I recently took a short trip down to Tallahassee and surrounding parts of the Florida pan handle. I flew down there with my dad and sister for four days and I'd like to share some of the parrot related encounters I had there.
The flight to Tallahassee was rather exciting as we departed New York through fog and low clouds. But once we climbed over top of it, we were met by the rising sun and blue skies. Cruising along at 8,000ft and 160mph, we made it to Florida in about 7 hours with a gas stop along the way. It sure beats flying by airline where they make my take my shoes off, steal my water, and treat everyone like they are guilty till they prove they aren't a terrorist. I depart when I want, have more leg room than my legs can reach, a lot of fun, and just freedom unrestricted by the terrestrial world we are accustomed to.
Here's a video with some breathtaking views of flight in clouds going down there:
Emerald Coast Science Center
When we were visiting the Emerald Coast Science Center in Fort Walton Beach, I couldn't help noticing the parrot cage by the entrance. Inside was a sweet Galah that allowed me to pet it through the bars. After seeing the museum, I asked the employee if I could hold the parrot for a picture. Reluctantly she agreed to try. She said the parrot is finicky and doesn't always come out. She came over to Kiwi's cage and opened the door. She reached her hand in slowly and urged Kiwi to step up. Kiwi did not bite but nor did he comply. He would pick a foot up and then put it down, turn around, walk away, do a dance, etc. The lady kept following him with her hand but with no luck.
Meanwhile my little sister kept yapping and saying things about me. "My brother is good with parrots. Let him try to take Kiwi out!" she would say. After several unsuccessful minutes the employee was getting frustrated and ready to give up. She finally said, "alright, you can try and take him out if you want but he could bite." She stepped away from the cage as I approached. In a single motion not lasting two seconds, I reached my hand through the open cage door, Kiwi stepped right up on my hand, and had him out of the cage melting away in my arms. The lady started in awe and proclaimed, "he must really like you."
How was it that this parrot who barely knew me for a minute stepped right up for me and not for a caretaker that it encounters on a daily basis? Did this parrot hate women but like men? Or could it mysteriously sense that I'm a parrot person? Well it's none and all of the above. I was analyzing the circumstance before I even reached my hand into the cage. I immediately knew what was wrong when the lady was pleading with Kiwi to step up. I could see her insecurity and reluctance. On the flip side, I noticed that Kiwi was not aggressive and would not have bit her if she was more determined to taking him out. But since she held her hand at a distance and didn't make him step up, he just opted to play games with her instead. The more she chased him around with her hand asking him to step up, the more he would resist and keep playing around.
By the time I was reaching in the cage for Kiwi, I already knew that he was tame, capable of stepping up, and I was not scared of him. This combination of confidence and knowledge of the optimal parrot step up approach, got Kiwi onto my hand on the first try and without incident. If I had waffled, the outcome may have been different. But using the approach I describe in that other article, I give the parrot enough time to feel safe and realize what's happening but not enough time to decide to do something different. Also, although I gave him the freedom to choose not to come to me (asking for step up rather than just grabbing), I guided his choice by swinging my hand toward him at a non-stop constant motion that if he didn't step up it would slice through his legs forcing him to step. I'm just trying my best to summarize my approach into words and step by step behaviors to make it clear that "being a bird person" is really just a sum of the behaviors that I perform to achieve the desired result. Thus it appears to any outsider that random parrots just like me but it's because I've developed an approach that works pretty well on most tame parrots (note I say tame parrots that at least know how to step up for someone. I'm at as much of a loss as anyone with a vicious untame parrot that steps for nobody). I explained some of this to the lady hoping that it may give her a better chance of working with Kiwi in the future and not getting discouraged. I hoped to demonstrate to her (and to you) that it is the method and not necessarily the person that allows it to work.
Not being scared of the parrot and being confident that I could get it out were major factors. Parrots don't like people who are scared of them because they are more shaky and unpredictable. Nor do they like people who are too forceful either. There is an ideal middle ground approach that is the culmination of confidence and respect for the animal. I wasn't scared for several reasons. First of all he already let me pet him through the cage bars and I saw that he didn't try to bite the employee. But more importantly, realizing that this parrot which is the size of Truman (Cape Parrot) and beak the size of Kili's (Senegal Parrot), that he really couldn't do much to scare me and I could work through it safely. Thus I made a friend and made Kiwi's day. And hopefully not only the museum employee could learn something from it but you as well!
Gulf World Marine Park
An unexpected highlight of the trip turned out to be the Gulf World Marine Park. I've been to lots of Aquariums but this one was a bit different. First of all, this was the most commercialized one I've ever encountered. They skipped all the boring (yet rare and educational) fish exhibits. Instead they just featured the stuff visitors want to see like sting rays, penguins, sea lions, and dolphins. We came just in time for the parrot show and dolphin show! You read that right, parrot show. Now why half of a "marine" park is dedicated to parrots is beyond me but this is a fact. They had about 10 outdoor aviaries and another 10 indoor stands with various kinds of macaws and parrots occupying them. I learned that they have over 40 rescued parrots that are homed in cages outside public view but they get circulated around the public displays throughout the day.
I was pleased to see unclipped parrots performing tricks including flight during the indoor parrot show. No need to explain as I included bits of the show in the following video. After the show I got to chat with the parrot trainer and exchange some ideas about training while getting the inside scoop on food management. As you watch the parrot and dolphin shows, pay attention to the cues, bridges, and rewards in addition to the behavior. Can you tell what kind of reinforcement schedule is being used?
I included just some small bits of the shows and recommend seeing them for yourself if you are ever out to Panama City Beach, Florida.
Finally here's a shot of Joe Junior, a 14 foot Florida Alligator I photographed on a bank of the Wakulla Springs State Park.
Don't think so, unless a club/organization can sponsor me to come out. In the meantime, [url=http://ParrotWizard.com/SeminarDVD:1elddjx9]my Phoenix seminar is available on DVD[/url:1elddjx9] so you can see what you missed!
I will definitely look into that! Your articles and videos have done wonders for me so far! I have had my new parrot a few weeks and he already is allowing more handling, has learned fetch, turn around, target and is working on wave. Thank you so much for all you do!