My parrots do what I want. This is contrary to most people's parrots that do what they don't want and don't do what they do want. My parrots step up for me whenever I ask them to. They come out of their cages and go back into their cages when expected. They fly to me when called and allow me to touch, hold, handle, and grab them. They never bite me and they don't bite other people either. They voluntarily put on their harnesses and travel with me. They even freefly outside without restraint and come back to me. My parrots do what I want them to do! But why do they do that? I will attempt to explain that in this article.
Note in this article I use examples of my freeflight experiences with Kili & Truman as the ultimate demonstration of my parrots doing what I want with full freedom. I am not recommending that anyone try this with their parrot. I am only hoping to convince you of the extent of the effectiveness of my approaches and to encourage you to use them with your parrot in your home. It is best that you do not attempt outdoor freeflight.
It comes down to training, motivation, challenging, patience, and realistic expectations. Without all of these components, it is unlikely that your parrot will do what you want. Let's start with realistic expectations. In part this means understanding and accepting the wild side of a parrot and that it may never change. On the other hand it's about having expectations that are achievable and relative to the parrot's current level of training. In other words when I work with a less trained parrot, I don't expect it to do what a more highly trained parrot can. If what I want the parrot to do is relative to what it can do, then I am more likely to be pleased that the parrot is doing what I want.
But wanting the parrot to do what I expect it to be capable of doing isn't enough. I also want the parrot to learn to do better and this is where challenging the parrot comes in. I challenge my parrots and other parrots that I train to do better. This is a perpetual process. Even when my parrots are good at what they do, I challenge them to do better still or to move onto tougher challenges that will continue to challenge them. By raising the bar of their capabilities - as well as my expectations - it assures that the easier things will remain while newer challenges will be achieved as well.
Patience is the bridge between expectations and achieving actual challenges. These things may take time. But what's the rush? The bird will live a very long time and it's a fun road for us to share together through the behavior improvement process. But expectations, challenges, and patience simply aren't enough. An infinite amount of these will still keep you exactly where you're at if you don't apply training. Training teaches the parrot how to do the things that we wish to challenge them with. I'm not going to get into how to train parrots because that is the subject of this blog and my book, but it is undeniable that training is a key component.
Yet, even people who apply the training approach end up failing to achieve desired behavior from their parrots. One more component is irreplaceable: motivation. The parrot has to want what you want or at least want what you can do for it in return for doing what you want. Parrots may be highly intelligent but they are also highly selfish. As are we. We want our parrots to do what we want; likewise our parrots want us to do what they want! Having an outstanding relationship and well-behaved parrot lies on the intersection of those two desires! There must be compromise on both sides in order for it to work.
The secret to getting your parrot to do what you want is to make it so that the parrot wants to do that. We can call this motivation. Forcing the parrot to do what you want may work at times. But the down side in most cases is that if the parrot doesn't genuinely want to do that, then at the first opportunity to bail it will. For example, I take my parrots to freefly at the park. On the way to and from the park I have them wear their aviator harnesses just to be safe. However, at the park they are given the freedom to fly. If the only reason they wore harnesses was because at home I forced them to wear the harness, then at the park they could easily fly away from me to avoid having it put on. You see, the difference now between a parrot that WANTS to put the harness on from the parrot that HAS to put the harness on?
Another element that I find to be crucial to success with parrots is not clipping their wings!. I think wing clipping is to a large extent responsible for parrot owners' failure to teach the parrot to do what they want. And it's not the other way around, either. I do believe that people think they are clipping a bird because it does not do what they want. But in reality, they never taught it in the first place. But by clipping the bird's wings, they are actually eliminating the possibility of teaching their parrot to behave the way that it should. The parrot does not stay on its tree because it should, it does it because it has to! The parrot doesn't avoid flying over to people because it doesn't want to bite, but because it can't. Wing clipping ends up forcing a parrot to appear to do what we want (like be with us) but in actuality there is a strong chance the parrot does not want to. In that case, it is a failed application of teaching the parrot to do what we want it to do. This ultimately leads to failure and a highly misbehaved parrot.
Parrots are born to fly. It's not just their feathered appearance that is evolved for flight. Their entire cardio-respiratory system is like a turbocharged engine that is dying for flight. Their brain is capable of processing its spatial surroundings, navigating, planning, and thinking at the speed of flight! Without flight, the muscles and the brain decay from disuse. We need that brain to stay sharp to learn to be the great pet that we desire. Eliminating flight eliminates the intelligence that we need to tap into to teach the parrot to cooperate.
The goal is to have a parrot that looks forward to seeing you and cooperating with you. If the parrot only does these things because it has to, then at the first opportunity to not have to do them, it won't. Yet if the parrot is put in the situation that it wants to do these things and chooses to, success is assured all around.
Here's a great test to figure out if the way you approach your parrot is improving or harming your relationship: if your parrot will fly away from you as a result, it is hurting. If your parrot will voluntarily fly to you to get to participate in your handling, then it is improving. The only way to find out is to have a flighted parrot. Simply guessing what your parrot would do is not enough because there is no concrete feedback. A clipped parrot that cannot fly may be stuck enduring much that it does not want. This will slowly add up and then at some point what seems like "biting for no reason" is actually quite justified because of all the things it had to do that it did not want to do. By allowing the bird to fly and using this as a gauge for what it wants/does not want to do, you can only use approaches that actually work. This reduces the fallout of doing things that the bird does not want and having revenge seemingly out of nowhere.
Most of you know that I use food management to train tricks/behavior to my parrots. It would seem that the parrot is "forced" to do what I want because otherwise it would not get to eat. But actually this isn't the case for several reasons.
First this has to do with a realization I've made some time ago. It's not my job to feed my parrots. It is their job to feed themselves. It is only my responsibility to make food available to them but it is up to them to make the feeding take place. Think about it. In the most basic case, the owner puts food in the bowl and the parrot climbs over to eat from it. The owner is making food available but the parrot is choosing to take the steps to eat the food. Likewise, in the wild, parrots fly distances from tree to tree to feed themselves. What I am doing is shifting the gap from eating from a bowl inches away to something closer to eating from a tree miles away. It is not only natural but also instinctual for parrots to search, forage, and behave in ways that get them food. Through training and soliciting good behavior ("good" is relative and in this case I mean "behavior that is desirable to me") I am directly appealing to a parrot's natural desire to do what it takes to feed itself.
Furthermore, if my parrots are failing the challenges I make for them to "feed themselves," I - in my sympathy - can reduce the challenges to something that they are known to be capable of to ensure they do manage to feed themselves. In other words, they'll still be fed. But it gets even better still. During this process we develop alternative forms of reinforcement that are not food. The birds develop habitual good behavior and maintain it even though they never receive food for it. Not biting, stepping up, coming out of the cage, touching, handling, grabbing, stepping up for other people, putting on harnesses, etc are so much practiced and habitual that my parrots continue to exhibit all these excellent behaviors without receiving any treats for them. So, yes, food was used to teach them these things initially, but as they have become habit, the parrots are no longer dependent on food to maintain these.
As I challenge my parrots to always do more behavior, better, for smaller treats, and for less frequent treats, they become adapted to just doing the behavior. They also become more in tune with very subtle conditioned reinforcers. Getting a click of the clicker or just a smile from my face can become much more effective when the parrot has been challenged to do a certain behavior for a treat once every 10 or better yet every 50 times. By employing variable ratio reinforcement schedules, I am able to make the behavior more reliable while also making the parrot less dependent on food as a reason for doing it. Also, as I challenge my parrots to do harder and harder things (such as extensive amounts of strenuous flying), it makes other things comparatively easier. My parrots perform tricks, step up, and behave well in other ways much more readily because those are far easier ways to earn attention, scratches, and other good subtle non-food things than flying. It's a piece of cake to step up for me for a head scratch rather than to fly to me for it. So step up is absolutely reliable and fool proof. Flying 50ft recalls at home is easier than flying 200ft recalls at the park, so after flying 200ft recalls at the park, the parrots are even more reliable at flying 50ft recalls at home. As I continue to challenge my parrots' ultimate behavior challenges, all easier behavior becomes near automatic.
If you challenge your parrot to go just a little further, do just a little more, with time the behavior will be better and better. First it may be a matter of walking a few inches to the food bowl to eat. Then the parrot can learn to target a greater distance to target and eat. Then you can take this even further and have the bird learn to fly some distances to you to get the same. The bird still gets to eat the full healthy portion that is suitable for it but it will just learn to do more and more for it and this will be normal. In the process the parrot will become more fit and your relationship will blossom. No matter how much we challenge our parrots, it still doesn't even come remotely close to the challenges of nature. But the more we train our parrots, the happier we will be with having a more suitable pet and the healthier the parrot will be as well.
I treat training, and particularly flight recall training, like I am a tree. In the wild, parrots will fly from tree to tree to find the ones with ripe fruit, nuts, or seeds. Some trees may not have anything while others will be more rewarding. I tell my parrots to "forage me with their good behavior." In the wild, they will be challenged to find the food and then to extract it from its natural protections. In the home, they can experience the same mental challenge but in a way that benefits our relationship at the same time. They have to try to work out the puzzle of extracting their food from me by figuring out what I want them to do and doing it to the best of their ability! This is so natural to them. It feels like more of a crime to deny them the opportunities to express these natural tendencies. They love to be challenged.
While my parrots are practicing flight in home and outside, not only are they learning to fly better, they are also building stronger muscles. As long as I keep challenging them to fly a little more or a little further each time, they get stronger and have greater endurance. This also makes it easier for them to fly small distances and makes them more reliable when I really need them to fly. Flying a short distance is easy for a stronger bird so it takes less motivation to elicit it. At the absolute best, I was able to get Truman to fly a total distance of 1.5 miles and Kili to fly 2.6 miles in a single 1 hour long flight training session at home. Considering that Kili came to me clipped as a bird that had never fledged, this amount of flying strength that we have built is colossal! Better yet, watch her flying outside with skill and ease. She will now fly to me from any part of the park, even when she can't see me. She has learned to dodge obstacles, turn, and find me by the call of my voice.
By allowing parrots to fly, we have the glorious opportunity to be that parrot's wild foraging tree. We can tap into that natural instinct to fly across distances and feed not only to exercise the parrot but also to teach them how wonderful it is spending time with us. Through the flight recall training process, you can teach your parrot to think on the fly and to do what we want it to do. As we challenge our parrots with strenuous tasks such as flight (which are otherwise perfectly natural for them), we can develop high endurance levels of motivation. That motivation can be tapped to encompass all the other good behavior that we require of our parrots in order to be good pets.
I feel that the ultimate measure of success in regards to parrot ownership is the combination of the birds' health/well-being and being able to get my parrots be the kinds of pets I want them to be. Success is that bridge of the parrot doing what we want and allowing the parrot to get what it wants from us!
Please learn more about my complete approach to achieving a great companion parrot in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. It is the first book of its kind to provide a complete approach to parrot keeping and also to presume parrots to be the flighted animals that they are. This approach does not come with a caveat that says it will only work if the parrot has its wings clipped because it is an approach to make the bird want/choose to cooperate rather than to artificially force it. It's an approach to teach the animal to want what you want and encourage it to be a willing participant in the pet lifestyle in which it lives. With this approach, everyone benefits both human and parrot alike. You will be happier to have the pet you want but the parrot will also be happier to have ways by which to fulfill it's natural instinct for survival. Ultimately it's a more natural, mutual, and caring approach.
Kili and Truman are fantastic examples of how well-socialized a parrot can be. The concept of socialization is a broad scope of everything a parrot may encounter and how it reacts. Simply put, the socialized parrot doesn't get scared and even enjoys visiting new places, handling new objects, and meeting new people.
The main benefit of socialization is that it removes a parrot's fears across the spectrum. As the parrot is exposed to more objects, places, and people in a harmless way, the less fearful and thus better behaved it is in future encounters. Since a lot of biting is driven by fear, teaching a parrot not to fear novelty results in a tremendous reduction in overall biting. Furthermore, other forms of biting such as jealous, displaced, territorial, and possessive are diminished with socialization as well.
Taking parrots outdoors is a great way to expose it to a multitude of random objects, places, people, and situations. The more times the parrot is exposed to these, the less of a big deal these exposures are in the future. The parrot learns to handle situations with greater ease. Also, taking parrots outdoors is essential for their health and well-being.
One of the ultimate challenges is taking the parrot to a busy playground. Anything and everything can happen at a playground. Kids are running around, there's screaming, birds are flying around, bikes are zooming buy, cars are backfiring, you name it. But after several years of going to the park regularly, none of this bother Kili and Truman. They are calm and enjoy the situation. It is very rare for them to take off and even when they do they usually just fly over to me.
I spend a lot of effort teaching controlled outdoor harness flight. On one hand I am giving the parrots exercise and flight practice, but on the other hand I am also teaching them to stay. Since the harness, even with leash extension, isn't terribly long, the parrots have learned that there is no benefit to flying (unless called). Thus they have learned to be more stationary than they would normally be at home. If they kept trying to fly around while being harnessed, crashes and tangles would be rampant. But using the method of encouraging recalled flight only, I have been able to set some very reliable guidelines that make the harness less of a burden.
The training and preparations I do at home make the parrots more prepared to handle the park. But the socialization, desensitization, and extensive challenges of the park also make them better behaved at home.
Considering how Kili was becoming a tremendous biter (toward everyone but me), I have definitely come a long way. My socialization approach not only reversed the biting but made her the sweetest parrot ever. Anyone can walk up to Kili, grab her, turn her any which way, play with her, pet her, hand her off to someone else and all the while she does not bite. In fact I think she enjoys it and will show off her tricks (not for treats) in the process. Truman on the other hand never bit anyone. By using the same socialization approach with him from the start (as well as ignoring any remote attempts at biting), he has never developed a biting issue in the first place. Between solving Kili's biting and solving Truman's biting, I have really come to appreciate the importance of socialization and outdoor time with parrots.
I think this park outing embodies the epitome of all my parrot training endeavors. I can have a fun time with my birds, they can enjoy fresh air, the birds are outgoing and fun, and everyone benefits. This special relationship that I have developed is the basis of my upcoming book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. The book has now moved into the printing stage and will be coming soon. The book is 296 fun-filled pages about all facets of parrot ownership. But ultimately it is based on my experience achieving well-behaved parrots and helping others achieve the same. The 10 chapter book starts from how to choose a parrot and then goes through an extensive array of easy things you can do with your parrot to achieve the easy-going pet you've always dreamed of. You don't have to be a performer to be able to achieve a well-behaved parrot and that is what my book is going to teach you. If you enjoy my blog, you'll especially enjoy my book because it is written in a similar easy to follow style. But it covers many things I have not considered blogging about and it really ties everything together in one easy read.
Enjoy the following video of how well-behaved my parrots are and then please order my book when it is released. This park outing best embodies what I consider to be well-behaved parrots.
I took Kili and Truman to the park today in the usual manner wearing their aviator harnesses. First I flew Truman using the long leash and he did an outstanding job with over 20 flights. Not only did I call him back and forth the length of the leash from the same perch, I ran around to give him more distance to fly. I had him go to different benches and places in the park. He's been getting pretty good lately, but this was by far his best day.
Before I go any further, I must very sternly warn you: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. Don't do it. Don't think about doing it. Just don't. With extensive research, 5 years of very extensive training experience, and a very special circumstance, I knew that this was something I could safely do. I didn't think it was going to be ok, I knew it (which I'll explain further). This is not a training guide or a suggestion of what you can or should do. You simply shouldn't do it. I'm not sharing this to be a role model but simply because it is something I've done. This is not something parrot owners should be doing with their pets. Watch this video in full and you will lose any thought about taking your pet parrot outside unrestrained (even if it's clipped!).
Now when Kili's turn came to fly, in the spur of the moment I decided to take her harness off and let her fly unrestrained! It's not a decision that came lightly but it wasn't something I set out to the park to do. At that moment, I simply KNEW that Kili would do what I was expecting. I could sense absolute and complete motivation from her. Sometimes her motivation is good and sometimes it is bad. In that range it is often hard to tell if she will really choose to perform or not. However, this time I was able to sense the most intense motivation from her with certainty.
A combination of factors lead to this unmistakable motivation. First of all I weighed the two parrots in before heading to the park and found that their weights were pretty low (still well within healthy range), lower than most park sessions. However, this is not something to exclusively gauge motivation on. Motivation, particular outdoors, can be affected by many factors. Temperature, humidity, wind, distractions, and other birds can play a big role. I've already noticed in the past that my parrots get especially motivated to eat (regardless of weight) prior to rain or thunderstorms and sure enough there is a thunderstorm forecast for tonight.
I can also have a good idea how the second bird will fly based on the first. Usually either both birds fly well or both fly poorly. When it's too hot, both don't want to fly. If there are too many distractions, it usually affects both birds. But today the circumstances were just perfect. The temperature was warm but not too hot. The wind was near calm. The kids at the park were a well behaved audience. This plays an important role because sometimes there are obnoxious kids that distract or bother the birds. Today I saw that they just tagged along but did not get in the way. Given the right group of kids, they actually can motivate the parrots to fly better for their attention.
Given all of these optimal conditions, I knew that it would be no challenge for Kili to do a perfect job harnessing flying all over the park. Having flown her extensively at home, in theaters, in a large gym, and in the park on a harness, I have had enough previous experiences where I experienced this "perfect motivation" that I knew today was the day. I don't remember the last time Kili "flew off" outside and I depended on the leash to save her. After years of socialization, desensitization, and going through this same flying routine at the park, I knew this was going to be like any other day minus the harness. Rather than take Kili to some desert or special place to freefly, I knew she was safest flying in the same park where she is accustomed to flying on her harness. If she can fly outside with the harness without a hitch and can fly in large gyms without a hitch, thus I know she can do this outdoors unrestrained as well.
HOWEVER, there is still the risk. Even if most of the time she does everything right on harness or indoors, there is absolutely no room for error outdoors. If Kili were to end up outside the park, there's no telling where she could end up. Senegal Parrots are particularly unsuitable for outdoor freeflight because they are small, quiet, and green. If one were to get lost in a tree, it would be damn near impossible to find. While some kinds of parrots could be lost and then found again, with a Senegal it's closer to all or nothing which is why I've avoided freeflight all this time.
But after so much routine and habit of harness flying in the park, I felt confident that even if someone were to scare her (which almost certainly wouldn't happen cause she's seen it all over the years), that she would either fly back to me or to some perch in the park. I didn't even fear her going into a tree because she has had opportunities to do this in the harness as well. But out of training and habit, she has learned only to land on the benches and low fences. I know that she simply would not consider landing elsewhere. I could not stand the thought or even the chance of losing her. But this day the circumstances just so happened to be that I knew it couldn't happen.
I took Truman off the leash extension and was about to apply it to Kili's harness. This was the moment when I decided that she would fly without it instead. I put the extension in my pocket, got Truman up on my shoulder, asked the kids to back up and make some more room, got some treats out, and then proceeded to take Kili's harness off. This was probably the most nerve-racking moment of truth and my hands were shaking a little. It was not that I was afraid she'd fly away but it was just something difficult to get myself to do. It was like taking the step out of an airplane to jump with a parachute, it was the moment of truth. I heard folks gasp as I took the leash off. People really couldn't believe what I was about to do. I took Kili's harness off and left it on the ground while I took some steps away and called her.
She instantly flew over to me and got a nice treat prior to returning to where she had perched. By this point I was too focused on the training session and almost forgot that she was untethered. I ran around the park calling her and flying her to different places like she would while wearing a harness. I never had to call more than once because her flight recalls were perfect. She came every time without delay. She got big treats but still not every time. Since she normally flies for a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, I felt no reason to change this now. I did, however, give her bigger and better treats than usual to reward her especially for doing such a great job. I was able to recall her for longer distances than I usually can with the limitation of the leash length. I tried to avoid taking my eyes off of her but I did at moments while stepping away or looking around. But this was ok because it was no different than when she is normally harnessed. She did not do anything she would not have done while wearing the harness which made me certain that I had interpreted her behavior correctly.
I continued to fly her for nearly 20 recalls to different locations in the park, almost no different than if she were harnessed. We did many back to back recalls where she flew multiple times to get just a single treat. I was going to end things early just to be extra safe. I reached in my pocket to get more treats to reward her for putting the harness back on but I could sense her eagerness to keep going. So instead, I had her play flighted fetch unrestrained. She did such an outstanding job flying up off the floor with the ball without the added weight of the harness. I also had her fly to the floor to play dead (again uninhibited by the cumbersome harness). I finished off the session with a few more flight recalls for big treats and then put Kili back in her harness for one final treat. I did not bother flying her any further in the harness and took this as a good opportunity to end the session and go home. Kili got her dinner extra early to celebrate doing such an outstanding job flying. She even had leftover training motivation by normal training time to outfly Truman for some extra treats!
It was a really exciting experience and I am so proud of her ability. She has always proven me right whenever I took chances flying her in challenging environments whether it was on big stages with unreachable ceilings, in gyms, or on the harness. I have a good feeling for when she is motivated, and especially when she is a sure shot. It was a lot of fun and a good experience, but I will not let it cloud my judgement and make me think I can just do that any time. I will continue using a harness (possibly with similar exceptions under the right circumstances) when I take her out to eliminate risks of loss entirely. Losing her simply is not a chance I can take. However, this experience has taught me a lot and I think to Kili as well. We have strengthened our bond and she has proven how capable she really is. Most importantly, doing this even further reduces the likelihood of ever losing her in a circumstance where she could inadvertently find herself unrestrained outside.
Edit: Some Afterthoughts. Although I made no specific preparations for this flight, all of Kili's life we have been preparing for this. I was always taming/training her (and especially when it comes to indoor freeflight and outdoor harness flight) to be able to safely recover her should she end up outdoors. She has been trained to fly down from high places, she has been trained to turn around and come back to me, she has been trained to think on the fly. All of these skills gave me the confidence that she could fly her way back to me and stay within the confines of the park.
Furthermore, there's the endless desensitization and socialization. She's extremely used to everything going on at the park and none of that scares her. I still have a video of her at the park from a few weeks back I have yet to share to show this. I can set off a cap gun right next to her and instead of getting scared she can rationally think through doing her trick. I really can't think of what can spook this bird or what has in recent years. The birds of prey factor was still present but to the same degree it is present for harness flying so that was not something extra to consider. If there was one place Kili could do a flawless job, it was at the park she always flies at.
I did not feel like I was evaluating risk, it was more like evaluating opportunity. Up till then, I always saw the idea of freeflight strictly as risk. However, during this special encounter and the motivation I observed, I felt confident (to the 99.9% degree) that Kili would not fly off in the first place. To compound that, I felt confident (99%) that if she were to fly off, that she would fly to me or remain within the confines of the park. The long harness I fly my birds with affords them the opportunity to fly up and get stuck in a tree and even out of the park at times. Yet they just don't do it. It's not because the harness holds them back but because of the safe places and altitudes they have learned to fly at. Kili did not need a leash to keep her flying between me and the park benches. I also feel that this exercise helps ensure that if she were to accidentally get loose, that she would find her way to the park and I'd end up finding her sitting on a park bench doing tricks begging passerbys for food.
This was not the scariest endeavor I have undertaken with Kili which is also a big part. Having her on the huge stage (like 80+ ft high ceilings) for America's Got Talent with unknown/unrehearsed lights and noises going off had me much more worried. And although we were inside a building, the places she could get lost should she fly off were endless. It was also my first encounter where the stakes were so high regarding a fly off. She didn't perform that well but she didn't contemplate flying off which was a huge deal. Flying her in the huge gym with 60ft rafters and plenty of those high places to land was also a scarier time. I was less certain of the outcome in that gym than I was at the park. Although she would remain confined in the gym should she fly off, I had absolutely no idea how I'd be getting her (and moreso Truman) from those places. At the park, I have seen exactly what she would do countless times with her harness. I try to fly the birds such so that the harness never actually confines them by moving around myself to allow for slack.
I was not out to prove anything or show this to anyone. I did not do it for the purpose of sharing it online either. Just in retrospect I thought it was an interesting story. I was just there in the moment and I knew this was something that could be done. Kili was poised to fly to me no matter what so I realized it really didn't matter if she was harnessed or not.
Kili's first outdoor freeflight was nothing like I might have pictured. There was no safety line, no netting, no transmitter, no pre-printed "lost parrot" fliers (although I do have one made up on my computer for each parrot but more with the mindset of in case of an accidental house escape), no helper or spotter, no camera. I did not even tell anyone in advance to be available just in case. I did not come to the park with the intention of freeflying and this was probably the best part of preparing both myself and the bird. We just did everything exactly the same as we would normally do so it wasn't unpredictable or frightening. In fact it was very predictable. The relationship and training experience holding Kili in my vicinity was far stronger than any harness! This is the main reason I feel safe using the harness in the first place.
All that said, I still have anxiety over all this and will continue to use the harness for my own peace of mind. I am glad her skills are there and perhaps under the same perfect circumstances we will repeat this. But for the most part, I will opt to keep using that lifeline that lets me sleep at night knowing my parrot is alive and well.
Having visited a number of parrot performances at zoos and wildlife parks, I'm noticing a lot of similarity in their methods. After watching the shows, I usually manage to get a few questions in to the trainers that I am very interested about. The questions are tough and they are reluctant to answer but I have ways of getting information out of them.
Some of the parks I've visited that have parrot shows include: Gulf World Florida, Zoobic Safari Phillipines, San Diego Zoo CA, Sea World CA, and Wildlife World Zoo AZ. I've also seen other raptor shows and marine mammal shows and had opportunities to speak to the trainers. What is most amazing is that there is far more agreement in methodology across professionals than there is in the amateur training community. There are still many ineffective approaches being used and advocated that could never hold in a professional environment.
Outdoor Freeflight Green Wing Macaw at San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Yet, the biggest question is does the methodology used by professionals belong in the home and how can parrot owners apply it? That is what I am here to share with you.
I already know how staff for shows train the parrots. It's the same way I do and the same way I share with you. What I am more interested about is how they attain reliability, balance ethics, and how they deal with a brilliant animal trying to outsmart them at every opportunity. I suspected and they have confirmed that it has mostly to do with: weight management, habit, routine, habit, and some luck.
More of the show is people performing in animal costumes than actual animal tricks. It's easier to dangle some money in front of a person to hang from a wire and make a fool of themselves than it is to get the birds to actually complete their flights! Green Wing and Military Macaw Fly at Sea World in this video.
Interestingly, most of the recent shows I've seen all keep flighted parrots. Now some are exclusively indoors but many are actually outdoors. The old school dog and pony show of parrot entertainment with a dozen clipped birds that perform one trick each is on its way out. There are still some oldsters that present this way, but it seems that a greater appreciation of the parrot as a complete and flighted performer is taking over. I love the indoor flighted parrot shows and agree that this is the very best compromise of freedom and safety. However, I think the main reason that outdoor flight shows exist is less for the purpose of being outside as it is about the large audiences they bring (leading to the impracticability of having the show indoors).
If plainly asked, "what do you do to get your parrot motivated to perform" or "how hungry do you have to make your bird to perform," trainers will get very elusive in their response. They'll start talking about how food is closely monitored, how the animals are healthy, how the animals like to perform, that they used positive reinforcement and treats, etc. Yet they will walk around telling you the fact that the birds' food is heavily managed. I am trying to avoid words like deprived, starved, underfed, etc because I am not out to judge or imply anything (positive or negative).
They tried hard to teach the dolphin to fly. Better leave that to the birds...
I use appropriate jargon and ask questions in ways that get them to actually tell me what kind of food management they actually use. Every place is somewhat different but overall it goes something like this: birds are fed only one scheduled measured meal per day (obviously after shows), weight is monitored and managed by meal portions, weight is usually reduced 10-20% from free feed, and all other food is earned as treats during shows or training. Some venues host only one show per day while others use the birds multiple times.
In order to keep "talking" parrot performs from flying off during shows or to keep performing birds still while the trainer is talking, treats are given to the birds regularly just for staying put. This is something that the old school wing clipping trainers never bothered with because they were able to keep a dozen parrots on stage because they could not go anywhere. This brings an interesting lesson back to pet owners. Yes parrots are hyper and want something to do all the time. They may not be content to sit on your hand for minutes non-stop just because you want them to or to show them to guests. You have to give them a good reason to grace you with their presence.
Military Macaw zooms overhead during Blue Horizons Dolphin/Bird Show at Sea World
Now when it comes to unrestrained outdoor flight, the secret behind the approach shows use (and also a damn good reason you shouldn't) is:
1) The parrots are kept very hungry. They have pretty much no choice but to make the couple flight passes that they are expected to and then be put away to eat. It's like the low fuel light comes on in your car, you don't have the luxury of choosing the cheapest gas station.
2) The parrots physical capabilities are highly limited. Their wings are atrophied and they aren't the strongest fliers. They are kept in cages or aviaries that are not conducive to flight. They rarely/never have opportunities to fly other than training or shows. This may not be done intentionally for this purpose but the byproduct is that their strength is only enough to fly their show routine. The bird would not be capable of bailing and flying too far away. This is like giving a teenager a run down car that will break down before they could jump town. Many parrot owners who keep their parrots flighted with a lot of out of cage time, may have stronger fliers that could get further away outdoors.
3) The parks own the grounds for a big radius around the performance area. Most likely if the bird were to get out, because of it's limited flying abilities, it would still end up landing somewhere within the park
4) The outdoor flighted parrots were bred and raised specifically to fill the role of flying outdoors for shows. They experience nothing else and are not kept as pets. This is the only lifestyle they know so they feel little choice but to comply. On the flipside, parrots at home are usually accustomed to much more freedom so outdoors they could take advantage of it.
5) Lastly, it's just that they don't care enough. The birds are expendable and having the show is important to bring in visitors. I'm not saying that the shows lose birds often (mainly for the reasons above), however, it's a chance they are willing to take. A pet owner with a personal relationship to a single bird is far less likely to consider this a worthwhile risk.
At most of the shows I attended, I only got to ask a few questions of the trainer after the show. However, during my June visit to Phoenix for the Parrot Wizard Bird Show & Seminar, I got to meet Josh the Education Curator and trainer. He took me for a private backstage tour of the show animals facility and chatted with me for nearly two hours about training. Josh admitted that parrots are the most difficult of birds to freefly and that they are less food motivated (thus probably requiring extensive weight management in order to be able to get the motivation). Their social motivation may be great for pet owners but is unreliable or even detrimental to shows (like when the birds prefer to fly to play with the audience than obey cues).
Josh demonstrates outdoor freeflight at World Wildlife Zoo
I would think performers would come to rely more heavily on variable ratio reinforcement schedules but it turns out that most of them stick to continuous. I'm not sure that this is so much a conscious decision as a matter of habit or unawareness though. In the home of course, variable ratio reinforcement is very handy and encourages good parrot behavior all around. However, some performers like Josh try to change out birds and schedules to keep things interesting both for trainers and the birds. He also told me about stories of how they lost certain freeflight birds and how they would get them back. There is a lot to it and it's a tough job. I'm glad Josh was very candid with me and gave me the real perspective instead of the perfection they strive to show their audience during performances.
Josh did a private demonstration of some parrot tricks and freeflight because they don't normally fly the birds in the hot Arizona summer. Video also shows a kookaburra making its vocalization.
If zoo and parrot performers can achieve such major success and reliability with their performing birds, then so can you. Believe it or not, you have the deck stacked in your favor because you can spend more one on one time personally working with your parrot. The professionals at these places are typically working with a multitude of various animals, juggling educational programs, and begging for funds. You can cut straight to the chase and work on things with your pet that bring you the relationship you seek.
When it comes to weight management, if professional trainers can safely manage their parrots' weight to 20% lower than freefeed weight with only one feeding a day, then you can rest assured that aiming for 10% and 2 daily feedings with your parrot is perfectly safe. Not only is it safe, but it is actually healthier than being overweight on freefeed. Hopefully this will convince you that using a more modest food management strategy with your parrot can achieve better behavior while also being more generous. There is no need for the same levels of food management in the home as in shows, however, I hope this convinces you not only that it works but that it is safe and healthy.
Here are some clips from my 2 hour long interview with Josh from Wildlife World Zoo in Phoenix Arizona:
Alternatively the title could be: Cages By Design, The Most Flawed Product I Have Ever Bought In My Life. I do realize that this article is very very long and so is the video. However, so much has happened and there was no way I could have shared the idiocy of what happened in anything shorter. I never planned for there to be so many problems or to hold back on publishing this article for so long. It just happened to be that this was the worst cage I have ever come across and the details of this article will sound like a riot! Really, if it weren't so frustrating it would just be funny.
This is a must read for anyone thinking of buying anything from the company Cages By Design, contemplating an outdoor aviary, has an outdoor aviary and might like to pick up a few suggestions, or is just in the mood to read the most outrageous product review of all time. I think once you get started, you won't be able to stop. Thanks for reading. Here is my misery for your reading entertainment...
Deciding to Get An Aviary
Back in July, while having lunch with my mother, we talked about how great it would be for my parrots to spend more time outside. She suggested putting them outside in my backyard in a cage so they could get some sunlight and fresh air. I immediately knew that putting them outside in a regular cage was not an option but this got me thinking. I started researching ideas about building or buying an aviary to put in the backyard. I had not previously considered this because I used to have just one parrot and didn't particularly think the backyard suitable. However, now with two birds the concept has become much more appealing.
At first, I was looking into options of building a wire mesh enclosure myself. The main things that were discouraging me were that I would have to deal with zinc covered steel mesh (zinc is toxic to parrots) and that it would end up looking really bad. I looked into the cost of materials and decided that building an aviary vs. buying one was not that drastically different in price and that a manufactured one would not only be a major price saving but also hold up better in the long run. There are very few aviaries available on the market so my selection was quite limited. I do not have a lot of space available so I wanted to find the largest aviary that would conveniently fit my area. Having seen advertisements and heard things about Suncatcher aviaries made by Cages By Design in the past, I was keeping them in top consideration as I searched for an aviary manufacturer. I was in a hurry to order one as soon as possible so that I could get the birds into it before the summer ends. I decided that getting Truman used to being in an outdoor aviary while he is still young would be best and prepare him for spending lots of summers outdoors.
Initially I was looking at their smallest aviaries but decided that in the long run it's better to go all out and buy the largest one that I can fit up front. I only had Truman for a very brief time at the point that I was deciding to get an aviary. It was right around the time (or possibly just before) I introduced Kili to Truman so I was really uncertain if the two parrots could share an aviary space together. I really had no idea how they would ultimately get along so I wanted to play it safe. I found an 8'x5' walk in aviary with a divider. Essentially it is the same as a regular version but it provides a panel to divide the aviary into two and has an additional door for retrieving the second bird out of the other side. It would be very costly/difficult to add the divider to the regular aviary later so I decided to shell out up front to buy the one with the divider and extra door included.
I was almost ready to confirm my order when I discovered a different website that was offering the exact same cage for $110 less than CagesByDesign. The other site was merely a reseller and would most likely defer the order directly to the manufacturer anyway. I pointed this out and offered to still order directly as long as they would match the other retailers price. There was practically no way they could turn this down because if I went to the other retailer, Cages By Design would still end up manufacturing the cage but would then be paying a commission or a certain cut to that retailer anyway. After a bit of back and forth they did agree to match the price.
Since ordering, I came to realize that Kili and Truman get along well enough and that I probably won't need to actually divide it. I began training them together and encouraging them to play closer and closer together. I began having doubts if the divider would really be necessary. The other add on option that I ordered was the friendly feeder system. I decided to just have the feeders put in initially (so the holes in the wire could be made at the factory) and then decide later if I want to use them or not. I figured worst case, I could just have them installed and leave them closed and not use them.
A few weeks since ordering, I was considering various security precautions involved with having my parrots outdoors. When I mention security precautions, I am as much talking about escape as theft. I live in a very dense urban environment and an intruder entering the yard is not impossible. In order to be able to use the aviary effectively, I would need to be able to leave the parrots there unattended. There would be no point for me to use the aviary attended only because then I may as well just take my parrots outside on a harness. The purpose of having an aviary is to be able to leave them in there for multiple hours unattended in the day time so they could have more space to fly and play than in their cages at home as well as getting some sun and air. Additional security concerns include other animals getting into the aviary and some sort of natural elements tipping the aviary over.
I decided to bury a wire mesh underneath the gravel in the yard and connect it to the cage both to serve as a foundation and to thwart burrowing rodents from getting in. To reduce the likelihood of someone trying to steal or "liberate" the parrots, I bought heavy padlocks to use on the doors. I considered security concerns from different angles and came up with solutions. The only major concern that remained was the friendly feeders. I called the company to find out how the feeders are connected and it turned out that they are merely screwed in with a few screws. If I am padlocking the door latch, it is pretty silly to have a feeder installed that is merely held on by a few screws. I asked if they could rivet the feeders in or come up with a more secure method but they could not. I was worried that it was too late to cancel the feeders but they told me that my cage was still in production and that they would cancel the feeders for me.
A few more weeks passed and Truman had sustained a leg injury. I was disappointed that he would not get to go in the aviary when it would arrive. I resolved not to put Kili in the aviary before Truman as she can get very territorial. I wanted to introduce them to the aviary simultaneously or Truman first so that he could be more comfortable in it. I did not have any warning of the day the aviary would arrive and was starting to worry the company wasn't sending it out. Finally on August 10th the aviary arrived. It took longer than the 2 weeks the company suggested it would take but still within their 4 week guarantee. I got a call at 9:50AM the day of delivery that the truck was coming. It turned out he was a just a few blocks away and I had to rush out to meet him. I also had to scramble to get my father and brother to come over to help carry all the parts in.
Accepting the Shipment
The truck arrived and I was prepared to collect the parts for the aviary. Lift gate service would have cost an additional $125 at the time of my order so I opted to retrieve the panels from the truck myself. It turned out that the truck did have a liftgate but the driver did not use it. Instead he passed the panels to me one at a time. His help was appreciated. I did not see any instructions or hardware amongst what we had removed so I had to climb into the truck and check amidst the packaging to see if anything was left behind. Sure enough the instructions and pack of bolts got buried in the packaging materials. I could not find anything else but was concerned that the package the aviary came in was already opened before arrival and there were parts scattered around the truck. I was also disappointed to find the friendly feeders and the holes cut out in the panels considering they told me it was no problem to cancel them several weeks back. Furthermore they had charged me fedex shipping for the feeders (because they could get damaged in cargo shipping with the aviary) and yet they came on the pallet with the aviary.
Beginning Assembly - The Problems Begin
Between the three of us, we lugged the aviary piece by piece through the building and into the backyard in no time. My brother and I continued preparations and assembly on our own beyond this point. The next thing to do was to move all of the gravel in the yard off the space where the aviary would go. It was my intention from the start to place the aviary below gravel level and then bury it into the yard. I wanted to move the gravel aside a day in advance but I did not have enough notice about the delivery to prepare in advance. It took a few hours to clean up the yard, pull any weeds, and move the gravel aside. Finally the space was prepared and I was hoping to complete the assembly of the aviary the same day. I tried to study the instructions but they were a mere two pages with nothing more than some primitive diagrams. I decided that I'll just refer to them and figure it out as I go.
Inaccurate and pretty unhelpful instructions for Suncatcher Aviary
We prepared to start assembling the aviary by bringing two panels together to form a corner. I attempted to bolt them together but the holes didn't line up. So I realized that one of the panels were upside down. We flipped it over and tried again. Still the holes wouldn't line up. We tried swapping with other panels and all sorts of methods to figure out how they could possibly come together. After half an hour of being stumped by this dilemma we concluded that it must be a manufacturer defect because there was absolutely no way that those panels could be joined with the holes so misplaced. Thus I called the manufacturer to bring this up and offered to send them digital photos demonstrating the discrepancy. I also voiced a displeasure with the fact that they had agreed to cancel the feeders but cut the holes for them anyway.
After reviewing the photos the manufacturer agreed that the holes were in fact misplaced. They offered me either to ship the defective panels back and wait a really long time for a new set or to accept a $250 refund to make up for the feeders and redrill my own holes. At this point I preferred the drill my own holes option. I had already waited so long for the aviary and any more wait would mean the birds would not get to go outside this season. Furthermore I did not look forward to loading everything back up on a truck, cleaning up, and then going through the same all over again. At this point it appeared that 8 holes would need to be drilled in a different spot. Luckily I have the tools and capabilities to do this but for someone just expecting to snap this thing together it would not be possible.
You can see the hole the bolt is meant to go into is actually too low
I checked the diameter of the bolts and picked a suitable drill bit. Then I measured where the holes needed to be in order to line up and marked the spot on the panel. I used an awl to prepare a pilot hole and then measured again to verify that the hole was accurately placed. Clearly someone did not hear of measure twice, cut once. Finally I used a power drill to make the suitable hole. I drilled the holes in just one panel to make sure it works before drilling any more panels. The holes lined up perfectly and it was very easy to get the bolts through. The allen key supplied with the kit is a joke. Instead I used my own ratchet wrench with metric allen key tip to have suitable leverage and back/forth motion to screw the bolts in.
Then I discovered yet another problem with the aviary design. Some of the holes were too large and the bolt heads were falling into them. This clearly defeats the purpose of bolting things together. The solution was very simple, just a matter of adding washers to all of the bolts. There was really no reason for the manufacturer to be so skimpy and not include washers. However, for me it was not the expense but rather the extra trip to the hardware store that was a burden. I used washers for all of the bolts regardless if the holes were over drilled or not because they help make the connection more secure. Another specific tool required to assemble this aviary is a metric wrench for the nuts that secure some of the bolts. Once again without a washer they fall right in but the same washers that solved the bolt head situation, I used to keep the nuts from falling into the holes. While a metric allen key is included for the bolts, it is up to the buyer to find a suitable metric wrench.
All of the nuts fall in without washers and many of the bolt heads as well
We continued drilling holes one panel at a time and adding them to the assembly. While it may have been easier to do all the drilling at once, I just wanted to be sure that each panel would custom fit. Also I was worried in case there might be any other discrepancies where the holes belong so I remeasured the whole positions specifically for each set of connections. We started getting good at this and were moving along at a reasonable pace until we hit yet another bump. By the time we were ready to mount the door we realized yet another major manufacturing mistake. The door panel has a double vertical tube construction as opposed to the single tube used on the regular panels. This strengthens the frame and creates a place for mounting the door hinges. Unfortunately the manufacturer overlooked the fact that it requires a 1/3 longer bolt to go through three sections of tubing rather than two. Not only were the longer bolts not included, they were not even accounted for in the laughable page of instructions. I wouldn't be surprised if they had never even put one of these together or it would have been so obvious that there are major issues with the kit. While conceivably the mis-drilled holes could have been a defect only specific to my order, it seems that the lack of washers or required longer bolt is standard across production as the instructions do not specify these as components in the package.
The longest supplied bolt was still too short to join 3 tubes at the door frame
So yet again I had to make a trip to the hardware store and I was lucky to just make it before closing time. I requested a bolt of the same metric thread but 1/3 longer in length. Unfortunately metric bolts are difficult to come by around here and limited in selection. So the proper bolt was unavailable. We decided to go with an imperial bolt of similar diameter instead. Since the holes were over drilled, the imperial bolts fit through and I was able to lock them in with a nut. The trouble was that imperial bolts of that length were only available with a protruding hex head. This head extended into the gap between the frame and door and was making it difficult to shut the door. By over tightening the bolt and allowing it to bend the tubing in a little bit, the problem was solved. The panels were secure and the door could open and close freely.
When we bought the long imperial bolts, we bought extras to account for the second door. However, because of the way the second door panel mounts in reverse, the longer bolts are actually unnecessary. But contrary to the bolt suggested by the instructions (the medium bolt of the set), the longest bolt in the set is necessary to make this attachment. Luckily two longer bolts remained from the other side which were replaced by the even longer imperial bolts so they solved this issue with available hardware. Then we came across another set back. This one had to do with our ground configuration rather than cage assembly.
My brother bolting a corner together with our own ratchet allen key
We had assembled all the aviary sides so it was beginning to take shape. While we didn't expect the aviary to stand perfectly on uneven ground, we had a problem because one side was barely touching the ground entirely. One of the trees in the yard had a shallow root that was forcing the cage to stand out of balance. This would either require elevating all other sides or breaking the root a bit. Since the goal was to bury the aviary in the first place, raising it was the least preferred option. So we looked for ways to break a notch into the root to get the aviary to stand a little lower and more even. Digging, chiseling, and sawing proved ineffective. The tedious solution that ended up proving helpful was to drill a plethora of wide holes in a series using a spade bit. The tree has many roots and I'm sure this one will heal itself around the cuts anyway. The root was very hard and the process took a long time. Finally we had a 2" wide by 10" across groove to drop the aviary side into and thereby bring the entire aviary closer to level and supported. The drilling had taken longer than expected and we were completing it in darkness.
Let's Not Be Too Optimistic
The following day we continued the project, starting out with mounting the top panels. I was excited that at first these did not seem defective as the first few holes that I tested lined right up. No sooner was I excited that finally something was not screwed up than it turned out that other holes in the same panel were in the wrong places. I had to unbolt the panel and take it down to drill holes. The defects were not symmetrical which made this all the more confusing. I had to verify each hole individual prior to redrilling them. The other top panel had the same problems. Once again this ended up turning into an all day affair because of new problems left to tackle.
Major Parts Missing
After mounting the top cage bars, we were ready to proceed to configuring the roof. I had previously seen that all the roof panels were packaged together and gave it little thought. Since there are so many components and much complexity, I was trying to work on the aviary in a linear fashion and tackle problems as they come. If I had known there would be so many problems, certainly I would have preferred to check everything up front but from a practical stand point that would have been very difficult because of limited space. So as we unpackaged the roof panels, we discovered that the roof risers, supports, and caps were entirely missing. I tried to call the manufacturer about this but it was already late in the day and they had closed. So the only thing to do at this point was to put this off and continue working on the bottom.
Preparing the Aviary Bottom
We unrolled the wire mesh I bought to line the bottom. Although it is galvanized, I am not worried about the parrots getting zinc poisoning as the mesh would be buried under several inches of gravel. We briefly lifted the aviary and pushed the mesh underneath. This way the aviary actually stands on top of the edge of the mesh and a few inches protrude outward. It took two pieces to cover the entire width of the cage but the overlap is not a problem at all. To create a bonding strength of a whole mesh underneath the aviary, we zip tied the two pieces of mesh together. Then we zip tied the ends of the mesh around the entire perimeter of the aviary spaced every few inches. We also added a dozen stakes into the mesh at the corners and various points around the aviary. So the aviary is securely tied to the mesh and the mesh is staked down to the ground. If that isn't enough to hold the aviary from tipping over, then the hundred of pounds of gravel we replaced back into the aviary surely will.
An insightful move on my part was to buy 6 bags of additional gravel and a huge bucket that was on sale. I wanted to make the gravel higher inside the aviary than out to help water flow outward and away from the aviary. Also the extra thickness keeping the birds away from the mesh was a good bonus along with the added weight. The bags of gravel made it easier to carry them straight into the aviary. They were a different colored rock than the ones existing in the yard so we buried these deeper so that they would only contribute to depth rather than surface. Then we used the large bucket to carry loads of gravel back into the aviary. This was much easier than carrying it one shovel load at a time. It was easy to rake and shovel the area clear before the aviary but carrying it through the door was solved by the bags and bucket solution.
The following day I got a hold of the manufacturer and explained yet another problem (missing roof hardware and missing feeder hardware). After discussing with the manager and owner, they agreed to overnight all missing hardware to me as well as a $500 refund for defects. The hardware did not arrive the next day but rather the following one. We attached the roof risers and supports and then I prepared to start mounting roof panels. Yet again it turned out that supplied hardware was inadequate. I was 8 bolts short of being able to attach the 8 roof panels (one each). If the bolts were a normal thread, I would have just gotten them at the hardware store but these metric threads are really impossible to source. So there was yet another call to the manufacturer and some more waiting to do. 5 more days passed until I received the required bolts.
$500 refund check: "Compensation in full for defects"
Finally Raising The Roof
Mounting the roof panels was fairly easy but then it took hours to get the caps onto them. The bolts for mounting those are just barely long enough but when you have to bolt in a bolt in the deepest part of the cage from the very top strictly by feel, a bit of extra length would have made it all the more possible. The roof is very thin and flimsy so standing on it is out of the question. I had to stand on the top most step of the ladder and hang over the aviary to try to get the bolts nearest the center into the blind hole. This was extremely difficult and probably one of the most dangerous parts of assembling the aviary. It also requires pressing down hard on the roof panels to get them low enough to get the barely reaching bolt in and then a lot of pressure is required on the wrench to get the bolt to thread inward. A longer bolt would have been a very relieving solution, but hey I don't think they have ever put one of these together on location so what would they know?
Not So Friendly Feeders
Next we made some alterations to the so called "friendly feeders" to make them a bit less friendly and instead more secure. Basically we used a drill press to put a lot of holes into it to zip tie things permanently shut. Originally I wanted to rivet the feeders into the aviary but I was worried about shattering the plastic. So instead we drilled holes and used a ton of zip ties in addition to the bolts that were sent to me in one of the follow up packages. As for the food bowl, I was absolutely not going to chance losing my birds to the security of a little flap on a flimsy screw holding the bowl from falling out. Considering my escape artist parrot had managed to get out of her cage when it wasn't double latched, I'm not going to take a remote chance of that outside. Once again it is also a theft concern as well because someone could remove the food bowl and reach an arm in through the feeder.
We added many zip ties to make the friendly feeders more secure
Since I was prepared to cancel the feeders all together, I was not concerned about the loss of convenience by locking the food bowls in permanently. We just added holes on all sides of the food bowls and zip tied them into the feeders. Not only does this prevent them from being able to slide, but it also eliminated the undesirable gap between the food bowl and the feeder. I do realize that my parrots could chew through the zip ties but I figure that quantity is on my side. I am likely to be able to catch that some are getting broken and replace them or come up with tougher solutions if it really becomes a problem. Recently I found a stainless steel equivalent to zip ties so I'm holding onto those in case I need such an upgrade. As for intrusion, I believe the same ideas apply. All of the reinforcements that I added increase the difficulty of a break in and thus make it less lucrative than a snatch and run. I seriously don't think that even with proper tools that it would be possible to break into that in cage in anything less than 10 minutes. Considering how much effort it took to build that aviary, I am certain it would take no less to take it apart. Cutting wire ties, unscrewing bolts, cutting the cage bars are all possibilities. However, these are all so numerous that it would require some heavy tooling and a big loud job to make it happen. Everything is protected multiple times. This is the best deterrent that is working on my side. I also plan to hang a security camera from a vantage point facing that way so I could keep an eye on the birds when I am not outside.
Finally by the 10th day the aviary was complete.
Standing by completed aviary content to finally be finished
Here is an approximate break up of the the time consumed on this project:
-Unloading truck and moving all parts to the site: 30 minutes -Preparing the space for the aviary: 4 hours -Redrilling defective holes: 3.5 hours -Assembling cage and roof: 6 hours -Adding security measures including bottom mesh, stakes, wire ties: 3 hours -Calls/emails to manufacturer about problems: 2 hours -Making additional trips to the hardware store: 1.5 hours -Waiting twice for missing parts to arrive: 8 days
Cages By Design Product Review
So here is my overall review of the 8'x5' Suncatcher Aviary made by Cages By Design:
Except for the inaccurately helpless instructions, incorrect hole alignments, useless allen key, bolts falling through, unsupplied long bolts, dangerously insecure friendly feeders, missing feeder bolts, missing roof supports, missing roof bolts, poorly thought through assembly, frequently chipped powder coat, often weak or broken welds, inaccurate and poor workmanship, long turn around time, and exorbitantly high price... excellent!
You can see how the cage bars are wavy. It's difficult to show the broken welds.
Just one of many examples of chipped powder coating. Honestly not sure if factory defect or caused in shipping
Basically if you are not a handyman or planning on hiring one, you can forget about ordering this product (or probably any product at all from this company, I can only imagine how these quality control standards carry over to other cages). On the other hand if you are good enough to tackle this kind of project, then you can probably build one of these on your own from scratch in about the same amount of time. The simple truth is that I had absolutely no idea that this would turn out to be such a nightmare. Once I got started, I was just drawn into fixing endless problems with this aviary. For the kind of money they charge for this product (and even taking the $500 refund into consideration), this is an absolute rip off. You would expect a high quality, professionally designed product that assembles easily for this kind of money but instead you get stuck with a tedious repair project.
I am convinced that the difficulties I had assembling this aviary are not an isolated incident but a complete design flaw. Online, I was surprised to read that other people had the exact same problems building this aviary. I also happened to meet some people who own this kind of aviary and they confirmed having much the same problems. For these reasons, I am quite certain that Cages By Design produces flawed products that are insanely overpriced. If they put have as much effort into design and quality control as they do marketing, they would have a more usable product.
Believe me, I was not predetermined to write a bad review. I was very excited to be getting an aviary for my parrots and would have been thrilled with the product if it just went together and my parrots could enjoy it. If there were only a single issue (say just feeder hardware missing), I could forgive that as an honest mistake. But when practically every component of assembly was laden with major flaws and things were missing, it is impossible to feel anything but cheated. Actually I (wrongly) assumed that for that kind of price everything would be perfect and that I would be able to make a video and go on to write a review about how fantastic the aviary is. I was actually hoping to be able to write a good review of the product and then strike up an advertising deal with the company. Their ads have already been flashing on my blog through google, so I wanted to approach them directly. However, now with the knowledge of how flaws their products are, I could not in my right mind ever recommend them to anyone. In fact I will be making sure that even through the automated google ads, that their advertisements never appear on my website. I would feel terrible if someone had to go through what I had been through as the result of seeing their marketing on my website. I would not go so far as calling their operation a scam as they did work with me and send me required parts and a partial refund. However, I can definitely say that they do as poor a job as you can imagine but at premium prices.
Originally, I wanted to be able to promote outdoor aviaries for parrots by demonstrating how easily I build mine and then how much they enjoy it. Unfortunately I did not find this economical or easy at all. Furthermore in my search for a suitable aviary, I did not come across much competition. So I am disappointed that at this time there is not a single commercially built aviary that I can recommend to my readers. Perhaps some day when a quality aviary appears on the market, I will be able to suggest it to you but until that day, I am forced to say that outdoor aviaries will only be limited to parrot owners with extensive building abilities and budgets.
Kili and Truman's First Time in Aviary
Finally I would like to share with you the first time I showed the parrots the aviary. I had discussed with the vet office manager about taking Truman outside and she agreed that sunlight and fresh air would be good for him. Originally I was contemplating putting his entire tub into the aviary but she was suggesting going with a small cage of some sort. This struck an idea with me that I still had Duke's cage sitting around. If only Truman would fit through the door, I'd be able to leave him in the cage inside the aviary. There is no way I would leave him outside strictly in that flimsy wire cage, but inside the greater aviary this was perfectly safe. The purpose of the small cage served more to keep Truman from flying around the aviary or falling down.
Truman easily fit through the door and had plenty of room to spare. Turns out that's a fairly large cage after all. I did not put any perches in because I think it's best for Truman to stay on the flat bottom. Unfortunately, moments after I had put him in he began climbing the cage bars. Most of all I was worried about him falling and injuring his leg again. I put him back down and then added clips to each door on the cage to reduce the likelihood of him getting out. I grabbed Kili firmly and took them both out to the aviary in the backyard.
Kili in my finally completed aviary
Truman inside of a cage in the aviary
I did not want to put Truman's cage on the ground but nor did I want to hang it from the aviary top. So I devised a provisional table with a set of saw horses, two by fours, and a sheet of plywood. I set Truman's cage down on it. He started climbing again but I waited to see what he would do. After a minute of hanging near the cage top he changed his mind and climbed back down. Thereafter he remained on the bottom and found no more need to climb. I left him outside like this for nearly two hours but I took Kili back inside with me. Later that evening was the first time in a week that Truman exhibited at least the slightest interest toward food. I plan to continue having him spend a bit of time outside each pleasant day in this manner until he fully recovers.