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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.

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.

Shaping a Foot Target

Teaching Suki to touch the end of a stick with her foot. This is part of a behavior modification plan in helping a client teach her parrot not to bite.
Teaching Suki to touch the end of a stick with her foot. This is part of a behavior modification plan in helping a client teach her parrot not to bite.

I’m giving an On-Line Behavior Consultation this afternoon and just took this video to share in my consultation. Since I just sat here and downloaded it, I thought I would use this as the topic for this post.

First of all, shaping is the procedure of reinforcing small approximations toward a desired behavior. Shaping can, and usually does happen in very small increments. In this video I am reinforcing very small increments of training Suki, our blue-fronted amazon, to touch a stick with her foot. She thinks she has to touch it with her beak.

Second, a target is an object. Any object. In training, you want the target to be predetermined and you want an animal to touch a body part to it. In this video, my predetermined object is the ball at the end of the stick. I want to train Suki to touch the ball at the end of the stick with her foot.

Target training is one of the first things I train any and every animal that comes through the center, or that I am working with. This afternoon, I am helping a client teach her moluccan cockatoo that she just took in from a shelter, to touch his foot to a target stick. Why? Because one of the issues we are working on is his biting. The target stick can get her to move her moluccan from point A to point B with no initial use for physical contact in the beginning of our training, as you see Suki does at the very end of this video. Suki has to take one step to be able to reach the target stick. That is the beauty of this behavior.

Teaching the moluccan to touch the target stick will help my client develop the trusting relationship with her bird and the bird with her. If effectively using positive reinforcement training, the bird will want to begin completing her requests because it will be of high value to him. Reinforcers are always delivered for touching the stick. Soon she will be able to set the target stick down and ask her bird to touch his foot to her finger. Once he begins doing this consistently, she can then target his feet to her arm and she can then move him from point A to point B by herself.

The target is a prop used to a predetermined end, which is her being able to pick up the bird without fear of being bitten. There are several key factors here. One is to never push the bird past his comfort level. If the bird hesitates, there is a reason for it. If you think you are going to get bit, you have probably pushed the bird too far by asking a behavior beyond his comfort level. Second, is to never push yourself past your comfort level. If you are not comfortable with a request you are giving your bird, you need to back up and keep working at the previous step in which you are or were comfortable. If you are not comfortable, it is because you are not sure if you are going to get bit. If you aren’t sure, that means your bird isn’t sure either.

Lara Joseph blogging for My Safe Bird Store

Fun with Murray and Suki in our 10,000 square foot flight center.
Fun with Murray and Suki in our 10,000 square foot flight center.

I am very excited to announce that I will be blogging for My Safe Bird Store. My name is Lara Joseph and I own The Animal Behavior Center located in Sylvania, Ohio. I am a professional animal trainer, behavior consultant, and enrichment specialist with a specialty in parrots.

I will be writing blog entries here a few times a month.  These entries will vary from behavior observations and how I approach certain situations. I will be sharing training tips, techniques, and video clips. Living with the seven parrots in my care, I am consistently focused on enrichment in the form of toys, foraging, flight, and mental stimulation. I will share photos of much of what I do, how I do it, and what I recommend.

So follow along as we get this blog started and expanding in topics. We have a lot of topics to share with you. If you have suggestions on topics of interest in upcoming blog posts, make a comment and let us know. Leave your feedback and help us get this blog started in becoming the largest and most popular blog on overall parrot health and enrichment!


My Safe Bird Store Blog

Welcome!! We are very excited!

In an effort to continue with the mission of My Safe Bird Store, we have partnered with Lara Joseph to bring you educational information on behavior, enrichment, foraging, nutritition and great new products for your bird.

Stay tuned!! We’d love your feedback and any interests on blogs you would like to see.