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.
It is winter. It is cold. We value days of warmth more than ever and so do the birds. This has been an especially cold winter and opportunities to get the birds outside for some natural sunshine have been very limited. This is why the moment it is sunny and not so cold I jump on the opportunity to get them out!
Yesterday it was a warm 46 degrees Fahrenheit. So I took Santina out briefly and she had her first encounter with snow. Since Santina comes from a warm room and heated rescue, I did not venture to keep her outside for long. She is not adapted to the cold. Kili and Truman on the other hand sport really thick down coats. When I pet their feathers, I notice an unusually thick layer of poofy white down beneath. The reason is because in the fall I continue taking them outside in the cold and also drop my apartment temperature some. They become acclimated to lower temperatures so brief encounters with temps above freezing are not a problem.
Since yesterdays outing was not expected, the birds were already fed and the timing was bad so they didn't care to fly much. Today, I checked the weather and realized it would be warm again. So I skipped morning flight training at home and got them outside for some freeflight instead. They're not used to flying in such weather but they did a stellar job none the less. They have been training up for this moment and keeping their muscles in shape with 1-2 mile nightly training sessions at home.
Truman seemed really eager so I let him fly first. He did one flight recall off the bat but refused to do anymore. He went back on his leash while Kili showed him how it's really done. She zoomed all around the park like a flying ace. She had not forgotten a thing in the months since her last freeflight. Truman was burning with jealousy and when he got his turn flew better than ever before. He flew longer, further, and more reliably. They both did a stellar job on this cool, sunny, February winter day!
My parrots do what I want. This is contrary to most people's parrots that do what they don't want and don't do what they do want. My parrots step up for me whenever I ask them to. They come out of their cages and go back into their cages when expected. They fly to me when called and allow me to touch, hold, handle, and grab them. They never bite me and they don't bite other people either. They voluntarily put on their harnesses and travel with me. They even freefly outside without restraint and come back to me. My parrots do what I want them to do! But why do they do that? I will attempt to explain that in this article.
Note in this article I use examples of my freeflight experiences with Kili & Truman as the ultimate demonstration of my parrots doing what I want with full freedom. I am not recommending that anyone try this with their parrot. I am only hoping to convince you of the extent of the effectiveness of my approaches and to encourage you to use them with your parrot in your home. It is best that you do not attempt outdoor freeflight.
It comes down to training, motivation, challenging, patience, and realistic expectations. Without all of these components, it is unlikely that your parrot will do what you want. Let's start with realistic expectations. In part this means understanding and accepting the wild side of a parrot and that it may never change. On the other hand it's about having expectations that are achievable and relative to the parrot's current level of training. In other words when I work with a less trained parrot, I don't expect it to do what a more highly trained parrot can. If what I want the parrot to do is relative to what it can do, then I am more likely to be pleased that the parrot is doing what I want.
But wanting the parrot to do what I expect it to be capable of doing isn't enough. I also want the parrot to learn to do better and this is where challenging the parrot comes in. I challenge my parrots and other parrots that I train to do better. This is a perpetual process. Even when my parrots are good at what they do, I challenge them to do better still or to move onto tougher challenges that will continue to challenge them. By raising the bar of their capabilities - as well as my expectations - it assures that the easier things will remain while newer challenges will be achieved as well.
Patience is the bridge between expectations and achieving actual challenges. These things may take time. But what's the rush? The bird will live a very long time and it's a fun road for us to share together through the behavior improvement process. But expectations, challenges, and patience simply aren't enough. An infinite amount of these will still keep you exactly where you're at if you don't apply training. Training teaches the parrot how to do the things that we wish to challenge them with. I'm not going to get into how to train parrots because that is the subject of this blog and my book, but it is undeniable that training is a key component.
Yet, even people who apply the training approach end up failing to achieve desired behavior from their parrots. One more component is irreplaceable: motivation. The parrot has to want what you want or at least want what you can do for it in return for doing what you want. Parrots may be highly intelligent but they are also highly selfish. As are we. We want our parrots to do what we want; likewise our parrots want us to do what they want! Having an outstanding relationship and well-behaved parrot lies on the intersection of those two desires! There must be compromise on both sides in order for it to work.
The secret to getting your parrot to do what you want is to make it so that the parrot wants to do that. We can call this motivation. Forcing the parrot to do what you want may work at times. But the down side in most cases is that if the parrot doesn't genuinely want to do that, then at the first opportunity to bail it will. For example, I take my parrots to freefly at the park. On the way to and from the park I have them wear their aviator harnesses just to be safe. However, at the park they are given the freedom to fly. If the only reason they wore harnesses was because at home I forced them to wear the harness, then at the park they could easily fly away from me to avoid having it put on. You see, the difference now between a parrot that WANTS to put the harness on from the parrot that HAS to put the harness on?
Another element that I find to be crucial to success with parrots is not clipping their wings!. I think wing clipping is to a large extent responsible for parrot owners' failure to teach the parrot to do what they want. And it's not the other way around, either. I do believe that people think they are clipping a bird because it does not do what they want. But in reality, they never taught it in the first place. But by clipping the bird's wings, they are actually eliminating the possibility of teaching their parrot to behave the way that it should. The parrot does not stay on its tree because it should, it does it because it has to! The parrot doesn't avoid flying over to people because it doesn't want to bite, but because it can't. Wing clipping ends up forcing a parrot to appear to do what we want (like be with us) but in actuality there is a strong chance the parrot does not want to. In that case, it is a failed application of teaching the parrot to do what we want it to do. This ultimately leads to failure and a highly misbehaved parrot.
Parrots are born to fly. It's not just their feathered appearance that is evolved for flight. Their entire cardio-respiratory system is like a turbocharged engine that is dying for flight. Their brain is capable of processing its spatial surroundings, navigating, planning, and thinking at the speed of flight! Without flight, the muscles and the brain decay from disuse. We need that brain to stay sharp to learn to be the great pet that we desire. Eliminating flight eliminates the intelligence that we need to tap into to teach the parrot to cooperate.
The goal is to have a parrot that looks forward to seeing you and cooperating with you. If the parrot only does these things because it has to, then at the first opportunity to not have to do them, it won't. Yet if the parrot is put in the situation that it wants to do these things and chooses to, success is assured all around.
Here's a great test to figure out if the way you approach your parrot is improving or harming your relationship: if your parrot will fly away from you as a result, it is hurting. If your parrot will voluntarily fly to you to get to participate in your handling, then it is improving. The only way to find out is to have a flighted parrot. Simply guessing what your parrot would do is not enough because there is no concrete feedback. A clipped parrot that cannot fly may be stuck enduring much that it does not want. This will slowly add up and then at some point what seems like "biting for no reason" is actually quite justified because of all the things it had to do that it did not want to do. By allowing the bird to fly and using this as a gauge for what it wants/does not want to do, you can only use approaches that actually work. This reduces the fallout of doing things that the bird does not want and having revenge seemingly out of nowhere.
Most of you know that I use food management to train tricks/behavior to my parrots. It would seem that the parrot is "forced" to do what I want because otherwise it would not get to eat. But actually this isn't the case for several reasons.
First this has to do with a realization I've made some time ago. It's not my job to feed my parrots. It is their job to feed themselves. It is only my responsibility to make food available to them but it is up to them to make the feeding take place. Think about it. In the most basic case, the owner puts food in the bowl and the parrot climbs over to eat from it. The owner is making food available but the parrot is choosing to take the steps to eat the food. Likewise, in the wild, parrots fly distances from tree to tree to feed themselves. What I am doing is shifting the gap from eating from a bowl inches away to something closer to eating from a tree miles away. It is not only natural but also instinctual for parrots to search, forage, and behave in ways that get them food. Through training and soliciting good behavior ("good" is relative and in this case I mean "behavior that is desirable to me") I am directly appealing to a parrot's natural desire to do what it takes to feed itself.
Furthermore, if my parrots are failing the challenges I make for them to "feed themselves," I - in my sympathy - can reduce the challenges to something that they are known to be capable of to ensure they do manage to feed themselves. In other words, they'll still be fed. But it gets even better still. During this process we develop alternative forms of reinforcement that are not food. The birds develop habitual good behavior and maintain it even though they never receive food for it. Not biting, stepping up, coming out of the cage, touching, handling, grabbing, stepping up for other people, putting on harnesses, etc are so much practiced and habitual that my parrots continue to exhibit all these excellent behaviors without receiving any treats for them. So, yes, food was used to teach them these things initially, but as they have become habit, the parrots are no longer dependent on food to maintain these.
As I challenge my parrots to always do more behavior, better, for smaller treats, and for less frequent treats, they become adapted to just doing the behavior. They also become more in tune with very subtle conditioned reinforcers. Getting a click of the clicker or just a smile from my face can become much more effective when the parrot has been challenged to do a certain behavior for a treat once every 10 or better yet every 50 times. By employing variable ratio reinforcement schedules, I am able to make the behavior more reliable while also making the parrot less dependent on food as a reason for doing it. Also, as I challenge my parrots to do harder and harder things (such as extensive amounts of strenuous flying), it makes other things comparatively easier. My parrots perform tricks, step up, and behave well in other ways much more readily because those are far easier ways to earn attention, scratches, and other good subtle non-food things than flying. It's a piece of cake to step up for me for a head scratch rather than to fly to me for it. So step up is absolutely reliable and fool proof. Flying 50ft recalls at home is easier than flying 200ft recalls at the park, so after flying 200ft recalls at the park, the parrots are even more reliable at flying 50ft recalls at home. As I continue to challenge my parrots' ultimate behavior challenges, all easier behavior becomes near automatic.
If you challenge your parrot to go just a little further, do just a little more, with time the behavior will be better and better. First it may be a matter of walking a few inches to the food bowl to eat. Then the parrot can learn to target a greater distance to target and eat. Then you can take this even further and have the bird learn to fly some distances to you to get the same. The bird still gets to eat the full healthy portion that is suitable for it but it will just learn to do more and more for it and this will be normal. In the process the parrot will become more fit and your relationship will blossom. No matter how much we challenge our parrots, it still doesn't even come remotely close to the challenges of nature. But the more we train our parrots, the happier we will be with having a more suitable pet and the healthier the parrot will be as well.
I treat training, and particularly flight recall training, like I am a tree. In the wild, parrots will fly from tree to tree to find the ones with ripe fruit, nuts, or seeds. Some trees may not have anything while others will be more rewarding. I tell my parrots to "forage me with their good behavior." In the wild, they will be challenged to find the food and then to extract it from its natural protections. In the home, they can experience the same mental challenge but in a way that benefits our relationship at the same time. They have to try to work out the puzzle of extracting their food from me by figuring out what I want them to do and doing it to the best of their ability! This is so natural to them. It feels like more of a crime to deny them the opportunities to express these natural tendencies. They love to be challenged.
While my parrots are practicing flight in home and outside, not only are they learning to fly better, they are also building stronger muscles. As long as I keep challenging them to fly a little more or a little further each time, they get stronger and have greater endurance. This also makes it easier for them to fly small distances and makes them more reliable when I really need them to fly. Flying a short distance is easy for a stronger bird so it takes less motivation to elicit it. At the absolute best, I was able to get Truman to fly a total distance of 1.5 miles and Kili to fly 2.6 miles in a single 1 hour long flight training session at home. Considering that Kili came to me clipped as a bird that had never fledged, this amount of flying strength that we have built is colossal! Better yet, watch her flying outside with skill and ease. She will now fly to me from any part of the park, even when she can't see me. She has learned to dodge obstacles, turn, and find me by the call of my voice.
By allowing parrots to fly, we have the glorious opportunity to be that parrot's wild foraging tree. We can tap into that natural instinct to fly across distances and feed not only to exercise the parrot but also to teach them how wonderful it is spending time with us. Through the flight recall training process, you can teach your parrot to think on the fly and to do what we want it to do. As we challenge our parrots with strenuous tasks such as flight (which are otherwise perfectly natural for them), we can develop high endurance levels of motivation. That motivation can be tapped to encompass all the other good behavior that we require of our parrots in order to be good pets.
I feel that the ultimate measure of success in regards to parrot ownership is the combination of the birds' health/well-being and being able to get my parrots be the kinds of pets I want them to be. Success is that bridge of the parrot doing what we want and allowing the parrot to get what it wants from us!
Please learn more about my complete approach to achieving a great companion parrot in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. It is the first book of its kind to provide a complete approach to parrot keeping and also to presume parrots to be the flighted animals that they are. This approach does not come with a caveat that says it will only work if the parrot has its wings clipped because it is an approach to make the bird want/choose to cooperate rather than to artificially force it. It's an approach to teach the animal to want what you want and encourage it to be a willing participant in the pet lifestyle in which it lives. With this approach, everyone benefits both human and parrot alike. You will be happier to have the pet you want but the parrot will also be happier to have ways by which to fulfill it's natural instinct for survival. Ultimately it's a more natural, mutual, and caring approach.
I took Kili & Truman on an outing to a glider club picnic. This isn't the first time I've taken them to this annual event so it wasn't surprising that they were at complete ease. I'd even go so far to say that they even enjoyed it.
The parrot duo got to ride around on my shoulders and earn bits of unusual food. They took turns stepping up for people, getting pet, or showing tricks. The birds especially enjoyed eating freshly picked NJ sweet corn off the cob. Funny thing is that Truman is a dodo and can't manage corn off the cob. Truman goes bonkers for corn off the cob but can't figure out how to get it off. Kili just digs right in. I can't take a bite of my corn without Kili ripping off the other end.
The place where the club hosts the picnic has a small lake and boats. I took the parrots on their first ever open boat ride. I put them both down on the side but Kili flew right up to my shoulder. Meanwhile Truman sat on the edge and watched the water and wildlife. By exposing the birds to every possible imaginable experience, I can best prepare them for complex unforeseen situations or performances in the future.
At these picnics, the club always ends things with a balsa wood glide throwing contest to see who can toss their flimsy little plane to land closest to a pole. The host's mantra has always been that "there are no rules and cheating is encouraged" so my brother and I usually bring our own higher performance gliders. But this year I decided to go all the way and have the bird do the flying. Before the competition I worked on training Truman to harness fly and land atop the PVC canopy of the target stake. Using my "go to perch" command, I had Truman fly to the point from further and further back until I could do it from the launch point. I had to have a running start and send Truman flying in order to keep running to grant him slack in his flying line. Since Truman's string is only 25ft but the required distance was over 75, I had to run with him to be able to fly. I paid the $2 entry fee twice. I entered Truman as his own competitor.
When the competition came, it was already well after sunset. I didn't realize just how badly birds see in twilight until I tried to have Truman fly to the point during the competition. The first two tries, he flew the wrong way and only the harness kept him from going who knows where. But on the third and final attempt, things went a little different. Truman again took off and headed in the wrong direction. He reached the end of the line and began an arching turn to follow the radius. I took his continued flying to advantage and started running toward the stake calling his name to recall to me instead. He turned and headed for the sound of my voice. He was so winded by this point that he did not make it to the top of the stake but did land just 12 inches short of the pole which was the closest any flying object had made it to in this competition. Truman was cheered on by the onlookers as he made it to the landing zone. I didn't do nearly as well when I tossed my balsa glider.
The birds were satisfied, satiated, and exhausted from all the flying, thrills, and experiences. They did not make a peep the entire ride back. These kinds of outings are a fantastic socialization experience for the birds and I think for them a lot of fun. It also gives me a chance to educate people about parrots in the process. For more information about building trust, hand taming, harness training, taking parrots outdoors, and teaching them to wear a harness, check out my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots.