This article is about how to teach your parrot to show its wings on command, often called the big eagle trick. I simply call it Wings. The trick involves showing the parrot a cue or saying "Wings" and then the parrot opens up its wings and holds them high for everyone to observe how beautiful they are. Wings is a more intermediate trick and requires the parrot to be good at trick training. Ideally the parrot should already know some tricks like wave and shake. It is possible to teach Wings without any prior tricks but it would be much harder for the parrot to realize you are trying to shape a behavior. So far Wings was the hardest trick to teach to Truman.
Before beginning, it is very important that your parrot is already hand tame and is comfortable with you touching/opening its wings. For information about basic taming for parrots, refer to my Taming Guide. For information about taming a parrot to let you open its wings, refer to this article about Wing Taming. Even if your parrot knows other tricks, this one if very hands on so the special hand taming should not be overlooked. If the parrot is not already very comfortable with hands, the steps required in teaching this trick could make it become scared of hands. So please review the steps in the taming guides and make sure your parrot is very comfortable being touched and having its wings pulled open.
You will need to have a convenient place for your parrot to perch while teaching this trick because when you press on the wings, if the parrot doesn't have a good grip it may fall over. A table is no good for teaching this trick because your parrot will slide back when you press on the wings during training. The best tool for teaching the Wings trick is a Parrot Training Perch because you can adjust the height to train standing up or sitting down while your parrot perches comfortably. If you cannot get a Parrot Training Perch, your next best thing is to use a table top perch, however there is a chance of it tipping back or sliding as well. Using a chair back is also a possibility but it is likely too slippery and the same sliding issue would occur. Although it may be tempting to train on your parrot's cage, playtop, or cage door, it is best not to do this because it will get distracted and not learn as well.
Now we are ready to begin Wings training. The process is remarkably simple, however, extensive repetition is likely to be required for the parrot to catch on. I know three methods that the trick can be taught but I have only had success with one of them. I will briefly mention the other two but then I will focus on the one that worked best for my parrots. One way to teach wings is to capture the behavior by clicking whenever your parrot opens its wings on its own. This can be expedited by holding the feet and quickly dropping your hand so that the parrot puts its wings out reflexively. Click and reward whenever the wings come open and start putting it on cue. This works great for parrots that put their wings out to glide but does not work at all for parrots the tend to flap. My parrots flap when dropped and never just stick their wings out entirely when stretching so it couldn't work for me.
Another method that can be used for teaching Wings is to grab both wings and pull them open entirely, hold them there, click and reward. Once again this method did not work for me because it required too big of a jump from nothing to everything and it was making my parrots uncomfortable. So instead I offer to you the third and final method to teach your parrot Wings:
My method for teaching a parrot to open its wings begins by using the index fingers on both hands. Point them toward your parrots wing armpits, say wings (or whatever cue you would like to use), and press your fingers into the armpits gently pushing the wings open. Although the parrot will not understand the cue immediately, it is a good idea to start using the cue from the start because this gives the parrot more exposure to the cue by the time it learns the behavior. For the first training session, just keep practicing this procedure.
You may find progress to be slow at first because not only does the parrot have to learn the behavior, it may also need the daily exercise of practicing the trick in order to be able to easily hold its wings out that way. The first goal you are working toward is getting the parrot to release tension in the wings and let you push them open. If you feel that you have to press hard to get them open, the parrot hasn't learned anything. However, when it begins feeling easy because your parrot relaxes its wing muscles, then you know you are ready to continue to the next step.
In subsequent training sessions, it is important to let the parrot do as much on its own as it is willing to do. You cannot find out how much the parrot is willing to do if you keep doing it for the parrot. So after pushing the wings open with your fingers a few times, push slightly slower, less far, or don't hold as firmly the wings open. See if the parrot will make up the last bit on its own. A good time to click your clicker is at the moment you see the parrot making any motion to open or hold open its wings on its own. For instance if you get the parrot in the habit of you pressing open the wings for 5 seconds each time and one time you only hold for 3, if the parrot continues holding open a bit longer, then you know it is learning what to do.
Don't expect your parrot to open the wings entirely at this stage. Just opening them a little is progress already. Your first goal is to get the parrot to learn that you want it to do something with its wings. Getting the parrot to go all the way and open the primaries will just take lots of practice. Be sure to click and reward every bit of possible progress. However, if your parrot does a worse than usual job (for instance closing its wings while you try to hold them open), then do not reward and even ignore the parrot for a brief time.
Eventually you will reach a point where just touching or approaching your parrot's wings with your fingers will cue it to open them on its own. This is when the real cue training begins. At this stage I prefer to use a single hand (if the bird is small enough) to cue the wings open. I use the pinky and thumb of my right hand to press on opposite wings. This frees my left hand up to hold the clicker and treat. It is good to make this switch as early as possible because the parrot might get distracted by the clicker/treat hidden in your fingers when you use the two hand method. I found that Truman was bending his head down while opening wings to look for treats in my fingers, so I corrected this by blocking his head and serving him treats from above. If you want the wings trick to look like a bow, feed the treats lower but if you want the trick to make the parrot look proud, then teach it to hold its head up by feeding treats from above.
Once you've transitioned to the single hand cue method, all that is left is receding the cue. You have to work on using as little touch as possible. Just practice a lot of times and try to hold your hand further and further away when you issue the cue. If it works, try holding further away. If it doesn't then try again closer. Try pulling away a tiny bit while the bird is holding the wings up but before it drops the wings. Get it used to seeing your hand more away from it while still holding its wings up.
It only took me 3 training sessions to get Truman through all of the steps outlined so far but then it took nearly two weeks until he learned to respond to the trick from a remote cue. If I brought my fingers in close he'd do it but from more than a few inches away he simply wouldn't. It just took a lot of practice until he just got it. I knew he was going to get it when he randomly opened his wings for the first time without me cuing/poking him. This showed me that he knew I wanted him to open his wings and he was opening them to beg for a treat. Now all I had to do was reward when he did it on cue and ignore it when it wasn't cued. In that one breakthrough session I went from him opening his wings only when cued within an inch of his wings to opening his wings on cue from several feet away or even just saying it. The duration will vary with every individual parrot and species but this is not a quick/easy trick to teach. It definitely took longer to teach to both of my parrots than most of the other hand cued tricks.
This is a good trick for teaching the "hold" on. You teach the parrot to hold the pose for as long as you hold the cue or until you click. If the parrot drops its wings while you are still holding the cue, then it does not get rewarded, but if it holds out till the end, you click and reward. Obviously start with shorter durations but work them longer and longer so that the parrot learns to hold the wings out for as long as the cue is going.
After two weeks of training, Truman is still only opening his wings part way. It will take a lot more training to get him to open them all the way like Kili does. However, this was the exact method I successfully used on her. I just kept cuing wings and rewarding the best 4 out of 5. When the parrot is really eager to get the treat, it will show of by stretching the wings open as much as possible and as long as it is just a tad more than last time, you're making progress. By always rewarding the better ones and ignoring the worst, you can continually encourage the parrot to try harder. This takes a long time (weeks to months) to perfect but rigorous training is no longer needed beyond this initial training to put it on cue. Once the parrot clearly knows to do wings from the cue, you can just practice wings a few times each day perpetually and the bird will improve how it opens its wings over time. The stretching/exercise will certainly help get there. It took many months but definitely less than a year to get Kili to open her wings all the way.
The wings trick is really impressive and beautiful. It shows off the parrot's wings which is a unique feature that makes it a bird. You can use the wings trick to show your friends what bird wings look like up close without forcing your parrot. The wings trick is also a good way to inspect your parrot's wings for broken feather or new ones coming in. Although it may look fairly simple, it's not a natural behavior for most parrots so much training is needed. The hard work and patience teaching this trick will be greatly rewarded because this is a spectacular and uniquely avian trick.
Here is a video from actual training sessions that shows how I taught Truman the Cape Parrot the Wings trick:
Just a day after completing assembly of the Kings Travel Cage that I bought for the parrots, I began introducing them to it. Actually I had already begun introducing them while my brother assembled it by having them sit on nearby perches and watch. When the birds see humans safely interacting with something, it gives them more confidence to try it themselves rather than be frightened by a newly appeared object they are expected to go into.
Don't just shove or force your parrot into the travel cage or carrier immediately. Ok, it's true that I did this with Truman the day I assembled it, but with good reason. The travel cage looks just like his big cage and he is young and ready to explore. So by putting him into it that way, it did not frighten him at all. He was more excited about checking out the toys. However, I would not have done the same with Kili or most other birds. Instead, use the following procedure.
It is important to maintain the carrier/travel cage experience a positive one. The simple fact of getting locked up in it and ignored for some hours (quite likely bumpy and uncomfortable) is quite unpleasant in itself. This is why it is required to do everything in your power to make carrier time be as good as possible to make up for that. If you don't make carrier time enjoyable for your parrot, it will quickly become scared of going in the carrier and resist by all means. It will fly away, bite, and make it really hard for you to get it in there. Let me remind you that good carrier behavior is not only necessary for taking a parrot out on social outings, but also for emergency vet visits and grooming. Unfortunately, most people only end up using a carrier in time of need. This is likely to be rushed and unpleasant for the parrot. So for all of these reasons, I recommend carrier/travel cage training before you actually need to transport the parrot. I urge everyone who owns a carrier (whether your parrot is already accustomed to it or never been in it) to go and practice some carrier time with your parrot in a pleasant way as I will soon get to explaining, I promise. If you don't have a carrier, please go any buy one and practice these techniques because you can't be certain when you might need to take your parrot some place.
While the first step to a successful carrier introduction is letting the parrot see it and see you working with it, next comes a more proactive approach. Don't just force your parrot into the carrier all at once. Instead, put it on top of, next to, or around the carrier/cage.
I started by carrying Kili over and putting her on the cage top handle perch. She wasn't too scared because the dowel perch looked similar enough to other dowel perches she had previously frequented. But more importantly, she has a clear path to fly away should she choose to because I did not immediately confine her in the cage. To get Kili more used to being there, I targeted her back and forth on that perch. Then I targeted her down to the cage top bars.
Meanwhile Truman was at a distance watching. Unexpectedly he flew over to join us. He wasn't going to miss out on all this fun. He landed on the cage top and wanted to play "target" too. So the birds took turns targeting to various spots on the cage top. I took Kili and brought her down to the cage level. I didn't make her go in but rather targeted her from my hand to the travel cage perch. She stepped right in and was thrilled to get a treat so effortlessly. I continued targeting her around inside until she noticed the new toys and went to check them out.
It didn't take any targeting to get Truman to go into the travel cage. The sight of new toys just drew him right in. Getting him away from those toys would probably serve a greater challenge then getting him to go in. If your parrot loves toys, definitely use this to your advantage by providing better than usual toys in the travel cage to make it more worthwhile. It is very important that your parrots actually like their travel cage or carrier. Just tolerating isn't enough. They have to like it because it will serve as their home away from home. They need to feel safe and comfortable in their carrier. Furthermore, for flighted parrots it is good for them to be super familiar with their cage or carrier so that they have a place to fly back to if they get scared when you're out. One more reason I want my parrots to become super familiar and love their travel cage is in the event they ever get lost outside home, I will put the travel cage outside to lure them back in (I know people recommend putting the bird's cage outside but Truman's cage is not going to fit through the door, so travel cage works great).
The travel cage familiarization was a great success, but how would the parrots react to being locked inside for periods at a time? I began with Truman by pouring a meal of pellets in the travel cage's food bowl and leaving him inside for an hour. Without hesitation Truman went right for the food and had an enjoyable meal. Once again, here is an example of providing a positive cage/carrier environment where something good happens every time the parrot is inside. For the next few days I let the parrots take turns eating their meals in the travel cage and being locked inside progressively longer to get used to being in it.
I am very happy with the custom perch layout I configured. The perches came out to be at an ideal height and distance that either parrot can comfortably use the travel cage. Truman uses his beak to lean and step from perch to perch; Kili hops. Although the parrots can easily climb the cage bars, they have little need to.
Now that the birds were accustomed to being in the travel cage at home, it was time for a field test. The day I took Truman flying in an airplane, I brought him to the airport in his carrier, but I let him ride back home in his travel cage. He loved it. He was endlessly entertained by the toys hanging inside. He would make his way back and forth on the perch to play with the two toys. He held on well and never fell off his perch during the drive (even bumpy parts and steep turns). He was even able to balance on one foot while playing with a bottle cap in his beak and dominant foot. He was so busy playing the whole car ride that he did not scream or cause any trouble.
Later that same day Kili got to spend some time and eat a meal in the travel cage while out as well. Both parrots did great in their travel cage and appear to like it better than their travel carriers. Truman didn't step in poop or his his tail on the sides. Although I found some faults in the set up, price, weight, and value of the travel cage, it was a major hit with the parrots. With the modifications I made and training I did, this travel cage is absolutely worthwhile for the parrots. From the bird's perspective, I definitely recommend this travel cage.
Rather than being some unpleasant form of confinement, I had succeeded in introducing the travel cage as a fun place to be. The parrots enjoyed eating and playing with toys in their new cage. They go in willingly and even fly over and land on top of the travel cage for the hell of it. Regardless of what cage or carrier you use for your parrots, just remember to make it a worthwhile experience. Good carrier training is the first step in being able to bring your parrots out for socializing to the rest of the world.
This article is about about to teach a parrot to hang upside down from your finger like a bat. This is a fairly easy trick to train and does not require any requisite tricks be learned previously. The only requirement is to have a hand tame parrot. If your parrot does not step up, let you touch it, and let you grab it, please refer to the Taming and Training Guide prior to proceeding with the bat trick. In preparation for training the bat trick, practice a lot of handling with your parrot including touching the feet, back, and rotating it around in your hands.
The good news about the bat trick is that it is very easy to perform and works every time. It is the only trick I can get Kili to do even if she does not feel like showing a single trick because it is more about taming than positive behavior. If the parrot is rolled upside down, it has little choice about being there. As long as it is tame and knows the trick, it will just hang there until brought back up. While it took a week to teach the bat to Kili and several weeks to teach it to Duke the Budgerigar, Truman learned it in a quick two days. The cool thing is that absolutely any parrot can learn the bat trick including a parakeet, cockatiel, conure, african grey, amazon, cockatoo, or macaw. How long it takes to teach will vary but it is definitely possible to teach any parrot species the trick with the following technique.
To begin teaching the bat trick, begin by holding the parrot on your hand. I always use my right hand for the parrot to perch on for the trick but it just depends what you are comfortable with. It is important that the parrot is perched closer to the tip of your index finger and not too close to your hand. Then place your thumb over the bird's feet and squeeze gently. At the same time put your left hand on the parrot's back. Cup your hand around the back and tip the parrot back about 45 degrees. Hold that briefly and then upright the parrot. Now give it a treat.
At this stage, it is not important to use a clicker because you are simply taming the parrot to the requirements of this trick and there is not a specific action to click for. Continue practicing this tipping behavior progressively increasing the angle until the parrot is completely upside down. The next step is to reduce dependence on being held with second hand. When you tip the parrot back, very slowly ease the holding pressure with the left hand. Then tighten again, upright, and reward. Continue to progressively hold a less tight grip at the upside down phase until you can even let go of the parrot's back briefly and take your hand away a short distance. At first continue holding your hand nearby to reassure the parrot that you will grab it back and not let it fall.As you progress, you can let go and leave the parrot hanging from your hand longer before grabbing it back to upright. Make sure you roll the parrot straight back and not over the side or the trick won't look as impressive.
You don't need to expect the parrot to stay perfectly still and strike a beautiful post at this stage. As long as it is staying upside down while being held by the feet, you are making progress. Now you can continue rolling it back with the hand support but let the parrot upright on its own. Begin rolling your hand (that parrot is perched on) to upright the parrot. Of course reward at this point. Now it is time to begin receding dependence on the supporting hand for going upside down. Place the hand on the parrot's back and begin rolling it back but take the hand away before it is fully inverted. You can continue practicing and letting go earlier and earlier.
Now there should be a special cue emerging. When you grab the parrot's feet and begin rolling your hand back, the parrot should know it has to not resist and go inverted. If the parrot is flapping or trying to upright itself while you are rolling it back, you may need to keep going to overcome that. However, if that doesn't work, you have to practice the earlier stages with back support for longer.
At this point, all the remains is improving the pose and letting go of the feet. I suggest improving the pose prior to working on letting go of the feet or putting the entire trick on cue. Most likely at this point the parrot doesn't hang straight down but rather curled up toward your hand. They feel more balanced this way but it's ok, we can easily solve this. Now's the time to begin using a clicker. Your left hand is freed up because at this point you should be able to roll the parrot back strictly by the hand it is perched on. Hold the clicker and treat in your left hand prior to rolling the parrot upside down.
The simplest way to get the parrot to strike a nice pose to look like a hanging bat, is to lure its head down with a treat. After you roll the parrot upside down, use your other hand to show it a desirable treat. Keep the treat below the head and just barely out of reach so that it has to stretch down to get it. For the first few times, let the parrot get the treat in return for stretching down. As soon as it gets the treat, click and upright the bird to give it a chance to eat the treat. You don't want to continue holding the parrot upside down because it will go to a bad pose to focus on its treat. After a few of these upside down rewards, the parrot will know to reach for the treat. But you won't give it any more. Show the treat but just out of reach. When the parrot is stretching for the treat, click, upright, and reward. This way you are actually teaching the behavior. Once you find your parrot stretching down for the treat like this, you can begin hiding the treat between your fingers and just letting the parrot aim for your fingers. Before long, you can hold the treat/fingers much further away and then not at all. The parrot will remember to stretch its head down. If it does not, continue holding it in the bat a few seconds waiting until it does. When it stretches down, click/reward. If it does not, upright and do not reward. Next time you put it upside down, lure it again to remind it to stretch head down. This way the parrot learns to extend its head down. Keep practicing and waiting for it to hang with head down for longer and longer with each try prior to clicking and uprighting.
If the parrot is jittery and moves around a lot (this especially happened when teaching a budgie this trick) while hanging upside down, the best way to reduce this is practice. Always click when the parrot is in the straightest and calmest pose. Over time and extensive practice, the parrot will learn that it will not get rewarded until it is calm and stops moving. Teaching the trick is quick but perfecting it takes a lot of practice.
By now the parrot should be catching on to what is going on. Use less and less force in your hand to swing the parrot over and back up. Let the parrot shift its weight to strike the pose. Just begin the motion of rolling it back and then slow down, allowing the parrot to put itself in that pose. Same thing goes for uprighting. You can begin uprighting the parrot after clicking but stop halfway and let it work out its muscles to come up. You can show the treat it's about to get for extra motivation. But do not give the treat until the parrot is completely back upright on your hand. This step is important for putting the trick on cue. To put the bat trick on cue, decide what word or gesture you will make and do it right before turning the bat upside down every time. For Kili, I snap my fingers and she goes into the bat position completely on her own. It doesn't have to be finger snapping though. You can just say "bat" or point downward. When the parrot gets used to seeing this cue enough times while being rolled over, it will catch on. The only thing required then is to roll it back less and less so that it would put the effort in to roll back on its own.
The last thing to do is to stop holding the feet. Do it progressively by holding less and less pressure on the feet while the parrot is upside down. Keep your other hand nearby to catch it in case it is not holding on adequately. It will quickly learn that it needs to have a good grip on its own. Just make sure you position the parrot on your finger such that it can still hold on while upside down. Eventually you don't need to put your thumb on its feet at all to perform the bat trick.
Getting your parrot accustomed to being held with a towel is a fairly important exercise. There will be times in its life that toweling will be necessary such as vet visits, grooming, drying, or frantic capture. Unfortunately most people go about toweling completely the wrong way and make their parrot more and more fearful of the towel. In this article I will tell you about why Truman became phobic of towels and how I trained him to be toweled in just three days.
After I had discovered that Truman was phobic of towels, I contacted his breeder and learned she had never toweled him. I suspected this by the fact that he was cautious around towels in the first place. I had never bothered toweling him myself since I got him as he is completely tame. He always stepped up and I was able to grab him, so I never even considered toweling him. However, during Truman's last vet visit, I noticed he was very uncomfortable being grabbed by a towel. The harsh treatment during the procedure probably contributed to his phobic response to towels. I realized that this towelphobia was serious when I walked past Truman with a towel and he took flight. I knew we would need to work on this.
First of all, I would like to say that toweling should never be the primary means of taking a parrot out of a cage or handling. This will only make the parrot more fearful of the towel and make the aggression you are trying to block with the towel even worse. While I do say in my taming guide that a towel could be used to extract the parrot out of the cage for the first time, positive reinforcement training must immediately be employed to overcome the distress caused by the circumstances. Such toweling should not be used beyond the first few times being taken out (or better yet avoided all together by targeting). The parrot should not be chased with, cornered, or trapped under a towel. All towel interactions should be positive.
I am horrified by the advice I hear given to newbies at pet stores and online about forcibly toweling the parrot regularly to make it used to handling. This is terrible advice not only because it is ineffective but also because it does not build a relationship based on trust. The parrot has no reason to like its human just because it has been broken to stop fighting a towel. And yet, this is possibly one of the most advised methods out there. Please do not use or advise toweling as a method for taming a parrot to handling. Instead, use my Taming/Training guide for a better approach. This Toweling article builds on that taming approach to extend it to toweling but is not a primary means of taming.
Just because you can capture/grab a parrot with a towel does not mean that you should. It is easy to break feathers or possibly a wing in such rough handling. These types of incidents elicit a fight or flight reflex and teach the parrot to be fearful both of you and the towel. Ideally, positive toweling should be introduced prior to any unavoidable negative toweling (vet, grooming, etc). If the parrot becomes accustomed that the majority of toweling is positive and the rare vet visit is unpleasant, the parrot will still remain towel tame. A big mistake that many people make is to only use the towel when necessary and therefore all towel interactions are averse.
The first step in towel taming a parrot is to let it observe the towel in a harmless way. How long this needs to be done will depend on how scared the parrot is of towels or new objects. I prefer to use a specific towel for parrots only but this is optional, just don't use a used towel because there could be mold on it. Begin by hanging the towel on a chair or placing it inconspicuously at a great distance from the cage for the first day. In the span of several days to a week, leave the same towel out close and closer to the parrot's cage. Once the parrot is used to the site of it, just walk around the cage area holding it but without much attention on the parrot. Definitely do not come straight at the parrot with the towel. Just walk around casually to and from the cage holding the towel and even play around with it. This will show the parrot that the towel is harmless.
The prior steps can be done with a completely untame parrot, however, to continue with towel taming, it is important that the parrot is already accustomed to coming out of the cage and stepping up. If it is not, follow the steps in my taming guide prior to continuing with towel taming.
Now begins the formal towel training. I recommend putting the parrot on a Training Perch because it will keep it focused on you with limited space to go. The training perch will keep your hands free for manipulating the towel and parrot. Put the parrot on the perch. Once again show the towel from some distance and approach slowly. Hold the towel casually and not pointed straight at the parrot. Drape the towel over your shoulder or arm and handle your parrot normally. Cuing some tricks (such as targeting) and providing treats is a good way to get your parrot to relax in preparation for towel taming. Only at this point will you try to gauge your parrot's fear threshold to towels. Hold a small tip of the towel out and let the rest hang away. Slowly approach the small tip of the towel toward the parrot. The moment it begins to back away or attempt to bite, stop and hold the towel there for a few seconds. Withdraw the towel and reward the parrot with your other hand. It is important not to push too far to the point of eliciting biting or flight. If the parrot is given the chance to bite or fly away, it will become negatively reinforced for that response.
Continue the approach and hold method with the towel for several training sessions. Eventually you should be able to hold the tip of the towel closer and show a greater portion of it. The reason for showing just a small tip at first is to make it less big and frightening looking. But as the parrot becomes more familiar, you can show more. You will keep practicing this until you can gently touch the parrot's back with the tip of the towel. Lay a corner of the towel on the parrot's back and give it a toy or treat to play with while the towel is there. If the parrot still pays attention to the towel, you need to practice the previous steps further. But if the parrot entirely ignores the towel and enjoys the reward, negative reinforcement is no longer necessary because the parrot is not scared of the towel. What this means is that taking the towel away from the parrot is no longer the main reward but the treat/toy is.
All that is left now is to go from touching the parrot with towel to grabbing it. This is kind of the tough part if the parrot is afraid of being grabbed with a towel. The mistake I made the first day was approaching Truman with the towel to grab and giving him the chance to fly away. Every time he got to fly away from being grabbed by the towel, negatively reinforced flying away from towels. He was learning that flying away is the best way to deal with his fear of towels. This might work great for him but it is counter productive to my goal of towel training him. Here we reach a fork in the road where it is necessary to choose between flooding and strict positive reinforcement.
The positive reinforcement approach is probably "nicer" in practice but will take drastically longer to achieve. To use the strictly positive reinforcement approach, continue practicing the method mentioned previously squeezing with ever slightly more pressure with every approach of the towel and then rewarding. This will need to be practiced and practiced until the parrot can be grabbed and held with the towel.
The positively reinforced flooding method is much more effective though. It accelerates the training and helps you be over with this procedure sooner. It should not be used as a short cut to avoid careful and deliberate training. It is just a way of showing the parrot straight out what is required and reconciling rather than taking a long time to let it figure it out on its own. Do not skip the previously mentioned steps and jump straight to flooding because then you won't achieve the tameness required for a parrot to voluntarily accept toweling. Once you are confident that the parrot is not fearful of being touched by the towel, place the towel on the parrot and squeeze to hold the parrot. Use your other hand to block the parrot from flying out of the towel while the towel is approaching. Essentially you force the parrot to be in the towel and grabbed. Once the parrot is grabbed, it can no longer kick or flap. Wait a few seconds for the parrot to calm down and release it back to its perch with a preferable reward. Continue practicing this by either holding the parrot prior to applying the towel or at least keeping another hand up to block it from avoiding the towel. If the parrot is having a major panic attack here, this training will not be effective and you need to go back to the basic taming listed above. However, if the parrot is tolerating the towel with only slight discomfort, you are making progress. Continue practicing this until you no longer need to block the parrot from flying away from the towel. Do this by keeping the blocking hand looser and then further away with each try. Successful completion of towel taming is when you can hold a towel in your palm, approach it to the parrot, and grab it without any resistance.
While in the training progress you may have forced the parrot to be in the towel against its will (otherwise, how would it find out that it won't hurt and a treat will be given if it never tried?), it is important to get to a point where the parrot accepts toweling voluntarily. Treats and painless interaction will erase the fear originally created by the towel or mild flooding process. Continue practicing toweling in a positive manner from time to time to maintain the comfort. Eventually you can reward toweling less and less frequently but the parrot will have no reason to resist because it knows the towel is harmless. You can transition to social rewards in place of food/toys for toweling. You can make toweling fun by toweling the parrot and then cuddling/petting it. On a cold day or after a shower, toweling will in itself be rewarding to keep warm. If you practice toweling in these positive ways, the occasional bad experience of necessary toweling will not outweigh all the good ones. It is just important that the vast majority of toweling times be good, that's all.
The most common questions I receive have nothing to do with advanced trick training or flight. Instead, I am constantly being asked how to get a parrot to do basics like come out of the cage, step up, or not bite. These basic questions are fundamental to parrot ownership. Unfortunately many owners cannot enjoy the most from their parrot if they cannot accomplish basic handling.
Michael, Kili, and Truman
I faced these very same questions when I bought my first parrot, a Cockatiel. I had never so much as touched a bird before in my life and here I was with a bird in the transport box and a cage but absolutely no idea what to do. I spent a lot of time and money to buy training information but unfortunately most of it was unhelpful. Sure there are lots of books and dvds about the methods for teaching specific tricks but few or none of them teach you about the absolute basics. They tell you to take the parrot out of the cage and proceed with training. Well I know from personal experience that this presumption that the owner can get the parrot out of the cage is flawed. Many owners cannot enjoy the thrill of teaching tricks to their parrot because they do not even know how to handle it or reduce aggression in the first place.
A year ago I had written the How to Teach Parrot to Step Up guide on The Parrot Forum and it is still to this day one of my most popular articles. I understand that this basic information is very sought after. Yet I still receive many questions that are even more basic still or that weren't covered in the original article which was predominantly about target training. So now, I sit down to write what I hope to be the ultimate guide to the basics of parrot taming and training. I hope you enjoy the information contained herein and find it helpful. Please read through completely, watch the videos, share with other parrot owners, reread as necessary, and ask your questions on The Parrot Forum. Welcome to the world of parrot training.
Why should you read this? You may be a first time parrot owner that just got home with a new bird wondering why it did not come with an instruction manual. Or perhaps you have had some parrots for a long time but regret the inability to interact with them and wish to learn how to approach them. Maybe you found a lost parrot and need information about how to handle it so that you could foster it. Alternatively you got a rescued or rehomed parrot that is anything but friendly. Regardless of how you came upon a parrot or found this article, you are here because you want to improve your relationship with a highly intelligent, beautiful, and complex feathered companion.
This guide is meant to teach you everything you need to know to begin handling a parrot no matter what the history or circumstances. It does not matter how long you have had it, how old it is, what species the bird is, where you got it from, or what its history is. Certainly these things can affect how long it will take or how difficult it will be. But I guarantee you that if properly and patiently applied, these methods will work. These techniques will work just as well for a Parakeet, Conure, Amazon, Cockatoo, African Grey, or Macaw.
The only case that I can think of where this guide does not apply is for unweaned baby birds that are still hand feeding. Please have an experienced breeder or hand feeder take care of the baby or at least coach you through the process and do not attempt to apply these techniques to a young fledgling.
Getting Parrot Into the Cage for the First Time
If you just acquired a new parrot – whether it is from a breeder, store, or rehomed – you will need to transfer it from the transportation enclosure to its new cage. The parrot may be in a travel carrier, crate, or cardboard box. Regardless, the procedure will be the same for getting it into the cage. There are several possibilities of how tame the parrot is. If you do not already know, you're about to find out. Bring the carrier into the same area as the cage. Close all doors and windows.
Most likely the parrot is quite scared so putting the carrier door up to the cage door will not be encouraging for the bird to come out on its own. Food lures won't work either since a scared bird will refuse to eat for several days. Your intervention will definitely be required.
You may be lucky and have a friendly parrot that already knows how to step up. The problem is that you may not know that in fact the parrot is friendly and aware of stepping up. The best way to test this is to open the carrier slowly and bring your hand toward the bird. As you open the carrier door, keep the opening minimal and blocked with your hand so that the parrot cannot rush out. Slowly bring your hand closer and closer to the parrot. If the parrot doesn't react to the hand much, then keep going closer. However, if the parrot is opening its beak and aggressively snapping toward your hand, then the stepping up method is unlikely to work.
For the non-aggressive parrot, keep bringing your hand closer and aim your fingers perpendicular to the feet. Depending on the size of the parrot you'll want to use anything from one finger to your entire arm. The main thing is to place your hand parallel to the perch it is standing on and slightly above its feet. If it was trained by the breeder to step up, it is a good idea to say “step up” as you have your hand positioned. As soon as the parrot steps up, slowly take it out of the carrier and then bring it into the cage. Like with your hand before, aim the bird in such a way that the cage perch runs parallel to your hand and slightly above its feet. The parrot should now step up onto the perch. You can close the cage door and talk to the parrot for a little while but then be sure to give it some time alone to adjust to its new home. I wouldn't suggest handling the parrot anymore at this time unless you are already experienced with parrots.
Getting parrot out of the carrier
If it turned out you are dealing with an aggressive parrot or it didn't step up using the method previously mentioned, you're going to have to get a hold of the bird to get it into the cage. Don't worry about this affecting your relationship. The parrot will eventually get over this. In fact it probably won't even realize what happened if you do it quickly enough. You definitely don't want to draw out this unpleasant experience any more than necessary as the fear will escalate and only make it more difficult to catch. It is especially important not to let the parrot escape the carrier if it is flighted because you will have a much tougher time getting a hold of it somewhere in the room.
Ideally you should just use your bare hand and grab the parrot out of the carrier. If you are too scared, you could wear thin leather gloves or use a towel. The best place to grab the parrot by is actually the neck, just below the head. Not only is it a safer place to avoid getting bit, it's also least likely to harm the parrot. If you grab by the belly, it could restrict airflow, but grabbing by the neck will not. By holding under the beak, you can keep the parrot from being able to turn its head and bite you. You can do the same with a glove. If you use a towel, you can either grab through the towel, or just get the bird in it and wrap it until you can get it in the cage. In one bold motion reach in toward the parrot. Even if it is backing away, just keep moving your hand toward it and back it into a corner. At this point the bird can't get anywhere and you can get a hold of it. Regardless of how you got a hold of it, don't prolong this and hurry up and get it in the cage. Whatever you do, don't let go of the bird (even if it bites). You'll have a much tougher time getting back if it gets loose in the room. If you had to use this more forceful method, it's a good idea to give the bird a bit more time to settle down before proceeding to taming and training.
If the parrot stepped up for you, the bird is probably quite tame and this basic taming should go much quicker. Since it is stepping up reliably, you will be able to ask the parrot to step up to come out of the cage. On the other hand if you had to grab the bird out of the carrier, odds are you will have to continue doing this until it has learned to step up.
No matter what method you had to use to get the new parrot into the cage, do not overwhelm it with attention immediately. Not only does it need some time to calm down and settle in, you also don't want to make it too dependent for attention. It is likely that the new parrot will eat little or none for the first few days. This should not be of too much concern. Just be sure that it has access to food and water and that it is already familiar with the food you are providing. This is not the time to try to do a food change or to instate any kind of food management for training.
Approaching the Cage
It is very important not to make your parrot afraid of you by rushing at the cage. Until the parrot is more used to you, it is essential to approach the cage very slowly. Don't make any sudden noises and walk carefully not to trip, fall, and terrify the bird. First impressions are important and it is critical not to let the first one be a bad one. If you have a particularly fearful bird, don't even make eye contact with it as you approach the cage. Just slowly approach while looking somewhere else. By making eye contact, it may feel like it has been singled out by a predator.
If you take an unnecessarily cautious approach, there is no way that will hurt your relationship. You will be able to speed things up in the future. However, if you rush this and scare the bird, it will be much much harder to undo the fear that is developed.
You must determine your parrot's comfort threshold. It is quite likely that the parrot is accustomed to human presence and will not freak out if you come all the way up to the cage. However, if it does, you'll need to slowly desensitize it to your presence over time. If you find the parrot trying to bite at you, thrashing around the cage, or making any other drastic displays of discomfort in response to your presence, the following technique is necessary.
Start out of the room or out of sight. Approach the cage slowly and wait for the discomfort response. The moment it begins, stop and stay where you are. Do not approach further but do not retreat. Wait for the parrot to calm down. It may still look uncomfortable but as long as it has made a relaxing trend from the original outbreak, you may reward the parrot by turning around and walking away. By using this method, the parrot will learn that it actually takes calming down rather than making a big scene to get you to leave. You are showing the parrot that the only way to get what it wants is to be calm.
Continue this technique over a period of time. You should be able to approach progressively closer and closer. Once you are able to safely approach within touching distance of the cage, you can continue with the following positive reinforcement based techniques.
Determining Treats for Your Parrot
Determine your parrot's favorite treats
First you must find out what kinds of treats your parrot will enjoy. This is fairly easy. Parrots will often enjoy seeds, nuts, dried and fresh fruits. Mix a variety of these treats in a bowl and serve it to the parrot in the cage. If this is a new parrot, it is quite possible that it is not yet familiar with these foods so the first trial may be inaccurate. Give the parrot a few days to familiarize itself to these foods unless a clear favorite is demonstrated up front. Parrots are picky eaters and will eat their favorite food first, then the second, etc. You can determine a pretty clear order of which foods they like. For smaller parrots such as Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Lovebirds, Parrotlets, and other Parakeets, millet spray generally serves as the ideal treat.
Now that you have determined your parrot's favorite treat, never serve it as part of the daily cage meals. The favorite foods are only to be used as treats for training. If you have discovered a secondary and tertiary treat, you can also save those to use for training as well. The most effective method will be to feed only pellets and vegetables in the cage and use all other foods as treats for training. However, if your parrot is on a seed diet and you are unable to convert it to pellets, then at least stop serving the favorite kinds of seeds and save them for training. Use the secondary/tertiary treats for most training and use the absolute favorite treats when the parrot does a major breakthrough.
Getting Parrot Out of Cage for the First Time
Now whether you just acquired a new parrot or have had one trapped in the cage for a long time, eventually you will have to take the parrot out. Not only is daily out of cage time important for the parrot's mental health, but it is also important to be able to clean the cage from the inside on a regular basis.
Now simply opening the cage door and waiting for the parrot to come out to you on its own is pointless. The parrot is already going to be scared of everything and the cage will at least be the most familiar place for it. You're not going to achieve a hand tame parrot by doing this and might spend forever waiting till it comes out. So instead, I will explain how to get the parrot out for the first time and then you should immediately begin the appropriate taming and training exercises so these methods no longer need to be used and the parrot will just step up for you whenever you want to take it out of the cage.
There are two methods that can be used for getting a parrot out of the cage for the first time:
1) Target training 2) Force out & reconcile
Except for the initial training, do not let the parrot come out of the cage on its own. Always reach in and request it to step up. This will help develop a positive relationship because you will get all the credit for the thrill of being able to come out. The parrot will begin to look forward to seeing you because it will learn that you are the source of good things like coming out.
Although the first method is least stressful, it also takes a much longer time to implement. On the other hand the second method is more hands on. I would say that the force out method is safest to be used on young hand raised parrots. This can range from merely asking it to step up to toweling it out. Either way, the experience outside the cage is made so rewarding that it reconciles being forced out initially. Baby parrots are much more forgiving and less likely to bite so this method can actually work quite well and create no trauma for the bird. Most likely the parrot was already accustomed to the breeder grabbing it to feed it anyway. If you are an experienced parrot owner and not afraid of the potential of being bitten, go ahead and use the force out/reconcile method. Similar to getting the parrot out of the carrier for the first time, you can test step up, just grab the parrot, grab with a glove, or use a towel. Just get the parrot out of the cage but then give it a super rewarding time outside of the cage with additional training. I will detail the taming/training exercises to do shortly afterward.
For everyone else including first time parrot owners, people afraid of getting bit, owners of rehomed/rescued parrots, and owners of parrots that were for a long time cage bound, I am going to advise against forcing the parrot out but instead to train it inside the cage. Not only does this method buy time for the parrot to get used to the owner, but it also helps the owner get used to the parrot. It mutually reduces fear and builds a positive relationship.
Performing target training in the cage begins with teaching the parrot to accept treats from your hand. This part could take as little as a few seconds to as many as a few weeks. The important thing is not to scare the parrot of your hands in the process. If the parrot isn't too shy, you can come to the side of the cage nearest the parrot and extend the treat through the cage bars up to the bird. However, if you find the parrot running away whenever you approach, then just come to a slightly further end of the cage and wait patiently. Just hold the treat through the bars and don't move. Let the parrot come to take it on its own. This may not happen on the first try but if you consistently offer treats like this, eventually it will let down its guard and come over to take it. You can use longer strands of millet spray for small parrots or a strip of fruit for larger ones. This will give your hands a bit more separation from the parrot. Do not worry about biting. Not only do the bars protect your hands, but the parrot is sooner to want the tasty treat than to bite you.
As soon as you feel the parrot feels safe eating treats from your hand, it is time to introduce the clicker. The only reason you don't want to begin using the clicker too soon is because it may scare the parrot from eating treats from your hand. But as soon as it is comfortable, you should click every time you are about to give it a treat. If you find the click to be scaring the bird, you can muffle the sound by holding it behind your back or inside your sleeve. Once it is no longer scaring the bird, you can start clicking closer and closer. The goal of clicking when you give treats is to teach the bird that the sound of a click means it is going to get a treat. This will become the bridge for the remainder of your training. The click bridges the time gap between when the bird performs the desired behavior and receives the reward. This way it eliminates any confusion about what you wanted the parrot to do to earn its treat.
Target training parrot inside cage
The next step is to teach the parrot to target. This is where you hold a target stick (chopstick or dowel) out and the parrot walks over to touch it with its beak. Naturally, at first the parrot will not know that this is what you want it to do. This is why you need to teach it by giving it a chance to touch the stick and earn treats. At first, hold the target stick through the cage bars really close to the parrot. Quite likely, the parrot will bite the stick out of shear curiosity. The moment that it does, click and give it a treat. Repeat this a few times. Eventually, test if the parrot is motivated to make a slightly bigger move to touch the stick by holding it a tiny bit further away. Try to get your parrot to lean in to touch the stick, turn its head to touch the stick, and then eventually to take a few steps to touch it. Bear in mind that this may not happen all at once and may require several training sessions to achieve.
If your parrot absolutely does not make a single effort to touch the stick for the first time (which is necessary for it to realize that it can have a treat for this), you can touch the stick to the beak the first time to give yourself an excuse to treat the parrot. Do not do this too many times though. Eventually the parrot must do this on its own in order to learn to target. If you are having too much trouble, the parrot might not be motivated enough for food. Stop and try again another time when the parrot is hungrier.
There is a possibility that the parrot is afraid of the target stick and runs away from it. In this case, do not chase your parrot around with the stick. Instead, hold the stick steadily in one spot and just watch the parrot's movements. Whenever the parrot moves away from the stick, don't do anything. However, if it makes any motion toward the stick (it could be as little as taking a step toward it or even turning its head that way), click and reward. Reward any effort from the parrot that ventures in the direction of the stick. You can continue this progressively by rewarding bigger and bigger steps toward the stick and not walking away or making smaller steps. This will eventually teach the parrot to get close to and touch the stick. It is like the game of hot/cold when you tell the other person if they are getting closer/further from some hidden scavenger prize. When the parrot moves toward the target stick, that is getting warmer and it gets rewarded for this.
Hold target stick, clicker, and treat
Eventually, you will be able to target the parrot around the cage to any place. The parrot will watch the stick and walk/climb to wherever you point it. This is the point at which you know you are ready to reach into the cage for the first time. If you're not fearful you can use your bare hands. But if you have any reservations, you can wear a leather glove or better yet hold a perch for your parrot to step up on. It is best to use a perch from or similar to the ones in the cage. You will need to master the one handed target maneuver to continue. This involves holding the clicker, target stick, and treat all in one hand because your other hand is where the parrot will be taught to step onto (or the perch it is holding). Hold the clicker in your palm and use your middle finger to click. Slide the target stick into your hand and hold the treat with thumb and forefinger. You may want to practice this a few times away from the parrot to be sure you can do it right. If you fumble with these training aids at the time of training, it may scare the bird and set back progress.
Target parrot out of cage
Prior to proceeding, practice a few known target touches to get the parrot in the mood for training. Then slowly open the cage door and continue practicing targeting inside the cage but with your hands in the cage. This is not a bad exercise to practice a few times to get your parrot used to hands inside of the cage. Next you can hold a perch in one hand and target the parrot from the cage perch to your handheld perch. Don't think that you can immediately take the parrot out and all is done. Target the parrot off of your handheld perch and back to the cage. Practice this a bunch of times so that the parrot can get comfortable. Now after practicing this enough times, you should be able to carry the parrot out of the cage and to your designated training area. At this point you are ready to train your parrot like any other.
Target Training Parrot Outside the Cage
Whether you got your parrot out of the cage with ease, unwillingly, by targeting, or any other method, you will want to begin your parrot taming and training experience by target training the parrot outside of the cage. Parrots can get territorial but also easily distracted inside their cage. Therefore the cage is not a suitable place for training. From my personal experience, Parrot Training Perches are the ideal stand to use for parrot training. However, a free standing parrot stand, chair back, or table top perch can be your next best training solution. Do not provide any toys, feeders, or other distractions in the parrot's training area. It is important for the parrot to focus on you and nothing else.
Get your parrot from the cage to its training stand using methods outlined above. Give it a little time to get used to the stand but as soon as it calms down, proceed to training. The first few times you have it out will only be about teaching it to accept treats from your hand. You should have already figured out what treats are suitable from the procedure outlined previously. Now offer those treats from your hand. You can test your parrot's eagerness and motivation to eat from your hand by holding the treat a few inches from the parrot and seeing if it walks for the treat or not. If the parrot is willing to make a few steps to get the treat from you, you'll know you're ready to begin target training.
User a clicker for training
Once your parrot is comfortably eating from your hand (and remember this may involve several training sessions), you should introduce the clicker. A clicker is simply a handheld box that makes a click noise when you squeeze it. This device is used as a training bridge to communicate to the parrot when it has completed the behavior you are trying to train. The way that the parrot knows that a click means it got it right is because you will start the clicker training with clicker conditioning. This is the process of simply clicking, and giving the parrot a treat immediately. Soon the bird will learn that when it hears a click, it will get a treat. Once you begin teaching the actual tricks, the parrot will realize that whatever it did at the moment the click happened, it has earned a treat. So go ahead and clicker condition the bird for a few sessions by clicking the clicker and giving a treat. You will know that the parrot is ready to proceed to the next step when it becomes more attentive/excited upon hearing the click sound.
Chopstick serves great as target
Now that the parrot accepts treats from your hand and knows what a click is, you are ready to begin target training. Target training involves showing a stick to the parrot and it then walks over to touch the tip of the stick. The purpose of this is to teach the parrot where you want it to walk by having it follow the stick. This is more effective than luring (just holding the treat and waiting for the bird to come get it) because the bird isn't distracted by the food. A chopstick or wooden dowel works best but any non-toxic object can be used for this purpose as long as it is consistent. Even if you used the target method for getting your parrot out of the cage, it is still a good idea to practice this skill with your parrot in the new training area.
Do not let the parrot attack, play with, or chew up the target stick. Not only will this ruin the training aid but it will also teach the parrot a behavior different from what we are trying to achieve. Use the distraction of the click upon touching the stick to catch your parrots attention. Immediately bring forth the treat while pulling the target stick away. If the parrot continues biting the stick too hard, you can click and reward when the parrot approaches the stick and is about to touch, but before the beak has actually clasped the tip of the stick.
Begin target training by holding the tip of the target stick close to your parrot's beak. Most parrots will bite the stick out of mere curiosity. The moment the parrot's beak touches the stick, click and offer a treat. Do not let the parrot play with or chew the target stick. Try again. After several attempts, the parrot will begin to catch on that touching the stick will earn it food. If the parrot is not approaching the stick, try to wait it out and see if it will go for it eventually. Try to resist the temptation to return the stick closer and closer if the parrot is not approaching. Instead, take the stick away, and try setting up an easier target scenario the next time. As the parrot becomes better at targeting, you can try to hold the stick further and further away. First it may be just far to bend the neck toward the stick, then to turn the head, eventually to take a single step toward it. Before you know it, you'll have the parrot walking all over the perch to touch the stick.
You can improve targeting skills by targeting the parrot toward you and away from you. Also hold the stick higher and lower. The parrot will in this way learn that only touching the tip of the stick is what will earn it a treat. Do not click or reward your parrot unless it touches the tip of the stick. If it touches higher up on the stick, take it away and request it to target again. It is not required, but a good idea to say the word “target” or “touch” as you show the parrot the stick. This will over time develop as a secondary command besides the sight of the stick. This can be used to give extra encouragement for the parrot to go touch the stick when it may not be paying the best attention.
Establishing Training Motivation
Keeping your parrot motivated is the key to successful training. Your parrot must want the rewards. Otherwise they do not serve much purpose. There are several easy ways to ensuring that your parrot is most motivated by food rewards.
Parrots naturally feed in the mornings and evenings so training is best done during these same times. It is best to train your parrot at its hungriest, so it doesn't make any sense to do it right after it ate a meal. Instead, take the food out of the cage overnight. In the morning, do training first and then put the parrot's meal back in the cage. You can let it eat all it wants, but be sure to take the food away again prior to the evening training session.
How long prior to training you need to take the food away will vary. Some parrots are driven by the tastiness of the treats rather than hunger. Meanwhile for others, you may end up using the same food as treats so hunger will be key. For basic food management, you do not even need to use a scale to weigh the parrot (we may introduce this for advanced training but for the purpose of the basic training in this article it is unnecessary). First try training the parrot without taking the food away at all. Next time, take the food away one hour prior to training. Next time try taking it away two, then three, and all the way up to six hours. Do not leave your parrot without food for more than six hours (except overnight while it is sleeping) unless you are capable of tracking your parrot's weight/health. Six hours without food will not harm your parrot but will simply give it the hunger to strive to do what it takes to earn treats during training. You will find the optimum duration to leave your parrot without food when training motivation improves.
After training sessions, let your parrot eat as much as it wants to so that it can maintain a healthy weight. Be sure to provide a healthy balanced diet. Pellets serve as a solid nutritional basis. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains can be provided in moderation. Be sure to save the parrot's favorite foods only for training.
Teaching Parrot to Step Up
Practice targeting with parrot
Now that your parrot knows how to target, it should not be too difficult to turn this into stepping up. After practicing a few step ups to get your parrot warmed up, you can start by targeting your parrot to step up onto a handheld perch. This is a good way to desensitize it to your hands without being too forceful. Progressively you can hold the perch closer and closer in so that the parrot has to stand closer to your hand every time it is targeted onto the perch.
Once the parrot is stepping up onto a perch satisfactorily, you can begin training it to step up on your hand. If the parrot still bites a lot and you are scared, you can wear a glove during the earlier parts of this training. However, keep in mind that the glove also encourages the parrot to bite because they like chewing leather. Hold your hand a short distance away from the parrot and slightly higher than its feet. Hold the target stick such that the only way the parrot can reach it is by stepping onto your finger or hand.
You may want to hold out your arm (for bigger parrots) or the back of your hand initially in case you are worried about the parrot biting your finger. Once you get more comfortable with each other, you can have the parrot step up.
Target parrot to step up
on your finger. After you achieve some success doing this, you can begin to recede the use of the target stick. Begin by saying step up every time you practice this exercise. Then stop targeting the parrot onto your hand but hold the stick in the other hand in sight. Eventually you won't even need to show the target stick at all and the parrot will know how to step up.
You should practice step up in all different areas. Have the parrot step up from finger to finger. Practice the parrot stepping up from inside the cage. Also have the parrot step up from you to other people so that it is accustomed stepping up for all people and not just yourself. If the parrot is scared and doesn't want to go to the other person, try targeting it onto their hand rather than forcing it.
Basic Taming and Handling
Once you have achieved some basic skills with the parrot like targeting and step up, you should continue taming the parrot to being touched and handled. I'm sure you want to be able to pet and hold your parrot so the following procedures are important to follow. Also the parrot should be used to being held and toweled for when it visits the vet or groomer.
The taming method is the same every step of the way. It involves figuring out your parrot's comfort threshold, pushing it slightly, waiting till it calms down, removing the discomfort, and then rewarding the parrot with treats.
The first thing you will need to achieve is the ability to touch your parrot. The beak is one of the best places to start because if you are touching the beak, you know where it is and can avoid getting bitten. Start by placing your hand in front of the parrot and slowly move it closer and closer. If the parrot makes any moves to bite or move away, stop right there. Hold your hand in that position and wait for the parrot to calm down. Wait a few seconds after it calms down, take your hand away and give a treat. Keep repeating this procedure so that you can get closer and closer. Eventually your parrot will tolerate you touching its beak. You can scratch the beak with your fingernail; the parrot will like that.
Tame parrot to be used to towel
Next, use the same method to tame the parrot to let you touch its body. Hold your hand over the parrot and approach slowly. At the first display of discomfort stop and wait to calm down, then reward. Eventually you'll be able to touch the parrot with one finger and if you keep practicing this, your whole hand. Once you can put your entire hand on the parrot's back, begin practicing cupping your hand around the back and wings. With every step of the way, apply more pressure until you have such a grip that you can pick the parrot up. At first pick it up only briefly and then put the parrot back down (don't forget to reward). But eventually you will be able to pick the bird up for longer and longer.
One of the biggest problems/mistakes parrot owners make is making going back into the cage an unpleasant experience for the parrot. If the parrot does not want to go back into the cage but is forced to by the owner, not only will it upset the relationship but it will also make the parrot resist stepping up for fear of being put away.
The solution to this problem though is very simple. Develop a routine of taking your parrot out in the mornings and evenings, prior to meal times. Spend the time you want with your parrot out and do some training. Then put the parrot away in its cage to a delightful meal. The hungry parrot will be looking forward to going back in its home to be fed rather than disappointed for having to be put away.
Also, be sure to use step up for good things other than being put away in the cage. Some people only use step up to put the parrot away and let the parrot roam on its own all the other time. In that case, the parrot will soon learn that step up means being put away and may choose to bite instead of stepping up. So instead, mix things up. Have your parrot step up so that you could put it on a different stand. Have the parrot step up so you can scratch its beak. Have the parrot step up so you can cue a trick and give it a treat. By mixing up what step up is used for and keeping it positive, you can guarantee that the parrot will remain tame and willing to step up.
This article should have answered basic questions such as: how do I get my new parrot into the cage for the first time? How can you take a parrot out of the cage initially? What is the best way to teach a parrot to step up? What do I do to train my parrot to target? How should you go about clicker training? How to teach a parrot to step up onto the hand? What are the steps to taming a parrot to allow being grabbed or touched? How to towel a parrot?
The key to parrot training is the use of positive reinforcement. You need to make things such that the parrot wants to
Michael with Kili
do what you want. Always think of the parrot's perspective and what's in it for the bird. When it comes to taming, it's all about slowly desensitizing your parrot to things. Make your parrot slightly uncomfortable with a new object or place to touch, wait for it to calm down, and then reward by taking it away and giving treats. Make scary things (hands, towel, other people, new objects) less scary by presenting them without any force and giving your parrot the opportunity to make them go away by calming down. Make this super rewarding by providing treats as well.
I hope this training guide will help you on your journey with your feathered friend. After reading this, you should not need to purchase any book, dvd, or online guide for parrot training. You have been given the tools for basic parrot taming and training and I am sure that when put to use, they will bring you surprisingly wonderful results. You can subscribe to the trained parrot blog to receive updates when new parrot training articles are posted.
Update: If you liked this guide, you will especially like my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. It's not just a tutorial about teaching a parrot to step up, but a complete approach to parrot keeping. From what parrot to get to flight training and problem solving, this book covers what a pet-parrot owner needs to know. You can purchase the book on Amazon or receive free shipping, clicker, and target stick included when you purchase directly from the Parrot Wizard.
You can support the Trained Parrot Blog effort by purchasing a set of Parrot Training Perches to use in training your own bird. These come in either Java or Dragonwood and are sized for small, medium, and large parrots. They are a wonderful training aid and can be seen used in most of the training videos included with this article.