Recently I had the pleasure of being visited by Professor Andy McIntosh to talk about birds and flight. Andy is a retired professor of thermodynamics and combustion theory from the University of Leeds in the UK and on the board of directors of Truth In Science (an organization promoting teaching intelligent design in the classroom in the UK).
I got in touch with Andy because I found his talks about birds on youtube and found them quite interesting. I give a similar presentation at NYU every year about the Evolution of Flight (a comparison between flying machines and flying organisms) and found it quite surprising that Andy can look at the same facts but come to different conclusions. In either case, we both share a fascination with the mechanisms of flight and the astounding complexity of birds. Regardless of which interpretive conclusion prevails, the presentation of the facts, mechanisms, operations, fossils, and stories is a marvel to learn.
So without getting any further into background, let me present to you an interview - straight from my bird room and with the help of Kili, Truman, and Santina - with professor Andy McIntosh:
In this video and with the help of Kili, Truman, and Santina, Andy McIntosh discusses many topics related to birds and how they fly. A few of the topics include how feathers work, how the flight muscles are special in birds, how the avian breathing apparatus is like no other, archeopteryx fossils, and about his conclusions on how birds are too complicated to have evolved through natural processes and are instead the products of design. Dr. McIntosh concludes that:
"They want to be in the air and obviously they are designed to be in the air. Everything is telling me as an engineer, stroke mathematician, somebody who is used to asking the question 'why are things the way they are?' All these features tell me that there is a brilliant mind behind these creatures."
So after watching both presentations, do you think Kili is an evolved dinosaur or one of God's created creatures?
Check out Kili's newest trick. Well actually it's not that new but we have not made a video about it before. I taught Kili the bird toss or what I like to call "boing boing." It's a trick in which I can toss Kili up and down in my hand like a beanbag.
The trick first came to me when I was walking about Phoenix with Ginger and her Senegal Parrot Sammy on a harness. Sammy is a really easy going Senegal Parrot that just about anyone can hold. Sammy is the star of Ginger's Parrots Movie. Anyway, so I taught Sammy to wear a harness in no time and we went to a Sunday morning parrot outing with other parrot owners. I was holding Sammy and we were there a while so I started turning Sammy over and playing. I forget why exactly but I started bouncing Sammy up and down in my hand and before you knew it we had a new trick.
Ginger and I passed by Dr. Drigger's office (a well known Avian Veterinarian in the Phoenix area) and I showed him what Sammy could do. The doc thought it was hysterical and took a video.
Fast forward to more recent times. Kili is very good about laying in my hand. So I started preparing her for the bird toss. At first it was just a matter of moving my hand up and down while holding her. But then I started letting go and allowing her to go up out of my hand a little and back down. It's nothing more than a trust building exercise. If Kili gets too uncomfortable, she just flips over and lands on my hand or flies away. But I can see her overcoming her fears in order to earn treats.
The funny thing is that this trick wasn't taught in the usual click and treat method. Instead it would happen here and there in the course of a year. Sometimes just playing with her out of boredom, other times right before putting her in the cage for a meal, little by little Kili learned to bounce like a champ. This was sooner a long term type of training rather than quick accelerated learning. I tried to get her to learn it quickly at first but it just wasn't working. So spanning it out over time without any hurry was the best thing for this type of a trick.
An interesting thing I noticed is that both Sammy, Kili, and Truman do better with the bird toss while wearing a harness. Perhaps it's the security they feel of still being partially held (by the harness instead of hand) or something else, but the harness definitely helped get the trick going in the beginning. And without further ado, here's the video:
A year ago, I flew a circumnavigation flight around the Caribbean in my airplane with my dad and we visited many fascinating places. I didn't get a chance to prepare this footage before but I don't want you to miss out so I worked really hard to get some of this together to share right now.
Belize is a small Central American country bordering Mexico and Guatemala. The country is native to 10 species of parrots. Besides one species of Pionus, Scarlet Macaw, and some parakeets, all the native parrots are Amazon species.
The Belize Bird Rescue takes in wild-caught parrots confiscated from locals keeping them illegally. These parrots go through a two year rehabilitation program before they can be released back into the wild. Most of these birds were pulled from the wild as chicks so they must learn to fly, operate in a flock, and learn to feed themselves before they can be released. The rescue mainly deals with White Crowned Pionus and White-Fronted Amazon parrots but they occasionally have the endangered Yellow Headed Amazon and other bird/parrots.
White Fronted Amazon Parrot in the Wild in Belize
Yellow Headed Amazon Parrot in Rehabilitation
White Crowned Pionus Parrot in the Belize Bird Rescue
Holding a rehab frigate bird. Surprisingly light and weak lift from flapping
Pair of wild White Fronted Amazon Parrots in Belize
Check out the video of my visit complete with interviews and wild parrots. Learning about parrots in the wild also helps us learn about our pet parrots in captivity.
The greatest perceived safety hazard to keeping fully flighted parrots is the potential for escape. Once outside of the human household, the parrot is exposed to infinite dangers from starvation to predation. Therefore it is critical for owners of all parrots (including clipped ones because they have been known to have just enough might to fly out the door and into a tree) to maintain a 100% safety record in terms of preventing accidental escape.
This article is about ways to bird proof your home or set up your parrot's out of cage time in order to guarantee safety. There aren't many pictures because this is a more conceptual article but I hope you take this into full consideration nonetheless. It is my hope that all parrot owners can come away from reading this with a better understanding of how to keep their parrots safe indoors whether they are flighted or clipped. Furthermore, I hope that for owners of clipped parrots this will give them a means of providing safety so that they could allow their parrot flight in their home.
The most common way a companion parrot is unexpectedly lost is actually by taking it outside unrestrained and not out from the house. This happens to clipped and flighted parrots alike. The owner doesn't realize the parrot's potential for flight and then is shocked when it takes off and drifts away out of sight. This mostly happens to clipped parrots because their owners don't realize that clipped parrots, although poorly, are still capable of flight. A less common way is when owners of flighted parrots think their parrot is reliable enough that it will stay with them or come back. The problem with this is that without the proper training, the bird may simply be unprepared to deal with wind and outdoor factors adequately. And the other way is when owners of flighted parrots walk outside with their flighted parrot on them without remembering. Folks will go out to pick up the mail with their parrot on their shoulder and then something scares it into flying off. For all of these reasons, it is absolutely necessary that owners do not intentionally or accidentally take their parrot outdoors without proper restraint (carrier or harness). It only takes one time so it's necessary to use proper precautions every time.
From inside the house, the most suspect escape path is the front door. This door is most frequently (and unexpectedly) opened so it should receive the most thoughtful attention. Ideally, there should always be 2 doors between where the parrot is and outside. Only one door must ever be open at a time. In my situation, I have a front door at street level which leads to a staircase and another door at the second floor entrance. This is a perfect safety catch and has the added bonus of the vertical separation in addition to two doors. I realize most people do not have this convenience so I will mention options I have thought about and DIY means of ensuring there are 2 doors between the parrot and outside. If you have birds and are planning on moving, definitely keep this two door entry situation in mind when searching for a new place.
For home owners that have a front door that leads straight into their living room (or through hallways but without doors), I very highly suggest installing a second safety door. When you realize that your parrot will be living there with you for 20-80 years easily, it is an invaluable investment that will ensure that your parrot lives out that entire span safely with you. This is by far the easiest and most secure solution but it is also the more costly. If you already have an entry room or hallway that goes from the front door into your living area, you may be able to mount a door directly in that space. Ideally you should have a professional or someone handy do it. But if you don't care as much how it looks, you can save a lot of money by buying a couple 2x4s and a prehung door at Home Depot and installing it yourself. This can be done for as little as $200. That is just $10 a year or less than a dollar a month in the lifespan of a single 20 year living parrot! You will end up spending more on bird food to keep it alive so don't overlook this important means of keeping it in and alive.
If you absolutely can't put a solid door but have that narrowing area to hang something, you can try to find a sliding curtain to hang. I don't recommend strings of beads for small birds because I have seen them fly through that or at least land on them. If you have more than one or two people living there, I would strongly suggest hanging a sign on the inside door or in plain sight to remind people “Live Birds - Only open one door at a time.”
The next scenario is a front door that drops you smack into the living area without any narrowing area or hallway for a second door. In this case my best suggestion is to build out a small piece of wall to produce a small hallway to mount a door. It can be as small as 3ftx3ft but allows sufficient space to have a second door to ensure safety. If you are serious about keeping a parrot for the many years that it will live, this is still a small price to pay to ensure its safety. The beauty of having two doors is that it is virtually fool proof. There is still a bit of risk involved in the event that someone opens both doors at once but it still makes things tighter and the bird is more likely to be caught in the safety catch room. If there is any chance to have a 90 degree turn upon entrance, that makes things even safer than a straight two door run.
If you live in a situation where is is outright impossible to make modifications and a second door is not possible, there are other ways to ensure that a parrot is kept safe behind two doors or to ensure a procedure for entry that prevents escape. For example, it is possible to limit the parrot to out of cage time only in a removed room that has its own door (that door makes the remainder of the home act as a safety catch prior to the front door. Although, less fool proof, keeping a parrot on an upper or lower floor separated by an open staircase, it is much less likely to fly that angle AND out the door in the same flight. Still it is best to add a door at one end of the staircase or at least hang some form of curtain to ensure safety.
Another way to establish a safety catch and second door is to put the second door outside instead of inside. It may be possible to enclose a portion outside with netting or walls and add a second door outside to avoid taking up space on the inside. Just keep in mind that security, screen, and storm doors are no substitute for a separate safety door.
Now for the scenario of a rented one room studio with an outside facing single door or someone who could make the modifications but is too cheap, you can change the lock to a dead bolt and always keep it locked. Whenever anyone from the household arrives, they must ring the bell or call anyone who is already inside the house to arrange that birds be put away into their cages prior to opening the door. The reason I specifically suggest a deadbolt is because it forces anyone opening the door from inside to go out to take the time to get a key which slows things down just enough to think and not do it spontaneously. For example, doorbell rings for a delivery or you hear a siren outside, having to go through the process of locating a key and opening the extra door should provide some reminder that this is done to ensure parrot safety. Of course having a sign on the door as a reminder is a great idea too. For fire hazard safety it is best to hang a copy of the key near the door inside. A sliding latch lock from inside is another option.
I don't suggest hanging a sign outside whenever bird is out because this is more easily forgotten. Instead, the standard operating procedure must be that no one goes in or out without first checking with someone (best designate one person in charge) that the bird is secured. And it goes without say that prior to opening the sole front door, it is an absolute must that the bird be enclosed in a cage or another room. For families with young children that come and go, it may be necessary not to give them keys but to always have them ring the doorbell or call in order to ensure safe operation of the door to prevent an unexpected entry when a bird is out.
For additional outside facing doors such as the back door, the best procedure is to dead bolt the door shut and agree not to use it. If there are multiple people, hang a sign on the door to say not to use that door except in an emergency. The same applies to sliding doors. Some people have sliding doors that lead to balconies or porches. It is a great idea to enclose the porch so that both you and your parrot can enjoy it together. The fewer doors that are used, the simpler it is to keep track of things. There is no point of going through the effort to add a safety catch to each door if only the front door is utilized and has a safety system in place.
If the back door must be used on occasion, keep it well lock and always ensure that the bird is away prior to use. If the back door must be used regularly, install an indoor or outdoor safety catch as described previously for front doors. This is really the only way to be able to safely open doors without risk of the parrot ending up out doors.
Windows are the other way by which parents end up getting outside. Since the window is relatively small it makes it easy for the bird to get out but hard to get back in. The bird most likely has never even seen your house from outside so it would be entirely lost once it makes it outside. For this reason all windows should stay closed whenever parrots are out. The real problem with windows is remembering to ensure they are closed when parrots are taken out. For this reason it is best to make the system foolproof instead. Put screens on all windows (even though they might not prevent a curious chewing parrot from getting out, they will prevent a flying one) or a security mesh. Make a habit of keeping windows closed to the extent possible. Keep blinds or curtains over the windows that let air but not birds through so that the birds don't even think of flying there (whether they are closed or not).
Another terrible danger to flying parrots is ceiling fans. Just remembering not to use them isn't enough. Someone can accidentally throw the wrong switch when turning on the lights or just have one of those moments when they forget. You must disable the fan all together to prevent a catastrophe waiting to happen. There are only two foolproof ways of doing this without completely replacing the device. Either have an electrician disable the electric switch for the ceiling fan or remove the fan blades yourself. I know there are people who think it is ok to use the fan when the parrot isn't out and that they will remember to shut it off when the parrot is taken out, but this simply isn't enough. There will be that one time when you have friends over midday and the fan is running and you suddenly get the urge to show them your parrot and completely forget about the fan. This is why it is best disabled entirely. An air conditioner or an enclosed fan are the best replacements.
I have already written extensively about other commonly cited safety hazards to parrot flight such as toilets, pots of boiling water, crashing into windows, and other pets in this article. But just for a quick recap, these dangers are very easily avoidable (much more so than the ones discussed above). Always keep bathroom doors closed. Don't worry about the toilet seat, if the door is closed, then the parrot can't get to it. If you want to be extra cautious, you can close both. Never cook or perform dangerous tasks while your bird is out (even if it is clipped). Cover windows with blinds or curtains at least partially. Never let birds and other pets out simultaneously to ensure their safety.
It is essential to make foolproof safety measures and not to rely on standard operating procedures. Telling everyone not to do something isn't as reliable as making it difficult to impossible to do. Marking windows and doors with notes may help remind people not to do things more in the moment than a general verbal warning. Even if you live alone, you may not be completely safe. I recall a time when I was seriously ill and my mother brought a meal over. She said it was really stuffy and opened windows while my birds were out. Luckily there are screens on the windows so this wasn't a catastrophic risk. Had there not been screens and the system simply relied on my remembering to close windows, things could have been different. So keep in mind that making all these safety measures aren't necessarily against yourself but other people who live with you or may show up unexpectedly. The more robust the safety measures you have in place, the safer your parrot will be regardless of the circumstances.
Foolproof safety measures must be implemented regardless of how well trained your parrot is. However, having an extensively flight recall trained parrot should greatly help should something ever happen despite all possible physical safety boundaries in place. I not only practice flight recall inside at home, but also outside on a harness, and at a large gym. Should recovery of my parrots ever be necessary, they have extensive prior experience both flying in large spaces and outdoors. Don't wait until your parrot is lost to think about flight training. If your flighted parrot isn't already flight recall trained, start working on it now. If all else fails, it could be the thing that gets it back.
One thing to keep in mind is that every home, parrot, and situation is different. These are general guidelines to help you start thinking about implementing robust flight safety. However, you must take into consideration all escape routes, people involved, location of the bird, and other variables. Be sure to analyze the situation fully and adjust the suggestions to work in your situation.
Please don't think that clipping a parrot's wings in any way absolves you from undertaking these extensive safety measures. Although these types of accidents are more frequent in flighted parrots, they do happen to clipped parrots just the same. These types of accidents would not happen to clipped or flighted parrots if the proper safety precautions were taken in advance. Don't wait until something bad happens and don't think that clipping has anything to do with this. Birds have wings and birds fly. Please remember this and do everything necessary to keep your flying family members safe.
Over the last few weeks I have been traveling the depths of South East Asia. My trip began in Manila, Philippines then continued to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei Darussalam. The trip continued on the island of Borneo to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. This was not the only part of Malaysia as I went to Kuala Lumpur. Upon leaving Malaysia, I flew to Jakarta, Indonesia. By bus and train continued to Yogyakarta and then flew to Denpasar in Bali. From Denpasar to Dili, East Timor, around the island, and then finally back home. I would like to share some of the parrot themed highlights with you.
Zoobic Park - Philippines
I got to experience a fair amount of parroting during my trip but unfortunately none of the wild variety. In Zoobic Park in the Philippines I saw a Blue Naped Parrot native to the region. I did not waste time photographing the Sun Parakeet, Grey Parrot, White Cockatoo, nor Alexandrine Parakeet as they are non-native to the region and common in captivity. Passing through the outdoor mini-theater, I saw the zoo's parrot trainers rehearsing some tricks with their parrots.
Out of nowhere, a man approached asking to take a picture with me. Before I could even process the question his friend already snapped a photo of us. I asked if he knows who I am to which he smiled and said, "yes, of course!" They welcomed me on the stage and I posed for a photo with their White Cockatoo. What a wonderful bird. Not only did he step up, but just melted away in my hands as I stroked his feathers and hugged him. It's always fun to bump into my fans in person and find out what they've learned from my videos.
Trained Parrot Fans in Philippines
Subic Ocean Adventure - Philippines
I watched a Sea Lion show at the Subic Ocean Adventure. It was a pretty generic show where the Sea Lions wave their flippers and perform headstands. What I enjoyed watching more so than the show was the trainers at work. They actually both held clickers in their hands and the sound of the music did a poor job concealing them. I doubt anyone else noticed. I just wanted to post a video of this smart Sea Lion vs Stupid Human for your entertainment. But also as parrot trainers, watch it again while paying attention to the cues, behaviors, bridges, and rewards.
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park
In Kuala Lumpur, I was surprised to walk into a Blue and Yellow Macaw perched outside the Kuala Lumpur TV Tower. With a "hello" it welcomed me into the small zoo behind the door. The mini-zoo housed several species of parrots, rodents, and other small local animals. They offered several parrots to hold for photo posing. Some tourists wanted to hold a Green Wing Macaw but were scared. Seeing how friendly it was, I got it up on my arm and stroked his head. It is always such a pleasure to come across such friendly well socialized birds. At fist sight their parrots may have appeared to be flighted as their primaries were intact. However, upon stretching their wings you could see how brutally clipped they were on all feathers behind the first few primaries.
The avian highlight of Kuala Lumpur is the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. It is the worlds largest bird aviary housing over 150 species. It is split into several enormous walk in aviaries with nets hung from tall posts. Once inside you nearly feel like you are witnessing the birds in the wild because of its enormous size and landscapes. Some birds are housed in smaller metal aviaries inside the larger open aviaries.
Upon entering the series of aviaries, the very first exhibit is a mixture of small parrots and parakeets. Ring Necked Parakeets and Monk Parakeets fly around while behind a divider Sun Parakeets, Green Cheeked Parakeets, Rosellas, and Cockatiels reside. It seems that there is no regard for taxonomy or geographic distribution when exhibiting parrots. Small and colorful ones are housed with other small and colorful ones even though their natural habitats may be continents apart.
A separate aviary within the confines of the greater aviary houses the "World of Parrots" exhibit. Several species of Lorikeets roam free in this aviary but maintain their distance from humans. Behind bars in smaller individual aviaries are housed some more "exotic" parrots such as Blue and Yellow Macaws, Scarlet Macaw, Green Winged Macaw, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Grey Parrots, and a Vulturine Parrot. I was really looking forward to seeing unfamiliar parrot species unavailable in captivity but was disappointed to find that all but one species I had previously seen back home. A mere 20 species of parrot were represented. Heck, I was able to count 35 other parrot species that I had seen in bird stores or captivity in the US that the exhibit did not have. I had really been hoping to get to see some parrots of the 330+ species that are not available in the pet trade (especially native ones).
A crazy monkey was running around taunting visitors and ransacking garbage cans for food. But that's not all. It would climb across wires and hop down on top of a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo's cage. The monkey would then climb down the side of the cage and sneak its hand in to steel sunflower seeds from the Cockatoo's food bowl. Amazing how the Cockatoo was nearly as big as the monkey and it would fight back on occasion and give that monkey a good bite on the hand. But the Monkey was very persistent and it wasn't like the Cockatoo was running out of food so it got away with it most of the time. The monkey was not the only animal subsisting off the Cockatoo's rations. While the monkey was laying a diversion near the top, a giant rat hopped into the cage bottom tray and got a mouthful of seeds. It was out as quickly as it came in.
Although common as pets, to this day I have never seen a single Poicephalus parrot represented in a zoo, aviary, or museum. It sure makes owning a Cape Parrot feel exotic when not even a Senegal Parrot is ever displayed.
There was a large booth with a dozen birds on individual perches available for photos. I paid their fee to get to take a picture with two birds. Most available ones were parrots but they also had several raptors and native birds. I was not going to waste time or money taking a photo with a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Grey Parrot, Scarlet Macaw, etc as I could get one at one of my local bird stores any day. Instead I chose to hold a Palm Cockatoo and a Barred Eagle Owl. I had never held an owl before so that was quite exotic, especially because it is a local Asian species you won't find in the US. Although I had the chance to even see a Palm Cockatoo in the United States, I never got to hold one. They sell for somewhere in the range of ten to twenty thousand dollars so store owners are reluctant to let anyone handle those expensive birds. Unlike the cuddly Greenwing and Cockatoo I got to play with before, the Palm Cockatoo was pretty standoffish. Still it would step up and not bite. But it did not want any unnecessary contact beyond that.
Bird World in Jakarta
I visited yet another bird park, this time in Jakarta Indonesia. The park, Taman Mini, is like the Disney World of Indonesia. Inside are exhibited the diverse buildings and cultures of Indonesia. In a far corner of the park is a secluded bird park. Although smaller than the aviaries of the KL-Bird Park, this one was still quite extensive and interesting. Across several dome shaped aviaries, birds of the region were on display. Again, exhibits devoted to parrots mixed them without any regard. A Blue and Yellow Macaw was housed in a tiny cage opposite a Palm Cockatoo. Although the aviaries are large enough to give any bird sufficient flighted exercise, somehow the parrots always end up regarded as house birds belonging in small cages.
Palm Cockatoo Coin
I happen to collect coins when I travel and had a hard time finding Indonesian coins. When I finally got some Indonesian coinage I was shocked to find a parrot on the face of one of the coins. It was a Palm Cockatoo engraved in the face of the 100 Rupi coin with the inscription "Kakatua Raja" which translates to King Cockatoo. This did not make sense to me as these parrots are not found in the parts of Indonesia that I was visiting. However, upon further research I learned that they do live in New Guinea and Indonesia happens to own a sizable chunk. So although the bird is not representative as a common Indonesian bird, the coin demonstrates their pride in at least having one island inhabited by the majestic parrot.