Marianna and I recently got to visit Steve Hartman from The Parrot University and learn about how the Aviator Harness is made. He took us on a personal tour of the production facility and shares with you in the video at the end.
This article is about how to make a bird harness in a professional way beyond just a nylon strap and some buckles. You will get to find out some of the hidden features of the Aviator Harness that you never knew about. Getting to see how the harness is made first hand, gave me an even greater appreciation of the product that I have been using and selling for years. Much more goes into making it than I had previously realized. Here are some things that you probably never heard about the Aviator Harness as it was pretty new to me as well:
It's all in the material. The strap material used to make the Aviator Harness is carefully chosen for a combination of strength and comfort. Not only has the company tested and rejected a multitude of materials, every batch of material is tested to conform to stringent standards.
Welded, not sewn.. I've known for some time that the Aviator Harness is "welded" but never truly understood what this means or why it is done this way. It turns out that they were originally sewn together but that the parrots would immediately go for the stitches and chew them out. The weld isn't exactly a weld. It's not like they take a hot torch or iron to melt the strap to itself. Instead, they have a special machine that vibrates a pin into the material so fast that it melts together locally. It's quite strange really. The machine does not apply heat. Instead, it uses the friction of the vibration to make the material melt itself. This creates a bunch of contact points that hold it all together that the parrot cannot separate.
One metal slide is all. There is only one point of adjustment on the Aviator Harness and that is the black metal slide. Not to be confused with plastic, the slide on the Aviator is made from black powder coated steel. I got to hold these in my hand and I realized that they are much heavier and tougher than they look. This would appear to be the single point of failure for a harness, but in all my years of using these harnesses, the slide is one part that never got damaged in the slightest.
Grooming is everything. They call it grooming but it's really just a process of smoothing everything out with a torch. There are naturally a lot of rough spots such as the ends, the welds, and contact points on the strap. Each strap is held up to a flame by hand to get it smoothed out wherever there is a rough edge. It might be hard to realize this with a finished harness in hand but when you feel how they come out before they are groomed, you would realize it would be quite uncomfortably poking the bird.
They're already stretched. The strapping itself is pretty firm, especially when scaled down for the smaller birds. I remember how I used to tell people to wash their new Aviator a few times before initial use to soften it up. Well, it turns out that now all of the Aviator Harnesses are per-processed to be ready for use out of the box. They are each stretched, shrunk, or washed as necessary to be soft and ready for use out of the box.
Each harness is tested. Not by a parrot but by multiple quality control checks built into the system. Because multiple different people are involved in the various stages of production, any mistakes or defects are caught early. There is virtually no chance that a bad Aviator makes it out to customers and breaks allowing the bird to fly away. They are pulled and checked over many times to make sure this does not happen.
They're made in the US. The Aviator Harnesses are made in the US by US employees. Steve employs local college students part time in addition to full time employees to produce the harnesses. He explained to me that he tried to have them made in China but that the quality was not sufficient or consistent enough to satisfy parrot owners. It is really important that each harness is safe and works out of the box but with outsourced manufacturing, it just wasn't possible to control this. So, the Aviator is put together in the US for the highest quality standards.
It takes a long time to make. By the looks of it, you'd think it could be made in a few minutes but that is not the case. There are over 20 steps in making an Aviator Harness. Multiply that by 8 sizes and 7 colors and that is a heck of a lot of steps! As the harnesses are produced, they can spend over a month moving from station to station to go through the various stages before they are finally packaged and shipped. If you wanted to make one yourself, it would take a really long time and even then, you would not have access to the specialized machinery and would have to compromise the quality. Basically, it would not be worth spending the kind of time it would take to make one from scratch.
I learned another secret during my visit, the price of the Aviator Harness is about to go up on November 1. If you don't have one or need another, order now before the price goes up worldwide at every store (including mine).
I have to say, I was genuinely impressed with how the Aviators are produced. A lot of thought, experience, and care for the parrots' welfare has gone into how they are made. It was a pleasure getting to meet Steve and his wife Judy. I'm as proud as ever to be one of the biggest vendors of the Aviator Harness in the United States. Every size and color is available for the lowest price at ParrotWizard.com. Also, please check out my own, personally made, support products such as my Training Perches, Book, and Harness Training DVD.
Here is a video of Steve showing Marianna the process of making an Aviator Harness for Parrots:
The weekend of September 9/10, 2017 was an exciting, action filled, time at Todd Marcus Birds Exotic in Delran, NJ. The exotic bird store held its biggest sale of the year during the 34th Anniversary event. Parrot enthusiasts came from near and far to partake in the festivities.
Face painting, free food, shopping, bird shows, and inflatable jumping pits for kids were just some of the featured activities. It seems that for most, the biggest highlight of the event was the social atmosphere. Folks sat around the store with baby birds in their arms while chatting with everybody.
I was invited to hold bird shows, provide education, and showcase Parrot Wizard brand products. Kili, Truman, and Rachel helped me debut my new Parrot Wizard NU Perch Tree line.
Since my performance area was outside, I kept all of my parrots harnessed for safety. Not surprisingly, they were not scared and handled very well. They have a lot of experience at even more bustling places. However, it is better safe than sorry, so they remained harnessed the entire time.
This presented a slight challenge for Kili. Since she was the main star of the tricks show, she had to get around the table while dragging the leash behind her. It would have been no trouble at all except that she always manages to twist herself up in it. She always turns in the same direction, so with time it gets twisted up and I have to help her fix it. Otherwise, she has no trouble doing all of her tricks including bowling, color matching ring toss, and her baby stroller routine.
I did not want to burden Kili with too many trick performances because we had to pace ourselves for 10 shows in 2 days. I tried to alternate other birds and talks in order not to overwhelm her. Well, she did all her shows and still had plenty of energy left to do more. I could hardly hold her back from jumping on the table and running to do tricks if she had the chance. She could have easily done even more than she was asked to.
I found a good role for Truman as well. While Truman is a bit boneheaded when it comes to doing tricks, he has grown to be a pretty reliable talker in public. He knows how to say "Hey Cutie," "Kili," "Truman," and gives kisses on command. For 6 years, "Hey Cutie" was Truman's signature phrase. He was the only parrot that could say something long and cute on command. Well, a few months ago Kili learned to say "Hey Cutie" as well. The whole time Truman was supposed to be talking, Kili would echo anything he would say but louder and with greater clarity. Kili tries to be best at everything!
Truman was good for a while but then he shut down. He almost fell asleep during one of the shows and then was seen with his eyes closed shortly after. Truman doesn't care. He can sleep through anything. Once he wants to do something, he just does. I guess it's just a Cape thing.
Rachel spent most of her time in the "showroom." She sat around on the newly released Large NU Perch Tree to show how luxurious and sturdy it is. She spent the better part of 2 days straight harnessed on that tree and did very well. She was a bit nervous about the kids bouncing in the inflatable gym nearby. But as the day went on, she got comfortable and enjoyed her new perch paradise. These trees are now available on ParrotWizard.com.
It was a pleasure getting to meet many fans at the event and sign so many books! And if you live in the NJ, PA, NY area and did not make it, there's always next year! Come see the Parrot Wizard at the Todd Marcus 35th Anniversary Event in 2018.
And finally, here's a video recap of the wonderful time we had at the event:
A year ago today, I married the love of my life. As we celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, I would now like to share with you memories of that special day.
Sorry that I didn't have a chance to post about the wedding sooner. Right after the wedding we left for three weeks to Australia on honeymoon. Then when we got back we had a lot to catch up on and married life to adjust to. I spent a lot of time editing together footage of Australia parrots so that set me even further behind on getting to the wedding footage. By the time I had a chance to work on the wedding video, it was the harsh middle of winter. I was just posting pictures of parrots and snow. Posting footage of a summer wedding would just be out of place that time of year. So we decided it would be best to wait till August and share with you the wedding on the same day, one year later.
Fast forward to August 8, 2015. It was a cool summer morning in northern New Jersey. Crickets were chirping and songbirds singing. A thin layer of fog formed on the lake that would serve as the backdrop for the wedding ceremony. A few of us spent the night at the lakehouse for an early start. But the majority of guests (and the birds) began arriving in the later part of the morning. Our bird friends Ginger and Kristine were responsible for bringing all of the parrots from our house that day. Once our parrots arrived, we went out to take some pictures.
We continued taking photos with family and friends until the ceremony which started at noon. Kili and Truman not only were the ring bearers but they were also the wedding party. Kili was the best bird and Truman was the bird of honor. It is understandable that Kili would not allow to be any bird but the best. Rachel and Santina, the big macaws, were placed on specially decorated Training Perches at the sides.
At the lead of the bridal processional, Kristine and Ginger brought out the wedding party parrots. Then came the bride with her father. The ceremony was held on a shady peninsula that stretches into the lake. The ceremony went much like any other with the "I dos" and promises of eternity. Kili and Truman helped provide the rings.
We had a tent erected over the deck for the reception. It provided cool shade in the August sun while everyone sat at one very long table. Bacon wrapped scallops, ginger lamb bites, and steak were catered to everyone's delight. For desert, guests dipped fresh fruit and marshmallows in a chocolate fountain. Blue and Jewel from the movie Rio, topped the wedding cake.
Marianna received Truman as a wedding gift. It was his calling all along. His purpose was to make a special someone in my life happy. And like wine, with age he gets better. When he was young, he was pretty difficult. Going through his terrible twos (and more like terrible twos, threes, and fours), he was a menace. But with those years behind him and lots of training, Truman is as good a pet as ever. Marianna was ecstatic to receive this feathered monkey of joy on her wedding day.
After the reception, my bride and I boarded a white stretch limo. It took the long scenic route to the airport while many of the guests took a shortcut to get there sooner. The limo arrived to the airport and drove across the runway. Our guests greeted us at my decorated airplane. We took some pictures and then transferred from our limo ride to the airplane. The guests waved goodbye as the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Sazhin flew off into the sunset. Dreams do come true!
I received a question from a follower about whether or not it is possible for someone with a handicap/disability to put an Aviator Harness on a parrot with just one hand. I was about to just say the first thing that came to mind, "no!" But I had no experience with this either way so instead I said that I would look into it. After all, who better to try it out and find out?
I realize that there are many people with disabilities that keep parrots. Some are in a wheelchair or have shaky hands from PTSD. Others have trouble just from age while some are young and dealing with a temporary injury. So although the video included here is based on one single type of disability, I would like to use this as an encouragement for any physically challenged owner that there are ways to succeed in training your parrot despite your impairment.
Note that although this article is about one specific type of impairment and about one kind of training example, the mindset conveyed here may be helpful for all sorts of parrot issues and for any person having trouble with their parrot.
Granted Santina is fully harness trained already, this experiment was solely about whether or not it is even possible to consider harnessing a parrot with the use of just one hand. Well, I am happy to say that I learned that it is. Santina had not even worn a harness since last year and yet she was cooperative at putting it on. This is largely due to the fact that she was taught to wear the harness using positive reinforcement from the start and looks forward to it whenever she sees it. Since the harness was never forced on her, she has no reason to freak out when she sees it for the first time in a while. I did just one normal run with the harness to make sure she was still ok with it.
So I dangled the harness in front of Santina and she just stuck her head straight into the collar the way she was taught. Getting the collar onto the bird myself with one hand would have been much harder and simply impossible if the bird resisted. But since she actually wants to get it on, her assistance made it substantially easier! Pulling the straps through and around the wings was only more time consuming but no harder than usual. The hardest part I found was to pull all the extra material through the bird-proof clasp with one hand! Without the ability to hold the clasp in one hand and feed the material through with the other, it was a challenge of dexterity to do it with my fingers. But with practice it got better and by the second take, I kind of had it down. I would recommend anyone with a disability working with the harness, or any kind of training, practice all the mechanics of it ahead of time to reduce strain on the bird.
Besides a few nuts, Santina got to go outside for the first time this season, a reminder of how wonderful it is to wear a harness and go out. I didn't pester her further with my own clumsiness to take it off with one hand because she was eager to get back to her normal bird business when we returned. However, I am sure that the exact same process could be repeated in reverse. My conclusion is that if you can tie your shoe laces with one hand and go about daily tasks, putting an Aviator Harness on a parrot with one hand is at least possible!
The key part is the training. More precisely than ever, the bird with the impaired owner requires the most accurate of training. Yes, the parrot can be taught to fill some of the role of the owner and help in the harnessing process! But the training must be correct and thorough. More patience, self discipline, and attention will be required. But if your goal is to beat your impairment and achieve the same things with your parrot, then I think it can be done!
Sometimes I find myself impaired during parrot training even with two hands. Some things I do with the birds makes me wish I had three or four hands to accomplish all the training at the same time. But since that won't be happening, I have to make do with what I have. I find ways to either break behaviors down into smaller portions, devise tools to help me do more within my capabilities, or worst case scenario, I seek help from someone else to get more hands into the training scenario. No reason the same can't be done going from two hands to one, or working from a wheelchair, or dealing with a different impediment.
I suggest that anyone planning on having their parrot wear a harness to safely go outside, follow the steps covered in my Harness Training DVD. Further, it is important that the bird be prepared to begin this advanced training by performing the requisite basic training explained in my book. There is an automatic special discount built in on my online store. If you order a Book + DVD or Harness + DVD, DVD is 50% off. Book + Harness and the DVD is free.
What I found interesting was how not-unusual the challenge was! Although it was challenging, it was challenging the same way that any parrot training task is. There is a goal to accomplish x and y with the parrot with limited means and communication. So I work on solving the puzzle through trial and error, positive reinforcement, reading body language, and all the usual tools used to train behavior to the birds. What I discovered was that harnessing a parrot with one hand is really the exact same thing just with the added step of using less appendages and more patience. This turned out to only be one step more complicated than harness training a parrot in the first place. There are loads of other challenges in getting a parrot to wear a harness so this is just an extension of that and just adds one more challenge and nothing more. The same problem solving mindset that needs to applied to teaching the bird to wear a harness in the first place can just as well help overcome the added physical demands.
This system for overcoming disability and accomplishing things with our parrots stems far beyond just harness training. Target training, trick training, taming, flight training, and all that good stuff can be achieved through patient persistent application of the training methods that I teach. I'm not saying it will be easy. You will have to tailor these methods to your specific conditions. But following this system, you will find success with your bird.
July 18/19 2015, a game-changing parrot training seminar was held in Russelsheim Germany outside Frankfurt. The seminar was the culmination of nearly a year's worth of online webinar sessions during the scope of which I was teaching training methodology and harness training for parrots of all levels.
The Germans accepted us with great hospitality. Bratwursts and pork chops were plentiful. We got to meet many members of the German flight club and their birds during the barbecue the night before the seminar.
During the Seminar we alternated between lectures, outdoor flight demonstrations, and feedback sessions for members. Flight club members would show me what they have accomplished with their own parrots and I gave them pointers and feedback on their training. Overall I was very happy to see so much progress and success since we began the webinar series.
During intermissions, there were outdoor flight training demonstrations. Most of the parrots flown were on harnesses with long leashes. But a few birds were even free flown. The Germans are convinced that flight and particularly outdoor flight is necessary to maintain a parrot's health.
In Germany, they have a particularly bad epidemic of aspergillus in parrots. The flight club, with the help of several avian veterinarians, maintains that outdoor flight is the only prevention/cure to the infectious lung disease. More and more people are learning to fly their parrots outside for fun and for health.
In the following video you can see some of the flights that were made. They use particularly long flight lines to fly the birds across a soccer field. Some of the flights by more experienced fliers were successful while some of the beginners ran into some trouble. In one case, a pair of blue and gold macaws flew to the end of the line several times in a row. One cockatoo somehow decided to turn around 180 and fly the wrong way. But in all cases of screw ups, the aviator harness prevented the parrots from getting into serious trouble and safely brought them down to the ground in a recoverable place. Further webinars and training will be necessary to improve recall flight reliability.
On the Sunday following the seminar, many of the attendees came on a historic parrot outing. Over 20 people and 15 parrots set out by ferry, foot, and by wing to explore the German countryside. A long walk was rewarded with a pleasant lunch at a tavern.
Flight club members received matching shirts at their seminar "graduation." They all proudly wore them to the parrot walk. If it wasn't obvious by the parrots on their shoulders, the matching shirts confirmed the group unity. Marianna and I received an honorary induction into their group after lunch.
Here is a video of the walking adventure:
After lunch, a few of us headed to a nearby field to fly some parrots. Florian brought his Harlequin and Blue and Gold Macaw with him. Before we reached the flying location, Saphira the Harlequin Macaw flew off of his shoulder and into a tall tree. Moments later, the Blue and Gold took flight to follow. While the Harlequin is accustomed to freeflight, the Blue and Gold would only sit with a harness. The force of the macaw flying off at full speed coupled with a badly chewed harness, broke the connection and the macaw took off into the tall tree. Florian watched the macaw flying away while I grabbed my camera and caught the moment.
The Blue and Gold tried to land on the branch with the Harlequin but somehow scared her out of the tree. Florian did not seem worried. He said this had happened before and he expected the two macaws to come back. After ten minutes of watching and calling passed, I realized the birds were not going to just come back. I said, "we need more birds" and ran back to where the rest of the club was relaxing. I grabbed a few people with macaws and told them to bring their flight lines.
The idea was to start flying other parrots (safely) to try to entice the lost parrots to come and join them. Unfortunately the parrots being harness flown weren't particularly enthusiastic about flying and the lost parrots were not eager to come back. Florian kept watching and calling but it was of no use. We watched leaves and branches falling out of the tall tree as the parrots were having the time of their life. An all you can chew parrot play ground is not an easy place to get a lost parrot to come back from.
Florian normally used the harnessed Blue and Gold Macaw as a motivator for the freeflight Harlequin to come back. But now that they were both gone, he could not even manage to get the Harlequin to come back. He tried to use treats and Saphira the freeflight capable macaw even came back once for a treat. But no sooner did Florian give the treat that the bird took back off into the tree.
The harness did not break for no reason. A new or well maintained harness would not have broken under similar circumstances. Other members of the group had noticed Zazou chewing on his harness and notified Florian. Unfortunately Florian did not accept that the harness was damaged until he stood there holding nothing more than the black end of the leash. An important lesson learned is not to leave parrots with harnesses unattended and to check them for damage prior to every outing.
More than an hour later, the Harlequin vacated the tree. First she flew to a shorter tree some distance away. But as Florian kept calling, she finally came to him. Florian hoped that Saphira would help call Zazou back. But it wasn't working. The group had to head back. So we left Florian and a few others to work on getting Zazou back. Some friends brought Florian's RV camper to the site so he could spend the night and continue his efforts in the morning.
We did not get to witness the recovery. But from what we learned, Florian was unable to recover Zazou all day. Zazou got rid of what was left of the harness and got driven away by predators. When all hope was lost and night set in, Florian went into his motorhome for the night. No sooner did he close the door that he heard Zazou outside. He came out to find that Zazou flew down and landed on the roof of the camper on her own. Here is a video of the parrots flying away and a discussion of the recovery effort: