I flew by airline to Phoenix, Arizona for a few days to help my favorite rescue, Ginger's Parrots. Although not new on the scene, the rescue recently incorporated and acquired 501c3 status. On Saturday we held a Grand Opening event for Ginger's rescue to celebrate making everything official and to draw attention to the organization.
Ginger's Parrots is a new kind of rescue specializing only in certain species of parrots and with a different approach. Most rescues inevitably become overfilled with parrots as the number of unwanted birds only grows while the birds live long. So instead of focusing on quantity, Ginger focuses on quality instead. Running the small rescue out of her own home, Ginger works individually with the parrots to prepare them for pet life. Rather than trying to get the birds adopted to anyone that will take them, her focus is to make the birds as good or better than baby parrots that can be bought at stores. If the birds are good, they have a much better shot at staying in the same home than in the condition they were brought to the rescue.
The Grand Opening Event brought a nice turn out and collection of donations. I offered a talk on my well-behaved parrot approach as well as a harness training demonstration. During the demonstration with parrots from the rescue I was able to demonstrate the harness desensitization process with visible progress. One of the Senegals was doing so well that I challenged him all the way to voluntarily walking across the perch to sticking his head into the harness collar.
As the event continued, I signed copies of my book, the Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. The rescue event was a very suitable place for selling these books as Ginger applies the techniques I teach in the book on her rescue flock. Also she wrote the foreword to the book based on her success applying my methods to a whole lot of parrots.
I had already been to Ginger's rescue twice and conducted a lot of training work with the birds, setting in motion an approach that Ginger has continued. However, we have bold goals for these birds so there are further skills they could learn. This time, I set a goal of initiating harness training with the birds so that Ginger could take them out and socialize them with people more frequently. Considering the novel no-clipping policy at the rescue, outdoor safety can only be assured with a harness or carrier. The trouble with a carrier is that it doesn't get hands on time with the birds so it narrows everything down to harness.
Since the main focus of the rescue is Senegal Parrots, aggression is the key target for rehabilitation. Ginger has noted a tremendous decline in biting while an increase in confidence with the birds since they've been flighted. Although the birds are capable of flying away, they generally don't. They merely use their awareness of being able to fly away to drive their confidence to cooperate without reverting to biting. One challenge, however, has been to keep the Senegals from fighting with each other as they are no longer geographically isolated because they can fly.
One of the solutions to reduce territorial issues with the parrots (while also simplifying cleaning) is to eliminate the long standing trees (which were arranged one per bird) in favor of a more communal approach. We wheeled all the tree stands out of the room and set out to make a full new set of hanging play gyms instead. I shipped ahead a bundle of NU Perch sticks I was donating for the bird room remodeling. On the spot we bought a few additional supplies and in 2 afternoons built 8 original play gyms and hung them from the ceiling. The all hanging approach eliminates base cleaning and makes a single cleaning of the floor a lot easier. It also provides an unstable platform that stimulates the birds to think more about getting around. It has been a blast watching the birds get around their stands because they tip and rotate in place as they climb. When one parrot flies off a stand, the remaining parrots end up going for a merry go round ride. The birds were so preoccupied with the new stands that they were too busy to get into fights with each other.
To ease the transition to the new stands, I played a targeting game with the birds to encourage them to climb around. Not only was I able to get them to climb to all ends of individual stands but between stands as well. One particular Senegal who has been really difficult to tame, really took to target training. In a single attempt, I was able to teach him to target. I'm sure he'd been watching the other Senegals and had it all figured out. He was just waiting for the opportunity to be involved as well. In no time I had him climbing between playgyms and flying to other perches for opportunities to target.
A different Senegal has recently regained his flight feathers but was unsure how to use them. He seemed very eager to target but just didn't fly for it. So I put together a set of Training Perches and began the perch to perch targeting method of teaching him to fly. Before the evening was over, the parrot that just didn't know how to fly across 4 inches, was flying 15 inches between stands with ease. An interesting thing is that he wasn't really doing it for the food. He was much more eager to fly across the gap to target (ultimately for a treat) than directly for a treat lure. Since the birds get to watch each other targeting, they see a particular excitement for the opportunity to play. The motivation they exhibited in targeting around the room far exceeded their hunger for treats motivation.
The morning after the event and upon the 5th harness training session, I got a harness entirely on the promising Senegal. Ginger and I took him to a Sunday morning parrot group that meets at a park with their birds. Although this was sooner than I would have liked to put a harness on a parrot in this stage of training, we went for it for lack of time. However, I knew this would not be a problem because this was a super tame bird that doesn't mind being held. He was not upset having the harness on (which is important to avoid trouble putting it on next time) but he did want to chew it. To reduce chewing, I grasped him in my hand, through a towel, or did things to occupy his attention as much as possible. Once at the park outing, he was preoccupied with the activity and paid less attention to the harness.
I taught Ginger about socializing the parrot to complete strangers and went from very controlled interactions to random interactions based on my 12 step socialization approach. The Senegal went from hand to hand, allowed people to scratch him, and didn't bite anyone. The outing was a tremendous success and we got a harness upon him with ease for another outing the following day.
Since that Senegal Parrot is extremely hand tame and enjoys laying in hands, I held onto him a lot to keep him from chewing the harness. Since the squeeze of my hand is more noticeable than the harness it took his mind off of it. I began playing a game with him and in no time taught him a new trick which is to allow me to toss him in my hand like a bean bag.
The event, bird room remodeling, training, and outings have been a tremendous success. Not only have we made big improvements but we also set things for continued improvement in the future. I signed countless books and talked to parrot owners. Although I hope these things were educational, most of all I hope that they were inspirational. Rather than expecting someone who came to one of my talks - or met us on an outing - to have the skills to succeed, I hope to leave them with the inspiration to continue their education and to set goals of what to achieve. I want people to realize that parrots young or old, friendly or mean, can all learn these basic pet skills. If I can teach these rescue parrots to wear a harness or target fly in such a short span of time, then surely any parrot owner can achieve these things with a little more patience.
I flew to Phoenix Arizona to present the Parrot Wizard Bird Show & Seminar (which you'll get to hear more about later). Airline travel would have been too restrictive, expensive, and difficult so I opted to make the 2 day trip to Arizona myself by airplane. I loaded Truman into his travel cage and Kili into her carrier and we were on our way with over 250 pounds of merchandise for the event.
Jamie, my girlfriend, accompanied us for the first day. We spent the night with her in St Louis but continued to Phoenix without her (but picked her up on the way back). In the beginning of the trip flights were short. Because of the weight of all the baggage and two people, I was restricted on how much fuel I could bring. It was just a 3 hour flight from NJ to OH and then another 3 to St Louis.
I realized that I forgot the food bowls for the travel cages at home when it came time to feed the birds. Worse yet, I realized that I forgot their pellets in the airplane as well. I had to scramble and find people foods to feed them instead to get them through the night. I got a hold of some corn, bread, and grapes. Kili pigged out and had no problem with this arrangement. Truman on the other hand had a few bites but eventually boycotted. He refused to eat anything but his pellets but they were not available till the next day. Here's a great example why it's important that birds be accustomed to people food as well as bird food so that they could still be fed in a pinch.
After spending the night in St Louis, the long part of the journey began. I flew 3.5 hours to Oklahoma and took advantage of some of the cheapest gas in the country. Then it was a long 5.5 hour flight to Phoenix over inhospitable terrain. I diverted around thunderstorms and flew high to stay over the mountains. I had to use an oxygen system for part of the flight due to altitude. The birds were alright but it sure made them sleepy. It was so cute to see Kili & Truman fall asleep on the same perch together. Getting high is a great way to mellow out the little buggers.
Finally I had to perform a steep descent into Phoenix after clearing the mountains and was greeted by a dust storm blowing through the area. It was difficult to find the airport in low visibility and I had to close the air vents cause it felt like my face was being sandblasted.
After landing I was met by Ginger who helped run the event and played host to the birds. Luckily because the dust storm blocked out the sun and moved the air around it wasn't too hot and we were able to unload the plane quickly. We headed back to her house and got the birds situated and fed. Here is a video of the flight there. More videos and stories from the trip coming soon.