Truman, my Cape Parrot, learned the flighted retrieve in no time. Being a bird of the air that he is, he made the transition from running around (if you can call it that) to get the ball to flying for it without any special thought. You see, unlike Kili, Truman has never been clipped in his life and is completely at ease in the air as any bird should be.
Normally I develop videos and training guides for new tricks that Truman learns but this time there was really nothing to show. One time I rolled the ball on the floor and Truman walked back to me with it, the next time I kneeled with my arm higher so he flew up to it still holding the ball when I called his name. That and a few sessions of practice was all it took before Truman would fly all the way across the room to any place on the floor to fetch the ball and bring it to me.
I even took the trick a step further and taught him to land on my hand and then walk over to my shoulder with the ball before giving it to me. This too was extremely simple to teach. First I had him give me the ball on my hand, then I started having him walk more up my arm to give it to my other outstretched hand. Eventually I stopped signaling him to walk to my shoulder and he just continued doing it out of habit from the previous trials.
So instead of going into further detail about how easy it was to teach Flighted Fetch to Truman, I will tell you how I taught it to my Senegal Parrot Kili which is more likely what others would need to go through to teach the trick to their parrot. Kili already knew how to fly and how to fetch, so it was a matter of making the connection in her little bird brain to do them simultaneously. So for obvious reasons, your bird needs to already be a veteran at fetch (and be able to do it on different surfaces with different objects with ease) and be capable of flight. Ideally the bird should be flight recall trained but it is technically possible to teach a parrot that doesn't normally fly to you to do fetch on its own anyhow.
I found a pair of flat/simple chairs best for this but you could just as well use two coffee tables or other surfaces of similar shape/size that can be placed up against each other at first. Start by having the parrot walk around on one surface fetching the object at one end and bringing it to a cup or your hand at the other end. Use the objects and retrieve methods already most familiar to the bird. Once the parrot is comfortable fetching on this surface, begin having it fetch back and forth between the two joined chairs or surfaces by walking across the gap. As the parrot becomes better at fetching across the divide, slowly begin to spread the distance between the chairs with each subsequent retrieve.
At first the parrot will walk across the short gap, but as the gap widens it will have to hop and eventually flap to make it across the divide. By the time your parrot is flying from chair to chair to deposit the ball, you'll be able to place them quite far apart and the parrot out of habit will continue to fly between them to fetch the ball. All that is left now is to teach the parrot to use flight in other ways such as down to the floor and up to your hand with the object. At least the basic skill and concept of flying with an object has been achieved.
You can go back to the twin chair method but substitute the second chair for your hand. Place your hand within step up distance of the only chair you are now using. Ask the parrot to fetch but instead of flying to the other table, get it to step up on one hand and then deposit the object into your other. Just like the prior process of spreading tables, move your hand further and further away. You may or may not need to use your parrots flight recall cue to motivate or hint it to fly to your hand once it has retrieved the object.
Some things to keep in mind for teaching this trick. First of all, this is a fairly advanced trick. Don't expect your parrot to learn this fresh out of learning retrieve or its first few tricks. I waited two years since Truman learned to fetch before I decided to add the flighted element to it. I wanted a long term rock solid history of retrieve beforehand. The most common difficulty will be the parrot dropping the object when it tries to fly to you or forgetting to bring it and flying to you. The best solution is to use my spreading method because then the gap grows so gradually that the parrot transitions from walking retrieve to flighted retrieve without realizing the mobility change. If you try to go straight from normal retrieve to flying up from the floor with it, the parrot is likely to be confused. If you encounter any trouble at any stage, just go back to the last success point and keep practicing. Make even slower progress before increasing the gap. Remember to practice and perfect short distance flighted retrieves before moving onto longer ones. Once the parrot grasps the concept, be sure to challenge it and you will be surprised at how extremely capable they really are!
You can even take this a step further and incorporate flight into all tricks that are derivatives of the retrieve. For more fun and greater exercise, I have Kili fly recalls across the room for the opportunity to perform a trick. Then I create a divide that mandates flight. So instead of laying out coins on a table for her to put in her piggy bank, I throw the coins on the floor and then Kili flies up and down with them. Likewise with ring toss, I toss the rings on the floor so not only is Kili challenged by the colors puzzle but also to physically go and get them.
This article is about how to teach a parrot to fetch. I will only cover the bare basics and get into more advanced object retrieves another time. The basic fetch trick involves giving an object to a parrot, saying fetch, and then the parrot carries the object and drops it into a receptacle. In a later update I will cover how to get the parrot to go to retrieve the object on its own but this most basic version simply involves handing it to the parrot.
Fetch is a basic trick that can be trained to any parrot. Even parakeets can learn how to fetch. The time span for teaching this trick can vary from a few minutes to a few weeks. Typically it should take 3-7 training sessions to get the most basic version of the trick learned. It is beneficial but not absolutely necessary that the parrot knows some basic tricks like target and wave prior to learning the retrieve.
To teach the parrot to fetch is pretty straightforward and simple. You give the parrot an object to hold and then place a bowl underneath and wait for the parrot to drop it. Catch the object in the bowl, click, and reward the parrot. Over many repetitions of this process, the parrot will learn that dropping the object earns it a treat. To teach the parrot specifically to drop the object into the bowl rather than just anywhere, let it miss the bowl when it drops the object from time to time and don't reward. This narrows down the demands specifically to dropping the object into the bowl.
While the first few training sessions simply involve dropping the object straight down or a slight turn of the head, you should eventually work on having the parrot walk across a perch to take the object from you and then to walk some more to drop it. I highly recommend using Parrot Training Perches for the initial training of this trick. By using this kind of stand you can eliminate distractions and alternate paths of travel. The parrot can pay attention to you and since it can only walk in two directions, increases the likelihood that it will bring the object toward the bowl rather than run off with it.
Here is video footage of the original training sessions of how I taught Truman the basics of fetch in just 3 training sessions:
One problem that I encountered while training Truman is that he really enjoyed playing with the objects I gave him. In fact he enjoyed playing with them more than performing the trick. There are several methods for dealing with this kind of situation. First off, let the parrot get it out of its system. Let it play with the objects a bunch so that they become less novel. The parrot still has to be interested enough in the object to grab it but not wanting to play with it all day. Another thing you can do with a parrot that doesn't seem to want to drop the object is to offer it an even better toy to play with in return for dropping it. Often times just showing the parrot a cooler toy will make it drop what it is holding to take the new one. The new one becomes the positive reinforcement reward. The method is differential reinforcement where the new object has more value than the old one so it is worth working harder for the better object.
I did not run into this problem here but I know other people will. On the flip side of a parrot that won't let go of an object is one that won't hold it in the first place. Those parrots require a somewhat different approach. First try to experiment with different objects and see if you can find at least something that the bird will hold on to. If all fails, then try this. Use the target training method to teach the bird to target to the fetching object. Play target with the object a bit and let the parrot get used to going for the object. As the parrot puts its beak on the object, let go a bit and let it pull it out of your fingers. Click and reward this. So at first teach the parrot to pull the object out of your hand. Then start rewarding the times the bird holds the object for longer. At first it might just be a quarter second, then a half. Always reward the best times and ignore the worst ones. If the parrot at least holds the object long enough to fling it, you can use the fetch training method mentioned above (reward falling in bowl, ignore miss). The parrot will begin to learn to hold the object at least long enough to get it to the bowl.
Another issue you may run into is the parrot dropping the objects on purpose. It is important not to reinforce this. Don't immediately bend over to pick up what it dropped and try again. This can turn into a game where the parrot drops the object just to watch you picking it up again. Whenever the parrot drops an object or misses the bowl, turn around and ignore the bird briefly. It is best not to bend over and pick up the object but rather pull out a spare. Pick up the dropped object a bit later.
Once your parrot learns to take the object from you, walk over to the bowl, and drop it, it will have learned the simplest basics of fetch. However, do not stop here. Continue challenging your bird. Use alternative objects for the parrot to fetch as well as alternative receptacles. I recommend starting out with a very large bowl so it's hard to miss but then narrowing down to smaller and smaller ones to develop accuracy. Also change the direction where the parrot has to go to fetch. Don't let it get in a habit of walk left to pick up, right to drop. The parrot might not learn the actual concept then and would just be repeating motions. Instead, keep mixing up the direction but keep the concept of dropping objects into bowl the goal. I begin saying "fetch" from the first time I introduce the trick to the parrot. The earlier you start using the cue, the sooner the bird will pick it up. While it may seem strange to say "fetch" when the bird has no idea what the trick is and just holds the object to play, it just sets the training up and prepares it for hearing that cue once it catches on to the behavior.
This is just the very first stage of teaching the retrieve. Stay tuned for more updates about how to teach a parrot to fetch objects. I have been successful in using this method to train a Budgerigar, Senegal Parrot, and Cape Parrot to learn to fetch. I couldn't see why a Cockatiel, Conure, Amazon, or Macaw couldn't learn to fetch the same exact way. If you have any further questions, feel free to post in the comments or join the discussion on the parrot forum.