wrong bird comes, it receives no food and is just sent back to the perch. They realize quickly that it is a 100% chance they won't receive a reward if they come when I call another, so they learn to stay put unless called. This is important when there is a bunch of birds so that they don't interfere with each other.
Starting out, Rachel was definitely the weak link. While Kili and Truman would come reliably from years of experience, Rachel would often not come or take too much time. Since the added competition of the other birds, Rachel's success has more than tripled! She is almost as good as the others. She has made years of solo improvement in a month with the added competition. I think the improvement was so huge because Rachel got both a dose of example as well as rivalry! She got to see how well the other birds do and how much they get rewarded. She realized that this is the way to be if you're a bird!
Another interesting improvement came in Truman. Truman has always been second rate to Kili in everything. If Truman flew 50 recalls, then Kili flew 100. When Truman improved to being capable of 100, Kili was at 150! Because he could never accomplish being better than her at anything (at least training wise), I don't think he ever really tried. But when Truman realized he could be better than Rachel, he was all over it! Truman became much more attentive and quick to respond. On the other hand, Rachel is now close on his tail with her improvement so I hope to keep this competition going.
There's no doubt that Kili is simply the best. Her mantra is anything you other birds can do, I can do better. Even when she's training solo, she'll work as hard as the other birds would in a competitive environment. But when the other birds are trying too, Kili can keep flying reliably even after she is completely full or not even hungry at all in the first place. I'm pretty sure that I could get her to fly as much as the other birds without any treats at all. She is just so competitive and has to be best!
Oftentimes toward the end of the flying session I am trying to compensate the bigger birds with extra food. Kili is already too full and clearly done eating. Truman and Rachel might have missed a few treats when they were being obstinate. Kili got every single one. So just to get the others to fly as much as Kili, I need to park Kili and give them a chance to catch up. Well, Kili keeps begging to come so I call her but don't give treats. I know she is full and can't/shouldn't have more. As long as the other birds keep coming, she does too, even when she is obviously getting nothing. But she plays a good model and it helps me keep the others going till they finish.
It is important to note that getting or training more birds is not necessarily going to improve things for other people. If you have a bird that is uncooperative or bad at training, I would first focus on your training techniques and the birds motivation. Only when that bird without doubt knows what it is doing, does it right most of the time, and does an overall pretty good job is it ok to think about training along another bird. Competitive training isn't a solution to poor training/motivation. Instead it is a superlative booster for already effective training.
So, check out this video of Kili, Truman, and Rachel's morning flying routine:
Kili and Truman are getting back together! It's been a long time that they've been apart. First it was a two week trial quarantine, then it turned into 2 months, and now it's been going on past a year. However, since Santina's rehoming to Lori, we have been working on reuniting the birds. We started by introducing Kili to Rachel because their health was showing greatest improvement and also because Kili did not have any bad history with Rachel.
A few months later, Truman got moved back to the bird room to rejoin the other birds. Out of the cage, we introduced him to Rachel first. Again, no bad history so this was a pretty straight forward introduction. It was mostly just a matter of feeding them lots of treats and food outside the cage at progressively smaller distances from each other. The goal isn't necessarily to make them friends but just to make sure that they can stay out of trouble and not hurt each other while out together.
Now the time has finally come to get Kili and Truman out together. We literally had to take them out of the cage individually for a while before this staged reintroduction. It didn't take any time since Truman moved back to the bird room that it was apparent that Kili wanted to get him. Just walking by her cage with Truman in hand, she would pin her eyes, growl, and lunge at the bars to try to get him.
Although Kili and Truman have become pretty tolerant of each other in the past, right now it was like starting over. Kili's aggressive Senegal Parrot traits were showing and her original animosity toward Truman was reignited. Any time Kili would see a picture (on phone or paper) of Truman, she would try to attack it. We discovered this when Marianna used some mis-printed papers from work of Truman's Tabletop Perch to line Kili's cage bottom. What started as a silly joke turned serious pretty quick. Kili was going apeshit on the bottom of her cage trying to attack through the grate! We had to remove the papers immediately.
Another scene was when we had company over and we were telling the story about the cage paper episode. Just to illustrate, Marianna took one of those sheets and approached Kili with it. Kili attacked the picture of Truman so quickly that Marianna didn't have time to react and ended up getting a bloody bite just from holding the sheet! This is when we realized that Kili would try to kill Truman the first chance she'd get. It's a Senegal thing.
I should point out that when I say they get into fights, it is always Kili doing the attacking. However, Truman is no angel either. Even after all these years he still hasn't learned to avoid provoking Kili. Truman lives in his own world and does not make any consideration for those around him whether that's pooping a cascade down my blinds or trying to take Kili's food. So while Truman does not actually attack or fight Kili, he certainly does know how to get her going. This is a problem. Although Kili will sometimes intentionally fly over to attack him, most cases of fighting are where Truman thoughtlessly comes toward Kili and she does a defensive offense.
It was really important to try to create a peaceful introduction and rebuild some of the tolerance I had previously developed between them using training. So I used a combination of two training techniques that I like for introducing parrots. What I did not do was the "grab controlled introduction" like I did between Truman and Santina. That method worked well between two birds that had no aggression to each other and I just wanted to make them more used to each other. This time, I have some problem birds that are going to get more agitated from being held or forced near each other. So instead, my goal is to make them avoid/ignore each other entirely. By getting them to focus on training instead of each other, it is my best chance to teach this very concept.
Both training methods for introducing birds (and this can be used on friendly just as well as birds that aren't friendly with each other) require the birds to be target trained and some Training Perches for the birds to stand on. The Training Perches are actually more important than you might think. Not only are they a convenient place to have the birds, they invoke a training mindset and get the birds focused on their tasks. The training perches are psychological in addition to physical in a way that classroom encourages learning. Ideally the birds should be trick trained so that you can cue them to do tricks. However, just being well target trained is sufficient for the introduction process.
The first training method is when you have two birds and two people. You can have more birds and more people that aren't involved, but for the sake of this method it's two on two. The first person takes the first bird to one end of a large room and begins training. The second person then brings the second bird to the other end of the room and begins training that one. Each bird is set on a training perch and kept busy with targeting and performing tricks. Each person stands facing their bird with their body blocking the view of the other bird. This keeps each bird focused on training and possibly even unaware of the presence of the second bird. Little by little, more and more of the other bird is revealed by allowing a glimpse from moving over. Also, if the birds are deemed indifferent to each other and focused on training, the perches can slowly be brought closer together. It may take a series of sessions to achieve results. The good news is that by having two people, there is always one person immediately next to each bird to keep it focused and protected from the other.
Since it appeared that Kili would jump Truman the first chance she'd get, we decided to use the above method for the first out of cage time together. Marianna trained Truman in one corner of the bird room while I worked with Kili in the other. This kept Kili's gaze on me and busy with the training. She was so consumed by the treats and training that she hardly noticed Truman. It also rewarded her handsomely for being around him. Furthermore, it ensured that if Kili slipped away from my reach, Marianna could be there to protect Truman.
It was really important that at least the first week of their interactions was provocation free. This way they learn the new order of things and their place in it (and that is without fighting or getting in the way). Then if something happens here or there later on, it will be an isolated incident and not setting the tone for how things will continue. The first session was a huge success.
For the second session, I went to the one person, two birds method. This is similar to the way I introduced Kili and Truman in the first place. I set Kili and Truman on two training perches and did target and trick training exercises with each. I use big treats so that the birds are kept busy eating for as long as possible while I work with the other bird. I don't want any bird to sit idle because it is less predictable what it might do if it isn't eating. But if they have food, I know they will focus on eating it until it is done. I started with the training perches on opposite sides of me, putting myself between the birds. This allows me to train each bird while providing separation and protection from each other.
As they improved, I moved the perches closer together and even began standing away from the birds so that they would have the opportunity to fight but would have a good incentive not to because of the training. In the beginning, it is all about preventing any fights/attacks in the first place. But to make further progress, eventually you have to give them the opportunity (but not necessarily the motive) to do that but a stronger incentive (treats, training, attention) not to do that. Then they truly learn the value of tolerance and even cooperation.
I would have Kili do the turn around trick and then look over and realize Truman was doing it as well. This was a great chance to reward them together for both paying attention and cooperating. It didn't take long that the two could sit on training perches in close proximity to each other. I will wait a few weeks before thinking of putting them on the same perch though.
Here's a video of Kili and Truman's reintroduction:
I love teaching tricks to my parrots. It is not only a load of fun, but it also goes to develop a wonderful relationship with my pets. Birds that excel at doing tricks also excel at being good pets. But also from the parrot's perspective, I am fun to be around because all of the treat earning opportunities only happen in my presence and through cooperation. It's a win/win situation.
You have already heard about training techniques for many cued parrot tricks on this Trained Parrot blog. Now I am preparing a series of videos describing how to teach all of the prop tricks that I offer for sale. The wonderful thing about trick prop toys is that they are extremely visual, challenging, intelligent, and a ton of fun.
The easier tricks are a chance to get the parrot to do something big while still being a beginner at training. The more difficult ones challenge your parrot's intellect and demonstrate a level of intelligence you don't get to experience in other kinds of pets. Let me run down the different tricks available and briefly mention the features and challenges with each. I am listing these in the order I recommend teaching them from easiest to hardest.
Birdie Bowling - This was Kili's first prop trick (first video). It is very impressive and exciting to watch, yet it is one of the easiest prop based tricks to teach! It's only a matter of teaching the bird to push the ball, the toy and gravity do the rest of the work!
Birdie Basketball - The staple of bird tricks. The basketball trick is probably the easiest but by no means unimpressive of the fetch based tricks. I recommend teaching this one first because it requires the least requisite skills. Just follow the steps in my Fetch Guide first and then you're ready to teach basketball. Height is adjustable so you can start low and increase height with progress. Also suitable for small birds because the hoop can be lowered. Comes with an easy to grip training ball and a realistic ball.
Birdie Treasure Chest - Every good pirate needs a parrot. And even better yet, a parrot that knows what to do with treasure! The Treasure Chest trick is two tricks in one. A chest for your parrot to put its favorite toys away and a piggy bank to save up for big treats. This trick is great for beginner and more advanced birds when it comes to training.
Birdie Darts - Another easy/exciting sports trick based on fetch. The secret is that the darts are magnetic, so your parrot just needs to drop them by the dart board and they will stick. Have your bird fly with the darts for a long range guided dart!
Birdie Slide - Watch your parrot zoom down a slide! A big toy with a stunning visual effect. This trick is actually easy to teach but only for a very tame parrot. The most important thing is that the bird does not get scared of the slide. Once you get past that, it only has to learn to climb the ladder and come down.
Birdie Skates - Teach your parrot to skate. This trick does not have any particular requisite tricks but it is difficult to teach. A history of being good at any other tricks will increase the chances of your parrot succeeding with this one. But once taught, it's a lot of fun to see your parrot skating around!
Birdie Ring Toss - Color matching ring toss trick. Teach your parrot to put rings on pegs and demonstrate color matching capability. Just the mechanics of putting a ring onto a peg is a whole trick in itself, but with color matching, this trick will stun your friends. Most people have a hard time believing parrots can even see color, let alone be so smart. This is probably the easiest of the color matching tricks I offer. Available in 3 or 6 colors.
Birdie Colored Boxes - A color matching tricks that your bird can open and close. The colored boxes trick is one of the brainiest tricks in my trick toy product line. Not only does your parrot get to demonstrate superior color vision and matching but also handling the box lids. In terms of complexity, it is mostly on par with the ring toss. However, the extra task with the box lids makes it more challenging as a whole. It is more suitable than the ring toss for smaller birds but can just as well be handled by larger birds as well.
Birdie Puzzle - Bird can do a puzzle, what more can I say? This trick is colors, puzzles, and tons of IQ aptitude in one. Matching shapes/colors isn't the only challenge. Getting the shaped pieces to fit into the slots requires a good amount of dexterity and skill. Are you up for the challenge? The puzzle is available in 3 different sizes to suit all kinds of parrots.
So there you go, 9 parrot trick training props that will keep your parrot trained, educated, and entertained for years! Try and teach them all and I guarantee that with each new trick, you will also develop a better relationship with your parrot. I have been collecting and developing these tricks for years. Now they are all available in one place, ParrotWizard.com.
Now enjoy this video of Kili showing off how to do all of them!
I have some good news to share, I'm rehoming Santina. It's a hard thing to talk about so I'm glad I got that off my chest. Read till the end and watch the video to understand the situation, how the rehoming went, and how a win/win situation came out of it all that really is good news.
I adopted Santina from the rescue on December 23, 2013. She's been a great bird and a wonderful pet. However, from early on we ran into issues. I'm not talking about behavioral ones because those we solve through training. I'm talking about Santina's health problems.
From the beginning, it was clear that she had some issues, but I was optimistic that veterinary medicine could cure her. I spent a small fortune getting Santina tested for everything under the sun, yet the results were inconclusive. It was a wild goose chase because results would contradict each other and no specific cause could be found. I treated Santina with antibiotics and kept her quarantined from Kili & Truman for triple the normal quarantine period. In the absence of a specific diagnoses and under the impression that the treatment helped, I went ahead and put all of the birds together.
It wasn't long until Kili and Truman began exhibiting similar symptoms to Santina. It was not clear at first because they were all close together. But as Marianna started borrowing birds for a few days at a time, in the isolation of her room, she discovered that Kili & Truman had the same things going on. All the birds went on antibiotics. While on medication, things would seem to improve. But, once off, things would go right back to before.
Marianna moved in with her Blue and Gold Macaw, Rachel. Rachel got sick too which made things even more clear. We started by keeping Rachel in a cage in a separate room and treating her.
Over the course of the last two years it has been a nightmare of juggling treatments and quarantines. We went so far as keeping each bird in a separate room and showering between birds. This has led to a few things. First of all, it led us to discover that antibiotic treatment appears to cure all of the birds but Santina. After several different medications and a long trial of isolated treatments, we have concluded that Santina's condition is most likely incurable. The curable bacterial infections that she has been spreading to the other birds may be a symptom and not the cause. When removed from Santina's presence, after a course of antibiotic treatment, the other birds have been infection free going on for over half a year.
The other thing we had come to realize was that Santina's condition has been taking a toll on our bird and family life. Instead of focusing on making new training videos, taking the birds places, writing articles, and doing the sorts of bird things I usually do, I have been plagued with vet visits, quarantines, and depression. We could not travel with multiple birds, could not keep the birds together as a family, nor spend time with more than one bird at a time. The wedding was a distraction and kept us busy. We had to jump through hoops to make arrangements to get the birds involved in the wedding without impacting their quarantine.
Since the time I introduced Santina to the other birds, my entire bird life has become stagnant. I stopped training Santina because I was afraid to risk her illness becoming worse. The other birds, I could not get to training because much time was being spent on work and handling all of the birds separately. Marianna has made all of the quarantine efforts possible by splitting the tasks of caring for each bird. Life had become a rut. There was no motivation or pleasure from doing bird stuff and thus a giant set back in the online realm as well.
We never planned things to go on as long. It always seemed like there would be an end in sight. First it would be a week of medication, then two, then a month. When we split the birds into different rooms, it was just going to be a trial to see how they do separately. But, weeks turned to months and months to years. Nothing was changing. We were exhausting all ideas and possibilities. The conclusion was becoming more and more apparent that Santina would not be able to be kept together with the other birds.
All of the birds were short-changed throughout the whole process. Instead of spending one collective time taking care of them all, time had to be spent on separate feedings, separate cleanings, and quarantine procedures. Although more time was being spent on birds than the normal situation, individually the birds were receiving less time. What started as a health problem and temporary solutions was turning into a long term problem. We were getting nowhere.
This summer, I was contacted by a lady that had seen my picture used in a bird sale scam. These things happen left and right and there's nothing I can do about them (most of them are overseas and create a new page every week). She was looking to get a Green-Winged Macaw. We got talking and before long, Lori and my wife became great friends. Lori read my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots, and discussed the finer points of owning macaws with Marianna.
Lori was still trying to decide if a Green-Wing was right for her or not, so Marianna and I paid Lori a visit with Santina. After meeting Santina, Lori told us she would like a bird just like her. Coming home from that visit, we realized that there was a strong potential here for an ideal situation all around. We stayed in touch with Lori and helped her develop her understanding of parrots. Then there came a point where I asked Lori if she would be interested in adopting Santina. She was ecstatic beyond words and the answer was yes.
Lori is the ideal candidate for adopting Santina. Lori has a house but no other people or parrots living there. She can afford the upkeep for a macaw which is quite expensive. She loves animals, has time on her hands, and has no plans for adding any other birds. She is patient and willing to follow the training methods for developing trust. Also she is willing to give up an entire room in her house to give Santina the lifestyle she has become accustomed to. Likewise, Santina is just the kind of birds that Lori was looking for.
We spent the rest of the summer making preparations for the rehoming process. There was no rush to get it done and no deadline. However, due to conveniently overlapping summer schedules, it worked out to be easier to do things more quickly than to wait for the fall. It just so happens that the more you are willing to take your time, the more quickly things end up actually happening.
Lori put up plastic sheeting on the walls, replaced the flooring with vinyl, repainted the ceiling, removed all loose wiring, and prepared the room to be bird safe. It was a lot of work but best done before having a bird in the home.
We took another trip to Pittsburgh to help Lori prepare the bird room for Santina. We built a custom NU Perch stand and hung it from the ceiling. Also, the ceiling light was upgraded to a bright LED fixture and the light switch was replaced with a timer. We brought over some of Santina's old and new toys so that things would be as familiar as possible. We even used her old food bowls and Training Perches.
The room was ready but there was one more thing to prepare: Santina. Santina is a great bird with people she is familiar with but can be a menace to anyone new. I've done a fair bit of socializing her over the years, particularly using the Aviator Harness to take her outside. However, Santina still would not be at the point like the other birds to just step up for someone else for sure.
There was no way I could fully prepare Santina for the exchange. So instead I focused on preparing Lori and Santina for the training process to build a relationship. I spent time reminding Santina of the training exercises I had already done with her initially to teach her to be good with me. I wanted them to be fresh in her mind so that Lori could use them. I emphasized target training and stepping up onto a handheld perch so that Lori would be able to use those tools to move her about in the first few weeks without contact. I also spent a lot of time talking to Lori about the steps to follow to win over Santina. To put it simply, don't try to touch her or force her to step up, use the training tools she knows to relearn to do those things for you.
On August 21, 2016, nearly 3 years since adoption from the rescue, I rehomed Santina. I flew Santina out to Pittsburgh to see Lori again. Santina seemed to recognize her and was in a great mood. We moved slowly in the introduction stage and Lori did a great job. I know it took effort to hold back some of her excitement but in reality it made things go much more quickly than expected. We stayed the weekend and got to witness progress in the making.
Santina went from just barely taking treats from Lori to jumping on a Training Perch to get treats from her. Santina was becoming more at ease with Lori's presence. Otherwise, Santina was perfectly at home on the familiar NU Perch stand I built her. We practiced Santina's feeding/cleaning routines a few times with Lori doing it more and more on her own. Although the rehoming process only lasted two days, it felt like weeks of progress because we made a gradual transition. Santina had the chance to get used to her new home and new owner with me around so she actually felt quite at ease.
We would leave to go get lunch, then come back and work with her. Then we would go out for dinner and come back. This coming and going got Santina more relaxed, and when I left without coming back, she already had a new friend in Lori. And this is really great news. Santina has been taking to Lori very quickly. They have a wonderful understanding and connection developing. Lori adores Santina. The dedicated passionate attention that Santina is receiving is definitely uplifting to her.
Santina was always a one-person bird before. She grew up as an only bird and I have found her to like attention as an only bird. The group environment was not ideal for her and she did not deal so well with the little green guys buzzing around so much. On the other hand, with Lori, Santina can be the center of all attention.
As I left Santina with Lori, I was actually quite happy. Certainly there was a feeling of sadness in going home without her. However, seeing how well she is doing with Lori and how happy Lori is to have her, I knew it was all right. Kili, Truman, and Rachel are for the better. They will be able to recover their health and get back to training. Santina will be in a home environment that she actually enjoys best. Lori got the exact kind of macaw that she was looking for. And Marianna and I have a wonderful new friend. This just goes to show that a rehoming situation, when done right, can have an all around happy ending!