It's been nearly six months since I adopted Santina from Lazicki's. The progress since then has been monumental and this is an update to mention most of it. I have gone from a bird that wouldn't even step up for me to being able to take my entire flock out to Coney Island wearing harnesses.
Here's a list of the things Santina learned during this period: -Step up (inherited) -Touch her (inherited) -Head scratches (inherited) -Go in carrier -Target -Grab -Flip over -Take medication -Open wings -Getting along with other birds -Put on Harness -Socialization (don't bite others)
Santina was already known to be able to step up and cuddle with certain people, but this certainly wasn't the case with me on first encounter. So not only did I work on inheriting those qualities she already had, but I improved them to the maximum extent. I improved her step up reliability to 100%, got her comfortable being touched anywhere as necessary, and went on to do a lot more with her. I set lenient goals and always exceeded expectations. For example I was ready to have to take weeks to get her to step up but she was already doing so within a few days, I was ready to take a month to harness train her but did so in under a week, I hoped to be able to take her to Coney Island before the end of the summer and was already doing so a few weeks since harness training her. All in all, progress has been very efficient and she is doing stupendously.
Santina has been learning to get along with the other birds
I would estimate that I spent an average of 10 minutes twice a day training Santina. Some days sessions were as much as 30 minutes but other days I skipped training entirely. It's not a lot of time but it was always a focused and goal oriented time. For each specific thing I taught her, we would have a burst of focused training and in between training new things we would just take time off or review known behaviors. The time off between training to let things sink in is nearly as important as the time training itself.
This DVD features Santina and covers the entire harness training process from start to finish. You can see the exact steps I took to teach her to want to wear the harness and assist me in putting it on. The DVD covers 6 days of training and the 50 minute section of harness training equates to about 1/4 scale. In other words, some repetitions were cut out and the real training was only about 4 times as much as what you see in the DVD. Put a different way, that's just 3 hours of training or 6x 30 minute sessions. That's nothing! In a single outing, I can spend more time out with Santina wearing a harness than all the training that it took!
The secret is, well watch the DVD for secrets. But what I want to say is that you really have to see the DVD in conjunction with my book. The DVD is strictly about harness training and does not teach how to do training, how to manage motivation, etc. The approach demonstrated in the DVD presumes a moderately tame parrot that is capable of at least step up, being touched, being grabbed, targeting, and having its wings pulled open. All of these things are covered in my book and are absolutely mandatory requisites to even think of beginning harness training. I don't know how some people think they will stick a harness on a bird that bites them and won't even step up. Not gonna happen.
But all things said, I taught Santina all those requisites in about 4 months really taking my time. Then I taught her to wear a harness in under a week and spent another week or two getting her used to going outside. Some days I would take her out twice just so she would be more used to being outside and wearing the harness. In 2 months since harness training Santina, I had already gone so far as to take her to Coney Island (a really busy amusement area), on the Subway into NYC, and out with my other two parrots at the same time. This article and video aren't meant to teach you what to do but rather to inspire what you can do with your birds. All you need is some love, time, patience, and some Wizard's tools to help you in the process.
A little over a week ago I took Santina outside wearing a harness for the very first time. In fact, it was the same day that Kili & Truman went to Coney Island for the first time. In the morning I took Santina for a short walk around my neighborhood and then later that afternoon I took her to the park. Throughout the week I alternated walking local streets and taking her to the park.
At first Santina was a little nervous, but nothing terrible. At least not for her. For me, a nervous Santina is very painful because she has a killer grip on my arm. The more nervous she gets, the tighter she chokes my arm! A bird of that size can leave quite the scratches and bruises with just its feet! But as I continued taking Santina out, she became more and more relaxed and my arms suffered less for it!
By the second Sunday, one week since her first outing, I was able to take her to the park and have an easy time with her. Here are some photos and video of that adventure.
Only a few days since Santina's park outing, I decided that it was time to take her to Coney Island. It was just the perfect opportunity. The weather and temperature were perfect, it was a week day so the boardwalk wouldn't be too crowded, and a friend of mine already happened to be there and could help out. My biggest concern was not Santina freaking out but someone trying to touch her and getting bit! Having extra eyes on her would be helpful as well as burly individuals to socialize her on.
Well in the two hours Santina spent at Coney Island, she made a year's worth of socialization progress. She went from trying to bite others and refusing to step up to being calm and having a great time. I was even able to put her on people's arms to pose for pictures and she spent over 15 minutes on my friend's arm. She had a fantastic time and came out a more social bird at the end of it. Check out the photos and video of Santina's Coney Island adventure.
Kili, Truman, and Santina got microchipped and this article is about the procedure and the pros/cons. First off, I'm a believer in leg bands. I think leg bands are the simplest and most effective means of bird identification. Except when medically necessary, I think it is better to keep pet parrots banded. If given the choice on a new baby to band or not, I'd take the band.
Santina came from the rescue without a band. I was told that hers was removed for medical reasons so I would not consider open banding her again. This is why I first decided to look into microchipping for Santina.
The reason that parrots should carry some type of permanent identification is so that if it is ever lost, stolen, found, rescued, or disputed, there is a means of identifying the bird. In the case of lose or found, a band helps provide readily visible identification and may help the bird be returned. A band can lead to contact with the breeder the bird came from and that could help connect the bird to the owner. I also feel that if ever questioned by authorities about a parrot, showing that it is banded can help simplify things quicker. If ownership of the bird is disputed, having records pertaining to the identification can help resolve legal matters. Lastly for a bird that drifts from home to home through rescue, a band may help figure out the age of the bird and other information that may be helpful in its care.
Since Santina came without her band, I will never find out what breeder she came from. That kind of information could be useful to learn more about how the bird was raised and to confirm the age. To ensure that Santina can be definitively identified and because of the higher potential to get lost (since I fly my birds indoors and out), I wanted to get her microchipped as soon as possible. I decided to get Kili & Truman microchipped as well while I was at it. The one case where having both microchip and band is best is in the case of theft where bands usually get cut off.
A microchip is installed by injection into the pectoral muscle under the skin. Old microchips required the bird to be anesthetized and a surgical procedure. The new kind that I got from Microchip ID Solutions is even smaller and requires nothing more than a localized anesthetic. The old chips used to migrate around the body but the new ones are supposed to remain in place. Many clinics are unaware of these new smaller ones so be sure to ask which ones they use or recommend they use this smaller one. The chips aren't expensive and the procedure can be done by a vet tech rater than vet so it is not that costly. A location for the micochip is chosen and a mark is made with a maker. An injection is made to numb the area and once in effect, the microchip is directly injected. The microchip can be identified by a microchip reader at any vet clinic.
Microchipping parrots has its pros and cons. These are both physical and practical in nature. The benefits of a microchip over a band is that it is unobtrusive, cannot be removed, is recorded in a nationwide database with your information, and doesn't cause discomfort. The down side is that nobody can see it and few can use a device to read it.
Only vet clinics and large scale cat/dog rescues are equipped to read microchips. And even then, most don't bother scanning a bird unless it was brought in and known to be lost. When is the last time someone scanned your parrot for a microchip? For all you know it has one and nobody ever bothered to check. This is the problem of a microchip compared to a band. It doesn't ever get checked unless a bird is found and brought to a facility that has a reader.
In a study conducted by Dr. Todd Driggers DVM that found that the new microchips (like the ones I had implanted in my birds), cause very little tissue trauma. In the study he says, "the CPK increased by approximately 300 mg/dl in each bird. In comparison, CPK can elevate with a single antibiotic injection to over 1500 mg/dl. Because microchips do not create muscle necrosis (like antibiotics can) the relative amount of tissue damage to the muscle is very low." He also suggests that local anesthetics are maximum precaution necessary and that these chips are small enough to implant in parrots as small as lovebirds. In 2 days, Dr. Driggers implanted 22 chips in various species and concluded that "no post implantation infections have been observed so sterilization of the chips and a refined implantation procedure has proven effective."
For these reasons I think both bands and microchips have their place and the ideal combination may be a combination of both. However, the most important and reliable measures are the ones you can take to ensure the safety of your bird in the first place. Wing-clipping is NOT a valid safety measure to keep parrots from being lost. Keeping doors and windows closed, a carrier/harness outdoors, and a safety minded approach are the most effective measures for keeping birds from getting lost. But accidents can still happen so for the very unlikely event of one, that's where having some ID on your bird is a great idea.
First a word about each parrot's personality and the role it plays in the flock. Kili is the oldest (at least in my mind because I got her first, in hers as well I'm sure!) and for sure the most aggressive. As a Senegal Parrot, it's just in her nature. But I have trained almost all of that aggression out of her so she is super well-behaved. But there is no guarantee that she won't try to attack Santina and start a dangerous war. Truman is an easy going Cape Parrot. He has been bullied by Kili all his life and has become accustomed to having to yield his perch. He is absolutely non-aggressive and doesn't start fights. He is, however, stubborn and provoking. Until Kili gives him a good bite, he doesn't want to yield. Santina, being a green-winged macaw, is the biggest parrot. She is also a rescue with not a fully known history. She is extremely friendly and non-aggressive with me but she has been known to bite others. I have to be careful with her because she has the potential to hurt any of the other birds. But on the flip side I also know that she doesn't hurt anyone she likes. It will be important to get everyone to be on her good side.
The very first step in the introduction process has been to not do anything and just let the birds see each other through the bars from a distance. I did not want to overwhelm anyone by forcing an interaction prematurely. The next portion of the process is to begin the introduction in safe foolproof ways. There absolutely cannot be a fight or provocation. The birds must only get used to being near each other but without resorting to fighting. Since I am limited in being able to control what my parrots do, I have to shape the environment and interactions for success. The essential thing to prevent for now, is for two parrots to end up in close enough proximity to be able to start a fight for any reason. Thus the challenge is to bring the parrots closer together while keeping them apart.
To bring the parrots closer together without potential physical contact, what I have been doing is getting Kili or Truman in a grab (they like being grabbed so it's no problem) and holding them near Santina. I kept them out of biting range for sure. At first I kept them at some distance but progressively approached closer. This is a way to directly control the first interactions and helps me establish the relationship for both birds simultaneously. What I don't want is for them to establish relationships on their own terms because I don't know what those terms might be. I would rather take it slowly and ensure tolerance and ideally friendship between everybody. While holding one of the old world parrots in my grab, I would use my free hand to give scratches to both. I'd alternate between giving Truman a head scratch and then Santina.
By alternating my attention between the two birds, I deter jealousy and encourage mutual cooperation. You may recall that I encouraged cooperation between Kili & Truman by using the prisoner's dilemma in making them have to work together to get mega-treats. I would recall the birds to fly to me together and unless both came, neither would get the treats. They learned to work together for mutual success. Likewise, by requiring both Santina and Truman to be calm in each other's presence to earn head scratched, I am able to build a similar experience. Both birds were earning welcome head scratches that they would not have been getting otherwise at that time.
While holding Kili or Truman in a grab near Santina, I was carefully assessing each bird's body language. I was careful not to evoke any aggression while promoting responses most closely associated to contentedness. Nothing bad was happening to any bird but only good things. Interestingly, Santina was very calm. Although she showed some modest interest, she did not show the aggressive body language I have come to recognize that she makes when she ultimately ends up biting people. With Truman's approach, Santina simply turned her head around backwards and proceeded preening. This is definitely a sign of calm and trust. Likewise, Kili & Truman showed no aggression and enjoyed extra scratches.
By keeping the guest parrots in my grab, I was able to get Santina to associate some of the happiness she feels in seeing me toward seeing these other birds. They were a sort of extension of my reach. Santina's trust of the fact that anything I present to her is good, also helped. I repeated this grabbed showing exercise a few times.
The next step was to introduce some closer interaction with greater freedom without letting the parrots cross paths. I began working on flight recalls in the bird room with Kili & Truman. With Santina on a stand at the far end of the room, I gave Kili & Truman the freedom to fly in the same room as her. So even though they could fly up to her and start a fight, they didn't. They know how to focus on a training session and ignore all else during this time. This is where a focused training approach comes in really handy when introducing birds. The birds don't even have to know how to fly or do complex tricks. Just getting each bird to focus on some sort of known positively reinforced behavior (such as target) is a great starting point. The training creates sufficient distraction while also inadvertently reinforcing the parrots for being in proximity without contact. Santina wasn't neglected during this training time either. While Kili & Truman would be eating their treats, I would continue training with Santina as well.
By using pellets as treats for all birds, I was able to buy sufficient consumption time that I never had more than one unoccupied bird at a time. While the parrots were occupied eating their treats at distant ends of the room, there was no opportunity for aggression. With time and progress, I would have the birds end up closer to each other. I had Kili or Truman buzz right by Santina in flight to recall to me. They would ignore her presence and focus on flying to me instead. Since Santina was preoccupied eating her own treat during that time, she had little reason for concern either. Interestingly, Santina was not bothered or surprised to see these flying birds despite being clipped and living around clipped birds.
To take things even further, I began finding reasons to give a nut to each bird and putting them near each other to eat it. A nut is a really big deal for all of my birds and it keeps them so occupied that they notice little else while consuming it. I would have each bird do something to earn a nut and then put each on adjacent perches. None of the perches were in stepping distance of each other but the flighted parrots could easily hop or fly the gap if they really wanted to. But since all birds were preoccupied enjoying their nuts, nobody went anywhere and the all of the parrots had practice being in each other's proximity without doing anything undesirable.
These early introductions have been very successful. I will continue training the parrots near each other while maintaining separation. With time the separation will be reduced. I will also take the parrots places together. I have found that travel and socialization really brings parrots together in their familiarity with each other but not the new places. Lastly, at some eventual times the parrots will inadvertently come in each others immediate proximity and I will be evaluating the outcomes and whether or not they can be let together for any extended or unsupervised spans of time.
This is not an absolute approach to parrot introductions but it works well for me. This is the method by which I originally introduced Kili & Truman to each other and it worked. Now I am using the same for Santina. Having a good training background and well-behaved parrot in the first places are important requisites to having success with this introduction approach. So if you haven't already, check out my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots to help you get to a point where applying this kind of training, being able to grab your parrots, etc are all possible in order to take advantage of these introduction techniques.
I have now had Santina for over 3 months but because of her questionable health, I had to keep her separate from Kili and Truman on prolonged quarantine. Now that she has taken medication and her infection cleared up, things are all set for the introduction.
Since it is difficult to impossible to truly disinfect colored toys and large porous perches, I opted to play it safe and discard all of the old stuff. Having already spent thousands on her vet care, what is loosing a few toys to make sure this illness doesn't rear its ugly head again? Since Santina would need a new stand in the big room anyway, I took this opportunity to set things for the long run.
I bought a ton of different branches and got to work piecing them together for a macaw megastand. This one incorporates more branches than the original and is entirely free hanging for easy cleaning. I also think that hanging stands are ultimately more natural for birds because they incorporate some natural motion and sway. This stand is so big and heavy that it is stable enough that Santina was not bothered by it. In fact one of the first things she did was to climb up to a high swing mounted on the already hanging structure.
Santina spent all day watching me build her new housing so she was more prepared for it when the time came to try. A tour of the room and features coming soon but in the meantime here are photos and video of Santina's new crib.