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:
On a recent visit to the bird store I came across a Jardine's Parrot I recognized from last time. It has remained unsold for a while and is around 6 months old already. Besides the fact that parrot sales are down during this terrible economy, you could say that Jardine's Parrots look rather dull in front of all the Sun Parakeets, Cockatoos, and Macaws. To make matters worse, this little Jardine's Parrot didn't even know how to step up.
When I reached my hand into the tank housing the two available Jardine's Parrots, all havoc broke loose. The two terrified parrots fled my approaching hands. I was unable to get one out without a bite. However, once I got a hold of its neck all matters were settled. With the restraint of my parrot hold, the Jardine's struggle was over while I protected myself from additional bites.
Within minutes the parrot calmed down and sweetly cuddled as I held it against my chest. As time progressed I was able to hold a looser grip on the bird with less fear of biting or fleeing. I was able to pet it on the head and neck and hold it any which way.
I was surprised to find out that the bird did not know how to perch or step up. Well it was obvious in the tank that it didn't want to step up, however, it wouldn't step up outside of the tank either. While I held the bird in my hands it stayed calm but would get very uneasy when I tried to let it perch on my finger. The Jardine's Parrot became scared when I approached with a finger to ask it to step up. Worse yet, if I pressed my finger toward its belly to edge it to step up, it simply knew not what to do.
The Jardine's Parrot simply did not know how to lift its legs to step up to perch. Having gone unsold for so long, the poor little bird never learned to perch while living in a flat bottom tank. This is good for the younger birds but they are not expected to go unsold for this long. It had trouble perching on my finger because it curled its toes instead of wrapping them around my finger. I had to straighten the toes out to show it that it can grip my finger better that way.
Although scared at first and unable to step up, this Jardine's Parrot turned out to be really sweet. As long as I held it close, it did not try to bite and let me pet it all I wanted. I carried the parrot around the store with me for nearly an hour. The bird was starting to get the hang of perching. However, when I put it down on a perch to poop, it would not step up when I tried to take it back. Yet when I grabbed it with my hands to pick it up, it did not protest one bit. I was amazed that here was a bird that preferred to be forcefully grabbed to being in control and stepping up. This is quite the opposite of most parrots around though this is not the first Jardine's Parrot I have made this observation with.
I began working on the basics of step up by using a finger to pry its toes off the finger it was perched on. I slowly lifted that foot until it would have to pick the other foot up to follow. I also used a slight disbalance in the hand it was originally perched on by tipping it downward while offering the rock solid finger to step onto. I began adding a reward to the process as well. What reward could I possibly use on a bird I do not own, that isn't hungry, and no training supplies to use? I used stability, attention, vocalization, and height to reward the Jardine's Parrot for stepping up. First I lowered the hand it was perched on to the height of my stomach. Then I offered my other hand slightly higher. The early step ups were forced to demonstrate to it what to do but soon enough it was picking its foot up on its own to step up. Then as soon as it stepped up, I lifted it up to eye level and made excited sounds. This was positive reinforcement based training at work here and it shows that not all positive reinforcement needs to be food. This method proved to be positively reinforcing because the Jardine's Parrot was more readily stepping up with each trial. Positive reinforcement is measured by its affect on behavior and the behavior was increasing. Success.
For a parrot unaccustomed to perching or much exercise, I'm sure this was challenging. I gave it breaks longer than the actual training session bits for scratches and cuddling. Then I would ask for a step up again and it would do it. Before the end of our short interaction the Jardine's Parrot would simply pick up its foot on the sight of my approaching finger (almost like wave) in anticipation of stepping up. The bird even stepped up for other people and let others pet it as well.
Besides stepping up, I also managed to teach it petting etiquette in the time I held it. I only pet its head if it would let me hold its beak (like I do with Truman). It enjoyed the petting so it did not mind being held in this way. There were children attending the store who were disappointed they couldn't pet the other birds so I carried the Jardine's around and let them interact with it. One lady commented that it's a great idea to hold the bird's beak during petting that way as I let her daughter pet the Jardine's. You don't want the children to get scared of parrots from getting bit and you don't want the parrots to learn to bite. So prevention is key.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to convince anyone to buy the bird and I surely couldn't buy it either. However, now that the bird is a bit more used to hands and knows how to step up, it will have a better chance of finding a good home. Someone will become entranced by this parrots sweetness and will have a cuddlebug on their hands. The store owner was impressed and grateful that I tamed the bird a bit for her. She told me to leave the bird out front to showcase it for buyers.
Even if you don't intend to buy another parrot ever again, it's still a great experience builder to go to a store, rescue, and breeder to handle some parrots. It's win/win for everyone. Most stores/rescues are too busy to give all their birds sufficient handling time and will appreciate an experienced/caring parrot owner to spend time with their birds even if they aren't buying. By handling other birds (possibly bigger or more aggressive) it will give you greater confidence in handling your own. The eventual buyer of the bird wins too because they will acquire a more socialized bird that is accustomed to handling. The biggest winners of all though are the birds themselves. They can really use some love and attention. Here's a brief clip at the bird store and how I was working with the Jardine's Parrot.
I set out to the Palooza with several items on my shopping list. I heard there would be an incredible sale, so I was considering buying a large Java tree for the aviary, a travel cage for Truman, and a 25lb sack of Roudybush. However, I would only consider buying these if they were incredibly priced because I did not need them immediately.
Truman spent the first hour of the drive screaming in his carrier. But finally he got a hint and shut up for a bit. Unfortunately there wasn't much left to go and he began screaming again as we got closer. I ignore him when he screams to avoid encouraging it even further. I think more outings and ignoring will be required to get him to sit as quietly in the car as Kili (or at least I hope).
Kathleen and I went two days, Friday and Saturday. Friday was meet the speakers night and I was looking forward to meeting Irene Pepperberg. This was the real highlight of the event that made me decide to make the multi hour drive to visit. With Kili on my shoulder and Truman on my arm, I stood in a short line to get to meet the famous parrot researcher. I asked her about Corvid to Psittacine comparative psychology. She mentioned that she knows of research being done and a paper due in coming months. However, this did not strike up much of a conversation and she seemed impatient to get the brief encounter over with. So I just asked her to sign my copies of her books out to Kili & Truman. Knowing her background, I really shouldn't be surprised about Dr. Pepperberg's social manner. However, I had greater expectations from the endless intrigue I have acquired from her books.
Michael, Kili, and Truman meeting Dr. Irene Pepperberg at Parrot Palooza
I did not even bother meeting the other speakers because I had no idea who they were. It kind of didn't make sense to meet them until I could hear their talks and learn what they're about. The rest of the Friday evening was pretty boring. There wasn't much going on and not that many people. Most of the people that were there were just shopping. So we looked around but weren't amazed by the products. Certainly they had an extensive selection but nothing out of the ordinary. The walls were lined with endless bird toys but it wasn't as much of a selection as you might think. Six hangars would be filled with the exact same toy which could span just a single one. So part of the impressive fullness of the shelves/hangars was really just redundancy.
While Kathleen went to handle parrots in the bird room, I queried about the price of a 25lb bag of Roudybush. It seemed like no one could answer my question and it took some asking around before someone got back to me with a price of $59.99. I gave a shocking look at such an overprice but they reminded me that everything is 20% off. With half a bag of this bird food still sitting in my freezer, there was no way I was going to be buying any more unless it was the best deal I'd ever seen on this food. It certainly wasn't. Even with 20% off it came out to more expensive than an online site I found including shipping.
The high prices were not only limited to the bird food. We browsed the shelves and found that perches, toys, carriers, and cages all cost way too much. Then we'd remember to recalculate with 20% off and then the price would just sound about right or slightly discount compared to other places I shop for parrot supplies. Between the fact that employees could never directly answer to the price of items, seeing them anxiously tacking prices on things, and my experience buying parrot supplies elsewhere, I have a strong suspicion that the store jacked up the prices in order to put a discount on them. I am not certain of this but if the ticket price is what they normally sell at, then Bird Paradise is quite overpriced the rest of the year for typical parrot supply shopping. With 20% off, it seemed that items were anywhere from 0-10% cheaper than prices I would expect. So there was a bit of a savings to be had by shopping there but nowhere near an actual 20%.
For example, I checked out the Lixit water bottles. I would have considered picking up an extra one for a genuine 20% off the typical $25 price they run. I was shocked to see them listed at $30. With 20% off from that price it comes out to $24. On the Bird Paradise online store it says they normally sell them for $25. So indeed this does come out slightly cheaper than day to day prices, but $24 is not actually 20% off the normal price but just a mere 4%. And this is what it seemed like to me in general for every item that I looked at including that Roudybush and travel cage I considered.
I do not have hard proof that they purposefully jacked up the prices prior to the "sale" because I do not regularly frequent that store. In fact I've never been there before. However, between my gut feeling, comparison of prices to other stores I normally shop, and a comparison of prices to their online store, it appears that this is indeed the case. Unlike the countless parrot lovers staring starry eyed at the 20% off discount signs, I ended up not buying any of the expensive items I would have considered because the actual savings were unsubstantial.
I received 10 raffle tickets for showing up. The system is somewhat complicated with an entire room full of stuff up for raffle. You have to put tickets with your name on them into buckets next to the items you want a chance at winning. Ideally I would have wanted the large Java tree for my aviary but I figured there was damn little chance of winning that with so many people bidding. So instead I put all my tickets on a parrot climbing net so that I might at least walk out with something.
Despite an extensive selection of exotic parrot species, I was not particularly anxious to go handle their parrots. First of all they wouldn't let me go into their bird room with my own parrots on me. That is understandable but it's pretty silly that with a squirt of hand sanitizer they would consider it ok then. My parrots have been all over my shirt and body so if they really were contaminated, a little hand sanitizer would not save their flock. I think it's just a sham to make it appear that they protect their birds. It certainly looks good on paper but not in practicality. But this is not why I did not want to go see their birds. I was just too depressed seeing all the clipped exotics.
It may be hypocritical or unfounded, but I have a stronger aversion to clipped exotic/advanced parrots. I understand that "beginner parrots" such as Budgies, Cockatiels, and even Senegal Parrots will continue being clipped for new owners who don't know any better. I was myself in that same position before so I understand. However, I don't think that anyone should be buying a Vasa Parrot, Cape Parrot, or Hyacinth Macaw without the requisite knowledge and experience to keep them flighted. These are much bigger, rarer, more complicated parrots. And if the owner is not prepared with the positive reinforcement training techniques required for owning a flighted parrot, then they certainly are not ready for owning it at all. These parrots can pack a lot of bite so the kind of inexperience that leads to clipping is most unwelcome with such parrots. I am by no means trying to justify clipping the smaller parrots but I can at least fathom why it is done. It's my hope that those first time owners of clipped parrots can read my training articles and choose not to clip in the future. This is purely my opinion and personal judgment and not necessarily a reflection of what is best. However, it depressed me so much to see a clipped Cape Parrot that I couldn't enjoy looking at any of their other parrots.
The rest of the Friday evening we spent in the lobby/lounge with the parrots. The store has a wonderful lounge for current or potential parrot owners to hang out with their parrots. We got to meet friends from The Parrot Forum and do a little bit of training with Kili and Truman. They love showing off in front of strangers so it was not too difficult to get them to show a few tricks. I kept them in their harnesses because I did not want to risk them bothering other people more so than a fear of being unable to recover them in the store. It is a good thing I brought the parrots along to keep me company or I would have gotten pretty bored otherwise.
The following day turned out much better. We got there early and it was not yet crowded. We walked around a bit more but once again there was no temptation to buy anything. However, I needed to keep Turman busy and I had forgotten his toys in the car. So I bought a bunch of pacifiers (his absolute favorite toy) and plastic keys to keep him busy for a grand total of $3.50. That's all I spent at the Palooza but those items were worth it because I haven't seen them sold anywhere else.
There seemed to be many contests and prizes going on but they were quite confusing because they were poorly explained or written about. I definitely found it difficult to find out what was going on. And it didn't help that half the employees weren't sure themselves. There were several ongoing contests with different colored tickets. There was a door prize raffle, another raffle for the parrot supplies previously mentioned, and then there was the penguin races. I didn't win anything or at least I had a hard time telling if I did or not. As I mentioned it wasn't very clear what the rules were or what was going on.
The first event was the Birdman Exotic show. I can see how others might like it but I wasn't thrilled. The parrots he showcased were all clipped and doing elementary tricks. I can achieve much more advanced tricks with my parrot so it just wasn't interesting to watch. One trick was basically where he laid a parrot on its back on a spinning pedestal. I could just picture Kili snicker at this because she can do a forward flip and play dead. In another trick, the parrot merely picked up rings and put them on a peg. Kili sorts them by color. And she flies to get each piece. Once again, probably not a terrible show, but just not thrilling to me.
The first of the three speaker presentations was by the Bird Paradise store owner, Kathleen Lance. Her presentation was about what she had learned about parrots in her 30 year experience. Honestly, it was a terribly boring presentation about the bare minimum basics of parrot ownership. Nowadays with the internet, the same can easily be learned in 3 months instead, and then some. The talk was about things like what kind of parrot to choose and what foods are good to feed. We have endless discussions about things like this on The Parrot Forum, so really nothing new learned here. Not that it was a bad talk, just not particularly interesting to folks who do some research on their own. There was nothing novel presented. Of course the old fudy dudies that don't use the internet might benefit from this talk, but then again they wouldn't be on here to read this article and all the free tips I try to provide.
Kili was acting up and screaming a lot so I had to walk out to put the parrots into their carriers in the car. I was surprised that it was Kili and not Truman being the trouble maker. They needed a break anyway so it was alright to put them away for a bit to eat and relax. When I returned, the next speaker was soon to present. I was excited to finally get to see Dr. Pepperberg speak. She talked about some of the basics of the Alex Studies and continued talking about their research about number perception in parrots. Most of this was not new to me because I had read both of her books and many of her papers. The only interesting part was toward the end about how they taught Alex the numbers seven and eight. That study was incomplete and did not end up in the books. A lot of people walked out on Pepperberg's speech and she even laughed that she understands her talk maybe too scientific for some.
After the end of the second talk, Kathleen and I went to get the parrots back and enjoy free food. Kili and Truman also enjoyed pieces from my pretzel in return for performing some tricks. I always have my parrots perform some behavior even if I simply want to treat them. This helps maintain known behaviors and keeps interaction positive at all times. Not going to complain about free food. I think it was important to do that to keep people at the event. If people got hungry and left for food, they may not have come back. They set up large tables so it was an opportunity to meet and talk to other parrot lovers.
While standing outside the bathroom waiting for Kathleen, a woman started asking me about taking food samples but I told her that I have no idea. Rudely, she sneered "well you should." She continued looking around and then began asking me again which ones are the pine nuts. I told her again that I don't know. She said "you should know cause you work here!" I was getting aggravated but instead I just played along and said, "YOU should know, YOU work here." She was surprised and replied "no I don't." Finally I said "well I don't either so I don't know." It wasn't the first time people assumed I was an employee but certainly the rudest. I think it's the fact that I was holding my parrots and just confident about bird handling that lead so many people to think I worked there.
Just as we were preparing to leave, we discovered the parrot toy making workshop. Somehow we had missed that previously, probably because it was in a dark back area and poorly labeled. This was really cool and it's a good thing we didn't miss it. We gathered toy parts to the allowed maximum and then sat down to work on them. Kili and Truman helped by doing a quality control inspection of each part prior to us putting them on the toy. Just the materials that went into the toy alone cost more than I had spent at the whole event. I didn't mean to be a cheapskate but the things sold at the event just didn't appeal to me enough. We took the handmade toys and then set out on the long drive back home.
In conclusion, I would suggest anyone within 2 hours drive to come take advantage of the event next time around. Certainly enjoy the free toys, food, games, raffles, contests, and speakers but stay clear of the shopping because it isn't really worth it. Do not come to the event looking for a good deal on items you wish to buy or at least check prices online and at competitors before trusting the supposed sale. However, if you're just looking to have a fun time and can enjoy looking without buying, it's definitely worth coming if you have the time.