Tag Archives: parrot

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

‘Tis the Season To Address Those Hormones

Recall training Suki and Murray, a bonded pair of parrots.
Recall training Suki and Murray, a bonded pair of parrots.

A few times a year many parrot owners and caretakers see and experience the behavior changes hormones can have with the parrots we live with and love. Are you seeing these changes now? I know I am seeing them with the a few of the birds we have here. I want to share some of the key factors we implement when we see these behavior changes arise.

One of the first things we will do is bump up the training, complexity of training, or amount we are training. Training is the best form of communication we have with our parrots and we all do it whether we know it or not. With each time we walk by a cage, talk to a bird or if the bird can hear or see us, we are training that bird. The key question is “What exactly are we training?” Are we training the bird to lung quicker as we walk by? Are we training the bird to scream louder, longer, and earlier each day? Are we training the bird to run longer distances in chasing us? So many times I see people unknowingly train undesired behaviors and train them very well.

Colleen, a client, teaching her amazon to touch its beak to a stick. This is a great way to get a bird to move from point A to point B with no contact, if desired.
Colleen, a client, teaching her amazon to touch its beak to a stick. This is a great way to get a bird to move from point A to point B with no contact, if desired.

When we increase the interaction through training, at the same time we are also modifying food. By modifying I do not mean taking food away. I mean we observe which foods the bird eats first out of its dish or foraging toys, then we set those foods and other desirable treats aside to be delivered in the same amount throughout the day but as positive reinforcers for behaviors we want to see increase. Why not positively reinforce the behavior of the bird being calm as we walk by the cage? Why not reinforce the bird for doing behaviors other than screaming?

Another major key is to give the bird something other to do than regurgitate on toys or practice other behaviors associated with ‘being hormonal’. We provide choice and complexity into the bird’s environment through foraging and gradually increasing the complexity in the foraging toys as the birds continue to figure out how to get the food or treats out of the toy. Keep those toys changing and keep the bird engaged in and with those changing toys. The same toy can become extremely predictable to a parrot. Studies show that predictability can lead to boredom and when a parrot is bored they will then move on to other behaviors that are usually not desired by us. I always say “If your bird is not engaged with the toy and just walking by them, they aren’t toys. They are objects in their way!” Give them less opportunity to practice undesired behaviors. Do this by replacing the opportunity to practice them with other behaviors.

Flight or other equivalent exercise burns off a lot of built up energy. Flight mixed with training is a great way to give the bird other things to do beside screaming or lunging. Recall train them, meaning train them to run or fly to you when called. Train them to hop to your hand and each time they do, reinforce that behavior. Gradually increase the distance until you are in another room and they are running or flying to you from other rooms. This burns off a lot of energy and mixes all of the above suggestions into one. Training, foraging for food through training by flying to your hand, and flying or running to you.

Keep your birds trained doing the things you want them to do rather than letting them practice behaviors you don’t want them to do. The longer they practice an undesired behavior, the more well practiced it becomes. One thing I have always noticed though, it doesn’t take near as long to change a behavior concern than it did for the bird to learn the undesired behavior in the first place. Keep them used to looking for behaviors from you and reinforce those behaviors.

Foraging for the Feathers

Teaching Suki, our blue-fronted amazon how to forage.
Teaching Suki, our blue-fronted amazon how to forage.

Enrichment is one of the most important things we can provide any animal under our care, especially parrots. Enrichment is anything that keeps our parrots engaged, involved, mentally and/or physically stimulated, occupied, and learning. It is the one thing that I think is of the most important to provide to our parrots.

In our initial blog post, I had suggested that you, the reader give me suggestions on what you would like me to address. One of the responses was what we can provide our parrots to help prevent feather destructive behaviors. Enrichment! That is one of several things we should be focusing on for the prevention or redirection of feather destructive behaviors. One of my favored forms of enrichment to provide to the parrots in my care is foraging toys. Foraging is the act of searching for food or treats. I’ve had to teach all of the parrots in my care to forage for their food. It is a learned behavior and in the wild, it is taught by the parents.

When beginning to teach a parrot to forage for their food, there are

While your bird is learning to forage, make the treats easy to see and start with a toy that is easy for your bird to manipulate.
While your bird is learning to forage, make the treats easy to see and start with a toy that is easy for your bird to manipulate. Item used: Natural Vine Ball.

several steps to take and one is to make it easy and another is to start with their favored treats while leaving their primary form of nutrition in their bowl.

If our birds are foraging for their food they are: 1) learning from their environment, 2) mentally and physically enriched, 3) foraging vs. screaming, biting, plucking, pacing, etc. 4) given a sense of more control in their environment, also know as empowered! I want to empower the birds in my care and I want them having as many choices in their environment as I can give them, and this is exactly what foraging can do.

Foraging can also help with getting parrots to want to go back into their enclosures. I love it when the parrots in my care eagerly step off of me and back into their enclosure for the opportunity to figure out or interact with a foraging toy. I need and want the birds to be and play independently from me. I love them to want to be with me too but just as important is for them to be confident and independent. The independence helps prevent anxiety behaviors when I am not with them. THIS is the importance behind foraging.