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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.

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.