A week since I got Truman, my new baby Cape Parrot, I have already had my first successful flight recall. Since he came to me not clipped - and never will be clipped - safely managing his flight is essential. He is not yet a good flier and does not know well how to get from point A to point B. I can use his ignorance to my advantage by catalyzing his learning of flight and shaping it in direction and purpose that suits me. The number one most important thing is that I want him to learn to fly to me. Then I'd like to teach him to fly to appropriate places in my apartment and not others.
I kept the two stands with the perches parallel to each other and within walking distance. I lured Truman to walk between the stands when offering treats. Originally I was putting food straight into his beak because he wasn't eating well on his own so I decided why not at least make him walk for it. As I spread the distance he would reach harder and harder to get across. But as soon as the gap got too large to step across, he would give up trying to cross. It amazed me because he could fly across the room but not across an 8" gap. I continued the walk across exercises with him.
On occasion he would slip as he crossed and reflexively would flap his wings to stabilize. This is the part of the exercise that actually teaches the parrot to use his wings to make it across the gap. I taught Kili to get across the gap in exactly the same way except that I targeted her across with a stick. Since Truman doesn't know the target behavior yet, I simply offered him goodies on the other end. I would rather teach him flight recall before target training (although target training is an excellent method for teaching recall) because I want him to have the longest practice of flight recall in his life. I want it to be his first and most practiced trick. If he forgets everything, I want flight recall to me to be the most remembered and reliable thing in his repertoire. This is why I'm skipping the other stuff for now and going straight to flight recall which is generally a more advanced behavior to teach. Also I want to use his quick baby age learning and willingness to make the most of teaching recall.
A cue is already starting to emerge although it is just temporary. I no longer have to show him the treat or toy that he will get for coming across. I can just tap and point to the perch I want him to go to and he flaps across to it. I am going to practice this just a little more but as soon as he is recalling to my hand I will only practice the recall cue specifically and stop all luring and temporary cues.
Managing Truman's motivation for this basic informal training was fairly simple. He is not on any sort of food or weight management. In fact, he seems to be more motivated by toys many times than food. He's a curious baby and likes to explore so anything that is of interest to him can be positively reinforcing for preempted behavior. However, since Truman has been eating rather poorly on his own in the cage (mostly from a fear of climbing down to where the bowls are), he's been pretty hungry and would gladly take pellets from my hand. I have not yet even developed any treats for him and just feed him any of bland or colored pellets and almonds.
Thus I put all of these skills together and produced the first preempted flight recall with Truman. It is true that he has flown to me prior, however, that was either because he himself wanted to or because I happened to be a convenient place to land. However, this time, by doing the pointing cue like I had used on the perch, I was able to call him to my hand specifically. I just turned the second training perch away and put my arm where it used to be and in the same manner as cuing him to the training perch, I cued him to my hand.
Now increasing distance is quite simple and merely a matter of practice. Now the important thing to work on is developing a solid recall cue and practicing to no ends.
I highly recommend these training stands to anyone that has a flighted parrot or wants to teach a fledgling (or if they let the feathers grow back) to fly and eventually flight recall. You can use the stands to build practice jumping across a gap and then eventually flying to your hand. The height is adjustable so that you can keep the parrot at a comfortable height for your training. Very soon I will be offering these stands at 2x for $99 + shipping so stay tuned.
This morning I headed out to the airport two hours in advance with plenty of time to spare to pick up my parrot. I was nervous about getting stuck in New York City rush hour traffic on the way there but luckily I got there in just over an hour. However, the extra time did not go to waste as it took nearly 40 minutes to find the cargo terminal from which I was supposed to pick up my parrot delivery.
The flight departed on time and even arrived early. An hour after its arrival the parrot carrier was already handed to me. Not bad considering I've often waited even longer just to get my luggage. I was handed the carrier and took the first peek at my new lifetime companion. The little guy was standing right at the edge by the door and got excited to get some human attention albeit from a complete stranger.
I carried him back to the car and drove directly home. Upon bringing the carrier inside, I strategized how to get the parrot out of the carrier without scaring it. I cut the wire ties which kept the door locked shut. I opened the carrier door and waited to see if little Truman would come out on his own or if I'd have to reach in for him. Surely enough within 30 seconds he made his own way out of the carrier and made his way straight for my hand. He helped himself onto my hand and sat there happily opening and closing his beak.
I knew that he'd be really thirsty after the long flight so I decided to use this as the first opportunity to teach him to drink from his water bottle. I pressed the ball of the straw up against his beak and when he realized that water flows out the end, he made a determined effort to get some water out. I didn't make him drink from it for long but I was impressed how quickly he figured out how to work the steel ball with his tongue to get the water to flow.
Truman walked around on the floor but decided to try a flight. He took off and was up to the ceiling near instantly but didn't know where to go. He bumped into the walls and ceiling a few times before crash landing. I fetched him and he stayed on my hand the rest of the time. I hand fed some pellets to him and he happily munched on them. I was surprised, however, that he neither knew what to do with an almond nor had the strength to crunch it when I shelled it for him.
After some play with his toys and checking out his tree, I put Truman into his new home to take a break. Within a few minutes he went for his water and then ate some pellets on his own.
As I await the arrival of my new Cape Parrot, I would like to outline some of my goals with the new bird. The order is ballpark of how it would go but not a rigid sorting:
-Get parrot, let it get used to me and new surroundings -Develop strong flock mate/trainer relationship bond -Encourage independent play as well as social time -Develop a daily routine that sets feeding regimes, flight time, out of cage time, and outdoor time -Desensitize to wide array of household objects while naming each object -Configure clicker as bridge and eventually a strong secondary reinforcement -Teach target training through modeling rather than trial/error if possible -Develop strongest flight recall possible (recall by visual, whistle, and name) -Minimum dependence on food for reinforcement -Develop strong alternative reinforcements -Progressive taming to allow uninhibited touch of entire body -Make minimum intrusion introduction between Kili and Cape -Maximum comfort harness training -Outdoor desensitization while wearing short harness -Begin training outdoor harnessed recall -Socialize parrot to as many people as possible both indoors and out -Differentiate social time and focused training time -Develop safe petting cue and method -Reduce beaking, biting, and nipping by ignoring -Ignore all unpleasant vocalizations and present acceptable alternative ones -Train necessary maintenance behaviors through positive reinforcement -Voluntary carrier training through empowerment -Start training full trick routine -Goal is to train each trick in the shortest and most effective manner possible -Develop visual and verbal cues for every trick -Take parrot on social outings, car drives, and airplane flights while still young -Begin implementing variable ratio reinforcement on cued behaviors -Say same words to encourage talking -Develop special (not annoying) contact call specific for this parrot -Combine flight and cued tricks -Train highly complex trick behaviors to challenge parrot -Test cognitive capabilities through challenging puzzle tricks -Provide occasional foraging opportunities in/out of cage -Continue flight training optimized toward outdoor freeflight -Perfect each trick to develop best trained parrot role model
Having extensively learned trick training on Kili and Duke, I think I will be able to train the Cape more quickly and efficiently. At the same time, I would like to experiment with alternative training methods like modeling, empowerment, and differential reinforcement. I am going to make the strongest possible effort to do all training through positive reinforcement and avoid resorting to flooding, negative reinforcement, or punishment. I do know that these methods can be effective but I am curious to accept the challenge of trying to train without them.
Here are some my goals for the trainedparrot blog:
-Provide regular updates about the Cape's progress -Post photographs/videos of every step of training the new Cape Parrot -Write step by step articles about how I train every single trick/behavior -Present my thoughts/opinions about parrot ownership and care -Develop the training blog as an alternative to costly training products -Write objectively about the good, the bad, and the ugly -Cite outside sources where applicable -Lead the parrot community by example -Make all information public and hold nothing back -Create a definitive source of parrot training knowledge from my own experience -Eventually open the blog up to additional willing writers -Turn training blog posts into a complete/organized training guide
Here is a progress update about the upcoming Cape Parrot. Originally I was supposed to get the older of the two babies. Jean expected the older one to end up bigger because it was born from a larger set of wild caught parents. However, as time progressed, it turned out that the younger baby not only caught up but grew bigger than the older one. The younger Cape comes from a domestic pair named Angie and Magnum. Jean said this baby not only turned out larger but also has a sweeter disposition. The older is now 295g but the younger is 315g. They are somewhere from one to two weeks apart. Jean has done the same extensive efforts with both parrots and I am currently the only paid buyer so I have the option of choosing either one. She taught both parrots to drink from a water bottle, eat the same pellets, and to wear an aviator harness. So based on everything Jean advised, as well as all the good things I've heard from someone else that bought a Cape Baby from the same breeding pair, I decided to go with the younger/larger Cape.
This Friday, Jean will be taking the Cape to her vet on my behalf. I asked her to get the vet checks for me because she has a very good vet and I don't like the one I worked with in my area. If the parrot checks out healthy before being shipped, I don't really see any need in duplicating the check afterwards. The visual inspection the vet did when I bought Kili I can so easily do myself now at this point. I'm quite confident in Jean as a breeder so the vet check is only precautionary. The vet will also take care of some final grooming and place an open band on the parrot's left (non-dominant) foot. Pending all results being good from the vet check, Jean should be shipping the Cape Parrot to me early Tuesday morning to avoid the Florida heat. Thursday is the back up day.
Here are more pictures that I just received from the breeder: