In August, 2015 I traveled to Australia on honeymoon. We got to see many parrots and other animals around that beautiful country. This article is about the wild Cockatiels and Galahs we saw in the vicinity of Pine Creek in the Northern Territory.
We made two sightings of wild Cockatiels. The first was during lunch by the lake at Copper Dam. The distinct call of Nymphicus hollandicus came through the air as a handful of Cockatiels flew by. I followed them with my eyes as they landed in a dead tree across the lake.
Some more Cockatiels arrived and they congregated in the tree. There were around a dozen Cockatiels in total. They spent a few minutes in the tree alternating circling flights with rest. Cautiously, several Cockatiels flew down to the shoreline. A few quick steps and they were wading at the waters edge. More came down to join them. They didn't spend a whole five seconds on the ground before they took flight back to the safety of their tree. The same Cockatiels repeated this drinking endeavor at least three more times.
Most of the cocktail party departed but a few Cockatiels stayed for a nap in the tree. The Cockatiels were too far and too quick when flying for water, so I was not able to get any video of the process. But here's a video of them in the tree and a photo of them getting a drink.
The second encounter with Cockatiels came on the morning of the following day. Driving from Pine Creek back to Darwin, we spotted Cockatiels foraging on the ground by the road side. I approached them slowly but it was disturbing their feast. I couldn't get close enough to get footage and a few steps closer and they flew off into a nearby tree. Much like the Cockatiels at Copper Dam, these birds were very cautious on the ground.
The birds spooked and went into the tree. I took this as an opportunity to get closer and station my gear hoping they would come back. They watched from their high vantage point for the danger to subside. A few brave birds came down first and then the rest followed. I would discover that I wasn't the only reason they'd take off to the tree. Every few minutes, the whole flock would fly back to the tree for a bit before coming back.
What was even more interesting than watching Cockatiels feeding on the ground was to discover that Galahs were amongst them! The two different species of Cockatoos would remain in their own distinct factions, but in very closer proximity to each other. In fact, when the flock would launch, they would both fly back to the same tree together.
There were about two dozen Cockatiels for the half dozen Galahs. The large flock was visibly subdivided into smaller group units. We could hear Red Tailed Black Cockatoos in the distance but they did not mingle with the Galahs and Tiels.
The Cockatiels scurry around the ground on quick legs. Some birds look up while others have their heads down eating. But here's a fascinating thing. They are absolutely quiet while eating on the ground. It makes perfect sense, but it is the polar opposite of the endless Cockatiel chatter you hear when they are flying or perching.
It was an amazing experience to get to see these birds in the wild and what they do. It makes me appreciate them even more as pets and I hope that we can learn a bit from their wild habits and apply that knowledge toward making our homes an even better place for them.
I often get asked what Cape Parrots are like because I have one. So for everyone that wants to know what a Cape Parrot is like, here is my review of the good, the bad, and the ugly. In case you read no further, let me just say that Truman is a great bird and I love him, but I wouldn't recommend a Cape Parrot to virtually anyone. Now to understand why, read on.
When I mail ordered Truman from a Florida breeder, I knew very little about this species. Based on my good experience with Senegals, appreciation of the Poicephalus genus, and fear that an African Grey may be too neurotic for my lifestyle, I decided to go with a Cape Parrot. I heard nothing but good things about them and unfortunately that is most of the information that is out there. That kind of information does not help an owner make an honest well thought through decision. But a decision like this must not be made lightly as these birds live for a very long time.
Before I got Truman, I heard Cape Parrots described as "gentle giant," "cuddly," "playful," "adaptable," "non-aggressive," and other high marks of praise. I heard that they are good at playing with their toys, independent, and social. Furthermore, I was impressed that they are considered less prone to common parrot problems like biting, plucking, or screaming. After nearly 3 years of Cape Parrot ownership, I can say that these descriptions are very true. BUT, the typical descriptions leave out the real problems with Cape Parrots.
While the Cape Parrot is very good on paper and on quick comparison to other parrot species, this is is very misleading about their quality as a pet. The best way to put this is that Cape Parrots are very difficult in a way unique from other species. This part is missed on comparison because it is hard to describe and unique. So for a beginner it is tempting to think that a parrot that doesn't bite, pluck, or scream must be easy and suitable. But instead, their unique difficulties are far more difficult to remedy than the more common and understood problems that other parrots may engage in such as biting.
Simply put, Cape Parrots have a very difficult and unmanageable personality. They are extremely stubborn and it is impossible to change their mind when they are set on something. Capes tend to get very moody at times and good past relationships are challenged. Cape Parrots don't take very well to normal taming and training.
For spans of time Truman may be well behaved and easy to handle but every once in a while out of nowhere he will throw a tantrum. Suddenly he decides he doesn't want to go in the cage or doesn't want to be handled by me and he'll be flying all over the place to avoid it. If I manage to get my hands on him, he'll be throwing his beak all over the place and biting like crazy. Under normal circumstances he has never bitten anyone, however, when he is throwing a fit he bites very hard. These moody spells seem to happen every several months and keep coming back. Even with great efforts on my part to resolve these matters (and even to do preventative training when things are normal), things will be bad for up to a week at a time. During this span Truman generally doesn't want to hang out with me, doesn't want to be grabbed, does a poor job at training, and I'll be lucky if he steps up without any fuss.
While my Senegal Parrot, Kili, can go through hormonal periods or get upset on rare occasion, it is far easier to work things back to normal with her and this is all extremely infrequent. So while a Cape Parrot isn't likely to bite when being stubborn, they go through extreme lengths to have their way and resist yours. Shortly I will get to why hunger and training don't sufficiently help like they might with other species. Maria Brinson from The Purring Parrot says of her Cape Parrot Jupiter (who happens to be Truman's older brother), "Overall this a not a good bird for someone that has no bird experience. I have learned that if Jupiter sees me coming for him and he doesn't want to interact he will start grooming and ignore me. If I push the issue I will get bit." Natacha the Poicephalus Lady doesn't mind so much but has a similar experience with her female Cape Lea, "Lea is also quite into drama reaction, making things seem bigger than they are...again, not something I mind but some people might find irritating. But yeah..very very very stubborn, when her mind is set on something, it's hard to redirect her attention towards something else."
If a Cape Parrot is set on doing something you don't like, virtually impossible to make them stop. Either they will keep on doing it anyway or they'll hate you for interfering. It's a very fine line in between and almost impossible to manage even with extensive parrot keeping experience.
Cape Parrots are also very injury prone. Since he was a baby, Truman frequently falls off his perch in the cage. Less so now than before, but even after 2 years I occasionally hear the "Cape Cannon Ball" when he thuds down on the cage bottom. Truman always has some kind of scrapes, bruises, or broken feathers. Whether in his cage or out he tends to knock into things and get a cut between the ceres, break feathers, or bust the tip of his beak. If in 4 years I have only seen Kili bleed once or twice, I see Truman bleeding at least once every few months. When Truman isn't hurting himself, he's getting hurt by Kili. But the unfortunate thing is that he puts himself in her way more often than she comes after him. A few ripped out feathers and a bloody cut later, he's still landing on her cage asking for it. This is that Cape Parrot stubbornness at its max. They never learn.
Maria sums up the trouble by saying that Cape Parrots "can be very stubborn, prone to light injuries from too much rough play with toys. Can be a bully with other birds, will hold grudges for a least a few days, bites can be very bad since beak is so large, quick temper." Her Cape, Jupiter, once flew into something and busted the tip of his beak and was bleeding badly. Truman goes through the same and then is mad at me for a week even though I had nothing to do with it.
Not only does my Cape Parrot hurt himself a lot but he also gets very dirty. All parrots are messy, but that doesn't mean they let the mess affect them. Sure parrots will throw stuff out of the cage and make you clean the floor and things like that, but Truman will take a poop on a perch, walk around in it, get it on his beak, climb all over the cage wiping it everywhere, and then have bits sticking on his back. I've noted my Cape Parrot to be pretty smelly right from the very start. And it's not just that he's a bigger bird. I've been at a rescue with 8 Senegal Parrots and all those birds combined did not make the kind of smell a single Cape Parrot does. And all these birds eat the same foods. Truman is messy, gets dirty, and worst yet is completely shameless about it. I've had to put up with countless poopscapades with him where he'll poop on some vertical surface and manage to hit everything on the way down.
When it comes to their voice, Cape Parrots can be fairly good talkers. It is still debated if they are as good as an African Grey or not but this isn't particularly important. Personally I don't think they are. Unlike smaller parrots, Truman talks in entire phrases rather than individual words. However, the downsides are far worse than the infrequent nice bits of talking. For everyone one word he says, Truman has to let off several dozen honks, screeches, and whistles. He is extremely shy about talking in front of people and only does it when no one is looking. Truman tends to spend at least an hour a day on a screaming fit. He screams a lot when I come home and even more when he wants something. Despite the fact that I ignore screaming, he still has it in him to let off a bunch each day regardless. I encourage Truman to talk when he wants to come out and he does. But he alternates saying things and screaming just to be sure. The worst part is that if I give in to his talking or quiet and let him out, he'll come out and then start screaming but really close to me. Here is an example of Truman screaming but to get the authentic experience, turn your volume up to full, sit close to the speakers, and put it on loop for an hour:
When it comes to training, it is much more difficult with a Cape Parrot. The way I'd best describe it is that he's too smart for his own good. It's not so much that it is difficult to teach specific tricks to him as his mindset in general. When it just comes to simple things like practicing flight recalls or maintaining what he knows, he is always trying to come up with ways to cheat the system. This may seem smart but it's not because I never give in. In fact I usually am less generous with treats when he's pulling these kinds of things, yet in his stubbornness he won't give this up. However, I know that he's not stupid because when I get a good motivation day out of him, he will do everything exactly right which only indicates that he is purposefully screwing around the other times.
For example even after years of the same going back in the cage routine, he still does it all wrong. The idea is that I recall fly the parrots back and forth across the room a bunch of times and at some point put them away for their meal. Kili has this down perfect and will fly any number of times I request her to and gets to have her meal. Truman will either jump the gun and try to fly over when he wasn't called or refuses to come when I do call him. I bet he thinks that if he just stays put while I make Kili do all the flights, that he can just come once at the end and get his meal. What the smart aleck doesn't realize is that I'll just put Kili away and then make him fly as many if not more flights by himself until he gets to eat.
Managing Truman's motivation with hunger is quite problematic as well. When overfed, he's extremely stubborn and unresponsive. As he gets progressively hungrier, nothing happens for a while and then it quickly jumps to the flip side where he is too hungry and troublesome in other ways. Truman seems more likely to scream a lot when he is hungry (not that I ever feed him because he's doing this, so I still can't figure out why he thinks that's a beneficial thing to do). Also when he becomes too eager for food, he'll jump the gun and fly to me when uncalled and then be too tired to fly when I do call him. So across the spectrum of hunger, there seems to be no middle ground where he can train well without effects of being too hungry. With Kili this is no problem and there is in fact a pretty good range of weights where it works well.
So in conclusion, even though Capes have many desirable qualities and seem to make pretty good pets on that basis, they are extremely difficult in ways that are not well known. Except for people with extensive parrot experience, no one should even consider them as a companion because they will run into difficult issues. Clipping a Cape Parrot is about the stupidest thing someone could do, so forget that as an option. They are clumsy and get hurt flighted as is, if they can't catch themselves they'll get even more hurt. Worse yet, a Cape Parrot that cannot fly away when upset will turn to biting and that is not a beak you can afford to get bit by. Little is documented or known about Cape Parrots so if you get one, you're pretty much on your own. Basically if you rely on books, videos, help from other people, etc, you will be in deep trouble with a Cape because that sort of information doesn't exist for them and you'll have to figure it all out on your own. Like I said, their stubbornness is like no other and I don't know anyone who has found a universal and successful way to manage it (except putting up with it). While for example a Senegal Parrot may be prone to known problems such as aggression and be a one-person-bird, I find those issues to be simpler and more probable to solve. When it comes to the Cape issues, it's not only that I haven't been able to solve them yet but I don't even have a solution/approach on the horizon. For now it's just something I have to put up with and keep trying.
I hope this article will help people understand that even though Cape Parrots can be fun and exciting parrots, they should be avoided as pets by anyone that is looking for anything but an extreme challenge.
I have never dealt with a remote breeder before so I was uncertain about having a bird flown across the country. I was not only worried about the parrot's safety but also comfort during the long passage. I would like to share some of my thoughts about the concept in general and my personal experience.
First off, the good news is that the United States can be traversed by air north to south in 3 hours, east to west in 6. So if a direct non stop flight can be achieved, it should be possible in 6 hours or less. We must add at least a 1 hour drive to the airport and one hour from upon pickup. Next we can add at least 1 hour for pre-departure processing and 1 hour for post-arrival processing. So without any delays, realistically the bird can be expected to spend between 7-10 hours. However, flights that require transfers can easily add another 2-4 hours to this estimate. What I am trying to demonstrate is that a good chunk of the time the parrot needs to spend in the carrier, it isn't even in an airplane at all. Therefore, whether you are shipping across the country or a few states away, the flight time plays less of a roll.
I would recommend driving to pick up a parrot when possible but only as long as the total drive time is equal to or less than the total time required for air shipping as outlined above. You see, whether the parrot is being flown or driven, when it is bouncing around in a carrier all day, it won't eat or go about its business anyway. So you may as well search for the quickest solution possible. A 24 hour drive is definitely more stressful than a 3 hour flight (totaling about 8 hours of carrier time). Of course driving affords an element of security because you know where your bird is and can monitor its well being. When it is handed over to the airlines you can only guess at what kind of care they take. But this is where I'd like to bring my personal experience forward.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I received the carrier with Truman. I half expected to see a dead parrot nailed to the perch just inside. I was absolutely shocked to find him peering out by the door and looking excited! After being cooped up for 8 hours, I'm sure I'd be more cranky myself. I must say, it was a pleasant surprise to find how smooth everything went. The plane arrived on time (actually a few minutes early), the bird was out and handed to me within an hour of the airplane's arrival. The carrier wasn't tampered with and the bird was in good health and spirit. All and all I find that the air trip had little impact on the parrot.
Some suggestions if you are getting a parrot sent by air to you from a breeder:
-Make sure they send it out on an early flight. Not only does that give more opportunities in the case of a missed flight, earlier flights also tend to be on time. -Have them put your name, phone number, and address on the carrier itself and the identifier for your airport. -Watery foods like fruit are a better bet than water which can spill -Wire tie all the doors shut and anywhere the carrier snaps together should also be zip tied. -Always try to go direct non-stop flight because that reduces the variable of missed connection and the extra time it takes. -Get to the airport early to pick up your bird because the cargo terminal or baggage area where you are to pick up your parrot may be difficult to find. Airports tend to have ring roads so if you miss the turn off, you may have to go all the way around the airport again until you have another chance. I went around LaGuardia 6 times I think before I finally found the proper cargo area. -Have a second person come with you to help and in case you have to split to wait in different areas (like one to baggage and one to cargo) -Make sure you bring ID to the airport and even alternate ID just in case.
I had been contemplating names for quite some time now. In fact, with the help of many online supporters, I had compiled a list of over 250 possible name ideas. The list was broad and had many good names but none of them seemed to really click. Zuce, Zar, Ziz, and Razu were some of the top names but I was having a hard time narrowing down the right name. Then, about a week prior to receiving the bird I thought of Truman as a possible name idea. Somehow I was thinking about how the parrot would be on youtube a lot which made me think of the character Truman in the movie The Truman Show. To me the name immediately stood out both in terms of the allusion and the sound of the name.
The name Truman is really a combination of things to me. While it alludes to the Truman character from the movie, it is also about the literal meaning of the name: true-man. My hopes are to train this parrot to the greatest degree possible and make him appear as human as a feathered football sized little being can be.
I mentioned the name to many people and most agreed that it would be a good name. On the parrot forum the name Truman got the most votes which made me feel even more comfortable using it beyond just my own gut feeling. The name just clicked and seemed right from the moment I had thought of it in a far stronger way than any other name I had come up with or heard from others. This is how picking a name should work though but going through different name ideas definitely helps.
The night before picking up the parrot at the airport, I rented and watched The Truman show to get a stronger feel for the name and allusion. It definitely strengthened my decision and I absolutely adored this line when the director explains about the world Truman lives in and feel it applies to my Truman in much the same way:
We've become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We're tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is in some respects counterfeit, there's nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards...It isn't always Shakespeare but it's genuine. It's a life.
I firmly decided that I would not pick the name until I'd get the parrot in person but everyone around me already assumed I had picked the name. My brother would ask me "so when is Truman coming?" Other people would also assume I had picked the name beforehand. And while I didn't call him by the name until I picked him up in the airport and said "Hi Truman!" it is true that my mind was pretty much made up since I first thought of the name.
As I await the arrival of my new Cape Parrot, I would like to outline some of my goals with the new bird. The order is ballpark of how it would go but not a rigid sorting:
-Get parrot, let it get used to me and new surroundings -Develop strong flock mate/trainer relationship bond -Encourage independent play as well as social time -Develop a daily routine that sets feeding regimes, flight time, out of cage time, and outdoor time -Desensitize to wide array of household objects while naming each object -Configure clicker as bridge and eventually a strong secondary reinforcement -Teach target training through modeling rather than trial/error if possible -Develop strongest flight recall possible (recall by visual, whistle, and name) -Minimum dependence on food for reinforcement -Develop strong alternative reinforcements -Progressive taming to allow uninhibited touch of entire body -Make minimum intrusion introduction between Kili and Cape -Maximum comfort harness training -Outdoor desensitization while wearing short harness -Begin training outdoor harnessed recall -Socialize parrot to as many people as possible both indoors and out -Differentiate social time and focused training time -Develop safe petting cue and method -Reduce beaking, biting, and nipping by ignoring -Ignore all unpleasant vocalizations and present acceptable alternative ones -Train necessary maintenance behaviors through positive reinforcement -Voluntary carrier training through empowerment -Start training full trick routine -Goal is to train each trick in the shortest and most effective manner possible -Develop visual and verbal cues for every trick -Take parrot on social outings, car drives, and airplane flights while still young -Begin implementing variable ratio reinforcement on cued behaviors -Say same words to encourage talking -Develop special (not annoying) contact call specific for this parrot -Combine flight and cued tricks -Train highly complex trick behaviors to challenge parrot -Test cognitive capabilities through challenging puzzle tricks -Provide occasional foraging opportunities in/out of cage -Continue flight training optimized toward outdoor freeflight -Perfect each trick to develop best trained parrot role model
Having extensively learned trick training on Kili and Duke, I think I will be able to train the Cape more quickly and efficiently. At the same time, I would like to experiment with alternative training methods like modeling, empowerment, and differential reinforcement. I am going to make the strongest possible effort to do all training through positive reinforcement and avoid resorting to flooding, negative reinforcement, or punishment. I do know that these methods can be effective but I am curious to accept the challenge of trying to train without them.
Here are some my goals for the trainedparrot blog:
-Provide regular updates about the Cape's progress -Post photographs/videos of every step of training the new Cape Parrot -Write step by step articles about how I train every single trick/behavior -Present my thoughts/opinions about parrot ownership and care -Develop the training blog as an alternative to costly training products -Write objectively about the good, the bad, and the ugly -Cite outside sources where applicable -Lead the parrot community by example -Make all information public and hold nothing back -Create a definitive source of parrot training knowledge from my own experience -Eventually open the blog up to additional willing writers -Turn training blog posts into a complete/organized training guide
Here is a progress update about the upcoming Cape Parrot. Originally I was supposed to get the older of the two babies. Jean expected the older one to end up bigger because it was born from a larger set of wild caught parents. However, as time progressed, it turned out that the younger baby not only caught up but grew bigger than the older one. The younger Cape comes from a domestic pair named Angie and Magnum. Jean said this baby not only turned out larger but also has a sweeter disposition. The older is now 295g but the younger is 315g. They are somewhere from one to two weeks apart. Jean has done the same extensive efforts with both parrots and I am currently the only paid buyer so I have the option of choosing either one. She taught both parrots to drink from a water bottle, eat the same pellets, and to wear an aviator harness. So based on everything Jean advised, as well as all the good things I've heard from someone else that bought a Cape Baby from the same breeding pair, I decided to go with the younger/larger Cape.
This Friday, Jean will be taking the Cape to her vet on my behalf. I asked her to get the vet checks for me because she has a very good vet and I don't like the one I worked with in my area. If the parrot checks out healthy before being shipped, I don't really see any need in duplicating the check afterwards. The visual inspection the vet did when I bought Kili I can so easily do myself now at this point. I'm quite confident in Jean as a breeder so the vet check is only precautionary. The vet will also take care of some final grooming and place an open band on the parrot's left (non-dominant) foot. Pending all results being good from the vet check, Jean should be shipping the Cape Parrot to me early Tuesday morning to avoid the Florida heat. Thursday is the back up day.
Here are more pictures that I just received from the breeder: