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:
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!
Lori lives near Pittsburgh. This is close enough that we have the chance to visit her and Santina now and then, but from New York it is still quite far. By car, this is 6 hours each way, but by airplane just 2 hours. This is still a committed all day sort of trip, but a day drip nonetheless.
We were greeted in Pittsburgh with snow flurries and bitter cold after a challenging flight through the same weather. We agreed to stay quiet walking into the house to see how Santina reacts to each of us. Marianna went in first and I heard Santina greet her with an enthusiastic "Hi!"
I walked in and there was no denying that Santina remembered me. In no time she had her foot up, asking to step up. I was a little hesitant at first because if Santina forgot me, I could have been met with a vicious bite. She enjoyed some head scratches on my arm, danced around, and played with toys. While it was easy to get her to step up onto my arm, it was a bit of work getting her back off. She would cling on and be very reluctant to get off.
Lori walked in, and Santina couldn't be happier. All of her favorite people in one room. Incredibly, Santina was great with everyone. When I had her, Santina was much a one-person bird. Everyone else was so afraid of her that it was quite difficult to get other people to train her to open up to people. But, since Lori had no other choice but to train Santina, Santina finally got to learn to cooperate with multiple people. Once the bird is friendly with a handful of people, it's no longer a stretch for that bird to learn to be friendly to all people in general.
I could tell that Lori has done a fantastic job training Santina. It took Lori only a few weeks getting Santina to adjust and be good with her. Using training, treats, and patience, Lori had Santina stepping up and allowing head scratches in a very short time. All the time since was developing their own personal relationship and lifestyle. I can tell that not only has Santina adjusted to a new home but Lori has adjusted well to life with a parrot.
We weighed Santina and were really happy to see her weight is spot on. She has a good appetite and has been eating well. Lori has done a good job balancing the feeding Santina was accustomed to with her own variety of foods. Lori demonstrated how she cuddles Santina on the couch as part of their routine.
Then it was time to open presents. Santina was nervous of the wrapping paper so I let Lori try with her. They worked on it together and Santina grew the courage to open it herself. A giant foraging toy for sure! Santina ripped all of the wrapping paper to find a bag full of tasty nuts.
We exchanged gifts and enjoyed a special holiday dinner before heading back off into the sky. We were thrilled to see Santina doing so well and happy and we had a heart warming visit with our new friend. Here is a video of our visit with Lori and Santina the Green-Winged Macaw for the holidays: