There are so many great reasons why you need to get an Aviator Harness and start taking your parrot outside!
First of all, safety! No matter how bonded your parrot is to you, no matter how well trained it is, no matter whether its wings are clipped or not, any parrot can accidentally fly away and be lost outside. Quite likely your parrot will not be able to find its way back to you and will not be able to survive on its own. For this reason, a leash is a great safety net.
Now I certainly don't recommend using a harness as a primary means of keeping your parrot from flying away. Your bond, relationship, training, etc should always be the main reason that your parrot chooses to stay with you. The harness is merely a very unlikely backup plan just in case anything unexpected goes wrong. Think of the harness as a seat belt and not as a chain. Just because you wear a seat belt, isn't a license to drive dangerously. Instead, it is only an important line of protection in the event that something unexpectedly goes wrong. Some folks make excuses not to wear a seat belt, maybe even calling it uncomfortable, but it is the best safety catch in the event of an accident. Likewise, for your parrot's safety it is a reasonable compromise.
That said, the harness should not be a point of torture. Forcing a terrified parrot into a harness just for the purpose of taking it outside is cruel and counterproductive. The bird will be so distraught by the harness on its body that it will not have a chance to notice or enjoy the surroundings. This will also harm the parrot's relationship with you. It is better to take a parrot out in a travel cage or not at all than to mistreat it by misusing a harness. But, there is a way to teach the parrot to wear the harness voluntarily.
Parrots are very intelligent and capable learners. So if we teach them the purpose and method of putting on a harness such that they agree to wear it, then there is no problem. The most important thing that I teach my students is to ask the parrot if it agrees to wear the harness and until the parrot says yes (through its behavior), you are not to make the parrot wear it. Instead, I teach parrot owners how to use positive reinforcement and a carefully developed training regime to teach the parrot to want to wear the harness.
Watching my videos, you might get the impression that it's easy to put a harness on a parrot. And guess what? It is! On a parrot that was properly trained to wear it that is. Of course it is not easy at all to wrestle a resisting parrot into a leash and maybe impossible the next time when it knows what it is used for. However, after spending the initial effort to complete the training, they really do put the harness on easily for the rest of their lives. Realizing how long parrots can live, that's a lot of years of great harness wearing and outdoor adventures that you can have. It more than justifies the cost and effort to learn to teach your parrot to wear a harness properly.
This is just the beginning! There are so many more ways you can involve your parrot in your outdoor life and the Aviator Harness is your tool to being able to do that! Hiking in the forest, roller skating, maybe even rock climbing are just some possibilities. Get your parrot more involved in your active life.
The good news is that when you order a copy of the book and an Aviator Harness from ParrotWizard.com. the $19.99 Harness Training DVD comes free! Patiently follow the steps in the book and DVD to harness train your parrot and you can partake in outdoor Aviator Harness Adventures with your parrot for life!
So what are you waiting for? Your bird isn't going to learn to wear a harness by itself! If you want to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with your parrot, you have to start somewhere. You have to set yourself a goal to get the tools and start using them. Then, you have to take a deep breath and calm down. The harness training process requires patience. Patience is the quickest way to successfully teaching a bird to wear the aviator harness. Any attempt to rush this process will only set you back when the bird develops a distrust for the harness. This is where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Slowly work on following the steps you'll learn from me until the parrot is completely comfortable with the harness. And then you can scale mountains and do anything outside as long as you and your parrot are having fun!
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.
Kili, Truman, and Rachel have been settling in the bird room together well. I have been getting back into flying them for exercise. For now, I'm just having them fly in the bird room.
All three parrots are at ease with each other and know their own perches well. They all already know their names and only fly when called. But now they are mixing it all together.
Flying three parrots for exercise can be quite intense. I alternate my attention between the birds. Each bird flies to receive food. While two parrots are busy chewing their reward, the third already finished and is ready to fly. This leaves at least one parrot ready to go at any time.
This routine not only keeps things moving for me - it sure does take a while to get three birds to fly enough to go through an entire meal - but it also gets a rivalry going between the birds that keeps everyone trying. If one of the birds gets lazy and doesn't come, I will simply move on to the next. The next bird is happy to have a sooner opportunity to come. Meanwhile the bird that didn't come gets punished by missing a turn and having to wait for the next chance to come around. This has been extremely effective and virtually eliminated disobedience.
In the past, flight training just one bird at a time, I would encounter a lot of frustration when the bird wouldn't come. I have limited time to spend on training, so when the bird isn't coming, the session will either take longer or the bird won't be exercised as much. Whenever the bird would stop cooperating to look around or worse yet just sit there for no reason, I would be powerless at that moment to keep things moving. But now with three birds training together, there is always a bird or two that will pick up the slack for the others. This keeps me from just standing around waiting for birds to resume cooperation. But not only that, it makes the lazy bird(s) realize that others are getting their treats! This fixes things in a hurry.
When the birds finish chowing down their food reward, they are attentively waiting for the next opportunity to be called. I occasionally mix up the order of the recalls to keep them on their toes. On the rare occasion that the wrong bird comes, it receives no food and is just sent back to the perch. They realize quickly that it is a 100% chance they won't receive a reward if they come when I call another, so they learn to stay put unless called. This is important when there is a bunch of birds so that they don't interfere with each other.
Starting out, Rachel was definitely the weak link. While Kili and Truman would come reliably from years of experience, Rachel would often not come or take too much time. Since the added competition of the other birds, Rachel's success has more than tripled! She is almost as good as the others. She has made years of solo improvement in a month with the added competition. I think the improvement was so huge because Rachel got both a dose of example as well as rivalry! She got to see how well the other birds do and how much they get rewarded. She realized that this is the way to be if you're a bird!
Another interesting improvement came in Truman. Truman has always been second rate to Kili in everything. If Truman flew 50 recalls, then Kili flew 100. When Truman improved to being capable of 100, Kili was at 150! Because he could never accomplish being better than her at anything (at least training wise), I don't think he ever really tried. But when Truman realized he could be better than Rachel, he was all over it! Truman became much more attentive and quick to respond. On the other hand, Rachel is now close on his tail with her improvement so I hope to keep this competition going.
There's no doubt that Kili is simply the best. Her mantra is anything you other birds can do, I can do better. Even when she's training solo, she'll work as hard as the other birds would in a competitive environment. But when the other birds are trying too, Kili can keep flying reliably even after she is completely full or not even hungry at all in the first place. I'm pretty sure that I could get her to fly as much as the other birds without any treats at all. She is just so competitive and has to be best!
Oftentimes toward the end of the flying session I am trying to compensate the bigger birds with extra food. Kili is already too full and clearly done eating. Truman and Rachel might have missed a few treats when they were being obstinate. Kili got every single one. So just to get the others to fly as much as Kili, I need to park Kili and give them a chance to catch up. Well, Kili keeps begging to come so I call her but don't give treats. I know she is full and can't/shouldn't have more. As long as the other birds keep coming, she does too, even when she is obviously getting nothing. But she plays a good model and it helps me keep the others going till they finish.
It is important to note that getting or training more birds is not necessarily going to improve things for other people. If you have a bird that is uncooperative or bad at training, I would first focus on your training techniques and the birds motivation. Only when that bird without doubt knows what it is doing, does it right most of the time, and does an overall pretty good job is it ok to think about training along another bird. Competitive training isn't a solution to poor training/motivation. Instead it is a superlative booster for already effective training.
So, check out this video of Kili, Truman, and Rachel's morning flying routine: