Type: Senegal Parrot
Weight: 120 grams
Height: 9 inches
Age: 9 years, 10 months
Type: Cape Parrot
Weight: 330 grams
Height: 13 inches
Age: 8 years, 1 month
List of Common Parrots:
Monk Parakeet (Quaker Parrot)
Green Rumped Parrotlet
Blue Winged Parrotlet
Dusky Billed Parrotlet
Yellow Faced Parrotlet
Peach Faced Lovebird
Lilian's (Nyasa) Lovebird
Black Cheeked Lovebird
Red Faced Lovebird
Lories and Lorikeets
Cherry Headed Conure
Blue Crowned Conure
Green Cheeked Conure
Black Headed Caique
White Bellied Caique
Red Bellied Parrot
Brown Headed Parrot
Congo African Grey (CAG)
Timneh African Grey (TAG)
Blue Fronted Amazon
Yellow Naped Amazon
Yellow Headed Amazon
Orange Winged Amazon
Yellow Crowned Amazon
Galah (Rose Breasted) Cockatoo
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo
Bare Eyed Cockatoo
Red Shouldered (Hahn's) Macaw
Blue And Gold Macaw
Blue Throated Macaw
Red Fronted Macaw
Green Winged Macaw
Tuesday November 8th, 2011
Many parrot owners do not realize it but they are often rewarding their parrots for being bad. This is positive reinforcement working against the parrot owner and the reverse of our intentions in parrot training. It is as much, if not more important to avoid rewarding undesired behavior as it is to reward desired behavior. This will become much clearer when I offer some examples I frequently come across:
Example 1: The owner is eating at the kitchen table when the parrot flies over and lands on the kitchen table. The owner figures the parrot is hungry or attracted by his food so he gives some food off the table to the parrot. Now the owner can't keep the parrot off the table both during meals and between. By giving food from the table to the parrot, the owner positively reinforces the behavior of landing on the kitchen table. The owner may even think that this is cute/harmless behavior but it should not be encouraged for many reasons. I won't even get into the fact that I don't want feathers and poopy feat landing in my food. There are often sharp objects such as forks and knives on the table as well as burning hot foods and drinks. The more a parrot is accustomed to landing on a table, the more likely it is to get hurt by one of these at some point.
Solution 1: The best way to discourage landing on the kitchen table is to never encourage it in the first place. Never, ever, ever, ever give food to the parrot after it lands on the kitchen table. Landing on the table never equates to receiving food. But the parrot still wants it so this does not solve its motivation to get that food somehow. This is why if the parrot is not caged during meals (simplest solution), then an alternative method of reinforcement must be permitted. Take a piece of food from the table before the parrot has landed in your soup and step away from the table. Recall the parrot to your hand, reward for flight recall, and then send it back to its perch to eat. This way you are not only sharing food with the parrot, but also keeping it busy for a while from bothering you more. More importantly this rewards recall while at the same time making landing on the table even less worthwhile. Don't flight recall from sitting down at the table because this will encourage the parrot to keep flying to you while you are at the table. So instead, before it has the chance to fly, step away and teach it to fly to your hand while standing up.
Kili pigs out on corn and frozen mixed vegetables for being a good bird
Example 2: The owner wants to relax and use the computer or watch TV but the parrot keeps nipping for attention. So the owner picks up the parrot, says no, then puts the parrot down on its stand and offers a toy to keep the parrot busy. In this case, the parrot is positively reinforced for nipping the owner with both attention and toys. Furthermore, what the "no" which the owner perceives as a scold, in operant terms becomes a secondary reinforcer really meaning "you'll get toys and attention for what you have just done" (similar to a clicker). Doing this simply ensures that the next time the parrot gets bored, the first thing it will do is start nipping. Ignoring the nipping may be futile since variable ratio reinforcement becomes more resistant to extinction.
Solution 2: Instead of rewarding the nip with a reaction, foresee the situation and distract before it can happen. So instead of giving a toy after a nip to alleviate boredom (which is seen as positive reinforcement), give the toy before you sit down to do your own thing. Make sure the parrot is taken care of and occupied so that you don't have to deal with unwanted behavior afterward. This way you are rewarding the parrot for being on its stand and taking care of itself rather than for bothering you. By preventing the nip (whether it is caging when you are busy, giving toys before you do your thing, or not allowing the parrot onto your shoulder in that situation), you guarantee you won't be inadvertently reinforcing it. If the nip happens anyway, such as getting temporarily distracted with parrot on you, ignore the nip and do nothing first. Before it has the chance to nip again, put it down on its stand and ignore for a short while some more. Then cue the parrot to perform a trick and reward with a toy for doing the trick. This way there is no connection between nipping and getting what it wants. The reinforcement is provided in return for cued behavior and not nipping.
Example 3: Whenever the owner leaves the room, the parrot starts screaming. So the owner goes back so that the parrot would stop screaming. Please don't ever do this. The parrot is making a complete fool out of you if you do. This is the parrot training the owner using negative reinforcement. If you walk out and the parrot screams, too bad.
Solution 3: Don't come back until it stops screaming. Just leave, go do what you have to do. The parrot will eventually get tired and stop. You have no obligation to prevent it from screaming when you aren't even home for it to bother you. Of course this is more problematic when you live with other people who remain to hear the screaming. But trust me, this will only get worse if you keep rewarding it. For the sake of the long term, just deal with the screaming for leaving in the short term to reduce it in the long term. If for any reason you need to go back not pertaining to the parrot (like you forgot your keys or something), go in without making eye contact or going near the parrot. Just focus on what you need while pretending the parrot isn't even there to avoid giving any sense of attention in return for screaming.
In conclusion, whenever your parrot does something you don't like, don't do anything your parrot might like in return. If you aren't used to analyzing behavior under a microscope, then a good rule of thumb is not to do anything at all because odds are it will just encourage it anyway. Instead, when you have identified the unwanted behavior, try to prevent it next time all together. Cage the parrot in circumstances where it may be dangerous for it to be out. When it is more of a matter of nuisance, make sure you are either ready to give attention/supervision to the parrot or preemptively devise ways to keep it busy. Provide toys or foraging opportunities to give it something to do instead of bothering you when you don't want it. Don't play with the parrot or give it attention just because it is annoying you in attempt to get it. But also go out of your way to reward your parrot for being quiet and staying on its perch. It is easy to forget about a well behaved parrot (as opposed to the one that won't shut up or stop biting). Get up and reward the well behaved parrot with toys, treats, or attention for doing what you want from it. As a general rule of thumb, try to make sure your parrot is "earning" every good thing you do for it with good behavior as a requisite and not just because you want to be nice/generous. If it earned it, then it is far less likely that you are rewarding it for undesired behavior.
Part of: Taming & Basic Training
Parrot Training Positive Reinforcement
CommentsPost Your Response
Posted on November 8, 2011 10:38PM
This is a really great article, Michael! I love the examples you used. This will definitely be helpful when I get my bird.
Posted on November 8, 2011 11:26PM
We really needed this reminder! Thank you!
Posted on November 9, 2011 06:05AM
This is an awesome article. I love that you took the time to make some examples that we can all relate to. I see myself in a couple of those too. Maybe now I can work to correct them.
Posted on November 9, 2011 06:30AM
Hi Michael! I've been reading your blog for a while, and this morning I registered as a user on this site. Thank you for at great post! I really agree with you on the importance of preventing problems before they even occur. Which might be easier said than done though
(I just love this drawing of a grey!)
Posted on November 9, 2011 08:51PM
Very good post, and while I'd like to think that I am always trying to read up, learn and do the best I possibly can for Stitch, sometimes you forget yourself and do things without thinking and the point with the computer I can definatly relate to ^^. Its easy just to remove the parrot when he's in the way and I think it has led to him being more nippy to get my attention. This was a heads up, that just because most things are going well, it doesnt mean there isnt something to improve!
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Posted on January 21, 2014 05:36PM
This was extremely helpful to me. My Sun Conure is a big screamer, especially when I leave the room, as he is more attached to me than my husband. We just moved into an apartment, so I live in fear that someone will complain. I will definitely follow this advice and not offer food, or run back to the room, when he does this. Lately, I have been rewarding his quiet times on his perch with a treat, and he is little by little, getting quieter. Maybe just getting adjusted to the new environment.