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.
Parrots are birds and birds fly. Allowing parrots to fly free in our homes is exhilarating but also poses some challenges. Without going into too much detail about other important things about flight safety (these are covered in my book), I want to focus on the training element.
Teaching a parrot to fly to you actually covers two different dilemmas. The first is teaching a parrot to fly controlled within our home at all in the first place and the second is actually about coming to you. What you must realize is that the bird has to actually learn how to fly to you as much as teaching it to want to.
The two best tools for teaching this controlled form of flight are a pair of Training Perches and a target stick. Luckily the Parrot Training Perch Kit I offer includes a clicker and target stick in addition to two perches so you'd be ready to begin the flight training out of the box!
If you haven't already done basic clicker and target training with a walking parrot on a perch, go back and do that first. Flying is harder so without understanding what you are asking and a high level of motivation, there is no way the parrot will break ground for just a stick. Begin the flight training process with a reminder of the walking target training. Set up the two training perches in parallel but so close together that the parrot can step and target from one perch to the other.
Continue to practice targeting the parrots between the two training perches until you start to build up a rhythm. The parrot will begin to foresee that you will target one way and the other and maybe even jump the gun a little and go before targeted. This isn't really what we are after but it will show good motivation to continue. Begin to spread the gap between the two training perches ever so slightly. Continue targeting the parrot between the perches without letting it realize that the gap grows after subsequent targeting attempts.
Eventually the gap will be big enough that the bird will have to jump or fly to get across. Hopefully the bird is a capable enough of a flyer to be able to realize to do this on its own. If it does not, you may need to trick the timid bird that won't fly into walking across but then spreading the gap enroute to cause the first flight to happen. A way to do this is to set the two training perches just slightly too far apart to walk. Then tip the remote perch toward the bird and target for it to walk. Just as the bird reaches the gap, return the distant perch to its original position. This will cause the bird to flap reflexively to catch its balance and make it across the gap. With sufficient rewards and motivation, after a few such attempts, the bird will begin to make the effort to fly across.
Progress will be slow at first but then pick up. At first the bird does not know what you want but also doesn't know how to control itself to make such a flight. Furthermore, the flight muscles may be atrophied or inadequately exercised. It will take time for the bird to regain the strength and motor skills before progress can be made. Continue spreading the gap between the two training perches and target the bird to fly bigger distances. The bird will develop skills and strength after a few days of these exercises. Adjust the height of the training perches to teach the parrot to fly up and down as well. Eventually replace the second training perch with your hand or arm. Phase out the target stick but continue giving treats for successful flight recalls. Instead of targeting, you can call your bird's name as a command to fly to you. Keep increasing the distance and challenging your bird and you will develop an excellent and reliable flight recall.
Keep in mind that very high levels of training motivation are required for flight training. You can use a combination of food management, trick training, and other techniques to achieve it. This is covered in great detail in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots.
Now get a Parrot Training Perch Kit and follow these steps and you will be on your way to flight recall training your parrot. More videos and information about this flight training method are available on the Training Perch site.
Kili & Truman went down to Coney Island for the second time. They met up with their parrot friends and had a great time. They flew at the beach, ate at Nathan's, played with loads of people, and took a ride on the historic Wonder Wheel, a Ferris Wheel landmark built in 1920. The birds had a fantastic time. Not only did they get sun and fresh air, but also an incredible socialization experience. Instead of talking about it, I'll let the pictures and video share the story.
Monday April 21st started like any other day with my parrots at home. They woke up at the usual time and we had our usual morning routine. I noticed that Truman was acting especially food motivated. He was flying onto Santina's hanging playstand and trying to get her food and showing other signs of eagerness to get fed. Although he ate a lot the night prior and his weight was high, I thought I'd take him for a quick morning flight at the park prior to letting him hang out in the backyard aviary at work. I did not consider taking Kili cause she showed no motivation whatsoever.
By taking one parrot to work with me, I can give each of the other two remaining parrots at home an entire room while I am gone. Kili got the small room and Santina kept the big room all to herself. Truman rode my shoulder wearing a harness to the playground that I had been taking him to for years. I got him on a bench, took his harness off and stepped away. He had no intention of flying off. Nor did he have the intention of doing flight training either. I kept calling him to fly to me but the eagerness I saw at home had entirely vanished. He did a couple very short recall flights but wasn't trying much harder.
I was disappointed to waste such a beautiful day and opportunity to get him exercise outside. He had not been to the park in a while, but this didn't concern me. We had successful outdoor freeflight sessions months into winter. He was not one bit scared of being in the park and was rather enjoying it. I figured I'd toss him for a few boomerang flights to have an excuse to feed him off remaining treats and then I'd take him to the aviary. When I throw Truman like a football, he flies a bit away, turns around, and comes right back to my hand. The first time I tossed him to boomerang, he turned and came right back. The second time, he didn't.
Instead of coming back to me, Truman took a high speed lap of the park while I called his name. Kili had done this a few times in the past which gave me a scare but she would always end up landing somewhere back in the park. Truman had never done one of these before but I thought he would remain within the confines of the playground. But instead, after completing his first lap, he zoomed through the park gates and down 16th Ave. I kept my eyes on him calling again and again so he'd reverse but I lost sight of him within 2 blocks. I left my jacket behind as I ran in pursuit looking for him.
I scoured both sides of the avenue up and down for multiple blocks and without an easy trace of him, called my dad and brother to come help. They came out quickly and we continued to search nearby with no sign of him. For two hours we had split up and searched all neighboring streets. We looked high and low. There was no sign of him in the trees, on fences, in bushes, nor on the ground. I called his name periodically hoping he'd hear me and come back himself.
When 2 hours had gone by I knew finding him was not going to be so easy. I went back to my office and quickly developed a flier to alert the neighborhood that he is missing. I was lucky to find a recent picture of Truman with me because of the move in to the new house and bird room. I specifically chose a picture with both of us in it to create a more humane aspect to the fact that he is a personal pet. I did not want anyone looking at an exotic parrot as a sack of money. I printed off a bunch of fliers and sent my brother posting them while I continued the local search on foot.
I had my brother fetch me Kili from home and I kept her on my shoulder while searching. I hoped that the sight of Kili might get Truman jealous and encourage him to fly back. I did not waste time posting fliers because I was the best person to either spot or call Truman back. I had my brother start by posting fliers in the park where he was lost because I thought he'd eventually come back on his own.
Here's why. There's a little story of how Kili got lost that I never shared with anyone. I had her untethered a few blocks from the park and was experimenting with freeflight in a different location. I tossed her for a boomerang flight. She came back on the first one but flew off on the second. She continued down the street at about shoulder height following the sidewalk. I stood calling but ran after her when I saw she wasn't coming back. I followed but quickly lost sight of her. While I was frantic, I spotted her flight path at the playground. I was certain she had flown past the park but she must have turned, crossed the street, and come back to the park all on her own. I never took her untethered anywhere but the park since, but between that and fly offs in the park that ended in the park, I was pretty sure Truman would do the same. But no, Truman never returned to the park.
Fliers were posted at the park first because I wanted someone to alert me immediately if Truman showed up. I always had someone come back and sweep the park in case he returned. At first I was reluctant to share Truman's loss online. I thought he'd be quickly found and I would just share the story post factum. But as things weren't going well, I decided it would be best to get help first and take a flogging later. If it turned out telling about his loss made me look like an idiot later, getting him back was still more important.
At this point I want to reiterate that Truman did not fly off "by accident." He was not spooked. I did not forget to close a door or window. He was not ordinarily outside without harness or carrier. We were engaging in outdoor freeflight training, which for this and other reasons I do not recommend, and he flew off by choice. I was pleased with his choice to fly the way I taught on the harness so with Kili's success freeflying I began to allow Truman to do the same. Truman had caught on quickly and had a better track record than Kili. He had never flown over the fence although on occasion she had. I was concerned that Truman had less flight training and was less reliable than Kili but I saw him catching on and improving quickly.
The morning of the fly off I had made some big mistakes in my own procedures for reliable outdoor freeflight. First of all it was generally my rule not to fly a parrot off harness unless it demonstrated 5/5 motivation. I did not accurately gauge his motivation that morning. I was misled by some eagerness at home that did not carry over in the park. I don't recall doing a test flight still wearing the harness although I might have. I also broke my own rule about not flying the birds outside above a certain weight. I have noticed a certain correlation between weight and performance. Although a low weight does not guarantee cooperation, a high weight makes dissidence more likely.
The feeling of watching my bird flying away was like a hard punch in the stomach, an indescribable feeling of fear and guilt. This is a feeling I would never wish on anyone.
I left the door of Truman's backyard aviary open with a bowl of water inside just in case he could find his way back. I doubted it because I always brought him through the building and it would not be easy to find by air, but still just in case. I couldn't put a cage outside because scrap metal collectors would steal it in a heartbeat. But I did manage to put Truman's travel cage up on the roof. I left only almonds and water in strategic places figuring only Truman can break those and that way a different bird wouldn't steal them. I left sparse amounts of food to avoid making him get so full that he wouldn't recall to me after.
I only got a single tip by phone that day and it wasn't extremely helpful. Someone called and said they spotted a green bird on 19th ave and 65th street without giving an exact address. It was late but we rushed over no less because it was the best information we had. Considering Truman was last seen at 16th ave and 68th street, this was far but not unlikely.
Darkness came on that first day without a trace of Truman. I figured he wasn't hungry and pretty unlikely to come back the first day. I was much more hopeful that on the second day he would either return to the park himself or fly to me on sight. I felt that if I could just walk enough blocks calling with Kili, that Truman would come back to me. I paid attention to the forecast and discovered rain showers in the afternoon. I know that Truman tends to get hungry and eager to fly prior to rain so I thought this would be my lucky break.
I was not concerned about weather. Spring temperatures ranging from 45-70 were perfectly comfortable for Truman. I knew he could easily survive temperatures down to 40 with his thick down. He has been accustomed to going outside in early winter and on the above freezing days. Although Truman had good acclimatization and flight skills, he had never been out and about on his own who knows where.
Tuesday morning I set out at day break, first checking the park in case he'd returned. With no sign of him there or nearby, I went out on flier patrol for a bit because I couldn't be shouting at 7AM. A bit later into the morning I went back to combing the streets calling for Truman. I focused on calling for Truman while I let others do more of the searching.
Volunteers came from distant parts of New York City each day to help me search for the missing parrot. I let them check certain areas carefully while I tried to cover broader areas to give Truman an opportunity to find me. I also used volunteers to check remote/unlikely areas and to go out on less promising tips.
While the physical search was going on, so was the cyber one. I had my friend Ginger do all the internet campaigning for me remotely. She even agreed to come to NY from Phoenix to help me in person but couldn't get a last second ticket. She was responsible for getting the social media going as well as listing Truman lost on all alert sites for me. By having someone else take care of that, it freed me up to stay outside as much as possible.
I was reluctant to give out my personal cell number on the internet although I knew that it was important. My friend Ginger gave me a great idea to get a cheap pay as you go phone to use just for the Truman search. This was a brilliant idea and coincidentally I had an unused one laying around.
On the first day I avoided posting a reward not because I was being cheap (or optimistic) but because I was afraid to imply that the parrot is worth money or selling. As the search became more desperate, I realized that posting a reward could help encourage people to call or return him.
On Tuesday morning I received a list of contact information for local news media from Ginger for me to contact. I still thought it was a bit of a stretch to go that far but I opted to play on the side of overly cautious and assume he will be hard to find and overplay the situation rather than regret it later. I did interviews on camera and by phone to get as much media coverage about the situation as possible. I took advantage of Kili & Truman's fame to gain more interest and improve the chances of somebody finding him. Part of my motivation in getting a media frenzy was to make it very difficult to impossible for someone to try to keep him if found. I was very concerned that his extensive trained abilities and talking could cause someone not to want to return him. For this reason I offered a sizable cash reward and got so much hype going that it would be hard for someone to keep him. Thus his fame/abilities put him in greater risk but were also pooled to help get him back.
On Tuesday morning a volunteer biked across NYC to come help look for Truman. She used the speed of her bike to check more streets than I could on foot. My brother thought it would be a good idea to record me calling Truman and then to blast it from a car. He let my dad drive the pickup truck while he rode in the back calling and watching. They went up and down a far greater number of streets than could have been walked. This was part of our extended search idea.
I received a tip of a sighting of a green bird on 22nd Ave and 68th street. This was pretty far but if the sighting the previous day at 19th Ave and 65th street were true, it wasn't a stretch. I got to the area and started searching around. A lady recognized me from the flier and said she'd seen a bunch of green birds too. She led me to a tree and I immediately recognized the monk parakeets that people were referring to. I instantly knew that wasn't Truman. I walked the area some more and found a giant pine tree full of monk parakeet nests. I called for Truman just in case but did not believe they would let him mingle with them. I figured they would most likely kick him out.
Getting through the second day was difficult. I did not sleep the night prior and could barely eat. My feet were unbearably sore and blistered. It hurt so much to walk that I was becoming numb to it. Kili's enthusiasm and reminder of my second shoulder being bare pressed me to go on searching and not stop. The endless remarks of support that I occasionally browsed on my facebook page were extremely encouraging. You have no idea how much the situation makes you want to give up. Between the exhaustion, the delirious condition, and the endless failure, it is extremely difficult to go on. It's not that I didn't want to find him or wasn't hopeful. It was just difficult to see the point in walking the same places over and over again. At the same time checking further neighborhoods seemed futile without a tip because the directions were endless. The supportive comments, the "don't give ups," and the heartwarming stories of people finding their parrots after days gave me the hope to go on.
I received many tips about a flier posted in a distant part of NYC about a "parrot came to my window and I was able to catch him. He is very tame and sweet. He is in excellent shape and eating and drinking well. If this is your bird or know the owner please call Rob. I require you to accurately describe the bird for me to make sure you are the proper owner." This sounded far off but I rushed to call just in case. When I began describing Truman something wasn't adding up and when Rob saw the picture, he doubted it was him. When we established that Rob found the bird a day prior to Truman going missing, it was certain this was unrelated. If anyone else in NYC is currently missing a parrot, call Rob at (347) 255-2098.
As the rain shower was near, I was hopeful that Truman would find me. But as it began to precipitate, I felt like I missed a golden opportunity to get Truman to come back. Yet as the rain stopped, new volunteers showed up and the support encouraged me to keep trying. I received a tip that somebody thought they spotted Truman flying past the park, under the elevated train tracks and to the other side. I rushed from where I was and called my search party to head that way as well. We continued searching and Coco who owns a Cape Parrot named Lola, thought she saw a familiar looking flight stroke. It was getting dim and difficult to discern. We searched all around the block we thought he was on but did not catch another glimpse or sound.
I was mostly able to stay focused on the goal and not get too emotional. I was too busy to think thoughts that would make me upset. But when taking a moment to talk to journalists or people about Truman I couldn't stop from choking up. Seeing Truman's empty cage that night as I was putting away really made things sink in. Seeing my Parrot Wizard 3.0 logo with Truman was also much to bear. I was less scared of not having him for myself as for his safety and sake. I figured he had a good chance at survival but time was running out.
On Tuesday evening while talking to Fox 5, I got another sighting call from 19th Ave and 63rd street. This was 2 blocks from the previous day's sighting at 19th Ave and 65th street so it sounded credible. I rushed over and the news team followed hoping to catch the rescue moments but there was no sight or sound of a parrot in that neighborhood.
A second night I barely slept and got up again at daybreak. It did not feel like 2 days had gone by. It felt more like 2 weeks. I kept reminding myself it hadn't even been 48 hours yet that he had been lost. Sara Munawar left me a really ominous note on facebook that really touched me, "Tomorrow morning will be the day he is found safe and sound. Watch!!"
With loads of bandaids on my feet I could barely step out of my car to hang fliers let alone walk to search. I had a tip that people heard a strange bird making noise all night in a tree on the corner of 14th Ave and 49h street. A bit in the opposite direction of where all leads were taking me but I checked it early. I heard no sign of Truman but people in the street assured me there was a bird making noise there all night. I don't know of Truman making noise at night so I'm not sure this was a credible lead.
Calls about monk parakeets continued to pour in and I had to ignore them because I had to focus my efforts in more likely neighborhoods. I was receiving calls from as far as Islip and the Upper East Side. I knew Truman could not be that far but I did encourage those people to report their sightings on parrot alert sites in case anyone else was looking for them.
I went back to the 19th ave area early in the morning to find a trace of Truman. I was listening intently because by then I expected him to be screaming for attention/food. I did not hear Truman but I found a scatter of almonds in shells and some opened ones on the ground. I have no idea how they got there but I considered the possibility that Truman may have been there and eaten some. On the other hand, they were on the ground and perhaps it was a rat or squirrel instead. I kept note of this location in my head and posted more fliers in the area.
Another turn in events was the show up of Ronen to help search. Up 'til this point it was only family and internet followers that were helping me out. Ronen was the first stranger that found out about me solely on the basis of the crisis. Ronen had previous experience recovering lost parrots. Apparently one of Ronen's friends heard about missing Truman in the paper and was encouraging Ronen to go and cash in on the reward by finding him. Ronen told his friend, "did I charge you anything for finding your parrot!?" and that was the end of that discussion.
I was exhausted and disappointed with my lack of a lead. I could barely walk. But Ronen showed up and took the search into his own hands. He lead the way and gave suggestions of places to look that I didn't think of. He boldly went into people's yards and talked to neighbors. His confidence that Truman was near and to be found gave me hope and helped me keep going. We searched more closely than any of the prior searches had been. I was mainly relying on flushing Truman out by calling him before, but Ronen was getting us to conduct a more thorough visual search.
We scoured the neighborhood for several hours when my phone rang. A gentleman started out by telling me he found my parrot in Canarsise. Let me just say that every call I had got started with "I found your parrot" regardless of whether they had a good visual on the bird or not. I barely knew where Canarsie was but I knew it was very far away. I even snickered a bit but figured I'd hear him out just in case. He started telling me about how this parrot had been in his yard making a lot of noise and has a white beak. The moment he said white beak I began to pay attention because Truman's beak is white. Then he went on to say he had been there for hours. A wild parrot would never stay in the same place like that for hours but a lazy house bird like Truman totally would. Once the man said the bird had orange on its ankles, I was absolutely certain that it was Truman.
Ronen told me to get Vaughn to send a picture to his phone. I didn't need a picture from the description to know it was Truman. Cape's are unique and rare, this couldn't be any other. The picture made it certain that it was indeed Truman. Ronen's car was closer to where we were searching and he knew that neighborhood better. So we jumped in Ronen's car and he went as fast as he could to the scene.
I was beginning to tell Vaughn to just get Truman to step up and take him inside but Ronen stopped me and said it's safer to just keep eyes on him and not risk scaring him away. I realized that since he hadn't gone anywhere for hours that he probably wouldn't be leaving any time soon. I asked Vaughn not to take his eyes off of him in case he flies away while we rushed to get there. I was not thinking of anything else but Ronen suggested I contact the news reporters in case they could get there before us and get another set of eyes on the bird. Great thinking, I alerted News 12 because I still had their card on me.
We arrived at the corner house and Vaughn invited us into the yard. I asked everyone to stay back to avoid scaring Truman off. I knew it was him from the calls I heard before we had even entered the yard. He was being noisy and playful. He was sitting atop an awning over the back door. He was pacing happily back and forth and not in the least bit concerned. He noticed me but was in no rush to throw himself in my arms. I expected a half dying bird to rush to me for saving but this wasn't remotely the case. I tried recalling Truman but he didn't budge. I pulled out an almond sure that he'd throw himself at it but still nothing. He wasn't finished playing atop the awning. Vaughn told us he had been there since 8AM and was flying between the fence, awning, and window sills playing and making noise. I couldn't think of anything else but Ronen was awesome enough to capture the first moments of Truman getting recovered.
I was a bit nervous that if Truman flew anywhere else, now he was in a very distant neighborhood and finding him again would be impossible. I did not rush to get a hold of Truman. This would have been a mistake. He hadn't gone anywhere for hours but doing something to agitate the already stubborn bird was too risky. I stood on my tiptoes reaching for Truman on the awning and let him step up. He came to the edge of the awning and stepped on my hand himself. I lowered him and immediately got an almond into his beak as a reward for coming to me. I put him down on a low fence to eat his almond. I tried to get a harness over him while he ate but the almond was too big and prevented the harness from going on. I tried to momentarily take his nut away but there was no chance that was going to happen. So instead I just let him sit and eat his nut untethered. I wasn't afraid of him flying away again. The first time was premeditated. This time he had no reason to. When Truman finished his nut, I put his harness on.
With Truman on a harness, I proceeded to feed him pellets and Vaughn brought him some water. To my surprise Truman was far from ravenous. He ate like he was a bit hungry but he wasn't desperate. This surprised me. With this kind of motivation, I doubt he would have flown back to me from anywhere. Truman was in high spirits and I checked his condition by asking him to do tricks for his treats. He had no problem doing them and his keel still felt meaty. I expected him to be emaciated but he was still plumper than where I would have ideally had him for outdoor flight training.
As we walked out, Brooklyn News 12 caught us and got some interviews. It was a really joyous moment and I was just so relieved and comfortable to be reunited. They took a picture of me with my heroes.
I realized that I did not have the cash reward on hand. I was just in such a frenzy that I had not even considered how I would pay it out. I assured Vaughn in front of the media that I would come back later that day to present the cash. Luckily Vaughn was cool with it and really just trying to do the right thing. He has a cat of his own and knows what how much a pet means to its actual owner. I'm sure Vaughn would have done just the same even if a reward had not been offered which is why I was especially intent on making sure he got it. I would have hated to have to pay off someone who was being a jerk and uncooperative without seeing the money first.
Vaughn said he was playing Call of Duty with his friend when he started hearing a lot of noise outside. It was agitating his cat and Vaughn went out to take a look. He thought it was a very strange looking bird and he shared this with his friends online. Vaughn had not heard of the fact that Truman was missing but his friends did and urged him to get a hold of me. That's how the whole friend of a friend plus social media system really paid off!
It wasn't 5 minutes since Truman was back that Kili began trying to attack him! She has been viciously trying to beat him up since. She would hang off my shoulder trying to bite him on my hand. I can't leave the two in the same room together because she is intent on getting him. It's like she wants to beat his brains in for putting us through all of that!
Ronen drove me and the two birds home while I made joyous phone calls. One of my first calls was to the vet to find out if I had to do anything. I was told to monitor him closely but that without symptoms it may be hard to know how to treat him. Except for pinkish/purple around his eyes and a very tired look, Truman seemed perfectly fine. In fact I was a bigger wreck and probably lost more weight than he did.
I got a call from someone saying he found my parrot. Considering Truman had already been found I knew this wasn't the case but I listened anyway. This was a sighting on 73rd street and 15th ave, not far from 71st and 15th ave where a sighting was reported the previous day. Where things got interesting was when the man admitted he had seen the parrot many hours earlier, around 8AM. He said he had tried to catch him on his balcony but that he flew off. Considering the incredible wind that day and the fact that he only showed up in Canarsie around 8AM, this first sighting may well have been true. I predict that Truman really was on that balcony but when the man tried to "capture" Truman (rather than just ask him so step up), Truman panicked and flew above the house. At that altitude he caught a 30mph wind and drifted 6 miles to Canarsie. Although Truman has flown in gusty winds down low, he has never had the experience of flying above roof tops before. This experience may have led him to continue flapping until he got too tired. I ballpark that with a 30mph wind and a cruise flight speed of 30mph, the straight line journey "as the parrot flies" to Canarsie would have only taken him 6 minutes.
We got Truman home and he flew a bunch of flight recalls to get more food. I was careful not to let him freefeed at once to avoid hurting himself. He did just fine and eagerly asked for plenty of food by training. Afterward, Ronen continued driving me around to finish up things. He took me by his house to copy the footage he took for me to my flash drive. Then he took me back to meet up with Vaughn and present the cash reward. And then I took Ronen out for a celebratory dinner. Not only had I found my parrot that day, but also a new friend. Like me, Ronen keeps 3 parrots and they are all flighted.
I absolutely will not clip Truman's wings. They have never been clipped and never will be. Truman did not fly off by accident. He was not spooked and nor did he escape. I have a good tab on flight safety at home and am confident he couldn't end up flying away by accident by using foolproof safety measures. However, there is nothing foolproof about freeflying a parrot outside. Although it is largely based on a relationship and training that encourages the parrot to fly back, we can never be 100% sure of what they will choose to do. I am not opposed to the concept of parrot freeflight (I always have and always will continue to say it's not for virtually every parrot owner) but this kind of situation cannot happen ever again. Considering how far he got and how difficult he was to find, I consider myself lucky and would not tempt fate again.
It's not that I have not considered the possibility of one of the parrots flying off before. I certainly have. I just never thought it would be this difficult and problematic to recover. Had I found Truman within the first day in the local neighborhood, I would have probably continued to freefly him, just with better precaution. But without the massive media, online, and community support, there is no way I could have gotten him back like this. I cannot possibly burden others like this again for the experience of freeflying these parrots in the city. For these reasons, for the foreseeable future and until a turn of technology or events that would allow otherwise, Kili & Truman will stay on their harnesses while outside.
Yet there is absolutely no good reason to clip Truman's wings. He flew away because I threw him away and because I gave him the full freedom to do so. All it would take for that not to happen is simply not to take off his harness outdoors. I am not punishing Truman. Not only would he not understand it, but nor would it be right. I need to reward him and treat him better for being home. I must treasure him and remember what it felt like not to have him even if just briefly.
Truman won't tell me where he had been all this time so I will speculate just a little. I think Truman's initial fly off was distant enough that I couldn't immediately find him. Perhaps he even turned the corner a few times trying to circle back and ended up more than a straight line or 90 degree turn away. He hung out quietly and mostly just rested. I think that sighting of him flying under the train tracks was for real and that Coco did catch a glimpse of him. The following morning he landed on a balcony but the guy trying to catch him scared him away. Being high already, Truman flew even higher and caught a massive tailwind. He flew continuously until he got too tired and landed in Vaughn's backyard. Truman was too tired to fly far again and just hung out until I could get there.
As to what Truman was thinking, I cannot know for sure but this is my take. I think Truman stormed off like an angry teenager in the moment. He was upset I was trying to make him fly when he did not want to. Kili (and even Santina) forgive me if I push too hard or upset them somehow but Truman gets worked up over things. He stormed off intentionally. He may have gotten lost and couldn't find his way back or he didn't feel like coming back at that time. The next two days calling for him locally was futile because he wasn't hungry enough and not particularly intent on coming back. He may have heard me at times when I called nearby but he just wasn't ready to come home.
When I got to him in Vaughn's yard, he was like "oh, it's you." He didn't mind coming to me but nor was it the top priority on his mind. He wouldn't fly back to me but he did step up just fine. It's like the difference between calling someone to come from across the street vs walking up to them and asking them to come. Truman wanted to set his adult boundaries and make clear about some things that he wanted. He ran away from home to make his point. I already knew he's a stubborn bird but he also wanted me to know that there are some things I cannot do against his will. By giving my birds extensive freedom, they have greater opportunities to express themselves. In this case it was just a bit too much freedom.
Perhaps if I found Truman some days later, he would have been more eager to be saved. But at this point he was still enjoying the high life. It's like a teenager that ran away from home. Maybe after a week and running out of money, he'd want to come home. But after just two days and plenty of fun, that's not yet the case. I don't think Truman realized just how much trouble he had gotten himself into yet. I suffered far more than he did. But really I'm glad that he didn't suffer. The only thing he really seemed to miss was beak and head scratches. He cuddled the whole car ride home and repeatedly since. He has been enjoying outdoor time in the aviary and riding my shoulder (with a harness) around the community to take down fliers and let everyone know he's been found.
This is the most media attention Truman has ever had. Although he auditioned for many of the same shows that Kili appeared on, he was never chosen. Kili would always upstage him and the producers would pick her instead. No matter how much I tried to get him on instead, everyone always wants Kili. It has been difficult for Truman to be growing up in Kili's shadow. This incident has been the most attention he has ever received. He's been enjoying it but it's not the way I would have liked for him to become so famous. If I could take back this whole experience and the publicity that came with it, I would do it in a heartbeat. The agony I had gone through absolutely is not worth the fame it brought.
Like Truman in the Truman show, Cape Parrot Truman wanted to step out of his studio into the real world. What Cape Parrot Truman didn't realize was that he was already living in the real world. You can't go beyond that. What I want Truman to realize is that he's got that real world but also that he is loved and missed back home. Kili, Santina, and I are his family and all love him very much. Things wouldn't be the same without him. We are so glad that Truman is back and can't thank everyone enough that has helped to get him home!
Here's Truman's moment in the spotlight, his first TV debut. Truman goes and shares his story on the Fox 5 Morning Show while Kili throws her performance to let Truman enjoy his moment and flawless performance:
Stay tuned for The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Finding a Lost Parrot. If anyone ever loses their bird, let this story be a story of hope and encouragement not to give up looking and may you have the same happy outcome as Truman and I did.
Here are some of the news stories about Truman being lost and found:
First a word about each parrot's personality and the role it plays in the flock. Kili is the oldest (at least in my mind because I got her first, in hers as well I'm sure!) and for sure the most aggressive. As a Senegal Parrot, it's just in her nature. But I have trained almost all of that aggression out of her so she is super well-behaved. But there is no guarantee that she won't try to attack Santina and start a dangerous war. Truman is an easy going Cape Parrot. He has been bullied by Kili all his life and has become accustomed to having to yield his perch. He is absolutely non-aggressive and doesn't start fights. He is, however, stubborn and provoking. Until Kili gives him a good bite, he doesn't want to yield. Santina, being a green-winged macaw, is the biggest parrot. She is also a rescue with not a fully known history. She is extremely friendly and non-aggressive with me but she has been known to bite others. I have to be careful with her because she has the potential to hurt any of the other birds. But on the flip side I also know that she doesn't hurt anyone she likes. It will be important to get everyone to be on her good side.
The very first step in the introduction process has been to not do anything and just let the birds see each other through the bars from a distance. I did not want to overwhelm anyone by forcing an interaction prematurely. The next portion of the process is to begin the introduction in safe foolproof ways. There absolutely cannot be a fight or provocation. The birds must only get used to being near each other but without resorting to fighting. Since I am limited in being able to control what my parrots do, I have to shape the environment and interactions for success. The essential thing to prevent for now, is for two parrots to end up in close enough proximity to be able to start a fight for any reason. Thus the challenge is to bring the parrots closer together while keeping them apart.
To bring the parrots closer together without potential physical contact, what I have been doing is getting Kili or Truman in a grab (they like being grabbed so it's no problem) and holding them near Santina. I kept them out of biting range for sure. At first I kept them at some distance but progressively approached closer. This is a way to directly control the first interactions and helps me establish the relationship for both birds simultaneously. What I don't want is for them to establish relationships on their own terms because I don't know what those terms might be. I would rather take it slowly and ensure tolerance and ideally friendship between everybody. While holding one of the old world parrots in my grab, I would use my free hand to give scratches to both. I'd alternate between giving Truman a head scratch and then Santina.
By alternating my attention between the two birds, I deter jealousy and encourage mutual cooperation. You may recall that I encouraged cooperation between Kili & Truman by using the prisoner's dilemma in making them have to work together to get mega-treats. I would recall the birds to fly to me together and unless both came, neither would get the treats. They learned to work together for mutual success. Likewise, by requiring both Santina and Truman to be calm in each other's presence to earn head scratched, I am able to build a similar experience. Both birds were earning welcome head scratches that they would not have been getting otherwise at that time.
While holding Kili or Truman in a grab near Santina, I was carefully assessing each bird's body language. I was careful not to evoke any aggression while promoting responses most closely associated to contentedness. Nothing bad was happening to any bird but only good things. Interestingly, Santina was very calm. Although she showed some modest interest, she did not show the aggressive body language I have come to recognize that she makes when she ultimately ends up biting people. With Truman's approach, Santina simply turned her head around backwards and proceeded preening. This is definitely a sign of calm and trust. Likewise, Kili & Truman showed no aggression and enjoyed extra scratches.
By keeping the guest parrots in my grab, I was able to get Santina to associate some of the happiness she feels in seeing me toward seeing these other birds. They were a sort of extension of my reach. Santina's trust of the fact that anything I present to her is good, also helped. I repeated this grabbed showing exercise a few times.
The next step was to introduce some closer interaction with greater freedom without letting the parrots cross paths. I began working on flight recalls in the bird room with Kili & Truman. With Santina on a stand at the far end of the room, I gave Kili & Truman the freedom to fly in the same room as her. So even though they could fly up to her and start a fight, they didn't. They know how to focus on a training session and ignore all else during this time. This is where a focused training approach comes in really handy when introducing birds. The birds don't even have to know how to fly or do complex tricks. Just getting each bird to focus on some sort of known positively reinforced behavior (such as target) is a great starting point. The training creates sufficient distraction while also inadvertently reinforcing the parrots for being in proximity without contact. Santina wasn't neglected during this training time either. While Kili & Truman would be eating their treats, I would continue training with Santina as well.
By using pellets as treats for all birds, I was able to buy sufficient consumption time that I never had more than one unoccupied bird at a time. While the parrots were occupied eating their treats at distant ends of the room, there was no opportunity for aggression. With time and progress, I would have the birds end up closer to each other. I had Kili or Truman buzz right by Santina in flight to recall to me. They would ignore her presence and focus on flying to me instead. Since Santina was preoccupied eating her own treat during that time, she had little reason for concern either. Interestingly, Santina was not bothered or surprised to see these flying birds despite being clipped and living around clipped birds.
To take things even further, I began finding reasons to give a nut to each bird and putting them near each other to eat it. A nut is a really big deal for all of my birds and it keeps them so occupied that they notice little else while consuming it. I would have each bird do something to earn a nut and then put each on adjacent perches. None of the perches were in stepping distance of each other but the flighted parrots could easily hop or fly the gap if they really wanted to. But since all birds were preoccupied enjoying their nuts, nobody went anywhere and the all of the parrots had practice being in each other's proximity without doing anything undesirable.
These early introductions have been very successful. I will continue training the parrots near each other while maintaining separation. With time the separation will be reduced. I will also take the parrots places together. I have found that travel and socialization really brings parrots together in their familiarity with each other but not the new places. Lastly, at some eventual times the parrots will inadvertently come in each others immediate proximity and I will be evaluating the outcomes and whether or not they can be let together for any extended or unsupervised spans of time.
This is not an absolute approach to parrot introductions but it works well for me. This is the method by which I originally introduced Kili & Truman to each other and it worked. Now I am using the same for Santina. Having a good training background and well-behaved parrot in the first places are important requisites to having success with this introduction approach. So if you haven't already, check out my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots to help you get to a point where applying this kind of training, being able to grab your parrots, etc are all possible in order to take advantage of these introduction techniques.