Of all the things I have ever done with my parrots, introducing them to my son was one of the most exciting. In many ways, this introduction was the culmination of years of socialization and training. It brought together skills that they were taught, many times not knowing the end purpose, to accomplish a wonderful outcome.
My boy Steven was born in October of 2020, but it wasn't until January of 2021 that he first encountered my parrots.
As always, I need to remind that parrots are wild animals. They are smart, free willed, flighty, and at times bitey. It is important to be careful between people and parrots, but much more so when it involved a baby. The damage a beak can do to an infant is just too great. Knowing this, Marianna and I deliberately delayed the first introduction.
At first, the baby was just too small and delicate to even consider it. Not only is it about preventing a bite, but it is also best not to take any chances with any kind of infection. Normally we test for and consider zoonotic diseases such as Psittacosis. That is an illness that can even affect an adult. However, there is always the possibility of the birds carrying some kind of bacteria, parasites, mites, or fungus that we are not even aware of. For a immune restricted baby, that can be overwhelming. For this reason, we wanted to keep the baby and birds apart for a few months to give him a chance to be exposed to more usual germs first.
Even at 2 months old, there did not appear to be any value for that baby's sake to meet the parrots. We could tell he could hear and see, but at the same time he would stare blankly. It was hard to tell how much he was really taking in. However, at 2.5 months old, suddenly things changed. In the span of just a few days he started following objects with his eyes, reacting, smiling, and showing interest in toys. With this new found awareness, a baby-bird introduction would be not only beneficial for the parrots but for the baby as well.
Steven has been exposed to birds his entire existence. While in mommy's tummy, he got to hear parrot sounds while she was cleaning cages. From the day he came home, Steven would wake up every day to the painting of our parrots expecting a baby. Steven slept under a wall mural of a tree with songbirds chirping in the canopy. He had numerous owl toys in his room that he would see and we would read stories about birds and Owls to him. All these bird related experiences prepared Steven for the day that he would finally get to see a real live bird up close and personal! And that day has come.
Some precautions were taken when introducing the birds. We took care to make sure a bird could not fly at and attack the baby, but mostly the concern was to make sure the birds have a favorable impression. The best way to prevent making a bad impression accidentally is to make a good one deliberately. Since the birds will be living with this new family member for many years to come, a good first impression would be the start to a lifelong friendship.
We had Marianna bottle feed Steven while I brought out Rachel the Blue and Gold Macaw. We had the birds out just one at a time in order to have the best control over the bird and the situation. By having one parent attending to the baby and one to the bird, ensured that each person could watch and make things good. Also, as a worst case scenario, the bird would have to get past two people if it somehow became possessed and tried to fly at the baby to attack. Ensuring the baby's safety is still paramount.
I carried Rachel straight to her prepared Training Perch using my body to block her view of Steven. I wanted to start her far away with little view and gradually work our way closer and to slowly increase her visibility. It worked out well. Rachel was focused on me, earning treats for targeting. Meanwhile Steven was focused on mommy and feeding. Little by little, I revealed the baby more to Rachel by standing less in the way. While allowing her to see the baby, I diverted her focus to targeting so that she could earn treats for inadvertently leaving the baby alone.
Now I had virtually no concern about Rachel attacking the baby. Although she is my biggest parrot and could do the most harm, this Macaw is a big chicken! Rachel was far more likely to get scared of the baby and try to fly away than to deliberately attack. Theoretically if I were to stick the baby right up to Rachel suddenly, all bets are off. However, she is not the kind of bird that would seek out a fight. But, since Rachel is known to be timid, it was important for Rachel's sake to make sure that she had a very peaceful and rewarding introduction to the baby. We worked our way closer and closer. Eventually Steven finished his milk and was gazing at the big blue bird with amazement. With everything calm, I was able to bring Rachel really close. Just never close enough to touch. The introduction went splendidly and both Steven and Rachel enjoyed.
Rachel earned the best and tastiest treats she had in a long time simply by demonstrating "good behavior" rather than getting worked up over the baby. Using the Training Perch technique, I was able to ensure that the macaw was never overwhelmed and that it was easy for her to be successful. After the uneventful meeting, Rachel went away and Marianna and I switched roles. I held Steven while she brought out Truman the Cape Parrot.
We expected Truman to be the easiest. Not just because he is unable to fly, but also because he's the most easy going of the birds. However, he has been known to hold grudges so it was still important to avoid getting off on the wrong foot with him. Instead of targeting, Marianna focused on doing cued talking with Truman. Truman is more of a talker and personality bird so this appealed most to him. The goal was the same as with Rachel, get the bird distracted doing something it loves so that the bird can be rewarded for not misbehaving around the baby.
It wasn't just attacking the baby we were trying to prevent. We really just wanted to avoid the birds having any sort of unpleasant feelings toward the child. Whether getting defensive or just giving a stink eye, it was best avoided. By eliciting positive responses through training and treats, it was easy to get the birds feeling happy in the presence of someone they had not met before.
Not only did Truman do great, Steven did too. Steven showed a lot of interest in the birds. He followed them with his eyes and got really smiley. At one moment, Steven let out a laugh and Truman responded by laughing as well! The first mutual communication between baby and parrot! Success!
I saved Kili for last because she had potential to be the most trouble. We figured it is best to see how it goes with Truman and Rachel who would not deliberately attack before introducing Kili. Kili is a super smart, super trained, super well-behaved bird. However, being a Senegal she also has a sinister side deep within. Through years of bonding and training we have it largely hidden away. However, if left unchecked it could still rear it's ugly head. Senegal Parrots are notoriously one-person-birds. That is where they bond strongly to one person and then terrorize everybody else. Through years of socialization, I have kept this under control. In fact, I got Kili to accept Marianna right from the beginning. But, knowing that this potential still exists, it was most important to make sure it does not apply to the baby!
I brought Kili out and just like with Rachel started her out on the Training Perch. After a little targeting we switched to tricks because Kili gets really focused during trick training. Being a smaller/lighter bird, Kili is also the most flighty. It was important to keep her focused so that she would not fly and scare the baby or worse yet fly at the baby. I kept her attention on me the entire time and slowly worked our way closer. I made Kili understand how she should behave around the baby and she quickly caught on. It did not take long for her to get happy performing tricks around baby Steven.
The introduction could not have gone better. All 3 parrots were in a good mood, cooperative, and calm. Steven was curious and involved. Nobody good hurt, scared, spooked, or upset. Just great all around. Could things have gone as well without any deliberate training and effort during the introduction? Maybe. But, it was not worth finding out that perhaps things would not have went well if we did not set up the introduction for success. Saving half an hour to make a spontaneous/uncontrolled introduction would simply not be worth potentially setting a bad first impression for the baby or birds for a relationship that will last for years to come! Playing it safe is the way to go.
Keep in mind that the 30 minutes spent on the introduction were just the icing on the cake. These parrots have been trained for years to develop basic training skills, socialize with people, and have the basis for being successfully introduced to a new family member. You can't just overnight decide that you want to introduce a wild biting parrot with no training background to a baby. Take the time to learn and apply parrot training to your parrotnow so that when you experience life changes, your bird will have the skills to adapt to what is yet to come!
Step 2: Make sure that your parrot is fetch trained. If it isn't, teach it to fetch before you start teaching the darts trick. If it is already fetch trained, just do a quick review to remind it what to do.
Step 3: Desensitize the parrot to the dart board and darts. 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 dart board is to target it near the toy. Place the dart board 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 darts or it may get suspicious. Target it around randomly but little by little, more and more toward the dart board. Let the parrot pay more attention to the targeting exercise and forget about the darts until you are able to target it right by the board 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: The Birdie Darts trick comes with 3 magnetic darts. You can set two extra ones aside for now and just use one dart. Give the dart to your parrot from one hand and then present your other hand and ask it to fetch the dart to your open palm. Using a clicker, click when the bird drops the dart in your hand and give it a treat. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!
Step 5: Now it's time to teach the parrot to put the dart on the board. Hold your open hand in front of the dart board and ask your parrot to fetch the dart to your hand. Get the bird used to fetching the dart to your hand near the dart board.
Step 6: Continue having the bird fetch the dart to your open hand in front of the dart board, but now pull your hand away just before the bird drops the dart. When the bird is about to drop the dart into your hand, pull your hand back and away. The bird will end up dropping the dart straight down but the magnetic dart will grab onto the dart board. Click the clicker when the dart ends up on the board and give your bird a treat so that it realizes that the purpose is to put the dart on the board.
Step 7: Teach the parrot to make a bullseye by rewarding less frequently when the dart is placed far from the center. When the bird puts the dart closer to center than previously, click and reward. However, if the parrot puts the dart far from center, ignore. As the parrot learns to put the dart closer to the center, become more demanding by rejecting times when the parrot puts the dart further away. Eventually it can learn to make a bullseye with the dart on the dart board.
You can place all 3 darts on the table and have the parrot fetch all of them onto the dart board for a full game of darts!
Here's a short tutorial I made with Kili to illustrate the key steps of the process:
You can even have your parrot fly with the dart from far away like a long distance cruise-dart.
It's not only a thrill having my parrots fly in my yard, it's also great exercise for them!
Rather than a small free standing aviary, my entire yard is enclosed so that I could be there together with my parrots. This allows me full use of the yard space with or without the birds and it gives the birds a lot of space to fly.
Flying is by far the best form of exercise for a parrot. It not only works their wing muscles, but their entire body! They need to tuck their feet in, steer with their tail, adjust their feathers, user their mind, and of course breath and move blood quickly! It is only during flight that the parrots entire body is working up to its capacity.
However, don't expect that just because you put your parrot in a large enclosure that it will just fly. Parrots are generally pretty lazy and won't fly unless they really want to or there is danger. Of course in the wild, necessity is what gets parrots to fly many miles in search of food sources. At home, flight training using positive reinforcement will be the closest simulation to their natural ways while also building a bond with you.
Parrot Wizard Training Perches are the best way to get a parrot trained and accustomed to flying at home. Not only is it necessary to teach the parrot how to fly in a home environment but it is also essential to provide the physical therapy to get their muscles and systems strong enough to be able to fly effortlessly.
Then, the commands and methods used to train the parrot to fly indoors can be extended to large indoor spaces such as a gym or outdoors. However, it is imperative to have a back up safety measure when flying a parrot outdoors. When spooked, even well-trained parrots can fly away. So make sure that you do any outdoor flight in an aviary or with the use of an Aviator Harness as a safety net.
Although it may look effortless in the video, it is actually quite difficult to teach parrots to fly on command (especially outdoors). It takes weeks of consistent, and sometimes frustrating, training to get the parrots not only mentally in shape to fly but also physically. After a long winter restricted to indoor flying, it takes a bit of exercise before they can be good at flying longer distances again.
In this video, you can see how well Kili, Truman, and Rachel fly their daily exercise routines in my enclosed back yard flying area:
Wondering how you can teach a parrot to play basketball? Here's an awesome trick to teach your parrot! This free trick training guide is about how you can train the Birdie Basketball trick to your parrot!
Nothing is as exciting as throwing a ball and having your parrot fly to get it and bring it back to dunk it in the basketball hoop! The height on the Birdie Basketball is adjustable so even smaller parrots like a green cheek conure can learn to do this awesome trick.
So here's a step by step guide on teaching a parrot to play basketball:
Step 2: Make sure that your parrot is fetch trained. If it isn't, teach it to fetch before you start teaching the basketball trick. If it is already fetch trained, just do a quick review to remind it what to do.
Step 3: Desensitize the parrot to the basketball 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 basketball toy is to target it near the toy. Place the basketball hoop 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 basketball hoop or it may get suspicious. Target it around randomly but little by little, more and more toward the basketball. Let the parrot pay more attention to the targeting exercise and forget about the basketball until you are able to target it right by the hoop 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: The Birdie Basketball trick comes with 2 different basketballs. One is a realistic looking basketball and one is a training ball with a lot of holes. For now, put aside the realistic ball and use the easy to grab training ball instead. Give the training ball to your parrot from one hand and then present your other hand and ask it to fetch the ball to your open palm. Using a clicker, click when the bird drops the ball in your hand and give it a treat. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!
Step 5: Now it's time to teach the parrot to put the ball in the basketball hoop. Start by lowering the hoop down low. This will not only make it easier for the parrot to reach but also give you more room to hold your hand. Hold your open hand directly over the basketball hoop and ask the bird to fetch the ball. When the bird drops the ball in your hand, click the clicker and give a treat. This teaches the bird to bring the ball toward the basketball hoop.
Step 6: Continue having the bird fetch the basketball to your open hand above the hoop, but now pull your hand away just before the bird drops the ball. This way it will accidentally drop it into the basketball hoop when it really just intended to drop it into your hand. Click and reward so that your bird realizes that the goal is to drop the ball into the hoop! Keep practicing and progressively raise the hoop higher and higher so the parrot learns to stretch for a slam dunk. Finally, when the parrot has mastered the basketball trick, you can use the realistic basketball instead. Show the bird the single hole through the ball where it can grab it with its beak and you'll have an NBA allstar in no time!
Here's a short tutorial I made with Kili to illustrate the key steps of the process:
On October 6/7 I had the pleasure of being the headline speaker at the 2018 Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza. The Parrot Palooza is the huge annual event with the biggest sale of the year at the Bird Paradise store.
Located in Burlington New Jersey, Bird Paradise is one of the largest bird stores in the US. They have an enormous selection of toys, bird food, and supplies to choose from. The annual Parrot Palooza event is one of the biggest parrot events in the country and the world. With over 2,000 attendees coming from far and wide, it's a parrot extravaganza like no other.
In addition to headline speakers, the Parrot Palooza also features: free food, door prizes, penguine races, face painting, chinese auction, parrot shows, make your own bird toy, pumpkin carving, cage building contest, toy making contest, vendors, and huge sale. Fun for bird lovers of all ages.
Now the first time I had gone to Parrot Palooza was back in 2010 when Truman was still a baby. Back then it was a smaller event and didn't have the enormous parking lot tent. I got to meet Dr. Irene Pepperburg from the Alex Studies and attend her talks. So now, 8 years later, it was my honor and pleasure to get to fill that same role as headline speaker at the Parrot Palooza as the Parrot Wizard.
What can I say? The birds were good. Kili did all of her tricks like a champ. Truman was a chatter box as usual. Rachel was big and pretty and drew a lot of praise. All three wore their Aviator Harnesses all day long and were ambassadors for how a pet parrot should safely go outside.
Countless people asked me "how did you get that harness on them!?" or exclaimed, "my parrot would never let me stick one on it." Every time my response was, "we don't get the harness onto the parrot, they put it on themselves." When the parrot is trained how to put on the harness and wants to put it on, it looks something like this:
Truman meets a Golden Conure
Michael presenting at Parrot Palooza
Parrotsrus with Curacao
Lori with Rachel
Lori, the one who adopted Santina from me, came to the event to help us out. Rachel and Lori quickly became friends. Lori really enjoyed the Palooza and said she was "still grinning from ear to ear... Beautiful friends. Beautiful Parrots. Great time!!" She was thrilled to meet people she had been following online and mentioned, "for me, I enjoyed meeting instagram people."
It was a thrill getting to meet so many fans at the event. I signed books and chatted with parrot owners. My presentations were routine but enthusiastically watched by huge audiences. Kili helped me demonstrate how exciting trick training can be and Truman and Rachel helped illustrate how parrots can be taught to play with their toys.
All in all, it was an exciting event, great food, wonderful participants, big sales, and an all around fantastic way for people to be excited about their pet parrots. Here's a video recap of all the Parrot Palooza action: