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:
A year ago today, I married the love of my life. As we celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, I would now like to share with you memories of that special day.
Sorry that I didn't have a chance to post about the wedding sooner. Right after the wedding we left for three weeks to Australia on honeymoon. Then when we got back we had a lot to catch up on and married life to adjust to. I spent a lot of time editing together footage of Australia parrots so that set me even further behind on getting to the wedding footage. By the time I had a chance to work on the wedding video, it was the harsh middle of winter. I was just posting pictures of parrots and snow. Posting footage of a summer wedding would just be out of place that time of year. So we decided it would be best to wait till August and share with you the wedding on the same day, one year later.
Fast forward to August 8, 2015. It was a cool summer morning in northern New Jersey. Crickets were chirping and songbirds singing. A thin layer of fog formed on the lake that would serve as the backdrop for the wedding ceremony. A few of us spent the night at the lakehouse for an early start. But the majority of guests (and the birds) began arriving in the later part of the morning. Our bird friends Ginger and Kristine were responsible for bringing all of the parrots from our house that day. Once our parrots arrived, we went out to take some pictures.
We continued taking photos with family and friends until the ceremony which started at noon. Kili and Truman not only were the ring bearers but they were also the wedding party. Kili was the best bird and Truman was the bird of honor. It is understandable that Kili would not allow to be any bird but the best. Rachel and Santina, the big macaws, were placed on specially decorated Training Perches at the sides.
At the lead of the bridal processional, Kristine and Ginger brought out the wedding party parrots. Then came the bride with her father. The ceremony was held on a shady peninsula that stretches into the lake. The ceremony went much like any other with the "I dos" and promises of eternity. Kili and Truman helped provide the rings.
We had a tent erected over the deck for the reception. It provided cool shade in the August sun while everyone sat at one very long table. Bacon wrapped scallops, ginger lamb bites, and steak were catered to everyone's delight. For desert, guests dipped fresh fruit and marshmallows in a chocolate fountain. Blue and Jewel from the movie Rio, topped the wedding cake.
Marianna received Truman as a wedding gift. It was his calling all along. His purpose was to make a special someone in my life happy. And like wine, with age he gets better. When he was young, he was pretty difficult. Going through his terrible twos (and more like terrible twos, threes, and fours), he was a menace. But with those years behind him and lots of training, Truman is as good a pet as ever. Marianna was ecstatic to receive this feathered monkey of joy on her wedding day.
After the reception, my bride and I boarded a white stretch limo. It took the long scenic route to the airport while many of the guests took a shortcut to get there sooner. The limo arrived to the airport and drove across the runway. Our guests greeted us at my decorated airplane. We took some pictures and then transferred from our limo ride to the airplane. The guests waved goodbye as the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Sazhin flew off into the sunset. Dreams do come true!
While I sit at the airport waiting to go home, I recall the experiences I had on my 2016 Europe Seminar series. I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences about the events and how Europeans keep parrots as pets.
The first of two Seminars was in Germany. It was similar to the first one held last year. People arrived from all parts of Germany and even other countries for the talk. I am in contact with the German Flieger Club throughout the year as I teach several webinar courses to them. So the members of the club are all familiar with each other and parrots. However, many of them had not seen each other in person since the presentation the year before. The new annually held national conference is becoming as much a social tradition as an educational one.
Since Germany is a smaller country, the possibility of having a single national meeting is more possible. Although distant, even the furthest members can reach the meeting in one day's drive. Most of them bring their birds. It's really a lot of fun. The club is growing fast. So fast, that the seminar was at capacity and required simultaneous presentations to fit everyone.
The German approach to parrot keeping is somewhat different than what is typical in the United States. First of all, the parrot industry is much younger than in the US. Therefore finding parrots and good supplies is more difficult. The typical age of a pet parrot seems to be much younger as well. I can't be sure if this is only relevant to members of the club or of the situation nationwide. But, I can tell you that meeting so many parrot owners in the US, it would be inevitable to come across more older birds.
Wing clipping is illegal in Germany like some other European countries. Every parrot you come across is fully feathered. However, just because parrots are fully feathered does not mean they are fully flighted. Because some parrot owners are incapable of keeping flighted birds in their home, the birds end up cage bound and flightless just the same. So although it may appear that banning clipping might solve things, in reality it just changes the mechanism by which parrots are kept flightless. Educating parrot owners and ensuring that people buying birds realize the consequences of a flighted animal are the better solution to simply passing laws.
It seems like everything about parrot keeping is regulated in Germany. There are rules and laws about all sorts of aspects. Some of the laws are logical but many are not. They are clearly created by bureaucrats and not by people who are accustomed to living with pet parrots. The German Flight Club on the other hand is using education as a tool for teaching owners to take better care of their pets. Senior members serve as a model for newer members and provide help.
Parrot keeping seems like a couples activity in Germany. This is both in terms of the birds and the couples owning them. While in the US, it seems that parrots are mainly kept by single people or by one person out of a couple, in Germany it is predominantly a joint activity. Birds are usually kept with an opposite sex mate of the same species or of a similar species. Husband and wife will handle a bird each or trade turns holding both. Parrots are treated more like children and part of the family.
I came across many homemade cages of all sorts. Homemade outdoor aviaries are more common as well. The average cage size appears to be larger than in the US. But just because cages are better, does not mean that parrot keeping entirely is superior. In my opinion, the birds' diets in Europe are inferior to those in the US. Far fewer birds are fed pellets. Although variety of foods are offered, it is inevitable that the birds are mainly chowing down on seeds and not getting ideal nutrition. While parrot keepers' opposition to pellets as being “unnatural” is understandable, the seeds and alternative diets they offer are no more natural to these tropical birds. The problem is that owner-regulated diets are not guaranteed to offer balanced nutrition. Sprouting is much more prevalent in Germany. I was shown how they use a 3 day sprouter that ensures that new sprouts are coming out every single day.
My Seminar talks went well. Because most of the people have already been at it for 1-2 years, we were able to talk about more advanced topics than last year. It is nice to watch the progress and see people coming along. Even people who couldn't lay a finger on their birds a few years ago, were now bringing them to the seminar and able to put an Aviator Harness on them.
Like on my first visit to Germany, the second day was a nature walk with a massive number of owners and their pet parrots on Aviator Harnesses. Much was the same as last year except there were more participants and things went smoother.
I was greeted by a whole welcoming committee when I arrived to the Czech Republic. Unlike with the Germans, I really had very little idea what was going to happen. Not only have I done a seminar in the past with the German group, but the organizers speak English so we maintain direct contact. English is far less common in the Czech Republic and the little bit of communication I had with the organizers was through google-translated emails. The good news was that I had several extra days to spend with the organizers and get to know them.
I was originally contacted by Lukas Ruky nearly a year ago. He contacted me requesting me to do a freeflight course in the Czech Republic. It wasn't practical for me to travel to the one country alone. But when my second seminar in Germany was confirmed, it was a superb opportunity to combine two seminars. Because the initial contact was about flight training and I had little contact with the organizers since, I really was not sure of what I would be presenting at the Seminar. It sounded like an expert group looking for advanced advice.
But as I got to know the people and their parrots, I discovered that in fact parrot training is at it's absolute infancy in the Czech Republic. The organizers took me to 3 different parrot owner's homes so I could get to know them and their birds. Instead of coming across parrot experts, I encountered ordinary parrot keepers that wanted to learn the simple things every owner wants to learn. How to teach the parrot to step up? Not to Bite? Wear a harness to go outside? These are all the topics I am best in and it was no trouble at all coming up with topics for the seminar.
At first I was confused. The translator would tell me the organizers will have me visiting this breeder and that breeder. Then we arrive to their homes and it was just a cage and some usual pet birds. It wasn't until later that it was explained to me that in Czech, they don't have a separate word for breeder and pet owner. Instead it's a universal term similar to “bird raiser.” They use the term breeder both for breeders and the people who eventually keep them as pets.
I was taken to visit the Prague Zoo. The organizers were well connected both with the zoo trainer and the parrot zoologist. We had the opportunity to see parrots and training behind the scenes. I met Franta Susta, the head and only professional zoo trainer in all of the Czech Republic. He shared with me insights about how new the concept of training, and particularly positive reinforcement based training, is in the Czech Republic. Franta, in his 6ft some stature comes off as hulking. But it plays no role in his animal training as he prioritizes the animals' comfort and participation over using his strength to force them. Although an expert trainer, Franta was interested in learning and comparing ideas.
In addition to visiting the zoo, the organizers took me for a tour of Prague. It is a beautiful European city and quickly becoming one of the tourism jewels of Europe.
I would like to mention that I have found the Czech people to be the most hospitable and kind hosts I have ever met. They paraded me in food and gifts throughout my entire stay. The food was outstanding and excessively abundant. It was not possible to give a Czech a single gift without receiving ten in return! They are extremely generous people and a similarity can be seen in the way they keep their pets.
One of the homes I visited was a single room studio. The couple keeps a pair of African Grey parrots in the biggest stainless steel cage available. The cage takes up one tenth of the confined single room space. The cage was spotless, rich in food, and full of toys. Since there are few opportunities to buy good food/supplies in Europe, the owners pay double the normal retail price to get supplies shipped from the United States. So although there was barely any room for two people in the small studio, the birds had everything you could imagine. I found this to be the theme repeatedly. Perhaps these are only the people the organizers chose to show me and not the norm. But even the very existence of people who take such great care already helps raise the standards. I saw as many stainless steel cages in Czech as I had seen in all of the US.
I could feel that the hospitality offered to me extends to their parrots the same! During the Seminar, my challenge would not be to convince people to take better care. It would not be not to clip birds and let them fly. Instead it would be to not spoil them so much and give the parrots opportunities to earn their rewards. I thought that people who are used to raining their parrots and visitors and gifts would be resistant to the idea, however, the methods I shared were very well accepted. It was exciting not just to share my methodology but to see people who are eager to accept and apply it as well!
Smoking is much more prevalent in Europe and especially the Czech Republic. Smoking is terrible for the people's health but even more detrimental to the birds. I worry about the birds' health when people smoke around them whether at home or outside. Birds have very powerful respiratory systems to be able to breath effectively for flight. This makes them more prone to poisoning through the air than other animals. The thing I would hope to so improve the most is for people to abandon smoking for their birds' health and their own.
All kinds of members of the parrot community came to the seminar. From absolute beginner pet bird owners to breeders, trainers, and local experts. It was a diverse and eager crowd. And although translation hindered the pace, it was exciting to present information that people were being introduced to for the very first time. On the other hand, there were several participants who had independently purchased and applied my book prior. It was wonderful to hear that the techniques were already working for them.
During the Seminar talk, I predominantly relied on demonstrating with a toy parrot. I could not bring my own parrots overseas; most of the participants birds were too shy and insufficiently trained to be able to make clear demonstrations. There was no point for me, as a stranger, to scare their novice birds. However, on the second day for the workshop, we had some bolder birds. It was an opportunity to show the previously talked about concepts in action. We demonstrated the effective use of target training to teach a parrot to step up, learn the turn around trick, allow touch, grab, and petting, and learn to wear a harness.
So as my 2016 Europe Seminar series comes to a close, I head home knowing that the presentations made a difference. It certainly wasn't enough time to share everything I know. But it was enough time to educate and inspire many people to understand the kind of relationship they could have with their parrot and the initial steps to head in that direction. I am glad to be able to help exchange ideas and methods between continents so that the best methods can proliferate borders. We are beginning to form an international cooperation and community of caring pet parrot keepers.
I am available for seminars in 2017. Contact your local bird club, store, or breeder that is capable of hosting an event to consider inviting me for some talks.
I received a question from a follower about whether or not it is possible for someone with a handicap/disability to put an Aviator Harness on a parrot with just one hand. I was about to just say the first thing that came to mind, "no!" But I had no experience with this either way so instead I said that I would look into it. After all, who better to try it out and find out?
I realize that there are many people with disabilities that keep parrots. Some are in a wheelchair or have shaky hands from PTSD. Others have trouble just from age while some are young and dealing with a temporary injury. So although the video included here is based on one single type of disability, I would like to use this as an encouragement for any physically challenged owner that there are ways to succeed in training your parrot despite your impairment.
Note that although this article is about one specific type of impairment and about one kind of training example, the mindset conveyed here may be helpful for all sorts of parrot issues and for any person having trouble with their parrot.
Granted Santina is fully harness trained already, this experiment was solely about whether or not it is even possible to consider harnessing a parrot with the use of just one hand. Well, I am happy to say that I learned that it is. Santina had not even worn a harness since last year and yet she was cooperative at putting it on. This is largely due to the fact that she was taught to wear the harness using positive reinforcement from the start and looks forward to it whenever she sees it. Since the harness was never forced on her, she has no reason to freak out when she sees it for the first time in a while. I did just one normal run with the harness to make sure she was still ok with it.
So I dangled the harness in front of Santina and she just stuck her head straight into the collar the way she was taught. Getting the collar onto the bird myself with one hand would have been much harder and simply impossible if the bird resisted. But since she actually wants to get it on, her assistance made it substantially easier! Pulling the straps through and around the wings was only more time consuming but no harder than usual. The hardest part I found was to pull all the extra material through the bird-proof clasp with one hand! Without the ability to hold the clasp in one hand and feed the material through with the other, it was a challenge of dexterity to do it with my fingers. But with practice it got better and by the second take, I kind of had it down. I would recommend anyone with a disability working with the harness, or any kind of training, practice all the mechanics of it ahead of time to reduce strain on the bird.
Besides a few nuts, Santina got to go outside for the first time this season, a reminder of how wonderful it is to wear a harness and go out. I didn't pester her further with my own clumsiness to take it off with one hand because she was eager to get back to her normal bird business when we returned. However, I am sure that the exact same process could be repeated in reverse. My conclusion is that if you can tie your shoe laces with one hand and go about daily tasks, putting an Aviator Harness on a parrot with one hand is at least possible!
The key part is the training. More precisely than ever, the bird with the impaired owner requires the most accurate of training. Yes, the parrot can be taught to fill some of the role of the owner and help in the harnessing process! But the training must be correct and thorough. More patience, self discipline, and attention will be required. But if your goal is to beat your impairment and achieve the same things with your parrot, then I think it can be done!
Sometimes I find myself impaired during parrot training even with two hands. Some things I do with the birds makes me wish I had three or four hands to accomplish all the training at the same time. But since that won't be happening, I have to make do with what I have. I find ways to either break behaviors down into smaller portions, devise tools to help me do more within my capabilities, or worst case scenario, I seek help from someone else to get more hands into the training scenario. No reason the same can't be done going from two hands to one, or working from a wheelchair, or dealing with a different impediment.
I suggest that anyone planning on having their parrot wear a harness to safely go outside, follow the steps covered in my Harness Training DVD. Further, it is important that the bird be prepared to begin this advanced training by performing the requisite basic training explained in my book. There is an automatic special discount built in on my online store. If you order a Book + DVD or Harness + DVD, DVD is 50% off. Book + Harness and the DVD is free.
What I found interesting was how not-unusual the challenge was! Although it was challenging, it was challenging the same way that any parrot training task is. There is a goal to accomplish x and y with the parrot with limited means and communication. So I work on solving the puzzle through trial and error, positive reinforcement, reading body language, and all the usual tools used to train behavior to the birds. What I discovered was that harnessing a parrot with one hand is really the exact same thing just with the added step of using less appendages and more patience. This turned out to only be one step more complicated than harness training a parrot in the first place. There are loads of other challenges in getting a parrot to wear a harness so this is just an extension of that and just adds one more challenge and nothing more. The same problem solving mindset that needs to applied to teaching the bird to wear a harness in the first place can just as well help overcome the added physical demands.
This system for overcoming disability and accomplishing things with our parrots stems far beyond just harness training. Target training, trick training, taming, flight training, and all that good stuff can be achieved through patient persistent application of the training methods that I teach. I'm not saying it will be easy. You will have to tailor these methods to your specific conditions. But following this system, you will find success with your bird.