What Behavior Issues Did You Notice During Thanksgiving Weekend?

How does your bird do with visitors?
How does your bird do with visitors?

How was your Thanksgiving? Holiday celebrations are probably still happening throughout the weekend. Did you see any behavior issues or concerns with your parrots over the weekend? If so, you have time to continue working on them until the next holiday.

I did get contacted over the weekend from people asking “How do I handle this tomorrow?” This short of time notice limits our options. For example, when we know our birds need to go to the veterinarian, we don’t start the crate training the morning of the vet visit. We start that crate training a month in advance. Once we have the bird trained to go into the crate, we keep that training consistent so our bird is ready for the following vet visit.

A few things to keep in mind while modifying behavior issues with your parrot for the next holiday is pay attention to the reinforcers of your bird’s behavior. By definition, a reinforcer is something that happens after a behavior that maintains or increases the rate of that behavior. Let me give you two examples. Your bird says “Hello”. Someone turns and walks near your bird’s cage and says “Hello” back to your bird. Your bird continues to say “Hello”. The reinforcer could be the person saying “Hello” and the person walking up to the cage. Reinforcers aren’t always food. In regards to behavior issues, most of the time the reinforcers aren’t food.

Let me give you another example. Your Thanksgiving gathering is in motion. Your bird is in the front room and you are in the kitchen preparing dinner. Your bird can hear you but can only catch a glimpse of you once in a while. He is saying “Hello” but you are occupied with company and dinner preparations. The “Hello’s” are no longer getting your attention so your bird begins screaming. He begins screaming once every five seconds. He has your attention now! Every minute or so he sees you pass his line of sight. If he’s screaming just to see you, you are reinforcing that scream every minute or so. He’s learning that he has to scream for a minute or more for the opportunity to see you. After about five minutes you walk in and say “It’s all right Boomer. We’ll be done in a few minutes.” Now he could very easily have been taught every five minutes he screams, you’ll come walking into the room.

Are there things you could do if you begin training on Thanksgiving day? Yes, sure there are but it is going to take so much of your time trying to be consistent and paying attention and you’ll have a lot of distractions from preparing dinner, entertaining guests and visiting with family that it can be very hard.

Before the next holiday gathering, start training your bird to say things that will get attention while extinguishing the screaming. Extinguishing meaning ignoring. Ignoring a scream alone can be hard, frustrating and extremely confusing for both you and your bird. Instead pick something you want to hear from your bird and reinforce those sounds while ignoring the scream, if it is attention that your bird wants. After your bird starts giving the desired vocalizations, then begin reinforcing every other time they give that vocalization. Then every third, fifth, eighth and so on. Then begin reinforcing every one minute, every minute and a half, every three minutes, every ten. Now you’re on your way to having a very talkative and singing bird during the Christmas gatherings.

What other behavior issues did you see happening during Thanksgiving gatherings? Let us know and we may address one of your behavior concerns for our next blog post.

Is Your Birds Ready For The Holidays?

Suki our blue-fronted amazon known to dive-bomb the heads of visitors.
Suki our blue-fronted amazon known to dive-bomb the heads of visitors.

The holidays are right around the corner. If you have behavior concerns or issues you want to change, you should be actively putting them into motion right now. If our animals can see, hear or smell us, we are training them. The key question is “What are we training them?”

So many times I see or hear people waiting until the issue is likely to occur to begin training. So much opportunity to set your bird up for success has already been missed. For example, last winter I heard of people saying they wanted to wait until warmer weather to begin teaching their dog to walk loosely on a leash? They didn’t realize they missed a whole winter of training opportunity that could have happened inside the house to set their dog up for success before the front door even opens.

We have two weeks until Thanksgiving. Identify the behavior you want to change. What is it specifically? Identify exactly what you are wanting the new behavior to be. Now put a behavior modification plan into place. Many times you have to start backwards and work your way toward the target (identified) behavior.

Keep your training sessions short but frequent. Many times my training sessions last anywhere from fifteen seconds to a minute and a half. Sometimes desired behavior happens when I’m not in a planned training session. If beginning to work on the behavior concern, I would take these opportunities to let the parrot begin the training session. This is something called “capturing”. Capturing is when the desired behavior happens at any random time and you reinforce it. Pending on the behavior, I will reinforce as I see the desired behavior happening.

It is hard to change a behavior by extinction alone. Extinction is also identified as ignoring or identifying the reinforcer and trying our best to not deliver it. Using extinction alone can be very hard, very confusing, and very frustrating for you and your bird. I suggest not using it alone.

What I do use to change many behaviors is a procedure called differential reinforcement. Differential reinforcement involves two things. Those two things are delivering a reinforcer for an alternate behavior (this is easier if it is a behavior the bird already knows how to do) while placing the undesired behavior on a schedule of extinction, ignoring it or withholding the reinforcer from the undesired behavior.

For example, screaming. I’ve identified Rocky’s

When Rocky first came to us from a shelter at the age of eight, he used to scream once every three seconds accompanied by a repetitive flip for hours at a time.
When Rocky first came to us from a shelter at the age of eight, he used to scream once every three seconds accompanied by a repetitive flip for hours at a time.

reinforcer for screaming. It is attention. I picked another behavior Rocky already knew how to do. I picked a verbal behavior so I can hear the behavior happening. If I can hear the behavior happening I can reinforce it from another room as I hear it happening. Rocky already knows how to say “Peek-A-Boo.” My immediate target behavior is to replace the screaming with the “Peek-A-Boo”. Here is where the differential reinforcement comes into play. Rocky screams and screams and screams. I don’t turn and look at him. I don’t say a word. I know he says “Peek-A-Boo” so I wait to hear it. When I hear him say it I tell him “Good” and then deliver the reinforcer. The word good can be a reinforcer to Rocky but I know close proximity and interaction is a higher valued reinforcer so after I say the word “Good” I walk to his room or closer to him and deliver the highly valued reinforcer of petting him. If I can’t pet him, I’ll stay close to his cage and talk to him.

Another important point is to make it so easy for the bird to give you the desired behavior in the first place. Waiting for the bird to stop screaming can be frustrating for both. Create situations where the desired behavior is likely to happen and deliver the reinforcer. This way when the situation happens where the undesired behavior is likely to happen, the bird will resort to what he has already learned works… the Peek-A-Boo. You have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times for the desired behavior. You have to or your bird is likely to get confused because it works once in a while. Remember me saying “Training is always happening whether you realize it or not. What are you training?”

Happy Holidays and get that behavior modification plan written out and begin implementing it now. You have two weeks to train before Thanksgiving and six weeks before Christmas. Enjoy your holidays. This can happen.

Anthropomorphism – what it is and the concerns it carries

ricoIt’s a tongue twister but deserves the time it takes to pronounce it. What is it? It is defined as placing human characteristics on animals other than ourselves. This was a hot topic at a recent event I attended. It was also a very eye-opening topic, even for me.

Many people anthropomorphize, myself included. An example of anthropomorphizing would be saying “I need to get home and take care of my boy.” Obviously parrots are not our children. I have been known to make statements like this too. Another example was one I thought about earlier today. I give kisses to them on their beaks as a form of communication of my love to them. This is a common form of communication of our feelings from human to human. In the wild, I’m not sure how common, if at all, parrots touching beaks to one another is a form of affection. Regurgitating from one parrot to another is a sign of courtship and communication. Obviously this would not be the case from human to human. I’m laughing picturing this as I type. It’s a pretty bold visual but it does make a pretty big statement. My point is that different behaviors are very powerful forms of communication within a species.
Another common form of anthropomorphizing would be letting our birds sleep with us under blankets. This is how we as humans commonly sleep. You would not see this with a parrot in the wild. Here’s my point with the concern with anthropomorphizing; dark areas and enclosed spaces for a parrot in the wild usually represents a nesting area. There could be major confusion in the communication with the signals we are giving our parrots. We may think we are showing love and affection the way we would to our child but the way a parrot may see it is totally different. Often times allowing our companion parrots to practice nesting behaviors can lead to serious behavior issues such as plucking, lunging and biting, egg laying which can lead to egg binding, and staying at the bottom of the cage with their tails up in the air. Two total different lines of communication from human to parrot. Are we the ones sending mixed signals by assuming they think the way we do? We can assume and many times I see that assumption confused based on the bird’s body language. Sleeping with our parrots can be very dangerous and fatal to them due to suffocation and rolling over on them.
Do you see my concern here? Parrots are parrots and people are humans. From my perspective, we need to see the importance in the difference between the two because we think different and the different things we do could mean something completely different.
Do I anthropomorphize? Absolutely I do. I think that began with my first parrot when I gave him the name Rico. That in itself is placing a human characteristic on a parrot. Is it hurting my communication with him? Not at all. Not that I can see. Do parrots name each other? I don’t know. I have not studied it but I bet there are certain calls they give to each other that helps them identify one another. That could be a name but it is something unique to them. I just make sure my anthropomorphizing isn’t causing confusion and adding behavior issues or unknown medical concerns to the mix.
Let us know your thoughts on this often unclear topic.

The Benefits of Winter For Our Birds

 

PVC aviary made for under $100.
PVC aviary made for under $100.

I am a full-time bird keeper and caregiver, meaning I care for birds at least eight hours a day seven days a week. This is part of my profession. All day every day I think about enrichment, new environments, and new experiences I can offer to my birds. This is why I love winter. Let me explain.

For those of us in the states, cooler temps are right around the corner. Shorter days in the winter mean longer hours of darkness. It also means the less time we can get our birds out in the aviaries. When the sun sets my birds sleep naturally. This means I have more time in the evenings to be creative with their enrichment in the planning of new enclosures or new aviaries.
I love making PlayStation’s from PVC pipes that hang from the

Suspended PVC playstation. All hung from the ceiling.
Suspended PVC playstation. All hung from the ceiling.

ceiling. Hanging them from the ceiling makes for easier cleanup below. I like to make PVC play stations that have parts that can be moved. I make them so perches can be moved and food and water bowls can be moved. This incorporates change on a daily basis to the birds environment encouraging them to be curious if they wish.

Movable perches and water dishes.
Movable perches and water dishes.

Winter is the time I get creative and take a look at what needs to be changed for the upcoming year. What can I change in their aviaries? Large flight spaces can get very boring and very stagnant very quick. This is the time where I rearrange heavy perches that are buried in the ground. And large purchases and swings that hang from the top of the aviary. Moving these things around causes the animals to think before they run or fly. Moving these perches and swings around also helps keep them used to changes in their environment. Changes, based on the adaptability of the individual bird, are good for them. Changes happen naturally in life and the more we can provide those changes at the Birds comfort level, the healthier and the more well-adjusted bird we will have in our care.

Always dreamed of having an aviary or building onto an existing

Suspended playstation hung in the training room. See the perch that gives the bird the choice to come down to our level for the opportunity to interact?
Suspended playstation hung in the training room. See the perch that gives the bird the choice to come down to our level for the opportunity to interact?

aviary? Winter is the time to begin designing  and start making those plans. This is a great time to order products needed to prepare for the spring. When spring arrives you can already have the equipment on hand and available. As soon as the ground thaws, start building those aviaries.

Want more ideas for how you can plan better areas and better enrichment for your birds this winter? Stay tuned for upcoming blog post. Better yet, give us your feedback and ideas here. Let us know what you want to hear.

Natural Summer-time Enrichment!

I want to share one of my favorite and easiest summer-time enrichment tips. It’s August. It’s hot (well not this year but it should be). These are the dog-days of summer and sometimes it is difficult to find things to do with our birds because it is too hot to take them in to aviaries. Whether you have an aviary or not, this can be applicable to you.

What we do here is watch the forecast. 100 degrees tomorrow? Take the birds out in the aviary before ten in the morning. Shower them with a mister (assuming they enjoy the showers). Several birds love to take showers and several need to be trained to enjoy it. I know I had to train both of my cockatoos to enjoy taking a shower.

When the mister comes on, I ask them if they want to take a shower. I can clearly tell by the body language if they want to or not. I always give them the opportunity to walk or fly away if they don’t. I will encourage them with my interaction, but if they don’t want to, I don’t push it. I need the act of showering to remain a desired behavior here. Sometimes they bathe once a week, sometimes its once a month. As long as they are clean and healthy, I keep their choice involved in it.

All of the birds here get excited about taking a shower at certain times. I take them into the aviary and point the mister up in the air. Usually a raised crest or a few flaps of the wings lets me know it is time for me to move in with the mist over their heads.

The wings start flapping. They hang upside down on their perches. Some fly through the mist. Rico, our Umbrella enjoys flying to the ground, flapping his wings and hopping through the mist. With all of this activity, this is great exercise and both mental and physical stimulation for the birds. Even better yet, we are involved with them, keeping our relationships strong.

About fifteen minutes of showering, flapping wings, screaming from excitement, and hopping around, wears a bird out pretty quick. What comes to follow is drying, preening, and a nap. The whole scenario should take up at least a few hours and a few hours of of quiet can be priceless.

I hope everyone’s summer is going well. I have several topics in mind for upcoming blog posts. If you have suggestions, let us know.

 

 

 

Top Behavior Concerns with Our Companion Parrots

Building or rebuilding the relationship with a parrot is very accomplishable.
Building or rebuilding the relationship with a parrot is very accomplishable.

Yesterday I gave a webinar on Taking The Aggression Out Of Living with Your Parrot. One of the attendees was a volunteer at a shelter on the east coast and she is also a parrot behavior consultant.  We were all discussing the top three behavior concerns we are contacted about. By far, the number one reason I am contacted is for aggressive behaviors such as lunging, biting, and chasing. The number two reason I am contact is for screaming. The third reason I am contacted is probably cage-bound birds. By this I mean, the owners or caretakers cannot get their bird out of the cage because it doesn’t want to come out.

I was discussing with them one behavior issues I am least contacted about is feather destructive behaviors (fdb’s). I’m not necessarily sure why this is. I’ve talked to several people who have birds with fdb’s. The first thing I will ask is if they have ruled out medical conditions. If they have, the chances are highly likely this is a behavior issue. We also talked about something called ‘the history of reinforcement’. Undesired behaviors can be easily reinforced. These undesired behaviors exist because they are being reinforced. If they weren’t being reinforced, they wouldn’t exist. They key is finding out what the reinforcer is and many times it isn’t one event in particular.

One of the first things I will suggest is getting your bird to forage. On my list of behavior approaches in changing a behavior, foraging is a must! You can teach this behavior and it is taught to wild birds by their parents. Foraging is getting them to search for their food. There is an approach to teaching this.

The second on my list is start training the bird. You can teach an old bird new tricks. Absolutely! I do it here all of the time. You are training your bird each time it can see you or hear you whether you realize it or not. The key question is “What are you training it?” Make sure you do you research on your approach to training. I am consistently approached by people who have tried training from things they’ve read or watched on the internet. Please be extremely careful with this. Search for people willing to help you using positive reinforcement. I would also find someone that studies Applied Behavior Analysis. If you are using force or taking choices away from your parrot, this may work, but not without its consequences.

Third on my list is exercise. If the bird can fly, I will begin recall training immediately. Recall training is getting the bird to fly or come to you when you ask it to. Make sure there is something in it for the bird when they give you the behavior, otherwise they may not voluntarily do it again. Remember, we only use food here about half of the time as a reinforcer for requested behavior. If the bird can’t fly, I still begin the training on getting it to run to me when I ask. The bodies’ of most parrots have evolved to fly for several miles a day. Keeping these awesome animal in our care, we need to find a way to expel some of this energy. I will encourage flight or running by their choice and making sure they are completely comfortable with what I am asking them to do.

These are the three steps I begin with every bird. Forage, train, and exercise. It is easy for behavior issues to exist where other behaviors are not present or known. So, teach these alternate behaviors.

Let us hear your feedback. Ask us questions and let us know what you would like to see in future blog posts. Thank you for following along and feel free to share this post with other parrot lover’s you know.

Fireworks and Our Birds

RockyThe 4th of July, a time of celebration but for whom? This can be a very scary time of year for the birds in our care. I see the concern in posts all over social media. It is a common concern with so many animals. I’m writing this blog post to tell you what I do with my animals, but will focus this just to the birds, to help them prepare for the sounds that are out of our control.

Not only do birds have a great sense of sight but they also have what is called Herbst Corpuscles and they are found in their beak, their feet, and their tongue. These help them pick up vibrations through where they are perched or in water. This is why birds are long gone before a natural disaster. They can feel it before they see it. Their opportunity to flee is restricted in our care.

Following are some immediate steps you could take. Cover the cage. You could cover the cage to help with the lights and even the sounds. I know with the wildlife volunteer work that I do, we always cover a bird in a carrier to induce the least amount of stress possible. This won’t take all of the stress out of the bird’s environment but it will help.

Another would be to turn up the tv in the room or turn it on. I’m not advising to crank it up but I would put it at a volume that would help drown out some of the noise of the fireworks. Again, this may not alleviate all of the stress but it could help.

Another thing you could do is stay home with your bird. Stay home and try to distract the bird’s attention while the fireworks are going off. Just as with dogs, don’t make it a big deal and dote on the bird and keep asking if it is all right. Try acting like its not a big deal and praise your bird and continue to distract its attention by training it! Now that’s a great idea! Seriously, continue to redirect its attention by playing a favorite game. Believe it or not, if you do this, you are training your bird. You are training it to be more calm during loud noises and an environment that is partially out of your control. This is exactly what I do with my birds.

When there is a loud noise here, I use it as a training opportunity for the birds. If I look and see them all on alert, I would say something like “What was that?” in a common tone of voice that I usually use and then call one of their names and say “Good job!” and start clapping. This usually works here and I will immediately see them all start interacting and showing behaviors that correlate with being comfortable. I intentionally take moments where loud noises are happening and turn them into training opportunities for the times when the unpredictable is beyond our control.

So what will I be doing this evening? Nothing. I believe staying in the birds’ room after dark with the lights on trying to comfort them would be more stressful for my birds because they aren’t used to this. Also, because I do the above training all the time, my birds seem adapted to the unpredictable. I will write my next blog post on how I do this with my birds. Happy 4th of July!

Aggression Serves Its Purpose

Learn to read the body language. Learn what it looks like when it is alert, afraid, nervous, or not sure and begin interacting with positive reinforcers for calm behavior and requested behaviors.
Learn to read the body language. Learn what your bird looks like when it is alert, afraid, nervous, or not sure and begin interacting with positive reinforcers for calm behavior and requested behaviors.

All behavior serves a purpose for the animal, even aggression. All behavior happens for a reason. If you can identify that reason, then you have identified the reinforcer for that behavior. Once you have identified the reinforcer, you can then begin to change the behavior.

A reinforcer is something delivered after a behavior that causes the future rate of that behavior to maintain or increase. Many people think reinforcers are treats or rewards. This is not the case. Reinforcers can be treats or rewards but they can also mean it serves a purpose for the bird and that undesired behavior therefore will maintain or increase. Let me give two examples.

You ask your bird to step up onto your hand. It steps up and then you deliver a head scratch, a treat, or the opportunity to cuddle. If the future rate of that behavior increases, then the head scratch, the treat, or the opportunity to cuddle is a reinforcer for your bird. Reinforcers are not only food or treats. Around here, attention and the opportunity to get petted is a highly valued reinforcer of many of the birds. Your bird is always the one that decides the reinforcer; it’s never us. This is a key point I see very commonly misused.

So commonly I see aggression being reinforced in the companion animal world. My second example: If I ask a bird to step up onto my hand and it leans away from me, that is a pretty clear indicator that the bird does not want to step up. If I push my hand further, the bird may growl. If I persist, the bird may lunge. I have reinforced all of this undesired behavior because the undesired behavior maintained or increased. In this instance, it increased. When I pull my hand away from the open beak, the bird has learned the lunge or open beak gets it what it wants and it will resort to that behavior quicker with the next encounter because the lean and the growl didn’t work. We have reinforced all of these undesired behaviors.

I don’t want to get bit and try my hardest to never put myself in a situation where I will get bit. These forms of body language and communication serve a purpose for the bird. The first thing I will do is work at the bird’s pace and comfort level. I will not push the bird past its comfort level or I could easily reinforce the aggressive behaviors. I first identify the bird’s favored treats, foods, interaction (if any) and I will deliver them for the bird allowing me to get closer and closer.

Aggressive behaviors such as lunging, open beak, biting, flying at your head and hitting you, chasing you across the floor are all learned behaviors and that bird has learned these forms of communication work and serve a purpose for them. These forms of communication can be changed and you can teach an old bird new tricks. I do it all the time.

Identify the desired reinforcers and deliver them for close proximity or calm behavior. Consistently pair yourself with the delivery of these reinforcers while never pushing the bird past its comfort level. This is a very important point. If you do this in short amounts of time and frequently, you will begin to see the behavior change. Look for the really small steps of behavior change. Within these small steps you will see the change. When first trying to change behavior often I will have to use favored treats. If I am consistently pairing myself with the bird’s favored treats or other reinforcers, soon I see the reinforcers begin to change from food to the opportunity to spend time with me. This is reinforcing to me and this is the relationship I want with a bird that I will spend the rest of my life with.

 

 

Empowering Our Birds with Training & Enrichment

Rocky, our 17 year old shelter bird
Rocky, our 17 year old shelter bird

Rocky is my seventeen year old Moluccan Cockatoo that came to live with us about eight years ago from a shelter. When I first brought Rocky home, and several weeks after that, he showed so many signs of not being comfortable with the change in environment, our home, and his proximity to people in general. By this I mean each time I walked near his cage he would hiss and hit the side of the cage with his beak very hard. If I continued to move closer he would quickly run to the part of the cage I was closest and lunge. I couldn’t get him out of his cage for over three weeks. So the training began inside of his cage. Rocky would interact with nothing inside his cage except his food and water bowl and the side of his cage where he repetitively did flips. Through observation, I believe I clearly identified his abnormal repetitive behaviors (such as cage bar flipping, screaming, and methodical movements) were due to lack of enrichment and from being housed in a cage too long. Through consistent training and introduction to individualized enrichment, I was able to start changing these behaviors.

Enrichment is individualized. What one bird prefers, the other may have no interest or simply not understand. So many times I see intended enrichment in cages that the birds pay no attention to. If your bird is not interacting with a specific toys, it doesn’t like it, it’s afraid of it, or it doesn’t understand it.

It took me a few months to get Rocky actively interacting with toys. By ‘actively’ I mean spending at least 25% of his day interacting with toys or a specific toy. I would watch and observe what parts of the toy he preferred. Those were the parts I needed to focus on while introducing small consistencies of other toys parts.

Sometimes I forget how far we have come with him. My videos and notes remind me. He now actively forages for his food and prefers to forage for his food than eat it from his bowl. This is a term called ‘contra-freeloading’. Contra-freeloading is when an animal prefers to work for its food vs. taking identical free food requiring less effort. Contra-freeloading helps keep parrots mentally enriched and involved in their environment. I see this behavior making a difference in the confidence levels of parrots and so many other animals I train. If I observe a parrot that is unsure of its environment, the first thing I do is add choice and reinforce behaviors I want to see increase. This is also why I train using the methods I do. I want to see birds and other animals empowered through choice, control and learning.

Here is a photo I snapped this morning of Rocky foraging through a toy that he would have not interacted with eight years ago when I first brought him home. How long it takes a bird to learn depends on your fluency in training, the history of the bird, the frequency of training throughout the day and more. I see Rocky’s confidence levels rise through interacting with puzzle feeders that he can accomplish. Mastermind Heart Forager.

Continuing to reinforce Rocky with praise for raising the moving part of the foraging toy where it needs to be to dispense treats.
Continuing to reinforce Rocky with praise for raising the moving part of the foraging toy where it needs to be to dispense treats.
Reinforcing Rocky with praise for touching the part of the foraging toy that needs to move.
Reinforcing Rocky with praise for touching the part of the foraging toy that needs to move.

 

The Concerns with Height Dominance

Our cages are tall and our play stations tower over our heads. We train our birds to fly down or want to come down to us by making sure there is always something of value to them to come down, even if it is just our attention.
Our cages are tall and our play stations tower over our heads. We train our birds to fly down or want to come down to us by making sure there is always something of value to them to come down, even if it is just our attention.

Many times people rely on using the label ‘height dominant’ for reasons why they cannot get their bird to come down from the tops of cages or other areas higher than their own head. From the years I have been working with behavior issues and training birds, I have seen birds not come down from over people’s head for sole reason of having no reason to want to do it. If you ask a bird to step up to put it in an area where the bird does not want to be, why would it continue to come to you?

We often cue (deliver signals) to our birds through the routines we do on a daily basis. For example, the bird has been in its cage all day. The person comes home from work and gets the bird out of its cage for its nightly ritual. Once the owner is done with dinner and done watching tv, they shut off the tv and ask their bird to step onto them from the top of their cage or play stand. This is a clear cue to the bird that it is likely going to be returned to its cage. If the bird does not want to be returned to its cage and it has learned in the past if it runs to the top of its cage and out of your reach, it doesn’t get put in the cage immediately, it has learned through previous instances to run out of your reach. We are still training whether we realize it or not. Just what are we training the bird to do? There is no height dominance here. What is here is a lack of reasons for the bird to want to come to you and/or go back to its cage.

My concern with using the label ‘height dominant’ is that it causes the owner to stop or refrain from training the bird to come down to you when asked because they think this is an ingrained behavior. This is a behavior that we can train the bird. Give certain reinforcers such as treats or attention to your bird when it steps up onto you from another area. If you do have to return it to its cage, make sure there is something of value given to the bird after it goes into its cage for your bird to want to continue to do this in the future.

Here at the center, our bird cages are nine feet tall. Most of the perches within the cage are over our heads and many of these perches we have to use a ladder to be able to reach up to the bird and ask it to step up. Our aviary is thirty feet tall with rafters for the birds to fly up to. We don’t have ladders this tall. When we need a bird to return to its cage, we make sure we have a reliable recall so the bird flies down to us when we call them.

Birds are prey animals and most find comfort and safety in height. We want them to feel comfortable and we provide that height to them. Through training and the trust we build with training, we also want them to continue to find comfort and safety in being with us.

Following is a video of an example of this training and trust built through training with Rocky, our moluccan cockatoo that came to us from a shelter. We love having this trusting relationship with him and through observation, he shows us that he seems to be enjoying it just as much as we do.

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