Marianna and I recently took a trip to Pigeon Forge Tennessee. While visiting Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the beautiful Smokey Mountains, we had a chance to go to Parrot Mountain. Parrot Mountain is unlike any zoo or bird park you have ever seen!
Parrot Mountain is a one of a kind experience for parrot lovers. It is the only major bird park I'm aware of that focuses primarily on parrots. They do have a nice collection of other birds as well, but their focus on parrots is quite unique.
A visit to the park starts with some exhibits of various bird species. Then it takes you through a walk through flight aviary. But most exciting of all is the parrot feeding area. They have probably a hundred parrots out on stands that you can see up close and feed. Buy a handful of seeds from the vending machine for a quarter and then you can be the parrots' favorite visitor!
We got to see up close and experience too many different species to count but just a few of the more exotic ones included Sun Conure, Blue Crowned Conure, Patagonian Conure, Alexandrine Parakeet, Great Billed Parrot, African Grey, Cape Parrot, Eclectus, Scarlet Macaw, Military Macaw, Hyacinth Macaw, Moluccan Cockatoo, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, and Red Tailed Black Cockatoo. Marianna had a field day getting to feed and hold the female Red Tailed Black Cockatoo. She recalled how we got to see them in the wild in Australia, but not anywhere near as close!
Some of the parrots on exhibit were brought a long time ago from the wild, others were bred at Parrot Mountain, and others were relinquished. The park acts as a complete facilitator of parrots in the region. They breed, sell, display, and accept rescued parrots. You can see the babies for sale in their nursery building.
Parrot Mountain is famous for offering to have your picture taken with close to a dozen birds. I was amazed not only how cooperative and patient their photo-parrots were but also how well they all got along with each other. The woman who brings them over for photos can be seen walking with a dozen parrots hanging off her chewed up shirt from every side. It was almost as though their beak was a carabiner hook for clipping onto her shirt. She was truly a parrot taxi!
They have a lorikeet feeding aviary where you can have lorikeets fly up to you and sip nectar. Parrot Mountain also houses the "garden of eden," a secluded Christian exhibit in the forest covered country side. They also have a small cafe (with parrot on the menu) and a gift shop with lots of parrot related merch. All around a must-see sight for any parrot lover visiting the Pigeon Forge area in Tennessee and even a reason in itself to head out there.
Here's a video of my visit to Parrot Mountain including an interview with the parks owner:
There are so many great reasons why you need to get an Aviator Harness and start taking your parrot outside!
First of all, safety! No matter how bonded your parrot is to you, no matter how well trained it is, no matter whether its wings are clipped or not, any parrot can accidentally fly away and be lost outside. Quite likely your parrot will not be able to find its way back to you and will not be able to survive on its own. For this reason, a leash is a great safety net.
Now I certainly don't recommend using a harness as a primary means of keeping your parrot from flying away. Your bond, relationship, training, etc should always be the main reason that your parrot chooses to stay with you. The harness is merely a very unlikely backup plan just in case anything unexpected goes wrong. Think of the harness as a seat belt and not as a chain. Just because you wear a seat belt, isn't a license to drive dangerously. Instead, it is only an important line of protection in the event that something unexpectedly goes wrong. Some folks make excuses not to wear a seat belt, maybe even calling it uncomfortable, but it is the best safety catch in the event of an accident. Likewise, for your parrot's safety it is a reasonable compromise.
That said, the harness should not be a point of torture. Forcing a terrified parrot into a harness just for the purpose of taking it outside is cruel and counterproductive. The bird will be so distraught by the harness on its body that it will not have a chance to notice or enjoy the surroundings. This will also harm the parrot's relationship with you. It is better to take a parrot out in a travel cage or not at all than to mistreat it by misusing a harness. But, there is a way to teach the parrot to wear the harness voluntarily.
Parrots are very intelligent and capable learners. So if we teach them the purpose and method of putting on a harness such that they agree to wear it, then there is no problem. The most important thing that I teach my students is to ask the parrot if it agrees to wear the harness and until the parrot says yes (through its behavior), you are not to make the parrot wear it. Instead, I teach parrot owners how to use positive reinforcement and a carefully developed training regime to teach the parrot to want to wear the harness.
Watching my videos, you might get the impression that it's easy to put a harness on a parrot. And guess what? It is! On a parrot that was properly trained to wear it that is. Of course it is not easy at all to wrestle a resisting parrot into a leash and maybe impossible the next time when it knows what it is used for. However, after spending the initial effort to complete the training, they really do put the harness on easily for the rest of their lives. Realizing how long parrots can live, that's a lot of years of great harness wearing and outdoor adventures that you can have. It more than justifies the cost and effort to learn to teach your parrot to wear a harness properly.
This is just the beginning! There are so many more ways you can involve your parrot in your outdoor life and the Aviator Harness is your tool to being able to do that! Hiking in the forest, roller skating, maybe even rock climbing are just some possibilities. Get your parrot more involved in your active life.
The good news is that when you order a copy of the book and an Aviator Harness from ParrotWizard.com. the $19.99 Harness Training DVD comes free! Patiently follow the steps in the book and DVD to harness train your parrot and you can partake in outdoor Aviator Harness Adventures with your parrot for life!
So what are you waiting for? Your bird isn't going to learn to wear a harness by itself! If you want to enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle with your parrot, you have to start somewhere. You have to set yourself a goal to get the tools and start using them. Then, you have to take a deep breath and calm down. The harness training process requires patience. Patience is the quickest way to successfully teaching a bird to wear the aviator harness. Any attempt to rush this process will only set you back when the bird develops a distrust for the harness. This is where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Slowly work on following the steps you'll learn from me until the parrot is completely comfortable with the harness. And then you can scale mountains and do anything outside as long as you and your parrot are having fun!
Rachel, my wife's Blue and Gold Macaw, has been going through terrible twos for the last few years. This is the adolescent period where much changes in a parrot's life. It grows up from being a naive baby to an independent adult. Most parrot owners are quite surprised by the changes that happen when the parrot stops being cooperative during this stage.
The age at which adolescence hits will vary by species. Roughly speaking it's around 1-3 years old in the small parrots, 2-4 in the medium, and about 3-6 years old in the large ones. During this period, the parrot's behavior can change unexpectedly. The bird will be more testing, bold, fearful, and all around cranky. Allegiances with other birds and humans can also become reversed. It's an all around jumbled, confusing, unpredictable, and unpleasant experience.
The once sweet baby now bites the hand that feeds. It might prefer someone it didn't like before or seem all around intent to hunker down in the cage and not even come out. When asked to step up, the bird runs away, bites, or just flat out ignores so what to do?
Predicting that Rachel will go through this, I began preemptive training early to help combat the worse of the symptoms of parrot adolescence. I trained Rachel to step-up using clicker and target stick, taming, harness, and some tricks beforehand. But as the age started to come, Rachel's behavior was still in a slow decline. It is difficult to realize an imperceptible downward slippery slope until it jumps out and bites you. Sometimes literally.
My wife Marianna, who raised Rachel since she was a baby, learned about parrot adolescence the hard way. It wasn't until she got bit by the baby she raised that she got a full grasp of what the "terrible" in terrible-twos means. She actually got to a point where she was uneasy around Rachel because the bites seemed to be random and unexpected. So, to help her out, I decided to do some step up re-training with Rachel to get her to be more reliable at stepping up and off again.
Rachel already knew exactly how to step-up from previous training so it was more of a matter of rekindling motivation for stepping up and lots of practice. It seems strange having to go back to such basics with a parrot that knows complex tricks. But, when hormones are causing the bird to be edgy and bite, it's what you gotta do.
If Rachel forgot how to step up entirely or would entirely refuse to, I would start the initial step-up training all over again from scratch. However, since we caught it in time while she was still stepping up but not as reliably, it was a much easier fix. I just literally went to giving Rachel a food treat every single time she would step up. She got back into it quickly once she realized she was getting food for such easy stuff.
Normally we begin to take step-up for granted because the parrot is usually reinforced in other ways for participating. For example, step-up and you get to come out of cage. Step up and I'll give you attention. Step up and get a head scratch. Step up so you could do a trick and earn a treat. There is usually a subtle bit of positive reinforcement on an intermittent reinforcement schedule built into the parrot keeping lifestyle that I share. However, when the biological changes that the parrot is going through cause it to suddenly dislike things it normally likes and people it normally trusts, you have to go back to much more basic operant conditioning to remind it what to do.
This came as no shock to me as I had already gone through the same with Kili, Truman, and countless bird owners I have coached. However, it always pins you harder when you were the one that raised your bird and you second guess yourself. This is why a clear mind, good attitude, right approach, and persistence really matter. It's all an uphill battle while slowly slipping downhill when the bird is going through this. With good training and the time for the bird to grow out of the age, everything will settle in place.
A little over a year since adopting Santina from me, Lori came to NYC to visit. Lori and my wife Marianna have become good friends and wanted to go sightseeing around NYC and doing bird stuff. They played with our birds, visited bird stores, and did some rescue fund raising in the city.
Santina was in good hands with Lori's friend while she went away. Lori had been preparing Santina and her friend almost since the beginning for some eventual absence. Lori did not know how, when, or why she might not be around to take care of Santina but she knew that the possibility can always exist (even if not deliberate, say an emergency). So, when a trip to visit us in NYC came up, Santina and her birdsitter were already prepared.
Marianna took Lori to the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park, and all around New York City. They also spent a long time seeing birds at the Todd Marcus Exotic Bird Store, and a few others. Lori enjoyed getting to spend time with Kili, Truman, and Rachel as well.
Lori and Marianna spent a day in Central Park offering pictures with the blue and gold macaw Rachel to raise money for Ginger's Parrots Rescue. They raised $150 for the rescue. Not only that, Rachael got some much needed socialization and helped educate the public about parrots.
Then came the visit to Santina. We flew Lori back to Pittsburgh in my airplane and stayed the night to spend some time with Santina. The last time I had seen Santina was Christmas of 2016. It has been over a year since her adoption and 10 months since I had last seen her. I was not sure if Santina would still remember me or be alright with me handling her. To be on the safe side, I took my time getting to know her again like meeting a new parrot. I did not barge into the room and just demand she step up. Instead, I let Lori handle her a bit first and then I just gave her a nut. Santina took the nut just fine so I offered her to walk over and step on my arm. She came over just fine and put herself on my arm and got a nut. Santina was lovey dovey in no time. However, if I just assumed that she would remember me and things would be fine, it could have overwhelmed her and led to trouble. It's always best to err on the side of caution and give the bird time to adjust.
Lori put Santina's harness on so we could go outside. This was pretty effortless since Santina was carefully trained to wear the harness and Lori continued using the same method. We walked around her town a bit with Santina and even passed her back and forth between us. I'm really happy to see Santina in such good hands and to see how much joy Santina brings to Lori as well.
Kili and Rachel have been enjoying the fall weather flying in my backyard flight area. They have been building strong flight muscles, breathing fresh air, and getting natural sunlight all at the same time.
I'll share details about the enclosure at a different time but simply put it's a netting enclosed area that is safe for supervised time but not for leaving the birds unattended.
Truman has been left out of the flight activities lately because of his own issues. He hasn't been too eager to flight recall and on the other hand, he's been randomly flying into stuff. He will need some separate one on one attention to get him on the right track. But since Kili and Rachel are already doing the right stuff, I've been focused on getting them flying.
Kili, the trained Senegal Parrot that used to freefly outdoors, had no trouble adjusting to flying in the enclosed yard at all. She immediately knew what to do and did not try to fly away. Kili recalls with great reliability and is definitely my go-to bird.
The way I got Rachel to start flight training outside was to bring her out every day to watch Kili reliably flight training. On one hand, Rachel got to see Kili earning treats and showing what to do. But on the other, Rachel was getting accustomed to the sights and sounds of being out in the yard. It took some time for this to all sink in because Rachel was cautiously reluctant to leave the safety of her Training Perch.
Eventually Rachel started to make sure flights, then slightly longer ones. With time and practice, reliability started to improve. It was a combination of building confidence, security, practice, and exercise to improve muscle strength. Now, Rachel makes 10-20ft flight recalls with ease. As the autumn temperatures continue to drop, our chances for further training are quickly diminishing. Over the winter we will continue training other skills indoors and pick up where we left off with the outdoor training in the spring.
Here is a 360 degree video of Kili and Rachel flight training in the yard. You can move the image 360 degrees by dragging with your mouse or tilting your phone to get a feeling of what it's like having these parrots flying around you.