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:
Kili and Truman are fantastic examples of how well-socialized a parrot can be. The concept of socialization is a broad scope of everything a parrot may encounter and how it reacts. Simply put, the socialized parrot doesn't get scared and even enjoys visiting new places, handling new objects, and meeting new people.
The main benefit of socialization is that it removes a parrot's fears across the spectrum. As the parrot is exposed to more objects, places, and people in a harmless way, the less fearful and thus better behaved it is in future encounters. Since a lot of biting is driven by fear, teaching a parrot not to fear novelty results in a tremendous reduction in overall biting. Furthermore, other forms of biting such as jealous, displaced, territorial, and possessive are diminished with socialization as well.
Taking parrots outdoors is a great way to expose it to a multitude of random objects, places, people, and situations. The more times the parrot is exposed to these, the less of a big deal these exposures are in the future. The parrot learns to handle situations with greater ease. Also, taking parrots outdoors is essential for their health and well-being.
One of the ultimate challenges is taking the parrot to a busy playground. Anything and everything can happen at a playground. Kids are running around, there's screaming, birds are flying around, bikes are zooming buy, cars are backfiring, you name it. But after several years of going to the park regularly, none of this bother Kili and Truman. They are calm and enjoy the situation. It is very rare for them to take off and even when they do they usually just fly over to me.
I spend a lot of effort teaching controlled outdoor harness flight. On one hand I am giving the parrots exercise and flight practice, but on the other hand I am also teaching them to stay. Since the harness, even with leash extension, isn't terribly long, the parrots have learned that there is no benefit to flying (unless called). Thus they have learned to be more stationary than they would normally be at home. If they kept trying to fly around while being harnessed, crashes and tangles would be rampant. But using the method of encouraging recalled flight only, I have been able to set some very reliable guidelines that make the harness less of a burden.
The training and preparations I do at home make the parrots more prepared to handle the park. But the socialization, desensitization, and extensive challenges of the park also make them better behaved at home.
Considering how Kili was becoming a tremendous biter (toward everyone but me), I have definitely come a long way. My socialization approach not only reversed the biting but made her the sweetest parrot ever. Anyone can walk up to Kili, grab her, turn her any which way, play with her, pet her, hand her off to someone else and all the while she does not bite. In fact I think she enjoys it and will show off her tricks (not for treats) in the process. Truman on the other hand never bit anyone. By using the same socialization approach with him from the start (as well as ignoring any remote attempts at biting), he has never developed a biting issue in the first place. Between solving Kili's biting and solving Truman's biting, I have really come to appreciate the importance of socialization and outdoor time with parrots.
I think this park outing embodies the epitome of all my parrot training endeavors. I can have a fun time with my birds, they can enjoy fresh air, the birds are outgoing and fun, and everyone benefits. This special relationship that I have developed is the basis of my upcoming book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. The book has now moved into the printing stage and will be coming soon. The book is 296 fun-filled pages about all facets of parrot ownership. But ultimately it is based on my experience achieving well-behaved parrots and helping others achieve the same. The 10 chapter book starts from how to choose a parrot and then goes through an extensive array of easy things you can do with your parrot to achieve the easy-going pet you've always dreamed of. You don't have to be a performer to be able to achieve a well-behaved parrot and that is what my book is going to teach you. If you enjoy my blog, you'll especially enjoy my book because it is written in a similar easy to follow style. But it covers many things I have not considered blogging about and it really ties everything together in one easy read.
Enjoy the following video of how well-behaved my parrots are and then please order my book when it is released. This park outing best embodies what I consider to be well-behaved parrots.
Over the last few weeks I have been traveling the depths of South East Asia. My trip began in Manila, Philippines then continued to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei Darussalam. The trip continued on the island of Borneo to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. This was not the only part of Malaysia as I went to Kuala Lumpur. Upon leaving Malaysia, I flew to Jakarta, Indonesia. By bus and train continued to Yogyakarta and then flew to Denpasar in Bali. From Denpasar to Dili, East Timor, around the island, and then finally back home. I would like to share some of the parrot themed highlights with you.
Zoobic Park - Philippines
I got to experience a fair amount of parroting during my trip but unfortunately none of the wild variety. In Zoobic Park in the Philippines I saw a Blue Naped Parrot native to the region. I did not waste time photographing the Sun Parakeet, Grey Parrot, White Cockatoo, nor Alexandrine Parakeet as they are non-native to the region and common in captivity. Passing through the outdoor mini-theater, I saw the zoo's parrot trainers rehearsing some tricks with their parrots.
Out of nowhere, a man approached asking to take a picture with me. Before I could even process the question his friend already snapped a photo of us. I asked if he knows who I am to which he smiled and said, "yes, of course!" They welcomed me on the stage and I posed for a photo with their White Cockatoo. What a wonderful bird. Not only did he step up, but just melted away in my hands as I stroked his feathers and hugged him. It's always fun to bump into my fans in person and find out what they've learned from my videos.
Trained Parrot Fans in Philippines
Subic Ocean Adventure - Philippines
I watched a Sea Lion show at the Subic Ocean Adventure. It was a pretty generic show where the Sea Lions wave their flippers and perform headstands. What I enjoyed watching more so than the show was the trainers at work. They actually both held clickers in their hands and the sound of the music did a poor job concealing them. I doubt anyone else noticed. I just wanted to post a video of this smart Sea Lion vs Stupid Human for your entertainment. But also as parrot trainers, watch it again while paying attention to the cues, behaviors, bridges, and rewards.
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park
In Kuala Lumpur, I was surprised to walk into a Blue and Yellow Macaw perched outside the Kuala Lumpur TV Tower. With a "hello" it welcomed me into the small zoo behind the door. The mini-zoo housed several species of parrots, rodents, and other small local animals. They offered several parrots to hold for photo posing. Some tourists wanted to hold a Green Wing Macaw but were scared. Seeing how friendly it was, I got it up on my arm and stroked his head. It is always such a pleasure to come across such friendly well socialized birds. At fist sight their parrots may have appeared to be flighted as their primaries were intact. However, upon stretching their wings you could see how brutally clipped they were on all feathers behind the first few primaries.
The avian highlight of Kuala Lumpur is the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. It is the worlds largest bird aviary housing over 150 species. It is split into several enormous walk in aviaries with nets hung from tall posts. Once inside you nearly feel like you are witnessing the birds in the wild because of its enormous size and landscapes. Some birds are housed in smaller metal aviaries inside the larger open aviaries.
Upon entering the series of aviaries, the very first exhibit is a mixture of small parrots and parakeets. Ring Necked Parakeets and Monk Parakeets fly around while behind a divider Sun Parakeets, Green Cheeked Parakeets, Rosellas, and Cockatiels reside. It seems that there is no regard for taxonomy or geographic distribution when exhibiting parrots. Small and colorful ones are housed with other small and colorful ones even though their natural habitats may be continents apart.
A separate aviary within the confines of the greater aviary houses the "World of Parrots" exhibit. Several species of Lorikeets roam free in this aviary but maintain their distance from humans. Behind bars in smaller individual aviaries are housed some more "exotic" parrots such as Blue and Yellow Macaws, Scarlet Macaw, Green Winged Macaw, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Grey Parrots, and a Vulturine Parrot. I was really looking forward to seeing unfamiliar parrot species unavailable in captivity but was disappointed to find that all but one species I had previously seen back home. A mere 20 species of parrot were represented. Heck, I was able to count 35 other parrot species that I had seen in bird stores or captivity in the US that the exhibit did not have. I had really been hoping to get to see some parrots of the 330+ species that are not available in the pet trade (especially native ones).
A crazy monkey was running around taunting visitors and ransacking garbage cans for food. But that's not all. It would climb across wires and hop down on top of a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo's cage. The monkey would then climb down the side of the cage and sneak its hand in to steel sunflower seeds from the Cockatoo's food bowl. Amazing how the Cockatoo was nearly as big as the monkey and it would fight back on occasion and give that monkey a good bite on the hand. But the Monkey was very persistent and it wasn't like the Cockatoo was running out of food so it got away with it most of the time. The monkey was not the only animal subsisting off the Cockatoo's rations. While the monkey was laying a diversion near the top, a giant rat hopped into the cage bottom tray and got a mouthful of seeds. It was out as quickly as it came in.
Although common as pets, to this day I have never seen a single Poicephalus parrot represented in a zoo, aviary, or museum. It sure makes owning a Cape Parrot feel exotic when not even a Senegal Parrot is ever displayed.
There was a large booth with a dozen birds on individual perches available for photos. I paid their fee to get to take a picture with two birds. Most available ones were parrots but they also had several raptors and native birds. I was not going to waste time or money taking a photo with a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo, Grey Parrot, Scarlet Macaw, etc as I could get one at one of my local bird stores any day. Instead I chose to hold a Palm Cockatoo and a Barred Eagle Owl. I had never held an owl before so that was quite exotic, especially because it is a local Asian species you won't find in the US. Although I had the chance to even see a Palm Cockatoo in the United States, I never got to hold one. They sell for somewhere in the range of ten to twenty thousand dollars so store owners are reluctant to let anyone handle those expensive birds. Unlike the cuddly Greenwing and Cockatoo I got to play with before, the Palm Cockatoo was pretty standoffish. Still it would step up and not bite. But it did not want any unnecessary contact beyond that.
Bird World in Jakarta
I visited yet another bird park, this time in Jakarta Indonesia. The park, Taman Mini, is like the Disney World of Indonesia. Inside are exhibited the diverse buildings and cultures of Indonesia. In a far corner of the park is a secluded bird park. Although smaller than the aviaries of the KL-Bird Park, this one was still quite extensive and interesting. Across several dome shaped aviaries, birds of the region were on display. Again, exhibits devoted to parrots mixed them without any regard. A Blue and Yellow Macaw was housed in a tiny cage opposite a Palm Cockatoo. Although the aviaries are large enough to give any bird sufficient flighted exercise, somehow the parrots always end up regarded as house birds belonging in small cages.
Palm Cockatoo Coin
I happen to collect coins when I travel and had a hard time finding Indonesian coins. When I finally got some Indonesian coinage I was shocked to find a parrot on the face of one of the coins. It was a Palm Cockatoo engraved in the face of the 100 Rupi coin with the inscription "Kakatua Raja" which translates to King Cockatoo. This did not make sense to me as these parrots are not found in the parts of Indonesia that I was visiting. However, upon further research I learned that they do live in New Guinea and Indonesia happens to own a sizable chunk. So although the bird is not representative as a common Indonesian bird, the coin demonstrates their pride in at least having one island inhabited by the majestic parrot.
You could say it was a fun filled weekend of bringing parrots places... The first outing was with Kili the Senegal Parrot, and the second was with both Kili and Truman the Cape Parrot. These were done to maintain socialization skills with Kili, and develop socialization further in Truman.
Michael and I took Kili to a recent homecoming football game/alumni reunion event. We arrived at the homecoming game near the very end but just in time to see the home teamís victory. We stuck around on the school's field for snacks and socialization for Kili after the game. She was very comfortable and calm in her flight harness on Michael's shoulder with crowds of people in every direction. The temperature outside that afternoon was a bit chilly. Kili was snuggled into the collar of Michael's light jacket with her head poking out to shelter her from the occasional breeze. Some of the school's faculty, alumni and students attending the events spotted Kili and handled her. She eagerly performed tricks, said hello, and seemed to enjoy being the center of attention.
The following day, Michael and I took both parrots outdoors to a park. Kili had been fed pellets in the morning in her cage so she was not significantly food driven, but Truman had only been offered pellets in his carrier and had not eaten much.
We started the experience by walking around the park area with Kili and Truman, looking for members of a wild flock of Monk Parakeets in Brooklyn. We walked around to two different communal nest locations for 10 minutes and listened for the distinct calls of these parakeets. We heard their shrieking and we knew they were near by. Amazingly, we spotted five or six of them flying together. We stood and watched some land in a tree across the street and then watched a few fly to their nest.
When the activity died down, we headed for the playground a few minutes walk away with Kili and Truman. What started as just a socialization experience at the playground became a trick and recall session, especially with Truman. Some children and adults at the playground gathered around and watched us with the parrots. Truman was screaming and shrieking loudly in excitement. Kili and Truman demonstrated a few tricks and harness flight recalls, and the parrots seemed to enjoy all the attention and showing off for the crowd. Truman was highly motivated at the park and showed improved recall reliability with Michael. He seemed more motivated in the presence of the crowd. We finished up at the park and were walking out when Truman became highly vocal and excited on Michael's shoulder. He learned to mimic a catcall and clicking sounds from Kili's vocalizations, and we finally caught it on video.
Truman is currently maturing and is developing beneficial outdoor, social and coping skills. He is acquiring a positive association with being inside of his carrier because Michael and I are offering him meals, treats and toys inside. However, Truman was not fully comfortable eating in his carrier and his carrier training is still incomplete. Kili is already socialized and has become more accepting of being outdoors, new people and changes. As a result, being outside with us in new situations and meeting strangers are meant to maintain her skills. However, Kili is highly aggressive in her territory and defends her cage, perches and trees from anyone but her perceived mate, including Truman.
It is beneficial to bring a territorially aggressive parrot to unfamiliar or neutral territories and introduce a perceived intruder to a parrot who has displayed this kind of aggression. This type of interaction can help to improve a relationship and increase confidence in both the parrot and the person. Kili is more willing to step up for me away from home because I am more familiar to her than the surroundings. Furthermore, both parrots benefited from spending time outdoors. Prolonged direct sunlight exposure is important for vitamin D and calcium. Harness flight training outdoors helps to prepare for the event that either parrot is lost outside.
In order to avoid serious behavioral problems including stress, aggression, and fear toward new people and new objects, prevention is best. In the wild, baby and juvenile parrots would learn skills from their parents, such as what is food, where to find food, how to eat food, what is dangerous, what are predators, flock dynamics and social skills. As pets, parrots rely on their breeders, hand feeders, caretakers, and owners to teach them skills so they can thrive in a domesticated environment.
Exposing your parrot to new things will prepare it for more significant changes in the future. Introduce your parrot to new people, objects and places. Always create positive experiences and pay attention to your parrot's comfort level. Reward the parrot for tolerating or experiencing new things to avoid creating phobias. Make being inside of a carrier rewarding with a meal, treats, or a toy. Take your bird to an enjoyable and safe environment so it becomes accustomed to traveling in a carrier. Teach your family and friends how to properly handle and interact with your bird. Set up positive reinforcement scenarios for socialization with other people with trained tricks or other behaviors. Teaching a parrot socialization and coping skills is essential in order to own an overall healthy and confident pet.
Kili and Truman are definitely getting along much better overall. However, it's at the park where they do great together. They can sit side by side with their wings rubbing against each other and not even fight. At home there can be a squabble here and there but nothing too bad.
Parrots playing together on Kili's cage top
Kili dreaming of stealing Truman's toy
Parrots get in fight when Kili tries to steal toy
Taking my parrots to the park
Senegal Parrot and Cape Parrot getting along sitting outside together
Huddled shoulder to shoulder drying from a shower
My parrots and I at the park
Here is a video of my parrots behaving at a family outing I took them to. They say together on the same chair back without the slightest trouble. This is why it's great to take your birds places. They are much less aggressive to each other and to other people and it's a great way to socialize them overall.