Marianna and I recently took a trip to Pigeon Forge Tennessee. While visiting Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the beautiful Smokey Mountains, we had a chance to go to Parrot Mountain. Parrot Mountain is unlike any zoo or bird park you have ever seen!
Parrot Mountain is a one of a kind experience for parrot lovers. It is the only major bird park I'm aware of that focuses primarily on parrots. They do have a nice collection of other birds as well, but their focus on parrots is quite unique.
A visit to the park starts with some exhibits of various bird species. Then it takes you through a walk through flight aviary. But most exciting of all is the parrot feeding area. They have probably a hundred parrots out on stands that you can see up close and feed. Buy a handful of seeds from the vending machine for a quarter and then you can be the parrots' favorite visitor!
We got to see up close and experience too many different species to count but just a few of the more exotic ones included Sun Conure, Blue Crowned Conure, Patagonian Conure, Alexandrine Parakeet, Great Billed Parrot, African Grey, Cape Parrot, Eclectus, Scarlet Macaw, Military Macaw, Hyacinth Macaw, Moluccan Cockatoo, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, and Red Tailed Black Cockatoo. Marianna had a field day getting to feed and hold the female Red Tailed Black Cockatoo. She recalled how we got to see them in the wild in Australia, but not anywhere near as close!
Some of the parrots on exhibit were brought a long time ago from the wild, others were bred at Parrot Mountain, and others were relinquished. The park acts as a complete facilitator of parrots in the region. They breed, sell, display, and accept rescued parrots. You can see the babies for sale in their nursery building.
Parrot Mountain is famous for offering to have your picture taken with close to a dozen birds. I was amazed not only how cooperative and patient their photo-parrots were but also how well they all got along with each other. The woman who brings them over for photos can be seen walking with a dozen parrots hanging off her chewed up shirt from every side. It was almost as though their beak was a carabiner hook for clipping onto her shirt. She was truly a parrot taxi!
They have a lorikeet feeding aviary where you can have lorikeets fly up to you and sip nectar. Parrot Mountain also houses the "garden of eden," a secluded Christian exhibit in the forest covered country side. They also have a small cafe (with parrot on the menu) and a gift shop with lots of parrot related merch. All around a must-see sight for any parrot lover visiting the Pigeon Forge area in Tennessee and even a reason in itself to head out there.
Here's a video of my visit to Parrot Mountain including an interview with the parks owner:
February 13, 2018 marks the 5 year anniversary of the Parrot Wizard company. Looking back across the years, there has been so much progress. I have really enjoyed working on all the novel parrot supplies and would like to thank my buyers and followers for helping me accomplish that.
Although it's officially 5 years, I've been making parrot supplies even longer.
Here's a brief timeline of my parrot activities over the years.
Even more cool new Parrot Wizard stuff coming soon.
Today, on the 5 year Anniversary of the Parrot Wizard company, I am releasing a new and improved version of the Birdie Ring Toss. Now it is made entirely of parrot safe plastic so that the rings and pegs match perfectly. Going to plastic allowed me to offer more sizes as well. So now the Ring Toss trick is available in 3 sizes and 6 colors for all parrots.
My line of NU Perches has been a pivotal part of Parrot Wizard company. I wanted to have a comfortable, natural, consistently reproducible, safe perch to use for my Parrot Training Perches but all natural perches that I could find had inconsistencies and potential hazards. So I focused my attention on developing the NU Perch. It has been the basis of a whole line of perching products including a tabletop perch, scale perch, window perch, trees, and more. Having familiar perches in the cage, for training, and around the house helps the parrot know the spots it is intended to go and helps keep the parrot off of furniture.
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:
Toys and perches are very important for your parrot's health and well-being. They're more than just for your parrot's entertainment, although that is a very important role as well. They provide necessary exercise to your bird's beak and feet!
Having a huge cage for your parrot is great. But if that huge cage isn't extensively filled with perches and toys, it is just as well a tiny cage. The main advantage of a huge cage is that there is an opportunity to put a lot of perches for your parrot to move around on and many toys to motivate it to come to. Without them, you'll just have a parrot sitting in one part of the cage all day doing the same as it would if it were in a smaller cage.
Perches are the foundation of your parrot's living space. The bird spends all day on its feet. Having a good variety of different perches provides diversity and comfort to your parrot's feet by allowing it to change and choose its perching. Forget about dowel and plastic perches. Throw them out. They are no good for your parrot. Take caution of natural perches that are straight and smooth as a dowel. Just because they are natural, doesn't do any good if they act the same way as a dowel.
The four typical kinds of perches are:
Natural Rope Cement NU Perches
I would strongly encourage you to offer all four types so that your parrot has the most variety and choice. Wood perches should be the Natural perches are fun because each one is different. The diameter, texture, and shape will vary. This is great for your parrot. Unfortunately, you don't always know what you are getting when ordering online and some natural perches don't offer all of the advantages of being natural. Sometimes it isn't possible to make wildly wavy perches properly fit the rectangular orientation of a bird cage. For this reason, I came up with and patented the NU Perch. These perches offer the maximum amount of variation, choice, and comfort while also being totally safe and affordable. Provide a variety of different lengths, thicknesses, and hardness of perches so that your bird can experience different perching techniques as it moves about the cage.
Rope perches and cement perches are good additions to wood perches but only in moderation. The cement perches can help keep your parrot's claws trimmed and it's a different texture than all other perches. However, excessive use of cement perches can greatly irritate the bird's feet. Never put a cement (or other sanding type) perch where your parrot sleeps. In other words, don't put the cement perch up high or where your parrot goes a lot. Ideally, place a cement perch in a place your parrot visits just a few times a day. For this reason, a cement perch serves very well by the bird's water (bottle or bowl). It only takes a few drinks a day but otherwise does not spend an excessive amount of time in that area.
Rope perches are the exact opposite of cement perches. Instead of being hard and harsh, rope perches are smooth and comfy. This is a good thing but in moderation. Rope perches can provide relief from firmer perches. But if used excessively, they may cause the bird's feet to be too sensitive on harder surfaces. Also, extreme caution must be taken if the bird chews on the rope perch. Two major hazards can be caused by chewed rope perches. First of all, some birds ingest the rope and can develop a crop infection. Another hazard is that the bird can get its foot or claw caught in the chewed strands of rope and get stuck. So, to avoid either case, inspect the rope perches regularly and replace preemptively if there is any sign of damage.
Just as perches are to your parrot's feet, toys are a health requirement for your parrot's beak. Parrots use their beaks quite extensively in the wild for feeding, nest cavity making, and playing. We won't be providing nesting opportunities to our pet parrots but we should nonetheless give them lots of chances to chew. Toys are a good human alternative to the chewing challenges that parrots would encounter in the wild. Abundance of toys is very important. Different shapes, textures, materials, and challenges will keep your parrot and its beak busy in different ways. Some materials such as plastic are tougher and will require harder chewing than softer materials like wood. Providing variety and abundance will improve your parrot's activity and provide the pleasure of choice.
Perches can also be a source of chewing pleasure and beak exercise. My parrots love the NU Perches in their cages not only because they are comfortable on their feet but also because they provide a reasonable chewing challenge. On one hand, the perches are soft enough that the birds can chew them if they choose to. On the other hand, they are tough enough that it takes them a while to really destroy them. I don't know why sometimes they leave perches alone and chew only toys and other times focus on the perches instead of toys. But by providing them the abundance and variety, I can ensure that they are kept busy, happy, and healthy in any case.
Keep in mind that the best deterrent against developing a feather-plucking problem is keeping the bird busy chewing things that are not on its body. Just because there are toys in the cage doesn't mean they are serving much useful purpose if they don't end up in a pile of splinters on the bottom of the cage. Looking, touching, and playing with the toys is only a small portion of their purpose. Getting the beak and mind exercised in the process of chewing them up is the biggest purpose. In the case of most parrots, something is going to get chewed up at the end of the day be it the bird's toys, perches, your furniture or stuff, or its feathers. In order to avoid it being the feathers or furniture, it is best to focus on toys and perches.
Some toys are just too difficult, thick, hard, or boring for your parrot to chew up. Offering a variety of different kinds of perches is a good way to improve the likelihood of the toys working out. However, sometimes the parrot just won't chew any of it up. The best way to get it started is to get smaller or easier toys that are meant for a smaller species than what you have. Letting the bird have success with a toy that is too easy can give it the motivation to tackle some of the tougher toys that are meant for its size. The toys gotta get chewed up in order to be serving their purpose.
Every parrot is different so what works for some parrots may not work for others. Let your parrot exhibit its own personality and develop its own preferences. Provide abundant variety of perches and toys so that it can make the most of them and grow its choices.
Here's a video of Marianna getting some new perches and toys for the flock and then rearranging their cages with the new goodies:
Looking for a fun and easy trick to teach your parrot? Wondering how you can teach a parrot to bowl? This free trick training guide is about how you can train the Birdie Bowling trick to your parrot!
I love the Birdie Bowling trick because it looks a lot more impressive than the effort it takes to teach it. This is a trick that suits virtually all kinds of parrots and is easy to teach (basically everything except budgie, lovebird, or parrotlet because it is too big for them). This was the first prop based trick I ever taught to Kili and I recommend it to people as their first prop trick.
So here's a step by step guide on teaching a parrot to bowl:
Step 2: Make sure that your parrot is target trained. If it isn't, teach it to target before you start teaching the bowling trick. If it is already target trained, just do a quick review to remind it what to do.
Step 3: Desensitize the parrot to the bowling toy. Most parrots get scared of new stuff. The good news is that the more tricks you teach, the more the bird will get used to accepting new things. The best way to desensitize the bird to the bowling toy is to target it near the toy. Place the bowling toy on a table beforehand. Bring your parrot and set it on the table far from the toy. Get the bird into a rhythm targeting. Target it randomly in different directions and not strictly toward the bowling or it may get suspicious. Target it around randomly but little by little, more and more toward the bowling. Let the parrot pay more attention to the targeting exercise and forget about the bowling until you are able to target it right by the bowling at ease. It is better to take the time to do the desensitization exercise even if the bird didn't get scared than to scare the bird with the toy first and then try to change its mind.
Step 4: Target the bird toward the bowling ball with your target stick. Set the pins aside for now. Place the ball on the ramp and use the target stick to direct the bird to the ball. Say "target" and when your bird touches the stick, click and reward. After the bird gets good at this, point to the ball with your finger and say "target." The bird should do the same as before but touch the ball instead of the non-existent stick. If it doesn't catch on, keep practicing with the stick some more.
Step 5: Get the bird to push the ball. This part is a bit tricky and requires careful scrutiny on your part. Saying "target" and pointing to the ball should get the bird to come to the ball and touch it. But we're not trying to get the bird to just touch it. We want the bird to push it. This is where some clicker training really comes in handy. Using the "target" command, we can get the bird to touch the ball. In the beginning, accept by click/rewarding any touch of the ball. However, as the bird continues to improve, require firmer touches and presses of the ball to receive a click/treat. What you will most likely encounter is the bird getting a bit frustrated when it touched the ball and got nothing, then it will start attacking or shaking the ball in an attempt to get the touch to work (like pushing the dysfunctional elevator door close button a million times). This is your chance to watch for the moment of maximum pushing to click/reward. At some point, the bird will push the ball hard enough that it will roll of the ramp and this is the time to click and give a jackpot reward to mark success. If the bird never overcomes pushing it over the bump, you can try holding the ball just over the bump and encouraging it to push. Let go when it does so that the bird can realize that pushing it to move is what gets the click/treat. Eventually it should learn to push harder and be able to push it on its own.
Step 6: Set up the pins, set up the ball, tell your parrot to "bowl," and enjoy! Click the moment the parrot pushes the ball off of the ramp and give a treat. Eventually you won't have to click because the bird will learn that getting the ball rolling is the entire purpose.
Here's a short tutorial I made with Kili to illustrate the key steps of the process: