Marianna and I recently got to visit Steve Hartman from The Parrot University and learn about how the Aviator Harness is made. He took us on a personal tour of the production facility and shares with you in the video at the end.
This article is about how to make a bird harness in a professional way beyond just a nylon strap and some buckles. You will get to find out some of the hidden features of the Aviator Harness that you never knew about. Getting to see how the harness is made first hand, gave me an even greater appreciation of the product that I have been using and selling for years. Much more goes into making it than I had previously realized. Here are some things that you probably never heard about the Aviator Harness as it was pretty new to me as well:
It's all in the material. The strap material used to make the Aviator Harness is carefully chosen for a combination of strength and comfort. Not only has the company tested and rejected a multitude of materials, every batch of material is tested to conform to stringent standards.
Welded, not sewn.. I've known for some time that the Aviator Harness is "welded" but never truly understood what this means or why it is done this way. It turns out that they were originally sewn together but that the parrots would immediately go for the stitches and chew them out. The weld isn't exactly a weld. It's not like they take a hot torch or iron to melt the strap to itself. Instead, they have a special machine that vibrates a pin into the material so fast that it melts together locally. It's quite strange really. The machine does not apply heat. Instead, it uses the friction of the vibration to make the material melt itself. This creates a bunch of contact points that hold it all together that the parrot cannot separate.
One metal slide is all. There is only one point of adjustment on the Aviator Harness and that is the black metal slide. Not to be confused with plastic, the slide on the Aviator is made from black powder coated steel. I got to hold these in my hand and I realized that they are much heavier and tougher than they look. This would appear to be the single point of failure for a harness, but in all my years of using these harnesses, the slide is one part that never got damaged in the slightest.
Grooming is everything. They call it grooming but it's really just a process of smoothing everything out with a torch. There are naturally a lot of rough spots such as the ends, the welds, and contact points on the strap. Each strap is held up to a flame by hand to get it smoothed out wherever there is a rough edge. It might be hard to realize this with a finished harness in hand but when you feel how they come out before they are groomed, you would realize it would be quite uncomfortably poking the bird.
They're already stretched. The strapping itself is pretty firm, especially when scaled down for the smaller birds. I remember how I used to tell people to wash their new Aviator a few times before initial use to soften it up. Well, it turns out that now all of the Aviator Harnesses are per-processed to be ready for use out of the box. They are each stretched, shrunk, or washed as necessary to be soft and ready for use out of the box.
Each harness is tested. Not by a parrot but by multiple quality control checks built into the system. Because multiple different people are involved in the various stages of production, any mistakes or defects are caught early. There is virtually no chance that a bad Aviator makes it out to customers and breaks allowing the bird to fly away. They are pulled and checked over many times to make sure this does not happen.
They're made in the US. The Aviator Harnesses are made in the US by US employees. Steve employs local college students part time in addition to full time employees to produce the harnesses. He explained to me that he tried to have them made in China but that the quality was not sufficient or consistent enough to satisfy parrot owners. It is really important that each harness is safe and works out of the box but with outsourced manufacturing, it just wasn't possible to control this. So, the Aviator is put together in the US for the highest quality standards.
It takes a long time to make. By the looks of it, you'd think it could be made in a few minutes but that is not the case. There are over 20 steps in making an Aviator Harness. Multiply that by 8 sizes and 7 colors and that is a heck of a lot of steps! As the harnesses are produced, they can spend over a month moving from station to station to go through the various stages before they are finally packaged and shipped. If you wanted to make one yourself, it would take a really long time and even then, you would not have access to the specialized machinery and would have to compromise the quality. Basically, it would not be worth spending the kind of time it would take to make one from scratch.
I learned another secret during my visit, the price of the Aviator Harness is about to go up on November 1. If you don't have one or need another, order now before the price goes up worldwide at every store (including mine).
I have to say, I was genuinely impressed with how the Aviators are produced. A lot of thought, experience, and care for the parrots' welfare has gone into how they are made. It was a pleasure getting to meet Steve and his wife Judy. I'm as proud as ever to be one of the biggest vendors of the Aviator Harness in the United States. Every size and color is available for the lowest price at ParrotWizard.com. Also, please check out my own, personally made, support products such as my Training Perches, Book, and Harness Training DVD.
Here is a video of Steve showing Marianna the process of making an Aviator Harness for Parrots:
I hate cleaning cages. I'd much rather be spending my time training or hanging out with the birds. I don't actually mind the "ick" of cleaning poop so much as taking the time to do it. But it's a fact of life when it comes to bird ownership and something that must be done. This is why I am keen on good cleaning products that reduce the amount of time/effort I need to spend cleaning.
Recall my Must Have Cleaning Devices for the Parrot Owner article reviewing cleaning gadgets. Well in addition to good gadgets, you also need good cleaning supplies. Paper towels do just fine, but on a tight budget washable rags are a good idea. I find that dish soap and bleach work very well for a thorough cage cleaning, however, it smells awful and takes a long time to prepare. Worse yet bleach stains and requires gloves for use. I'm so worried about the fumes that I have to lock my parrots out in the stairway. There has to be a better way.
Since I got Truman's Cage from Kings Cages I was already familiar with the brand. I've been using a bunch of their products for a while now and one of them is the Royal Cage Cleaner spray. This spray makes cleaning a whole lot easier. I just spray it on and wait 5 minutes, come back before it dries, and wipe off with a wet paper towel.
Frankly, I prefer my steam cleaner because it is an entirely chemical free way to clean and sterilize the cage. The trouble is that it has a very narrow stream so it takes forever, especially when it's a wide spread mess. For hard to reach crevices like in the grooves of a perch, I'd definitely go with steam cleaner. But on cage bars, grates, and particularly seed catchers, the spray is awesome.
I tried a different cleaner before, don't remember the name, but it was a citrus based cleaner. It smelled good and is supposedly very safe but it would leave a lot of residue after cleaning. I like the Royal Cage Cleaner better because it has very little residue. Wiping with a wet paper towel once gets most of it and a little more effort and it's all gone.
For the absolute worst messes I use a combination of my steam cleaner and spray. First I spray the area to dissolve the poop. Then I wipe what I can and blast the rest out with the steam cleaner. Works like a charm. For spot cleaning, $10 for the spray is well worth it. One bottle lasts me about a year because I combine with the steam cleaner.
I have one bottle of free Royal Cage Cleaner to give away. The contest is very simple. Just leave a comment below or on the Trained Parrot Facebook page telling me about what you currently use for cleaning your parrot's cage. Contest ends midnight Tuesday November 26th and a winner will be chosen at random and announced Wednesday. The only restriction I have here is that free shipping is in the US only. International winner must pay international shipping or decline the prize and another winner will be selected. Winner to be selected from either comments section or facebook comments at random. Thanks for reading and participating.
Kili & Truman received a free copy of the Life With Alex Movie because of their participation and brief guest appearance in it. Having read both of Dr. Pepperberg's books and many articles, I was really excited to get to actually see footage of Alex and the studies. My parrots were envious of the extensive treats and attention that the lab birds were being provided but I had to remind my two braniacs that those birds had to work long hard hours. Kili rebutted that those birds only have to think and not actually do anything strenuous so she still thinks they have it easier. You can never win with these guys.
The movie should appeal to parrot owners more so than scientists because it features many birds and is narrated in simple language. The movie is more about the lives of the parrots and the researchers rather than the intricate details of the studies themselves. I am glad that the movie warns viewers about the difficulties of keeping parrots as pets and not to look at Alex and decide you gotta have a talking bird like that too.
Personally I found the books to be a lot more detailed and meaningful, however, if you haven't read them the movie is a great start. Yet, if you can handle the length and density of the Alex Studies, I highly recommend reading it because you will learn far more than what the DVD can even begin to present about Psittacine Psychology.
The movie Rio was finally released in theaters today after many months of anticipation. This is perhaps the largest and most prominent feature film centered around parrots ever. From a parrot owner's perspective, this is my impression of the movie as well as the realism of parrot ownership that it conveys.
The story opens in the forest outside off Rio De Janeiro where birds do morning song and dance ritual. While the singing/dancing is of course personified, it certainly alludes to the natural morning song that birds sing.
We get our first glimpse of Blu, the movie's hero, as a baby in a nest cavity. Parrots nest in cavities rather than building nests on branches so this was an accurate depiction. Blu is captured by poachers and smuggled to Minnesota. Like in half the pet featured movies out there, the crate carrying the hero character falls out of a truck and is discovered by the future owner. Not only does this make the owner appear benevolent for saving a lost animal, but it also absolves the owner from responsibility for buying into the illegal pet trade. However, there is actually some truth to the matter.
Rio is actually partly based on a true story and a real species of Macaw. The movie simply refers to Blu as a Blue Macaw, however, at a later point in the movie Cyanopsitta Spixii species is mentioned. The Spix Macaw is one of four Blue Macaw species and was endemic to Brazil. However, due to poaching and deforestation of their natural habitat, Spix Macaws went extinct in the wild in the year 2000. Nonetheless, over 60 Spix macaws have been known to remain in captivity after their wild counterparts went extinct. Two years after the last Spix was observed in the wild, a veterinarian in the the United States was shocked to be consulted by an owner of one in Denver.
Presley was estimated to be 25 years old and DNA confirmed to be a male Spix Macaw. In the movie, Blu was unable to fly although he was fully feathered. Presley on the other hand became accustomed to a life down low from being clipped. Presley, like Blu, also ended up in his caretakers possession by chance rather than being bought.
Blu is flown out to Rio De Janeiro to be mated with the last known female of his kind. Unlike Blu, Presley was not actually the last Spix Macaw. However, he was one of a few and breeders of the Brazilian rehabilitation program for Spix Macaws required his DNA to help diversify the excessively inbred offspring they were producing. Unlike Blu, Presley was actually given a one way ticket to Brazil, never to return to his owner. The population of Spix Macaws is so fragile that rehabilitators do not want to take any chances. Interestingly, the biggest population of Spix Macaws in captivity is not actually in Brazil but rather in Qatar. 56 out of 73 known captive Spix Macaws are in Qatar and only 7 in Brazil.
The movie places a much greater significance on Blu as the last of his kind to simplify the story line and make his adventures more thrilling. A funny scene that reminds me of real parrot ownership is when Linda, Blu's caretaker, wakes up at 7:15AM to the sound of an alarm clock. She fumbles to turn it off and even unplugs it but the blasting noise does not stop. It was actually her parrot that was making all the noise. Any parrot owner can tell you that as soon as the sun appears, parrots cannot help but make as much noise as they are capable of and wake everyone up.
Rio depicts parrots very well both visually and metaphorically. Sure they don't dance and sing, but vocalizing and flying really is a part of who they are. While the eyes are made to look human and a tuft of feathers on the head like hair, the placement of the feathers appears quite accurate. The feathers would shift from being slick to fluffy much like the feathers on a real parrot express its mood. The birds move their beaks and wings as they talk but more unrealistic is the depiction of the eyes. Prey bird eyes tend to look outward to the sides and be less mobile. Yet the movie generally had the parrots looking straight in front of them and frequently showed them rolling their eyes in relevant directions.
While I am not holding a children's cartoon to the highest expectations of realism, I am greatly disappointed that it showed Linda giving a cup of hot chocolate and plate of chocolate chip cookies to Blu. Chocolate is one of several household foods most toxic to parrots. It would be wildly irresponsible for an owner to feed that to a parrot. But most of all I worry that some children seeing the scene in the movie could acquire the idea of feeding chocolate to their family parrot.
The movie was presented in 3D which was very suitable. Some 3D movies lack enough depth to justify being 3d, but in Rio it definitely improved the movie. There were scenes where the birds would practically fly out of the screen and many other scenes where depth was depicted realistically. Also, the animation style has greatly improved since the earlier Ice Age films. The realism of both humans and animals has come a long way in digital animation. The detail in the feathers and gestures of the birds is spectacular and life like.
Of course, like the previous Ice Age movies, the plot is focused around the animals and the animals carry many human like qualities. However, I think Rio has demonstrated a greater ability to create human like characters without losing their animal qualities. Yet, the movie never once showed the parrots eat or poop. Considering how birds do their business roughly every 15 minutes, the absence of it paints a rosier picture of owning one. Rio presents many of the positive aspects of parrot ownership but none of the bad ones. The fact is that parrots are very messy, noisy, and aggressive. The movie depicted that the relationship between Blu and Linda came naturally, but the reality is that it takes many years of careful taming and training to make a good pet out of an otherwise wild species of parrot. Cleaning cages, preparing food, and general care occupy much of a parrot owner's time.
A scene familiar to most parrot owners is when Linda has to feed vitamins to Blu and he refuses. Anyone who has ever had to feed medication or something important to a parrot will be able to relate to the lack of cooperation on that end. Also, the movie depicts the way parrots stand on people's arms quite well. You can visualize the weight of the parrot when it steps up. The animation of flying parrots looks as realistic as you can get.
The movie seems to make a good depiction of the city of Rio. Although I have not been to Rio specifically, I have traveled to Brazil twice. The movie blends the plot and different scenes of city life as well. Many species of parrots were represented in the movie including green wing macaws, amazons, military macaws, and golden parakeets.
I found the topic of flight particularly touching. Blu's inability to fly much reminded me of my parrot, Kili, when her flight feathers grew back after her original clip. Despite the fact that she had the feathers required for flight she did not know what to do with them. However, having the heart and motivation to fly alone wasn't enough. I had to train her for months to get her flight skills and muscles up to speed. Blu takes to the skies all too quickly when he finally decides to fly. 15 years of muscle atrophy is not solved simply with a bit of will power. I think a montage of the owner training the bird to fly would have been more inspiring.
I was relieved that the movie did not aim to force a political agenda upon the audience. I don't mind a subtle message even if it's one I disagree with, but I never enjoy a movie that is foremost concerned with lobbying viewers toward the makers' viewpoint. I was worried that the movie would end up being political and opposed to private parrot ownership but instead it gave a positive and unbiased view both of ownership and conservation without putting them in opposition to one another. When Jewel called Blu a pet, he replied that actually he's a companion. The movie did a great job showing the human-bird relationship that parrot owners develop with their birds. Ignorant movies often make it look like cages birds desire nothing more but liberty but in fact companion parrots become so accustomed to household life that they enjoy it. Blu said at one point in the movie, "how I wish I was back in my cage with my mirror and my little bell." I can imagine that my own parrots would feel much the same way if they got lost. Household life is what they are used to so it is the way they want to live.
Rio is a story of love, escape, companionship and adventure. I highly recommend seeing it both to parrot owners and non-owners alike. It is a very well made movie with an enjoyable plot and good depiction of some of the aspects of parrot ownership. It is just important to realize that there is a lot more difficulty to parrot ownership than the movie depicts. So if the movie inspires you to get a parrot, consider buying some of the Rio toys or games instead. Then take your time and read the articleson this blog and consult owners on The Parrot Forum to help you decide if parrot ownership is really right for you.
There is plenty more to the plot than my review or the trailers will show you, so it is well worth it to go see the movie in 3D before it hits the DVD shelf. Feel free to post your thoughts about the movie in the comments as well as any accuracies/inaccuracies that you have encountered.
For some time now I have been contemplating upgrading Truman to a larger travel carrier. Unfortunately his carrier is no bigger than Kili's even though he is a bigger parrot. Generally this has been fine for short outings like taking him to the vet or on a short drive. However, I have begun taking him on overnight outings lately and long drives. Not only is the carrier confined, but also boring for him. I think boredom leads him to a lot of screaming during the drives. Most of this would be manageable but my biggest complaint is that he ends up stepping off his perch into the poop below. Just stepping in poop is never enough. He ends up getting it all over his beak, the walls of the carrier, and everywhere as he is playing with the paper towel. Also his tail keeps hitting the walls as he turns around, so he comes out quite scraggly looking.
I would gladly put his perch higher (like in Kili's carrier), but since he is so big, any higher would cram him against the top of the carrier. Thus I set out in search of a new travel carrier. My main criteria was that the carrier must be about 4 inches taller so that I could raise the perch 3 inches and allow an extra inch of head room. Of course I must be able to modify it to add a perch but toy hanging options are also important. I wanted a few inches more to the width but not really the length. The length gives him more than enough space as it is. Finally, I like having a cage style top loading door for putting him in and cleaning. Most pet carriers have a side door only which is unsuitable for a parrot.
At PetSmart I actually found the same version as his current carrier but one size larger. I was really excited because I liked the design I initially chose. Unfortunately it turned out that the bigger version was several inches longer but barely an inch taller or wider. This was of absolutely no use to me. Since I bought Truman's cage, I was aware of a travel cage made my Kings Cages. I have thus far been reluctant to buy it because of price and weight. I began considering it again since seeing it at the Bird Paradise Parrot Palooza. However, they lied about their products being 20% off which was a major turn off from buying the cage there.
I had no luck finding a plastic carrier to modify and replace Truman's carrier, so I considered the Kings Cages Travel Cage some more. I got to see it in person and my first reaction was that it was too big, too heavy, and too expensive. This was the same feeling I got the previous times I've seen it which was why I did not buy it previously. I decided to compare to the smaller version of it. Despite being made out of aluminum, it weighs a hefty 14lbs without the parrot, toys, or perches.The small Kings Travel Cage is more affordable and the 8lb weight is acceptable. I was not disappointed about the lack of a grate or food doors. I could always hang my own food bowls and keep the perch high instead of a grate. However the 14" cube dimensions were unsuitable. It would hardly serve as an upgrade from Truman's current carrier. Furthermore, I discovered that the bottom is not held in and can fall into the cage. It cannot fall out, but there is nothing stopping it from falling in.
Realizing that the small carrier was not an option, I continued deliberating with myself about the medium one. I even got permission to bring the sample out of the store and check how it fits in my car. Luckily it just fits on a seat and the seat belt just reaches to secure it. I even held Truman next to the cage to see how he would fit inside of it. Finally I was convinced by the incredible discount I was offered to purchase the travel cage. 30% off the online standard price is no cheap Bird Paradise trick. Even at $150, the travel cage is quite expensive. This is really the absolute max I would pay for it but I knew there was no way of finding it any cheaper or a better alternative elsewhere. So I went ahead and bought the cage for Truman.
I discovered that the medium travel cage does not come with a top handle perch like the cheaper small cage does. I brought this up and was given a perch dowel for free to screw on myself. Being handy, this was not much of a problem for me but I find it disappointing that the more expensive cage lacks an awesome feature of the cheaper version! If I could make one complaint about Kings Cages is that the more expensive the products they make, the more they cut corners. The cheap economy cages come with stainless steel bowls while the expensive aluminum cages come with worthless plastic cups. The travel cage came with these cheap cups but I don't intend on upgrading them unless Truman chews them to bits. I wouldn't be surprised if he does; he chews plastic bottle caps into a pulp in under twenty minutes. I'm mainly counting on the fact he won't have enough time in the travel cage (and that I will only leave cups in briefly during feeding) to destroy the cups and want to save on weight, space, and money from upgrading to stainless steel ones.
I let Kili and Truman stay out to watch the assembly of their new travel cage. The reason I say their is because they will each continue to have a carrier but will take turns spending time in the travel cage. My brother helped assemble the cage. Assembly is quite easy and takes no time at all. No tools, hardware, or skills are required. This definitely puts Kings Cages ahead of others for people who need the product without the complexity of assembly. The hard part is figuring out the orientation of each piece but luckily they only go in one way. Once the inner tabs are lined up, it's just a matter of pounding the parts until they lock into each other. The best way is to turn the parts such that you can hit down with your hand and allow gravity to help.
The four sides connect first and then the top is added to hold everything together. The poop pan and grate slide in like a normal cage. Yet, unlike the normal cages, the travel cage has a rotating flap to prevent them from sliding out. This is fantastic and I'm disappointed the bigger cages don't have this feature as well. The large door is built into the front panel, so no mounting of a door is required. The door spans the entire front so it is very easy to access the inside. The food doors are built into the front door which makes it easy to open the cage door to refill the cups without need of taking them out.
The included perch is a machined dowel with notches. It is easy to drop in place. Gravity holds it down but unfortunately driving on a bumpy road could allow the perch to bounce upward. I do not recommend using the included perch as a primary. In fact, it is almost mandatory to have two perches inside. I placed the included perch toward the front of the carrier to facilitate easy access to the food bowls for the parrot. Then my brother helped me by cutting and bolting a dragonwood perch slightly back of middle. I selected dragonwood because the bark is more porous and allows the parrots a good grip with their talons during travel. My brother bolted the perch on using equipment from my Traning Perch assembly kit. Instead of the wing nuts typically used for cage perches, we opted for a permanent wrench on nut instead. The added security of such a nut plus the fact that it sticks out less made it preferable for a travel cage. The notched perch can only stand at the height dictated by the cross bars it sits on. However, I was able to select any height for the bolt on perch. I did not place it dead center because that would waste space toward the back and cram the feeding perch. So instead I placed it back as far as I could go without Truman's tail hitting the rear cage bars. I also placed the main perch slightly higher than the food perch. This way the low perch does not affect him when he stands on the main one and his tail can hang below the main perch when he is on the eating one.
The final modification to make was to cut and screw on the spare dowel I received. This was easy for me but not something the average person can undertake. I used a miter saw to cut the dowel to the size appropriate to the cage top handle. Then I drilled holes through the aluminum handle using a drill press. Next I added wider holes into the outside of the handle holes to facilitate counter sinking the screw head into the handle. Next I transferred the holes from the handle to the perch by aligning it and using a drill with a smaller bit. The final step was to put 3 screws through the handle to attach the perch. This is a pretty essential modification because perching on the bare handle alone would be uncomfortable for the parrot. The method for mounting the handle is pretty strange. There are two knobs that stick out the sides of the cage and the handle snaps onto them by stretching apart and over the knobs. Then the handle is pulled upward and locked in place by pieces that rotate down. Not only is it complicated, but also looks like the most likely fail point on the entire cage.
I added two toys to the carrier. One was an old toy but one was brand new. I hung them on the sides not only to keep them out of the way but also to provide a little bit of hiding cover. Since it is a cage rather than a carrier, all sides are exposed, so it's not bad to give a little hiding. The first time I tried to put the food bowls in, it was really difficult because the plastic was not yet stretched. It's a good thing I tested them prior to putting food or water in because the first time they wouldn't budge until they snapped in all at once. After a few uses, they go in ok.
In conclusion, the Kings Cages Aluminum Travel Cage is the best travel cage on the market I could find appropriately sized for medium parrots such as African Grey, Cockatoo, Amazon, Eclectus, and Cape Parrot. It is not approved for air travel and I wouldn't recommend it for that anyway. A plastic carrier is still more suitable for short outings (under 3 hours), but this kind of travel cage has many uses. It's a nice cage for a parrot traveling by car frequently. A travel cage is great if you plan on spending overnight outings away from home with your parrot, but it can also be very convenient to have at home. At home it can serve as a temporary cage during cage cleaning and can also be used to cage the parrot in other rooms (like during cooking or in the presence of guests). This model definitely affords the most convenient feeding solution. The slide out poop pan and grate are nice but not really required in such a small cage. It would not be that much more difficult to clean through the door. However, since these features don't add any significant weight, it's great to have them. I would rate the cage 4 out of 5. Here's a quick summary of the pros and cons:
-Sturdy/reliable -Grate -Food doors -Aluminum (light and non-corrosive) -Carry handle -Fits on car seat -Adequate space for medium parrots -Safety door latch and magnet like on big cages -5/8" bar spacing -Selection of colors similar to cages -Looks very nice
-Expensive -Heavy -Plastic food cups -No secondary lock for food cups -Top handle perch not built in -Unsuitable notched perch -High pressure on bottom feet of cage can cause dents/scratches to surface
Stay tuned for more articles about this travel cage about how to train a parrot to go into carrier, the parrot's review of it, and videos of the travel cage in use.