It was great having a chance to present at Parrot Palooza again this year. My headline presentation was 5 Things you can do with your parrot today to improve your parrot's behavior.
Here is a brief summary of the talk followed by a video of the actual presentation.
#1 - Double up on toys
Parrots are extremely intelligent animals that get bored easily. They need a lot to keep them occupied. Otherwise they will find other ways to occupy themselves and these things generally don't mesh well with the household. If a parrot is out of the cage and bored, it may opt to fly around and chew on moldings, furniture, your keyboard or phone, and wreak havoc on a home.
Locked away in the cage, a bored parrot may be more limited in what it can get its beak on. If destroying toys isn't the go-to option, the next one will be destroying perches. However, when both of those are short to come by, their next favorite misbehavior tends to be screaming! Parrots love the sound of their own voice, which can be quite loud, and they can go on all day. Unlike you, parrots aren't prone to hearing damage or loss so there's nothing to stop them. When the screaming runs out, then parrots turn to feather plucking or self-mutilation. Once it starts, it is often difficult or impossible to reverse. Likewise, bad behavior is seldom untaught.
For these, reasons it is far more worthwhile to pile up the bird toys and shovel out hoards of splinters from the bottom of the cage than to leave the parrot to entertain itself. You will want about 8-12 toys in the bird's cage at any given time and 5+ perches to help them get around and get access to those toys. Not only do you need the quantity of toys, but also the quality. Find bird toys that will last your parrot about 2 weeks. That means that after about 2-4 weeks, there is nothing but the chain or rope left behind because the parrot destroyed all of the rest. Toys that last for less time are great too but you will have to keep replacing them frequently so it will get costly. Learning your bird's chewing abilities and habits will help you shop smart and find the toys that will be the right level of challenge to keep your parrot interested and chewing for a reasonable length of time.
Be sure to check out the selection of bird toys and particularly the Woodland Parrot line of artisan bird toys from the Parrot Wizard store.
#2 - 12 hours of sleep
It is very important to give your parrot 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep all year round. This not only ensures that your bird isn't misbehaving from being sleep deprived but also helps tone down the hormones. By reducing the effects of seasons, through variation in daylight cycles, you can largely reduce the highly undesired consequences of a hormonal parrot. A lot of biting, territorial aggression, excessive preference for specific people, and unpredictable mood swings can be curbed by managing the light schedule.
You can cover the cage with a black bed sheet when it is time for the parrot to fall asleep and until it is time to wake up. My preferred way is to have the bird room lights on a timer so that they turn on and off automatically to help control the bird's sleep schedule. Some black out curtains or automatic shutters on a timer are also important in order to keep the sun out when the natural daylight period is longer than 12 hours.
#3 - Provide a tree stand
A fantastic way to improve or maintain your parrot's behavior is to provide a tree stand or activity center for your parrot away from the cage. All too often, people allow their parrot to hang out on top of the cage or playtop. This breeds some pretty strongly undesirable behavior. Parrots tend to be territorial and weird around their cages as it is. And on top of the cage it only gets worse. With a tall cage it is difficult to reach the bird so it runs to the distant ends of the cage while you are chasing and it only makes things worse. Instead, having the daily routine of taking the bird to a remote playstand every day not only provides the parrot with something to do but also strengthens the bond.
It's important to provide an extensive, exciting, climbable tree stand with the ability to hang toys. A simple Training Perch or Tabletop Perch is not suitable for this particular purpose. Simple perches are great for the purpose of training or interacting with the parrot. However, when you wish to put the parrot down and for the bird to keep itself busy, a complete tree stand or activity center is required.
Now having a bare tree stand alone isn't enough either. Just like in point 1, double up on those toys! Don't let your bored get bored and revert to undesirable behavior. Outfit the tree stand with toys, ropes, swings, foraging opportunities, and as many things to do as possible. Don't fill the food bowls with food though! Fill them with foot toys and activities instead.
The Parrot Wizard line of NU Perch Climbing Trees provides tree stands ideally suited for this purpose! These, ready to ship online, purpose built tree stands are designed so that your parrot could actually get around on them and reach the toys and activities you set up. The Parrot Wizard Trees are highly customizable to assist you in creating a captivating out of cage experience for your bird! Explore the Parrot Wizard Lifestyle to further learn how you can use the complete line of Parrot Wizard products as behavioral bird furniture to perfect your parrot keeping experience!
#4 - Enrich with variety of foods
Keep your parrot engaged with a more interesting variety of foods. Mix things up and keep it entertaining. Now this isn't to say to feed your parrot unhealthy. It is very important that you research and determine a healthy staple diet for your parrot's well-being. About 50-80% of the diet will be for nutritional purposes. However, for the remainder of your bird's daily intake, providing alternative, fun, and interesting foods will enhance their behavior as well.
Rather than just giving your bird it's favorite treats all the time, holding them back and getting your parrot to explore an assortment of tastes will actually drive better behavior! The parrot will be kept more busy weaving through the different foods, picking and choosing, deciding what it likes and doesn't like. Getting favorite foods all the time just doesn't do that. And a great benefit of this is that the favorite foods will become even more effective treats for training.
Explore a variety of natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds for your bird. Not the typical seeds you see in a bird-store seed mix, but completely different stuff. Flax seeds, quinoa, sweet potato, papaya, and other exotic things like that. You can shop for some special mixes or come up with your own. But as you expand your parrot's pallet from just pellets + seeds to a wide variety, your bird will be more engaged and also drive a higher motivation for training. Which leads me to the 5th thing you can start doing to improve your parrot's behavior.
#5 - Clicker Training
Incorporating clicker training into your daily routine with your parrot will greatly improve your parrot's behavior in so many ways! First and most obviously, you can use clicker training to practice essential skills with your parrot such as step-up, handling, and flight recall. However, the benefits go far beyond just the basics. As you continue teaching your parrot more and more things, you will inadvertently be making the more basic things second nature.
In order to perform many of the tricks that you can teach, your parrot will inevitably have to step-up, be touched, or be in close proximity to hands in the process. As the parrot focuses on dunking the basketball or sorting colors, it won't even notice the proximity to hands or step-ups that it is doing while focused on a goal. This builds a much higher and more automatic level of good-behavior for general pet interactions with your bird throughout the day.
Not only does a daily training habit help build a relationship, it also helps the bird burn off energy in a productive way. Rather than screaming, getting overly amped up and biting, or becoming too destructive, by performing daily training you are having the bird spend energy in a beneficial rather than harmful way! It's a win-win. The bird learns good behavior and the bird is less tempted to engage in bad behavior simultaneously because it is more calm and relaxed after training!
Treat training as a necessary part of your daily parrot care routine. Just as it is important to change food, water, and cage papers, treat training as an equally simple, quick, and essential part of parrot care! Just a few minutes of focused training every day will go a long way in improving your parrot's behavior both directly and indirectly for life!
Grab a copy of my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. It comes with a free bonus clicker and target stick to get you started right away! In addition, you'll want a Parrot Training Perch Kit as a comfortable platform for engaging in the training. Not only are the Training Perches going to make it easy to do the training, they will also help your parrot focus and be in the mood for training every day!
So, there are 5 things you can do to start improving your parrot's behavior! Of course, there is a bit more to it, but these 5 things are a great start. You can start making big progress toward having your perfect magical parrot keeping experience with these 5 things. I hope that this advice can help you improve your parrot's behavior and I hope that the Parrot Wizard supplies I came up with will aid you in making this parrot behavior be as simple to achieve as possible! Wishing you success.
Here is a video of my presentation at the 2019 Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza:
Although you may have seen glimpses of the various special features of my bird room throughout my videos, I have never specifically done a video that shows everything in one place until now.
I had my custom purpose built bird room put in when I moved from apartment to house. I selected the back of the house, immediately off the bedroom as the best location. This puts the birds on the quietest side of the house and furthest away from the street. Also by keeping them close to the bedroom it is actually an effective noise mitigation strategy. The parrots sleep more hours than I do so it is guaranteed that they are quiet when I am in bed. On the other hand, it puts the bedroom (and other rooms) between them and me during the day time when I might choose to spend time in the kitchen or living room without them. This places the greatest distance and most noise reduction for those kinds of times. Keeping the parrots away from the kitchen also reduces the danger of potentially toxic fumes.
While I occasionally get nasty comments about how I "just keep those parrots in the bathroom" there is only a hint of truth to that. No, they are not in a bathroom. The tile walls were deliberately built to contain the mess! However, the current cage room was formerly a stand alone bathroom and the big bird room was at some point a kitchen. I had the house plan reorganized and it made the dimensions of those kitchen and bathroom be perfect for setting up as bird rooms. However, nothing, not even the original plumbing remained when it was rebuilt entirely to become the bird room.
I had to have the electrically wiring run with outlets throughout the room to code. However, I had those lines shut off and tiled over to avoid having exposed outlets near birds or water. The only accessible power outlets are inside the closet which is closed when a bird is out unsupervised. The light switch was initially wired just inside the room by the door like a normal room but then immediately rewired to outside the room on purpose. This way there are no light switches inside the bird room. Instead, I can control the lights to both the big bird room and the adjoining cage room without setting foot inside. Further still, the lights are controlled by a timer so that the birds could maintain a more consistent schedule and receive a more natural tropical duration of daylight and darkness. This way, even if I am away from home, the birds can maintain their familiar schedule.
However, just turning the lights on/off at a specific time would not ensure that the birds are sleeping when they are supposed to. At different times of the year the sun rise would wake the birds before the lights would come on. So, I have a second timer that controls the motorized gates across both rooms windows. Thus in the early morning, although it may be light outside, it is still dark in the bird room and the birds don't go waking up the house and neighbors.
I have an outside door dividing the bird room from my bedroom because it is waterproof and provides greater isolation from drafts and noise than a regular door. The entire bird room is tiled and has a concrete floor with drain. The walls and floor can be hosed down and washed on a regular basis. Except for the cages, nothing else stands on the floor. All of the bird stands are hanging so that it is easy to wash underneath them. The bird stands hang using stainless steel cable and not chain so that the birds could not climb up the cable to the ceiling.
The bird room is divided into the main bird room and the cage room so that a bird could be left out all day while the others are in their cages. Since my birds are different sizes and can't be left out together, this is the most effective way to give them a chance to take turns enjoying the big room on their own.
There are two large sliding doors which reveal not only a closer but also a countertop and sink for washing bird bowls and bottles. Several more closets provide plenty of storage space for bird supplies. The air conditioner is covered by a custom built stainless steel cover to ensure that the bird cannot chew on the air conditioner and more importantly the wires. This also covers the dedicated thermostat. The bird room has its own heating zone so that I can keep the temperature independent and consistent for the birds. The heat comes from the floor which helps evaporate water after washing. The tiles help keep the moisture in so in the winter it is like a natural humidifier, keeping the moisture level more comfortable as well.
Here is a video tour to show you these various features of the Parrot Wizard bird room:
Now you are familiar with the layout of my bird room. Check out the whole line of Parrot Wizard trees and stands to help you create your dream bird room as well!
The weekend of September 9/10, 2017 was an exciting, action filled, time at Todd Marcus Birds Exotic in Delran, NJ. The exotic bird store held its biggest sale of the year during the 34th Anniversary event. Parrot enthusiasts came from near and far to partake in the festivities.
Face painting, free food, shopping, bird shows, and inflatable jumping pits for kids were just some of the featured activities. It seems that for most, the biggest highlight of the event was the social atmosphere. Folks sat around the store with baby birds in their arms while chatting with everybody.
I was invited to hold bird shows, provide education, and showcase Parrot Wizard brand products. Kili, Truman, and Rachel helped me debut my new Parrot Wizard NU Perch Tree line.
Since my performance area was outside, I kept all of my parrots harnessed for safety. Not surprisingly, they were not scared and handled very well. They have a lot of experience at even more bustling places. However, it is better safe than sorry, so they remained harnessed the entire time.
This presented a slight challenge for Kili. Since she was the main star of the tricks show, she had to get around the table while dragging the leash behind her. It would have been no trouble at all except that she always manages to twist herself up in it. She always turns in the same direction, so with time it gets twisted up and I have to help her fix it. Otherwise, she has no trouble doing all of her tricks including bowling, color matching ring toss, and her baby stroller routine.
I did not want to burden Kili with too many trick performances because we had to pace ourselves for 10 shows in 2 days. I tried to alternate other birds and talks in order not to overwhelm her. Well, she did all her shows and still had plenty of energy left to do more. I could hardly hold her back from jumping on the table and running to do tricks if she had the chance. She could have easily done even more than she was asked to.
I found a good role for Truman as well. While Truman is a bit boneheaded when it comes to doing tricks, he has grown to be a pretty reliable talker in public. He knows how to say "Hey Cutie," "Kili," "Truman," and gives kisses on command. For 6 years, "Hey Cutie" was Truman's signature phrase. He was the only parrot that could say something long and cute on command. Well, a few months ago Kili learned to say "Hey Cutie" as well. The whole time Truman was supposed to be talking, Kili would echo anything he would say but louder and with greater clarity. Kili tries to be best at everything!
Truman was good for a while but then he shut down. He almost fell asleep during one of the shows and then was seen with his eyes closed shortly after. Truman doesn't care. He can sleep through anything. Once he wants to do something, he just does. I guess it's just a Cape thing.
Rachel spent most of her time in the "showroom." She sat around on the newly released Large NU Perch Tree to show how luxurious and sturdy it is. She spent the better part of 2 days straight harnessed on that tree and did very well. She was a bit nervous about the kids bouncing in the inflatable gym nearby. But as the day went on, she got comfortable and enjoyed her new perch paradise. These trees are now available on ParrotWizard.com.
It was a pleasure getting to meet many fans at the event and sign so many books! And if you live in the NJ, PA, NY area and did not make it, there's always next year! Come see the Parrot Wizard at the Todd Marcus 35th Anniversary Event in 2018.
And finally, here's a video recap of the wonderful time we had at the event:
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.
A very common question parrot owners ask is how much time should my parrot spend out of the cage? Or they ask what are the minimum number of hours my ________ (fill in the species) needs to spend outside of the cage every day? The problem with this question is that it asks for a quantitative answer to a qualitative question. Here's my answer. It doesn't matter how long your parrot spends outside of the cage every day! What matters is how it spends its time out of the cage!
Too many parrots get their wings clipped and placed on a tree for hours at a time. The tree thus serves as nothing more than another cage! The bird cannot leave the tree and do what it truly wants (at least within the confines of the house). I'm not saying it's bad to put your bird into different “cages” throughout the day for variety but if the bird isn't free, this isn't “out of cage” time.
In the case of social companion parrots, the parrot wants to spend time with you do and do what you do. Putting the parrot down on a stand while you check email is no less boring to the bird than sitting in the cage. Out of cage time needs to serve as interactive time between you and your parrot for it to really count. The parrot needs to be part of what you are doing and you must be part of what your parrot is doing. No quantity of hours sitting out can replace this.
Parrots want to be in the middle of everything, the center of attention, and do what you do. They cannot be content being a passive part of your life.
Cage vs tree
Is the tree not just another cage if the parrot isn't free to go elsewhere by flight? You wouldn't realize how much your parrot likes or doesn't like its tree unless you can observe it choosing to go there or choosing to leave. Despite how awesome I thought this tree is, it took Truman less time to get bored of it than it took me to build it!
The other issue is that some parrots don't really want to be out. In that case, forcing out of cage time only harms your relationship. Grabbing a parrot out of the cage with a towel to make it serve it's mandated “out of cage time” only makes the relationship even worse. It will only cause stress and distrust. The parrot will not enjoy that time and even though it received out of cage time, it entirely missed the purpose of that time. To achieve a great relationship, the parrot should want to come out and to spend time with you. When you use some of the out of cage time to serve positive interactive purposes such as trick training, it sets real goals for your parrot and reasons to want to be out.
If the parrot isn't enjoying being out, out of cage time is actually doing more harm than good!
Use target training to teach parrots to enjoy coming out of the cage
Parrots enjoying meaningful out of cage time (playing with toys) while exhibiting acceptable behavior. I want to encourage as much out of cage time like this as possible but put them away before they can get bored of toys and engage in nuisance behavior
Actually, I don't think there is a minimum amount of out of cage time. Rather there is a minimum amount of daily interaction, minimum amount of positive reinforcement, minimum amount of flying exercise, and minimum amount of a love that a parrot must have. These minimums aren't known so it is best to give as much as possible that your parrot wants to ensure you are not below minimum (as we all know parrots that don't get enough of these may resort to behavioral problems such as plucking).
In terms of good behavior, less is more. It is actually easier to set a maximum value for out of cage time for parrots than minimums. Although the parrot may wish to be out to interact and play as much as possible, if we let the parrot stay out too long, inevitably undesirable behavior will ensue. Almost no companion parrot can spend all day out of the cage without resorting to doing things that annoy us. Whether it's chewing up furniture, screaming, flying to us endlessly, nipping/biting people, or getting in fights with the rest of the flock, these are all the results of boredom from being out too long. To make the most of your parrot's out of cage time, perform parrot training and keep interactions direct and focused. However, put the parrot back in the cage before it has the opportunity to turn to nuisance behavior. If the parrot becomes accustomed to spending too much time out of the cage, it will be less inclined to be well-behaved and more likely turn to nuisance behavior to seek attention or entertain itself. You must use preemptive measures to keep the parrot trained or occupied. However, eventually these run out. The parrot is no longer hungry for training rewards, the parrot has had its fill of attention, etc. This is when the parrot turns to nipping the owner for fun or attention, chewing the curtains, attacking others, etc. Worse yet, whatever you end up doing in response to such undesired behavior (hurt parrot, put parrot away, yell at parrot, say 'no', etc), will only make things worse. The bad behavior is already learned and the parrot becomes reinforced to seek your attention with it.
Put the parrot back into its cage before the onset of bad behavior. Work on increasing duration with time
Thus the parrot must be put away into the cage while things are still good. Leave some desire for next time to enjoy being out. Keeping out of cage time short but well-behaved is far better than long and chaotic (the parrot will hurt itself or the owner will burn out before you know it). As the parrot develops good habits during short but guided out of cage sessions, it will become more accustomed to behave that way whenever out. You can progressively have the parrot out for longer durations but the habitual good behavior will persist for longer spans of out of cage time!
For new parrot owners or owners with problematic parrots, doing short target training sessions for spans of 5-10 minutes and then putting the parrot away for a meal in the cage is a great way to start building up good behavior. You can progressively expand durations of time and introduce more play/interaction with time. Before you know it the parrot can be spending hours out where the parrot behaves in an acceptable manner to people and the parrot gets to enjoy the things it wants while out.
Out of cage time provides room for flying
One of the top benefits of out of cage time to a bird is the space to fly. The cage almost never provides room to fly and even most outdoor aviaries are inadequate. However, in the space of your living room, the parrot has the space to stretch its wings and exercise. The parrot does not need to be flying all day long to get exercise but to make up for all the time on its legs in the cage, getting to fly while out is essential.
The other type of out of cage time we must seek to offer is out of [house] cage time. Taking your parrot outdoors is very enriching. The sights, sounds, smells, etc are all something different for the parrot to take in. Also the bird requires outdoor time for its health (vitamin D and calcium production). Use a harness to take your parrot outdoors as much as possible. Inevitably this turns into focused together time and is a top way to provide valuable out of cage time.
Outdoor time provides some of the best benefits of out of cage time: fresh air, exercise, sunshine, enrichment
It is good to have a fair amount of predictable routine for your parrot when it comes to the out of cage time schedule. Give your parrot something to look forward to every day. But once in a while, break it up. Some days take your parrot out for longer, take your parrot some place outdoors, or leave it in its cage entirely. This helps the parrot adjust to a more varied lifestyle and prepare it for any changes. The parrot should enjoy out of cage time but it shouldn't be helpless without it.
So rather than imposing silly minimums like "A budgie should get at least 30 minutes a day of out of cage time, a conure should spend an hour outside of the cage, an African grey should get at least 3 hours of out of cage time, and a cockatoo needs to spend all day with you," you should put far more focus on the quality of time the parrot spends outside the cage instead. This is the out of cage time that truly matters. That said, try to provide as much out of cage time as you are able but instead of stressing about the exact amount, focus on making it more interactive, exercising, and stimulating for your parrot.
The out of cage time should be both enjoyable to the parrot but also to the owner. There must be balance such that both owner and parrot are happy for this long term arrangement to last. Keep early out of cage times short and sweet but stretch your parrot's endurance. Practice having the parrot out longer and longer but be sure to put the bird away before things can get bad. Having a well-behaved parrot that enjoys its out of cage time is a win/win for everybody.