I visited the Gabriel Foundation outside of Denver recently. This is a spectacular parrot rescue that should serve as a role model not only for other rescues but even stores and private owners as well!
The Gabriel Foundation was started by Julie Weiss Murad over twenty years ago. The foundation is more than just a rescue. It is a parrot welfare center. They take in relinquished birds, they find homes and adopt out birds, they rescue abused birds in emergency need, and the provide lifelong sanctuary to birds that cannot be adopted to homes. But their efforts extend beyond the birds. They offer educational programs, assistance, and volunteer opportunities to people so that they could become better connected with their parrots.
I found several things extremely impressive during my brief two day visit to the Gabriel Foundation. The most noticeable thing is how incredibly clean everything is! The cages there are cleaner than those at any bird store, rescue, or even most private homes I have ever visited. And I know parrots well enough to tell you that it's not because the parrots aren't making a mess. It's the endless cleaning efforts of the staff that make this happen.
Every cage is filled with a multitude of perches and toys suitable to the parrot enclosed. Again, a better and more suitable effort than even many parrot owners in their home. The same holds for the feeding routine. They feed an extensive variety of foods on a twice daily schedule with proper portion sizing.
Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is that none of the parrots have their wings clipped! You cannot find a store or almost any other rescue where the birds don't have their mobility hindered for the convenience of the care takers. Yet, at the Gabriel Foundation, the birds are given the chance to be birds! Off the bat this ends up solving many of the problems that the birds may have been relinquished to the rescue for in the first place. Most parrot behavioral problems come as a side effect of wing clipping and the owner's misunderstanding of how to properly keep a bird.
One more thing that the birds at the Gabriel Foundation get that most other rescue, store, and even home pet birds don't is outside time with access to direct natural sunlight. This is as important for the birds' mental well-being as it is to their physical health. I am so impressed to encounter such a large scale organization that really gets it. The Grabriel Foundation is doing things right. They are not taking any shortcuts. They are providing the birds in their care with the kind of care the bird's should really be receiving in a home. Things are almost too good to be true and begs the question, why even adopt a parrot from the Gabriel Foundation if they have it so good there?
Well, according to Julie, the parrots are better off in a home because of the greater human contact. These parrots were domestically bred and raised in homes with people. Although they might have a grand time in aviaries with other parrots of their species, ultimately, they are more comfortable in the human environment in which they were brought up. The Gabriel Foundation simply offers those birds the best possible interim solution until they can find the right home. This also frees up a space at the foundation so that another parrot in need could have the opportunity to make it through the system as well.
By setting the standards so high and so right at the Foundation, it makes it a bit challenging for adopters to meet those kind of standards. The good news is that they are not without help. The foundation goes through great lengths to educate and assist adopters as much as they require so that they could continue the wonderful legacy that the Foundation had started.
I have to say that most times I visit a parrot store or rescue, I end up leaving with a painful feeling in my gut. I get quite upset at the dark, dirty, insufficient perch, insufficient toy, clipped, and ignorant conditions that I come across. Frankly, I tend to avoid visiting stores and rescues to shield myself from the distress that they cause me over the treatment of the birds. Coming to the Gabriel, I had heard good things, but didn't really know what to expect. Incredibly, it was the exact opposite of the typical experience. I would like to encourage any parrot owners, bird store owner, breeder, or rescue staff/volunteer visiting the Denver area to pay the Gabriel Foundation a visit and learn about how good parrot care and parrots themselves can be.
Ginger's Parrots Rescue is following a similar model but on a smaller scale and specifically focused on Senegal Parrots and Cockatiels in the Phoenix area.
Here's a video tour of a portion of my visit to the Gabriel Foundation:
Looking for a fun and easy trick to teach your parrot? Wondering how you can teach a parrot to bowl? This free trick training guide is about how you can train the Birdie Bowling trick to your parrot!
I love the Birdie Bowling trick because it looks a lot more impressive than the effort it takes to teach it. This is a trick that suits virtually all kinds of parrots and is easy to teach (basically everything except budgie, lovebird, or parrotlet because it is too big for them). This was the first prop based trick I ever taught to Kili and I recommend it to people as their first prop trick.
So here's a step by step guide on teaching a parrot to bowl:
Step 2: Make sure that your parrot is target trained. If it isn't, teach it to target before you start teaching the bowling trick. If it is already target trained, just do a quick review to remind it what to do.
Step 3: Desensitize the parrot to the bowling toy. Most parrots get scared of new stuff. The good news is that the more tricks you teach, the more the bird will get used to accepting new things. The best way to desensitize the bird to the bowling toy is to target it near the toy. Place the bowling toy on a table beforehand. Bring your parrot and set it on the table far from the toy. Get the bird into a rhythm targeting. Target it randomly in different directions and not strictly toward the bowling or it may get suspicious. Target it around randomly but little by little, more and more toward the bowling. Let the parrot pay more attention to the targeting exercise and forget about the bowling until you are able to target it right by the bowling at ease. It is better to take the time to do the desensitization exercise even if the bird didn't get scared than to scare the bird with the toy first and then try to change its mind.
Step 4: Target the bird toward the bowling ball with your target stick. Set the pins aside for now. Place the ball on the ramp and use the target stick to direct the bird to the ball. Say "target" and when your bird touches the stick, click and reward. After the bird gets good at this, point to the ball with your finger and say "target." The bird should do the same as before but touch the ball instead of the non-existent stick. If it doesn't catch on, keep practicing with the stick some more.
Step 5: Get the bird to push the ball. This part is a bit tricky and requires careful scrutiny on your part. Saying "target" and pointing to the ball should get the bird to come to the ball and touch it. But we're not trying to get the bird to just touch it. We want the bird to push it. This is where some clicker training really comes in handy. Using the "target" command, we can get the bird to touch the ball. In the beginning, accept by click/rewarding any touch of the ball. However, as the bird continues to improve, require firmer touches and presses of the ball to receive a click/treat. What you will most likely encounter is the bird getting a bit frustrated when it touched the ball and got nothing, then it will start attacking or shaking the ball in an attempt to get the touch to work (like pushing the dysfunctional elevator door close button a million times). This is your chance to watch for the moment of maximum pushing to click/reward. At some point, the bird will push the ball hard enough that it will roll of the ramp and this is the time to click and give a jackpot reward to mark success. If the bird never overcomes pushing it over the bump, you can try holding the ball just over the bump and encouraging it to push. Let go when it does so that the bird can realize that pushing it to move is what gets the click/treat. Eventually it should learn to push harder and be able to push it on its own.
Step 6: Set up the pins, set up the ball, tell your parrot to "bowl," and enjoy! Click the moment the parrot pushes the ball off of the ramp and give a treat. Eventually you won't have to click because the bird will learn that getting the ball rolling is the entire purpose.
Here's a short tutorial I made with Kili to illustrate the key steps of the process:
During my recent visit to Phoenix Arizona, I took Kili & Truman in to see Dr. Driggers. His is the first exclusively Avian and Exotic veterinary clinic in the country to have a CT scanner. He took some time to tell me about the machine and how it works.
It's really fascinating. The scanner takes 720 images in the span of about 30 seconds. The computer reconstructs these images into a full 3 dimensional display of the animal. The doctor is able to look through the organs and bones without ever hurting or cutting the animal open in the process.
I decided to get Truman scanned to check on how his prior injury has healed and also to check just in case for new ones because he is very accident prone. So they gassed him for a few minutes to anesthetize him. They need the animal to lay perfectly still during the capture so that all of the images line up for the final 3D image. Then they laid Truman out on the bed of the scanner. A team of several vet techs works together to make the process go as quickly and smoothly as possible. They hyperventilate the bird prior to the scan and then stop the breathing during the scan. It's like holding your breath to go underwater. Everyone gets out of the room while the scanner is going. The moment it stops, they were already getting a stethoscope on Truman and checking his condition. Once the scan was complete, they used a hand pump to get him breathing room air again.
The analysis of Truman's bloodwork and CAT scan showed him to be healthy and organs in good shape. A 3D look at his skeleton showed that his original injury has healed well and is barely visible any more. On the other hand it also revealed that he has a slightly crooked keel and that he has busted his tail at some point. Nonetheless, these do not currently affect him but it's good to know what's going on. It is also reassuring to know that the previous injury has not worsened and that his organs look healthy.
I am glad to see the new CT scan technology moving along so well. I bet in a case where there is organ issues, something lodged inside the bird's gut, or a hard to locate injury, being able to use this CT scan technology will drastically improve avian medicine.
Since the Avian and Exotic Clinic is the first in the country to have a CT scanner and since Truman is their first ever Cape Parrot to be scanned, most likely this is the first and currently only 3D CT scan of the internals of a Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus fuscicollis). Check out this video of Dr Driggers explaining the technology and Truman, the first Cape Parrot to get CT scanned, showing us how it's done:
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:
Kili has been a really bad bird so I threw her out the door. Isn't that the best way to solve any parrot behavior problems? Just chuck the parrot outside. It's not like I was going to shoot her for it or something! Bye bye birdie.