Rachel, my wife's Blue and Gold Macaw, has been going through terrible twos for the last few years. This is the adolescent period where much changes in a parrot's life. It grows up from being a naive baby to an independent adult. Most parrot owners are quite surprised by the changes that happen when the parrot stops being cooperative during this stage.
The age at which adolescence hits will vary by species. Roughly speaking it's around 1-3 years old in the small parrots, 2-4 in the medium, and about 3-6 years old in the large ones. During this period, the parrot's behavior can change unexpectedly. The bird will be more testing, bold, fearful, and all around cranky. Allegiances with other birds and humans can also become reversed. It's an all around jumbled, confusing, unpredictable, and unpleasant experience.
The once sweet baby now bites the hand that feeds. It might prefer someone it didn't like before or seem all around intent to hunker down in the cage and not even come out. When asked to step up, the bird runs away, bites, or just flat out ignores so what to do?
Predicting that Rachel will go through this, I began preemptive training early to help combat the worse of the symptoms of parrot adolescence. I trained Rachel to step-up using clicker and target stick, taming, harness, and some tricks beforehand. But as the age started to come, Rachel's behavior was still in a slow decline. It is difficult to realize an imperceptible downward slippery slope until it jumps out and bites you. Sometimes literally.
My wife Marianna, who raised Rachel since she was a baby, learned about parrot adolescence the hard way. It wasn't until she got bit by the baby she raised that she got a full grasp of what the "terrible" in terrible-twos means. She actually got to a point where she was uneasy around Rachel because the bites seemed to be random and unexpected. So, to help her out, I decided to do some step up re-training with Rachel to get her to be more reliable at stepping up and off again.
Rachel already knew exactly how to step-up from previous training so it was more of a matter of rekindling motivation for stepping up and lots of practice. It seems strange having to go back to such basics with a parrot that knows complex tricks. But, when hormones are causing the bird to be edgy and bite, it's what you gotta do.
If Rachel forgot how to step up entirely or would entirely refuse to, I would start the initial step-up training all over again from scratch. However, since we caught it in time while she was still stepping up but not as reliably, it was a much easier fix. I just literally went to giving Rachel a food treat every single time she would step up. She got back into it quickly once she realized she was getting food for such easy stuff.
Normally we begin to take step-up for granted because the parrot is usually reinforced in other ways for participating. For example, step-up and you get to come out of cage. Step up and I'll give you attention. Step up and get a head scratch. Step up so you could do a trick and earn a treat. There is usually a subtle bit of positive reinforcement on an intermittent reinforcement schedule built into the parrot keeping lifestyle that I share. However, when the biological changes that the parrot is going through cause it to suddenly dislike things it normally likes and people it normally trusts, you have to go back to much more basic operant conditioning to remind it what to do.
This came as no shock to me as I had already gone through the same with Kili, Truman, and countless bird owners I have coached. However, it always pins you harder when you were the one that raised your bird and you second guess yourself. This is why a clear mind, good attitude, right approach, and persistence really matter. It's all an uphill battle while slowly slipping downhill when the bird is going through this. With good training and the time for the bird to grow out of the age, everything will settle in place.
A little over a year since adopting Santina from me, Lori came to NYC to visit. Lori and my wife Marianna have become good friends and wanted to go sightseeing around NYC and doing bird stuff. They played with our birds, visited bird stores, and did some rescue fund raising in the city.
Santina was in good hands with Lori's friend while she went away. Lori had been preparing Santina and her friend almost since the beginning for some eventual absence. Lori did not know how, when, or why she might not be around to take care of Santina but she knew that the possibility can always exist (even if not deliberate, say an emergency). So, when a trip to visit us in NYC came up, Santina and her birdsitter were already prepared.
Marianna took Lori to the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, and all around New York City. They also spent a long time seeing birds at the Todd Marcus Exotic Bird Store, and a few others. Lori enjoyed getting to spend time with Kili, Truman, and Rachel as well.
Lori and Marianna spent a day in Central Park offering pictures with the blue and gold macaw Rachel to raise money for Ginger's Parrots Rescue. They raised $150 for the rescue. Not only that, Rachael got some much needed socialization and helped educate the public about parrots.
Then came the visit to Santina. We flew Lori back to Pittsburgh in my airplane and stayed the night to spend some time with Santina. The last time I had seen Santina was Christmas of 2016. It has been over a year since her adoption and 10 months since I had last seen her. I was not sure if Santina would still remember me or be alright with me handling her. To be on the safe side, I took my time getting to know her again like meeting a new parrot. I did not barge into the room and just demand she step up. Instead, I let Lori handle her a bit first and then I just gave her a nut. Santina took the nut just fine so I offered her to walk over and step on my arm. She came over just fine and put herself on my arm and got a nut. Santina was lovey dovey in no time. However, if I just assumed that she would remember me and things would be fine, it could have overwhelmed her and led to trouble. It's always best to err on the side of caution and give the bird time to adjust.
Lori put Santina's harness on so we could go outside. This was pretty effortless since Santina was carefully trained to wear the harness and Lori continued using the same method. We walked around her town a bit with Santina and even passed her back and forth between us. I'm really happy to see Santina in such good hands and to see how much joy Santina brings to Lori as well.
Kili and Rachel have been enjoying the fall weather flying in my backyard flight area. They have been building strong flight muscles, breathing fresh air, and getting natural sunlight all at the same time.
I'll share details about the enclosure at a different time but simply put it's a netting enclosed area that is safe for supervised time but not for leaving the birds unattended.
Truman has been left out of the flight activities lately because of his own issues. He hasn't been too eager to flight recall and on the other hand, he's been randomly flying into stuff. He will need some separate one on one attention to get him on the right track. But since Kili and Rachel are already doing the right stuff, I've been focused on getting them flying.
Kili, the trained Senegal Parrot that used to freefly outdoors, had no trouble adjusting to flying in the enclosed yard at all. She immediately knew what to do and did not try to fly away. Kili recalls with great reliability and is definitely my go-to bird.
The way I got Rachel to start flight training outside was to bring her out every day to watch Kili reliably flight training. On one hand, Rachel got to see Kili earning treats and showing what to do. But on the other, Rachel was getting accustomed to the sights and sounds of being out in the yard. It took some time for this to all sink in because Rachel was cautiously reluctant to leave the safety of her Training Perch.
Eventually Rachel started to make sure flights, then slightly longer ones. With time and practice, reliability started to improve. It was a combination of building confidence, security, practice, and exercise to improve muscle strength. Now, Rachel makes 10-20ft flight recalls with ease. As the autumn temperatures continue to drop, our chances for further training are quickly diminishing. Over the winter we will continue training other skills indoors and pick up where we left off with the outdoor training in the spring.
Here is a 360 degree video of Kili and Rachel flight training in the yard. You can move the image 360 degrees by dragging with your mouse or tilting your phone to get a feeling of what it's like having these parrots flying around you.
Marianna and I recently got to visit Steve Hartman from The Parrot University and learn about how the Aviator Harness is made. He took us on a personal tour of the production facility and shares with you in the video at the end.
This article is about how to make a bird harness in a professional way beyond just a nylon strap and some buckles. You will get to find out some of the hidden features of the Aviator Harness that you never knew about. Getting to see how the harness is made first hand, gave me an even greater appreciation of the product that I have been using and selling for years. Much more goes into making it than I had previously realized. Here are some things that you probably never heard about the Aviator Harness as it was pretty new to me as well:
It's all in the material. The strap material used to make the Aviator Harness is carefully chosen for a combination of strength and comfort. Not only has the company tested and rejected a multitude of materials, every batch of material is tested to conform to stringent standards.
Welded, not sewn.. I've known for some time that the Aviator Harness is "welded" but never truly understood what this means or why it is done this way. It turns out that they were originally sewn together but that the parrots would immediately go for the stitches and chew them out. The weld isn't exactly a weld. It's not like they take a hot torch or iron to melt the strap to itself. Instead, they have a special machine that vibrates a pin into the material so fast that it melts together locally. It's quite strange really. The machine does not apply heat. Instead, it uses the friction of the vibration to make the material melt itself. This creates a bunch of contact points that hold it all together that the parrot cannot separate.
One metal slide is all. There is only one point of adjustment on the Aviator Harness and that is the black metal slide. Not to be confused with plastic, the slide on the Aviator is made from black powder coated steel. I got to hold these in my hand and I realized that they are much heavier and tougher than they look. This would appear to be the single point of failure for a harness, but in all my years of using these harnesses, the slide is one part that never got damaged in the slightest.
Grooming is everything. They call it grooming but it's really just a process of smoothing everything out with a torch. There are naturally a lot of rough spots such as the ends, the welds, and contact points on the strap. Each strap is held up to a flame by hand to get it smoothed out wherever there is a rough edge. It might be hard to realize this with a finished harness in hand but when you feel how they come out before they are groomed, you would realize it would be quite uncomfortably poking the bird.
They're already stretched. The strapping itself is pretty firm, especially when scaled down for the smaller birds. I remember how I used to tell people to wash their new Aviator a few times before initial use to soften it up. Well, it turns out that now all of the Aviator Harnesses are per-processed to be ready for use out of the box. They are each stretched, shrunk, or washed as necessary to be soft and ready for use out of the box.
Each harness is tested. Not by a parrot but by multiple quality control checks built into the system. Because multiple different people are involved in the various stages of production, any mistakes or defects are caught early. There is virtually no chance that a bad Aviator makes it out to customers and breaks allowing the bird to fly away. They are pulled and checked over many times to make sure this does not happen.
They're made in the US. The Aviator Harnesses are made in the US by US employees. Steve employs local college students part time in addition to full time employees to produce the harnesses. He explained to me that he tried to have them made in China but that the quality was not sufficient or consistent enough to satisfy parrot owners. It is really important that each harness is safe and works out of the box but with outsourced manufacturing, it just wasn't possible to control this. So, the Aviator is put together in the US for the highest quality standards.
It takes a long time to make. By the looks of it, you'd think it could be made in a few minutes but that is not the case. There are over 20 steps in making an Aviator Harness. Multiply that by 8 sizes and 7 colors and that is a heck of a lot of steps! As the harnesses are produced, they can spend over a month moving from station to station to go through the various stages before they are finally packaged and shipped. If you wanted to make one yourself, it would take a really long time and even then, you would not have access to the specialized machinery and would have to compromise the quality. Basically, it would not be worth spending the kind of time it would take to make one from scratch.
I learned another secret during my visit, the price of the Aviator Harness is about to go up on November 1. If you don't have one or need another, order now before the price goes up worldwide at every store (including mine).
I have to say, I was genuinely impressed with how the Aviators are produced. A lot of thought, experience, and care for the parrots' welfare has gone into how they are made. It was a pleasure getting to meet Steve and his wife Judy. I'm as proud as ever to be one of the biggest vendors of the Aviator Harness in the United States. Every size and color is available for the lowest price at ParrotWizard.com. Also, please check out my own, personally made, support products such as my Training Perches, Book, and Harness Training DVD.
Here is a video of Steve showing Marianna the process of making an Aviator Harness for Parrots:
The weekend of September 9/10, 2017 was an exciting, action filled, time at Todd Marcus Birds Exotic in Delran, NJ. The exotic bird store held its biggest sale of the year during the 34th Anniversary event. Parrot enthusiasts came from near and far to partake in the festivities.
Face painting, free food, shopping, bird shows, and inflatable jumping pits for kids were just some of the featured activities. It seems that for most, the biggest highlight of the event was the social atmosphere. Folks sat around the store with baby birds in their arms while chatting with everybody.
I was invited to hold bird shows, provide education, and showcase Parrot Wizard brand products. Kili, Truman, and Rachel helped me debut my new Parrot Wizard NU Perch Tree line.
Since my performance area was outside, I kept all of my parrots harnessed for safety. Not surprisingly, they were not scared and handled very well. They have a lot of experience at even more bustling places. However, it is better safe than sorry, so they remained harnessed the entire time.
This presented a slight challenge for Kili. Since she was the main star of the tricks show, she had to get around the table while dragging the leash behind her. It would have been no trouble at all except that she always manages to twist herself up in it. She always turns in the same direction, so with time it gets twisted up and I have to help her fix it. Otherwise, she has no trouble doing all of her tricks including bowling, color matching ring toss, and her baby stroller routine.
I did not want to burden Kili with too many trick performances because we had to pace ourselves for 10 shows in 2 days. I tried to alternate other birds and talks in order not to overwhelm her. Well, she did all her shows and still had plenty of energy left to do more. I could hardly hold her back from jumping on the table and running to do tricks if she had the chance. She could have easily done even more than she was asked to.
I found a good role for Truman as well. While Truman is a bit boneheaded when it comes to doing tricks, he has grown to be a pretty reliable talker in public. He knows how to say "Hey Cutie," "Kili," "Truman," and gives kisses on command. For 6 years, "Hey Cutie" was Truman's signature phrase. He was the only parrot that could say something long and cute on command. Well, a few months ago Kili learned to say "Hey Cutie" as well. The whole time Truman was supposed to be talking, Kili would echo anything he would say but louder and with greater clarity. Kili tries to be best at everything!
Truman was good for a while but then he shut down. He almost fell asleep during one of the shows and then was seen with his eyes closed shortly after. Truman doesn't care. He can sleep through anything. Once he wants to do something, he just does. I guess it's just a Cape thing.
Rachel spent most of her time in the "showroom." She sat around on the newly released Large NU Perch Tree to show how luxurious and sturdy it is. She spent the better part of 2 days straight harnessed on that tree and did very well. She was a bit nervous about the kids bouncing in the inflatable gym nearby. But as the day went on, she got comfortable and enjoyed her new perch paradise. These trees are now available on ParrotWizard.com.
It was a pleasure getting to meet many fans at the event and sign so many books! And if you live in the NJ, PA, NY area and did not make it, there's always next year! Come see the Parrot Wizard at the Todd Marcus 35th Anniversary Event in 2018.
And finally, here's a video recap of the wonderful time we had at the event: