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:
The seminar was an outstanding chance to present to parrot owners the application of taming/training to have well behaved companion parrots. I was able to discuss and demonstrate endless interesting topics without constraint.
The 5 hour seminar opened with a bird show. Dressed as the Parrot Wizard, I entered from the back of the room and paced around the anxious crowd with a Senegal Parrot on my hand. I made a few laps of the room showing off this bird before setting it down and calling Kili and Truman to the front of the room. They swooped over everyone's heads and landed on my outstretched arms. The birds performed their extensive repertoire of tricks without much hesitation and Truman thrilled everyone with his Boomerang flights. I walked around the audience with the parrots so they could see some of the tricks close up or volunteer to assist with them.
After the parrot tricks show, I disrobed and began the seminar. I talked about a lot of advanced trick training and answered questions specific to trick training. I explained the process of teaching many tricks that I haven't made online tutorials for such as play dead, ring toss, slide, and boomerang. Then I went on to demonstrate how easily I can harness my parrots and explained the entire training process. I finished the first half of the seminar by explaining why taming/training is so important for companion parrots beyond just amusement.
During the intermission, audience members got to meet Kili & Truman in person. I was not prepared for such a flood of fans and couldn't control the endless outreach of hands toward the birds. Yet they were unbothered and just dealt with it. Their extensive socialization was really paying off. The parrots stepped on hands and posed for pictures while I answered numerous questions.
The second half began with a special introduction by avian veterinarian Dr. Todd Driggers. He discussed the importance of training for a parrot's psychological well being and compared the idle parrot's life to unemployment. I was very pleased to have the full support of a highly respected vet in the Phoenix Valley. I hope this helped convince people of the necessity to follow my training approach. And if for no other reason, then for the health of their companion parrots.
Then came the best part of the Seminar. I went back to basics, using rescue parrots for the demonstrations. While I had sufficient confidence in my guys to perform, it was entirely unknown how the inexperienced rescue parrots would behave. Luckily, they were very cooperative and were able to demonstrate a week's worth of training progress in front of a live audience for the first time ever.
I worked with an untrained rescue Cockatiel. By the time of the seminar, the only experience he had was a week's worth of target training in the cage. I had never taken him out of his cage until the Seminar. In front of a huge live audience I targeted him around in his cage, then eventually onto my hand, and then out of the cage entirely. This was the first time he had come out of the cage in his known history. I showed everyone how I was teaching him to target for anyone and not just me by having audience members come up and succeed in doing the same.
Next I worked with two rescue Senegal Parrots (a male and a female). Again, only demonstrating a week's worth of training progress, I was able to show how I taught one of them to turn around and the other to be grabbed. Audience members got to interact with these recently wild rescue birds as well as see training improvement before their very eyes. I wrapped up the seminar with a discussion about motivation and how to get parrots to willingly cooperate with us.
What you may find interesting is that I performed the entire seminar without planning it out. All I had was a basic idea of the general topics I wanted to cover and the performance but otherwise I winged it entirely. Even the opening show was chosen at random as I went. The only thing that was previously choreographed was the opening entrance and flight recalls. This keeps my birds on their zygodactyl toes and presents a genuine presentation of their skills. They don't just remember a routine, they can perform any of their tricks as requested.
The biggest reason I could not plan my talk in advance was because, the week leading up to the show was so extensive that I could not predict how much the rescue birds would learn nor what I would learn from them. I wanted to give my audience my freshest and most complete outlook on parrot behavior so I let the experience of training 8 rescue parrots during the preceding week drive my seminar. Being unprepared worked in my favor. It gave me the chance to jump around from topic to topic without constraint. I allowed the audience to help me steer the course of discussion and make sure their curiosities were foremost answered. I was able to get audience participation, answer questions, and share countless anecdotes about specific parrot themes. I think this collective mayhem will just keep you captivated and entertained despite the substantial duration of this video series.
It may seem strange that the seminar and DVDs begin with the most advanced stuff and then work their way back. However, this was mainly done to maintain the order of the parrots involved. You see, Kili & Truman were the highlight of the opening act so I wanted to make the most use of them in the first segment. This is why we focused on demonstrating flight, harness, and advanced trick training in the first half. Since the rescue parrots weren't used until the second half, I saved all the basics and fundamentals for then. For the same reasons, the DVDs begin with advanced results and then return to how to teach them.
I hope you can buy a set of DVDs from the Seminar so you too can feel like you were there and learn everything the audience got to experience. While you don't get the same interactive experience as a live seminar, a major benefit of the DVD is that you can watch it in smaller spans and rewatch parts of interest.
Like the seminar, the DVDs are really meant to be purchased in a 2 part series. However, for people who only want a specific disc, they are also available separately. It is possible to watch the 2nd video alone for learning basics of parrot taming & training or to watch the 1st video alone to enjoy the show and discussion of advanced tricks, flight, and harness. However, I would really like to encourage everyone to just buy the 2 disc set to see the entire Seminar start to finish. Individual DVDs can be purchased for $19.99 + s/h or the entire set for $29.99 plus the same price of shipping as a single DVD. The combo is like buying one DVD and getting the second for half price and free shipping.
Evolution of Flight - A comparison of the development of flight in flying organisms and aviation technology
On Tuesday March 20th, Professor Truman and his Teaching Assistant Kili presented a lecture about the Evolution of Flight at NYU. They brought me along to help illustrate the information they were presenting. The class they were presenting to is about the History of Aviation and Aviation Technology so it was a fairly relevant comparison to look at not only how aviation technology evolves with time but also how flight evolves in the natural world. The lecture covers the step from no flight to flight and then draws coincidental parallels between natural avian structures and human designed airplanes.
I'm not going to write out the details of the presentation as I have a video of the actual live event. I think this lecture can be of interest to bird lovers as well as airplane enthusiasts and aviators. Throughout the video are moments of the parrots flying around and performing tricks so check it out:
Here are the power point slides from the lecture in the video above.
"If Truman were intelligently designed, he'd have hands so he could write books on the fly!"
So finally the day has come when all of Kili & Truman's theater flight training would be put to the test. For two months I had been training them in the high school theater to get them not only accustomed to being on stage, but also to learn advanced indoor flight recalls.
Throughout the dozen or so training sessions we had both our ups and downs. There were fantastic training sessions in which both birds recalled eagerly. But there were also training sessions where the parrots would not budge a feather and would be nearly impossible to get them to fly. There were sessions when Truman spent the majority of the time up in some high place refusing to come down. However, each session yielded progress over the last by making the parrots more and more accustomed to being on stage. We trained with the stage lights on and eventually with music playing to test the parrots' resistance to distraction.
Nearing the show, I left for two weeks to travel around West Africa (yes, this happened before the performance but I have a lot of footage to edit so unfortunately you won't get to see this until later). During that time my brother came to take care of my birds but little training was done. When I returned, I had just a week to get the parrots ready for the big show. Normally I trained on Tuesday's and Thursday's, but this time I did not want to have a training session immediately prior to the Friday morning performance. So instead I did flight training two days in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then I gave the parrots a break on Thursday. Then Friday morning we had to get up very early to get to the school, set up, and do some flight recalls to warm up prior to the audience entering.
Originally I had a five minute speech planned about motivation and the basics of behavioral psychology but I had to bag that since I was pressed for time. I decided to show the 20 Tricks in 2 Minutes and Kili is the Word videos after the live performance because I realized that the props and birds are too small for people in the back to see. So in order to have time for the videos, I had to drop the talk. Mostly I was relieved to skip the talk because I had inadequate time to prepare it. It's a topic I have given much thought about and can have a good conversation about, but I would not be as good giving a speech about it. Before I learned about the time constraint, I felt obligated to make an educational moral to my performance by discussing psychology, learning, and motivation (all things I've learned from my parrots). So after the head of the upper school announced me, I just went straight to my parrot show by recalling Kili down from the balcony.
My brother was assisting me by releasing the birds to me. He had both parrots in a carrier and was ready to move quickly. As soon as he released Kili on the balcony, I bought him time to move downstairs while I introduced Kili. Then he released Truman from the back of the theater when I called his name. The students were shocked to find the birds swooping across and coming flawlessly to my hand. Audience members sitting up front later commented being able to feel the air rush over them as the parrots passed across on their route to my hand.
I had been debating with myself whether or not to fly Truman at all. In earlier training sessions we had major reliability problems. If he would miss the landing or just not feel like it, he would start flying around the theater and always land high. Unlike Kili, Truman would never replan his flight and come back down to me. At best he would land somewhere high and fly down but many times we had to get him ourselves. However, he did pretty well during the two training sessions prior to the performance so I decided to take a chance with him. During the training sessions immediately leading up to the show, I practiced the flight from the back of the theater to my hand many times with Truman instead of just random flights as I had been doing earlier. So with the extensive practice I felt that Truman knew what to do but still risked that if he missed my hand, he would fly off. I did some more practice the morning of the show and he did not fly off once, so I decided to go for it during the show.
I had Truman perform his tricks first to let Kili headline the show afterward. Truman was a bit hesitant at first. You see he had never been in front of such a large crowd and we basically tricked him by keeping him in a dark carrier and then releasing him straight on a flight he was accustomed to. So his first chance to see the crowd really wasn't until he had landed on my hand. It took a few seconds to get him to focus but eventually he did his tricks. By no means his best but he did fine. No matter how much motivation he may have had from hunger and social pressure, the novelty of the situation was still quite overwhelming for him.
Kili only had about ten seconds of stage fright, then she just blossomed. Kili just adored the attention performing her tricks and did better and better as the crowd reacted. I still fed her occasional treats so that in the future she would not distrust me not to give her treats during a performance, however, she was motivated to perform just as well without them. I could tell that she was doing it all for the attention and not the treats. This way I was able to give her tiny treats between just a few of the tricks to make the performance appear seamless. I forgot to have Kili do ring on peg but no one noticed because I went straight to play dead. When Kili dropped over and lay on her back, amazement beheld the crowd. None the less, I think the absolute favorite trick among a high school full of athletic students, was the basketball trick. I think the varsity team may be calling Kili back for try outs next season.
Not only did the performance go very well, but it was a very pleasing culmination of all the previous theater training efforts at the school. The birds learned advanced flight skills and expanded their performance capabilities. Now the performing parrot duo is ready to tackle virtually any indoor on stage performance.