It was fun teaching Rachel the turn around trick because she picked up on it so quickly! Turn-Around is one of the most basic tricks that you can teach your parrot and a lot of fun. Teaching tricks like this helps build a relationship and a level of cooperation from your bird because it becomes accustomed to doing things you say. The once wild, uncooperative parrot, learns that cooperation is beneficial and fun.
Rachel, Marianna's Blue and Gold Macaw, is going to be five this year and is in the midst of her terrible twos (adolescence). Some days she's cute and friendly and other days she's a total brat. Doing some trick training helps maintain and improve the relationship as she's going through the troubling years. Although Rachel has always been good with Marianna, because she had her since she was a baby, I have had to do some work to earn Rachel's trust.
If you would like to learn how to teach your parrot to turn around, refer to this free trick training guide. In that article, I explain with the help of Truman how to teach Turn Around.
This video on the other hand is just to show for comparison what it's like to teach a Macaw to turn around. Pretty much the same! The only difference I would say, is that things happen more slowly and the Macaw has to lift its tail as it turns!
It took about 3 days to teach Truman to turn around. Rachel learned it well in 2. The first session, not pictured in the video, was much like the second. By the end of the first session, she knew how to follow the stick around but not much more. During the second session, as seen in the video, she had her "aha!" moment and figured out to turn around, even if I don't show the target stick. So simply put, teaching turn around is having a parrot follow a target stick in a circle and then reduce the importance of the stick till the bird can just do it on command.
I would say that all parrots learn the turn around trick about the same way. From budgie to macaw, the same method worked perfectly with all birds. The only difference is the pace. The smaller the bird, the faster it moves. The bigger birds move more slowly. The smaller birds can do more repetitions in a single session. The bigger birds will do fewer repetitions per session, but they will learn the final result in fewer sessions! It is interesting to observe these subtle differences, but they have little impact on the final result. Just follow the method and keep going till your particular bird figures it out and you'll be all set!
The Birdie Ring Toss Trick is a true display of agility and intelligence in your companion parrot. Not only does your bird have to use it's noodle to decide which color goes where, it also has to successfully manipulate the ring to go onto the peg.
Here is an old video of Kili demonstrating how she does the color matching ring toss trick. Not only does she put the rings on, she flies with them:
You can purchase the Birdie Ring Toss with 3 colors or 6 colors for most medium to large parrots at my Parrot Wizard Store. The size is perfect for parrots like African Grey, Eclectus, Cockatoo, and Macaw. For smaller parrots like a Senegal Parrot or Conure, it is a bit of a stretch. As you will see in the video in the end, Kili has no trouble handling the oversized rings. If you have a really energetic and well-trained small bird, it is still possible. However, for really small birds like Cockatiels, Budgies, Lovebirds, etc, the trick prop is just way too big.
Now a step by step guide to teaching the Birdie Ring Toss Trick:
Step 1: Teach the bird to fetch. Follow the fetch guide if you haven't already.
Step 2: Teach the parrot to fetch a ring to you. Set aside all of the rings and pegs. Just take one ring out. Lay it down or hand it to your parrot. Use the familiar open-palm fetch command and say "fetch." When the parrot places the ring in your hand, click and reward. If this isn't working out, review fetching other objects and start again.
Step 3: Teach the parrot to fetch a ring onto a peg. Before we confuse the bird with lots of colors, we need to simply teach the mechanics of placing a ring on a single peg. Take one ring and one peg of the same color while setting all of the others aside. Have your parrot fetch the ring to your hand in the vicinity of the peg. Begin to have your parrot fetch the ring to your open hand just above the peg. As the bird is about to drop the peg in your hand, pull your hand back and the bird will end up dropping it onto the peg. Click/reward. Even if the bird doesn't get the ring onto the peg itself but drops it somewhere close, this is progress so click and reward. When the bird improves, hold your hand further and further back. Start to change the open-palm fetch command hand into a point toward the peg. Keep practicing until you can simply place a ring down and the bird will fetch it onto the peg on its own.
Step 4: Teach color matching. Once the bird knows how to put rings onto the peg, it is time to introduce more colors. Start by adding just one more peg to the existing ring/peg combo. The bird has to first learn to ignore the different color peg and continue putting the ring on the matching peg as it did before. This will happen fairly quickly. Things get more complicated when you start shifting positions or adding colors. So, little by little lay on the complexity but not at once! First change places between the pegs. We want the bird to match by color and not by location. So frequently rearrange the positions of the pegs so that the bird can learn that only color matching is required. Whenever the bird puts the ring on the wrong peg, ignore. Don't click, don't give treats, don't say anything. Just stare blankly away from the bird for a few seconds to show that putting the ring on the wrong peg is completely irrelevant to you and then take it off and give the bird the chance to start again. There is no consequence for getting it wrong but likewise no reward. Attention and treats only come for getting it right.
Before you introduce the second ring, I suggest you get rid of the original ring and peg and practice the 2nd color ring/peg for a little while. There's no matching required but this way the bird will start to get used to matching A to A and B to B. Once the bird is good with one color at a time, it is time to introduce two pegs and two rings. When the bird puts the right ring on the right peg, click/reward. When it does not, ignore. Don't rush to correct the bird or take the ring off. Just ignore. If your bird is really struggling, you can cheat and help it a little bit by pointing which peg to put the ring on. These hints may give it the opportunity to get it right, get treats, and remember for next time. Keep practicing until the bird has a near perfect match of the two colors.
You can repeat above steps as you introduce a third color. If the bird is overwhelmed practice a two color regiment by removing one of the original colors and working between the 2nd learned and 3rd new color. Eventually return the other color and have the bird practice with three. You can use a similar process for adding the 4th, 5th, and 6th color. But if your bird is really smart, after doing a bunch of colors, it should rather quickly figure out that additional colors need to be matched with like colors rather than rely on learning one color at a time. This is the mark of an even higher level of cognitive learning.
So this is how you can teach the Birdie Ring Toss Color Matching Trick to your parrot. Knowledge of basic trick training, fetch command, and patience are the requisites. But with those and the steps outlined here, there is no reason you shouldn't be able to teach the Ring Toss Trick to your parrot. Here is a video of Kili helping me outline the major steps in the training process:
I love teaching tricks to my parrots. It is not only a load of fun, but it also goes to develop a wonderful relationship with my pets. Birds that excel at doing tricks also excel at being good pets. But also from the parrot's perspective, I am fun to be around because all of the treat earning opportunities only happen in my presence and through cooperation. It's a win/win situation.
You have already heard about training techniques for many cued parrot tricks on this Trained Parrot blog. Now I am preparing a series of videos describing how to teach all of the prop tricks that I offer for sale. The wonderful thing about trick prop toys is that they are extremely visual, challenging, intelligent, and a ton of fun.
The easier tricks are a chance to get the parrot to do something big while still being a beginner at training. The more difficult ones challenge your parrot's intellect and demonstrate a level of intelligence you don't get to experience in other kinds of pets. Let me run down the different tricks available and briefly mention the features and challenges with each. I am listing these in the order I recommend teaching them from easiest to hardest.
Birdie Bowling - This was Kili's first prop trick (first video). It is very impressive and exciting to watch, yet it is one of the easiest prop based tricks to teach! It's only a matter of teaching the bird to push the ball, the toy and gravity do the rest of the work!
Birdie Basketball - The staple of bird tricks. The basketball trick is probably the easiest but by no means unimpressive of the fetch based tricks. I recommend teaching this one first because it requires the least requisite skills. Just follow the steps in my Fetch Guide first and then you're ready to teach basketball. Height is adjustable so you can start low and increase height with progress. Also suitable for small birds because the hoop can be lowered. Comes with an easy to grip training ball and a realistic ball.
Birdie Treasure Chest - Every good pirate needs a parrot. And even better yet, a parrot that knows what to do with treasure! The Treasure Chest trick is two tricks in one. A chest for your parrot to put its favorite toys away and a piggy bank to save up for big treats. This trick is great for beginner and more advanced birds when it comes to training.
Birdie Darts - Another easy/exciting sports trick based on fetch. The secret is that the darts are magnetic, so your parrot just needs to drop them by the dart board and they will stick. Have your bird fly with the darts for a long range guided dart!
Birdie Slide - Watch your parrot zoom down a slide! A big toy with a stunning visual effect. This trick is actually easy to teach but only for a very tame parrot. The most important thing is that the bird does not get scared of the slide. Once you get past that, it only has to learn to climb the ladder and come down.
Birdie Skates - Teach your parrot to skate. This trick does not have any particular requisite tricks but it is difficult to teach. A history of being good at any other tricks will increase the chances of your parrot succeeding with this one. But once taught, it's a lot of fun to see your parrot skating around!
Birdie Ring Toss - Color matching ring toss trick. Teach your parrot to put rings on pegs and demonstrate color matching capability. Just the mechanics of putting a ring onto a peg is a whole trick in itself, but with color matching, this trick will stun your friends. Most people have a hard time believing parrots can even see color, let alone be so smart. This is probably the easiest of the color matching tricks I offer. Available in 3 or 6 colors.
Birdie Colored Boxes - A color matching tricks that your bird can open and close. The colored boxes trick is one of the brainiest tricks in my trick toy product line. Not only does your parrot get to demonstrate superior color vision and matching but also handling the box lids. In terms of complexity, it is mostly on par with the ring toss. However, the extra task with the box lids makes it more challenging as a whole. It is more suitable than the ring toss for smaller birds but can just as well be handled by larger birds as well.
Birdie Puzzle - Bird can do a puzzle, what more can I say? This trick is colors, puzzles, and tons of IQ aptitude in one. Matching shapes/colors isn't the only challenge. Getting the shaped pieces to fit into the slots requires a good amount of dexterity and skill. Are you up for the challenge? The puzzle is available in 3 different sizes to suit all kinds of parrots.
So there you go, 9 parrot trick training props that will keep your parrot trained, educated, and entertained for years! Try and teach them all and I guarantee that with each new trick, you will also develop a better relationship with your parrot. I have been collecting and developing these tricks for years. Now they are all available in one place, ParrotWizard.com.
Now enjoy this video of Kili showing off how to do all of them!
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.