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.
I have owned parrots since 2008. Now, 7 years later I have 4 parrots, 30,000 subscribers on youtube, over 17 million views, and selling thousands of copies of my book. I would like to thank all of my subscribers, followers, readers, and fans for being a part of the whole Parrot Wizard experience. I am really happy to be sharing this with you and helping you achieve a great relationship with your bird as well.
Most of all I would like to thank my parrots for putting up with all the lights and cameras so that I could share them with you and the world. I have compiled a short sizzle reel to highlight some of the really cool stuff these magnificent performing parrots can do:
Kili knows over 30 tricks and I have actually lost count. The coolest thing is that she just knows how to work with me so I can come up with cool new videos like (Kili Swift Shake it Off) without specifically having to train anything new. We use commands that she is familiar with or she learns her new cues on the spot with a clicker. She is just a star actress.
Truman is a total monkey bird. He is always making a mess or getting into some kind of trouble. Still, he's the most lovable bird in the family and impossible to get mad at. He's very cuddly and hand tame. He is my go to bird for letting people hold. He has literally never bit anyone ever.
Santina is the rescue bird and still working on her skills to get along with other people. She was featured on my Harness Training DVD about how she learned to wear a harness in just a week!
I am working full time being a Parrot Wizard. When I'm not doing shows, consultations, or seminars, I am busy developing new tricks and products to sell. In my Parrot Wizard online store you will find a collection of products I have hand selected or invented to make parrot keeping more enjoyable. Trick training toys, perches, books, DVDs, and Parrot Training Perches can be purchased on that site. My book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots contains my complete approach to parrot training. It is exactly the system I have used on all of my parrots and the system that I recommend to other parrot owners. It is a lot of information so it took an entire book to contain it.
I am available for parrot shows for TV, general audience, or parrot clubs. Please contact me if you are a producer or organizer. I travel a lot, so there are occasionally opportunities to come and see one of my seminars in the US or around the world. I live in New York City and am especially available for events in the area.
Parrots are extremely intelligent creatures and can learn concepts like colors, matching, and size. That's why I am always excited to teach tricks to my parrots that both challenge them and demonstrate their capabilities to others.
It was pretty easy to teach my new Colored Boxes trick to Kili. That is because she already has all of the skills required to learn the colored boxes trick. First, a parrot needs to know how to fetch. Next, the parrot needs to learn how to match colors. Finally, the parrot needs to learn how to push or pull.
Kili already learned how to match colors in the puzzle trick and ring toss trick. Kili learned to push/pull for a coin box trick and for her stroller trick. Putting all of these skills together led to the Colored Boxes trick. In this trick Kili places all of the round colored pieces into matching colored boxes. Some of the pieces are smaller and some are larger. She had to learn to ignore the size and focus exclusively on matching the colors. Then Kili learned to walk over and push all of the boxes closed.
A problem that I ran into while teaching this trick was that Kili tricked me into helping her figure out where to put the pieces. Out of habit, I was clicking my clicker during the moment Kili would begin to dip the piece into right box. I realized that she would walk around dipping the piece into each box and waiting to see if there would be a click or not. In other words, she was tricking me into determining the color match and just cuing her when to drop it. So to avoid being outsmarted by the bird, I had to pay attention not to click until she would fully release the piece into the right box. She needed to receive the negative punishment of getting nothing for dropping the pieces into the wrong boxes in order to realize which ones are actually right.
When you teach a color match trick like ring toss, puzzle, or colored boxes, in the beginning the bird will only do two or three colors on pure memorization. But as you keep increasing the number of colors, a light bulb comes on in that bird's head and it realizes that the colors have to match regardless of what they are. Then the bird is able to match any color of that style trick.
Check out Kili's newest trick. Well actually it's not that new but we have not made a video about it before. I taught Kili the bird toss or what I like to call "boing boing." It's a trick in which I can toss Kili up and down in my hand like a beanbag.
The trick first came to me when I was walking about Phoenix with Ginger and her Senegal Parrot Sammy on a harness. Sammy is a really easy going Senegal Parrot that just about anyone can hold. Sammy is the star of Ginger's Parrots Movie. Anyway, so I taught Sammy to wear a harness in no time and we went to a Sunday morning parrot outing with other parrot owners. I was holding Sammy and we were there a while so I started turning Sammy over and playing. I forget why exactly but I started bouncing Sammy up and down in my hand and before you knew it we had a new trick.
Ginger and I passed by Dr. Drigger's office (a well known Avian Veterinarian in the Phoenix area) and I showed him what Sammy could do. The doc thought it was hysterical and took a video.
Fast forward to more recent times. Kili is very good about laying in my hand. So I started preparing her for the bird toss. At first it was just a matter of moving my hand up and down while holding her. But then I started letting go and allowing her to go up out of my hand a little and back down. It's nothing more than a trust building exercise. If Kili gets too uncomfortable, she just flips over and lands on my hand or flies away. But I can see her overcoming her fears in order to earn treats.
The funny thing is that this trick wasn't taught in the usual click and treat method. Instead it would happen here and there in the course of a year. Sometimes just playing with her out of boredom, other times right before putting her in the cage for a meal, little by little Kili learned to bounce like a champ. This was sooner a long term type of training rather than quick accelerated learning. I tried to get her to learn it quickly at first but it just wasn't working. So spanning it out over time without any hurry was the best thing for this type of a trick.
An interesting thing I noticed is that both Sammy, Kili, and Truman do better with the bird toss while wearing a harness. Perhaps it's the security they feel of still being partially held (by the harness instead of hand) or something else, but the harness definitely helped get the trick going in the beginning. And without further ado, here's the video: