It has been a tumultuous few years between adopting Santina, inheriting Rachel through marriage, and having sick birds all over the house. But now, for the first time in over a year, Truman gets reunited with the flock.
The last time Truman had seen Rachel (not counting a brief distant encounter at the wedding), was while I was birdsitting Rachel after the NYC Parrot Adventures Group outings at which I met Marianna. When Marianna moved in with Rachel, we opted to keep Rachel separate while the original three (including Santina) were dealing with health problems in the bird room. Every time we medicated the three, it would appear that Kili and Truman would do better but Santina's condition would return and then some weeks later, everyone else was back to square one.
We decided to experiment with quarantining every bird from each other. This was very difficult and time consuming with hand washing or showering between visiting each bird. After several medications and a lot of time passing, Kili and Rachel improved. Santina was still doing badly and Truman was a bit questionable. So, we had to juggle birds around and do a lot of sanitizing in order to get Rachel and Kili together in the bird room and Santina and Truman quarantined separately.
This September, I rehomed Santina to Lori in Pittsburgh. This was an effort to harmonize my own flock while getting Santina and Lori a wonderful pet situation. Mostly, Truman was doing better but now and then he was still symptomatic. We ended up giving him one more round of medication before going any further.
Without contact with Santina and since medication, the birds appear to be doing well so now it is time to have Truman united with Kili and Rachel. We thoroughly cleaned and sanitized Truman's cage, replaced all of his toys/perches with new ones, and were ready to move him in with the other birds. Just one more thing to do, to give Truman a really thorough washing. Marianna got him really soaked and clean before reintroducing him to the flock.
This is not the first time Truman was reunited with Kili. There was the time Truman was lost for a few days. Also, there were times that Marianna would take Truman to her home for some days at a time. So, it was not a massively surprising situation for Kili, but after going so long without him, she certainly displayed a lot of excitement. Rachel was curious but mainly indifferent. For now he will stay in the same room but a little bit separate during the adjustment period. Check out this video of the Trained Parrot flock reunion:
So it's been 6 months since I adopted Santina; but it's also been a few months since the macaw was introduced to the other two. I'd like to take a little time to talk about the flock dynamics that are emerging.
Initially, Kili had been an only bird. Then for a short time she shared the household with a budgie and eventually with Truman. The dynamic between Kili and Truman had always been where Kili was boss. Kili could take any perch from Truman at any moment. Truman got used to being the "little bird." Now things changed yet again with the addition of another bird.
Whenever considering the addition of another bird it is absolutely essential to consider how this bird will fit into the existing flock structure. You can't just simply say "I want this kind" and disregard whether existing birds will agree or not. When it comes to Kili, I know that she will bully any bird that is smaller or several times her size. This is why when I got Truman, I was only considering birds that were bigger than her that could handle the aggression. Even at triple her weight and 1.3x her size, Truman tends to lose most fights to her.
Santina is obviously much bigger than the other two but her personality also plays a big factor. She's not aggressive, she's slow, hulking, lazy. These qualities make her a lesser threat to the existing smaller birds. In fact, she would not go after them and they could out fly her any time, even if she could fly. So that's one side of the issue eliminated. On the flip side, the biggest danger is if the little guys put themselves in the way.
Initial introductions were to build favorable first impressions, start peacefully, and get the birds used to being around each other without causing trouble. However, beyond this early acceptance, the rest they have to work out on their own. This happens little by little through experimentation as the birds cross each others paths (whether intentionally or inadvertently).
The only trouble I ran into was that Santina finished her hazelnut quickly and started to pry Truman's nut out of his beak and scared him. The trick is to keep them busy with more nuts or to separate the birds before any trouble can erupt. This gives them a chance to get used to being around each other and not have aggressive thoughts. As sitting near each other begins to work, trick training the parrots on the same perch is also a great idea to teach cooperation.
Another thing that greatly improves the flock dynamic is taking the parrots outside together. Even if enemies at home, they tend to stick together outdoors against all the other mayhem. This socialization experience builds better bonds between the parrots that you bring home with you (with time). I've been taking the parrots out two and sometimes even three at a time. I put them down on fences or benches in close proximity to each other and keep them busy with training and food. They behave very well together in this type of setting.
Interestingly, Truman was never scared of Santina (more than triple his weight and size) from the very beginning. Kili, the bird that fearlessly bullies Truman, stays away from Santina. Kili is a true bully, she'll only pick fights she knows she can win. Truman on the other hand is the bumbling dodo. Truman will cross Santina's path thoughtlessly. And I want to reiterate that he's doing this in a non-aggressive way. When Kili goes after Truman, you can tell it is with malicious intentions. Truman on the other hand, doesn't actually go after Santina but he walks by her entirely focused on whatever he is after. Truman does not notice the far bigger macaw perched there and brushes right by her. His behavior comes off as bold. But his boldness is not in him thinking that he can take on the bigger bird but him not thinking at all. This is how Truman lands himself in trouble all the time.
This is exactly what happens between Truman and Santina. They have potential together as they are both non-aggressive birds but Truman is a bit of a dummy and puts himself in her way. Half the time this happens too quickly for Santina to react. Other times she runs away not knowing how this little bird can be coming right at her. Sometimes she puts her beak out defensively though. She does not attack or bite but simply tries to defend herself. Truman has been known to try to land on her and she needs to send him a reminder that her head is not a landing pad. Here's a video that perfectly illustrates the sort of character that Truman is:
Just over a week since introducing the parrots to each other, flock dynamics have greatly improved. I would not yet call Kili and Truman friends, but they are definitely more tolerant of each other. What I have been doing to catalyze their reconciliation is to force them to be closer and closer together and yet prevent fighting through positive reinforcement.
Kili has quickly learned that when she is close to Truman, she is more likely to get treats. When her beak is full she cannot fight. When she's not fighting, she gets cued tricks and gets treats. A short squabble happens from time to time but is usually the result of one bird getting in the other's way rather than any kind of deliberate aggression. Lately I've been seating them on a 12 inch perch together which forces them to be closer than they would ever naturally be. Neither one wants to give up the perch because that's where the training and treats are going on. So they just learn to deal with each other in favor of getting attention and treats from me.
Let me mention that there has not been any serious fighting or I would not be forcing them to be so close. At most they beak spar or take a lunge at each other but no damage has been done whatsoever. Most of the fighting comes from Kili but Truman is to blame for much of it as well. Normally it starts when Truman infringes Kili's space. The good news is that he is learning very quickly not to bother Kili and he is also learning to read her body language. I can see Truman back away when Kili starts signaling with aggressive body language but before she actually snaps.
So between the park visits, active training, and ultimately getting bored of fighting, the parrots are definitely doing much better with each other. In the park they can sit near one another and not bother each other at all. At home, Kili rarely flies over or makes any effort to attack Truman from afar. All remaining squabbles are coming from impeding each other's space and only when I set up that situation. So while at first while keeping them further apart, Kili used to specifically jump to his perch to attack him, now I can keep them on the same perch in the first place without fighting. Now with any greater distance apart, Kili doesn't even pay attention to Truman and goes about her own parrot business. Flock dynamics are definitely improving.
In the video you can see them chewing sticks together. It's good that they are more focused on this than fighting with each other. It's just a matter of practice now. The more time they spend near each other in a positive way, the less likely they'll be to fight each other in the future.
Fortunately Truman is quite tame from the breeder. He already steps up and allows touching. However, there are some additional taming exercises that I must do with him in order to prepare him for some tricks that I would like to teach him down the line. Furthermore these taming behaviors make maintenance easier as well. The two things I am working on are laying on his back in my hand and letting me pull his wings open.
I have been using a combination of modeling, flooding, positive, and negative reinforcement to begin taming these behaviors. The modeling involves having Truman watch me hold Kili on her back and open her wings. Kili doesn't mind these at all and I don't have to give her treats but I do just so Truman can see he can get treats for it too. Flooding involves the fact that I just do it. I flip him on his back or open his wings whether he wants to or not. He just has to get used to it happening to him. The negative reinforcement is that I flip him back up or let go of his wing when he relaxes and stops resisting me. The positive reinforcement is that I give him a treat upon completion of each behavior.
By using all methods of training in combination, not only can I catalyze learning but also prevent over use of any one method. While I don't want to be too forceful by using flooding and make him phobic, I also do not want him to be overly treat dependent and refuse otherwise. Here is a step by step guide for how to tame a parrot to let you roll it on its back or open its wings:
Rolling parrot on back:
1) The parrot must already know how to step up and be comfortable with you touching it 2) Put your hand on its back and slowly roll it back 3) Stop when the bird starts getting uncomfortable (even if it is not full reclined) 4) Hold that position briefly 5) Upright the parrot and reward 6) Repeat with incremental increase of angle and duration
Opening parrot's wings:
1) The parrot must already know how to step up and be comfortable with you touching it 2) Put your hand under the parrot's wing and press it up slightly to raise the wing under armpit 3) Hold briefly, release and reward 4) Pull gently by the solid front part of the tip of the wing and hold open briefly, release and reward 5) Repeat and progressively open further and hold longer
Here is a video of a taming session with Truman. The video is quite long but I recommend watching it through entirely because I demonstrate different things throughout the video and provide helpful tips as I go. This is a real training session in progress. There are no final results yet but even by the end of the taming session Truman is less resistant to the exercises.
Taming your parrot to lay on its back is not only useful for teaching the play dead trick but also to be able to hold it to trim its nails and to be able to carry it from place to place. Taming the parrot to open its wings is not only useful for training the wings trick but also can be used to inspect wings for broken feathers, clipping, and putting on a harness. Remember that this can be a long gradual process that requires a lot of patience and practice. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or months before you see results. However, if you practice these taming behaviors a few times a day over a long period of time, the parrot will get used to this and allow you to do it even without treats. Once your taming is complete, be sure to practice these behaviors on occasion so that the tameness is not lost.
Finally I'd like to mention that Kili and Truman are beginning to get along much better to the point that they were sitting together on a 12 inch perch and not even fighting.
The relationship between Kili and Truman is definitely improving. They are becoming more used to each other's presence and aggressive outbursts are becoming fewer. Kili is even starting to like this "Truman Trick." She is learning that she has to not attack Truman and then she gets treats for it.
This time I gave an almond to each parrot (although I had them do a recall each to earn it first). This was again one of those two in one sessions where Truman can model some handy skills from Kili and meanwhile she can learn to tolerate Truman. Truman got to watch Kili skillfully work her almond and perhaps pick up a few tips. Kili got to enjoy an almond in its entirety just for being near Truman. Mind you, I do not feed an entire almond to Kili very often.
Truman is not yet adept at working open an almond but he is definitely learning. This was the first time he had actually successfully broke it on his own after watching Kili. While it did take him twice as long, he had the patience and perseverance to work at it till he could finally get some tasty nut out of the shell.