Kili and Truman are getting back together! It's been a long time that they've been apart. First it was a two week trial quarantine, then it turned into 2 months, and now it's been going on past a year. However, since Santina's rehoming to Lori, we have been working on reuniting the birds. We started by introducing Kili to Rachel because their health was showing greatest improvement and also because Kili did not have any bad history with Rachel.
A few months later, Truman got moved back to the bird room to rejoin the other birds. Out of the cage, we introduced him to Rachel first. Again, no bad history so this was a pretty straight forward introduction. It was mostly just a matter of feeding them lots of treats and food outside the cage at progressively smaller distances from each other. The goal isn't necessarily to make them friends but just to make sure that they can stay out of trouble and not hurt each other while out together.
Now the time has finally come to get Kili and Truman out together. We literally had to take them out of the cage individually for a while before this staged reintroduction. It didn't take any time since Truman moved back to the bird room that it was apparent that Kili wanted to get him. Just walking by her cage with Truman in hand, she would pin her eyes, growl, and lunge at the bars to try to get him.
Although Kili and Truman have become pretty tolerant of each other in the past, right now it was like starting over. Kili's aggressive Senegal Parrot traits were showing and her original animosity toward Truman was reignited. Any time Kili would see a picture (on phone or paper) of Truman, she would try to attack it. We discovered this when Marianna used some mis-printed papers from work of Truman's Tabletop Perch to line Kili's cage bottom. What started as a silly joke turned serious pretty quick. Kili was going apeshit on the bottom of her cage trying to attack through the grate! We had to remove the papers immediately.
Another scene was when we had company over and we were telling the story about the cage paper episode. Just to illustrate, Marianna took one of those sheets and approached Kili with it. Kili attacked the picture of Truman so quickly that Marianna didn't have time to react and ended up getting a bloody bite just from holding the sheet! This is when we realized that Kili would try to kill Truman the first chance she'd get. It's a Senegal thing.
I should point out that when I say they get into fights, it is always Kili doing the attacking. However, Truman is no angel either. Even after all these years he still hasn't learned to avoid provoking Kili. Truman lives in his own world and does not make any consideration for those around him whether that's pooping a cascade down my blinds or trying to take Kili's food. So while Truman does not actually attack or fight Kili, he certainly does know how to get her going. This is a problem. Although Kili will sometimes intentionally fly over to attack him, most cases of fighting are where Truman thoughtlessly comes toward Kili and she does a defensive offense.
It was really important to try to create a peaceful introduction and rebuild some of the tolerance I had previously developed between them using training. So I used a combination of two training techniques that I like for introducing parrots. What I did not do was the "grab controlled introduction" like I did between Truman and Santina. That method worked well between two birds that had no aggression to each other and I just wanted to make them more used to each other. This time, I have some problem birds that are going to get more agitated from being held or forced near each other. So instead, my goal is to make them avoid/ignore each other entirely. By getting them to focus on training instead of each other, it is my best chance to teach this very concept.
Both training methods for introducing birds (and this can be used on friendly just as well as birds that aren't friendly with each other) require the birds to be target trained and some Training Perches for the birds to stand on. The Training Perches are actually more important than you might think. Not only are they a convenient place to have the birds, they invoke a training mindset and get the birds focused on their tasks. The training perches are psychological in addition to physical in a way that classroom encourages learning. Ideally the birds should be trick trained so that you can cue them to do tricks. However, just being well target trained is sufficient for the introduction process.
The first training method is when you have two birds and two people. You can have more birds and more people that aren't involved, but for the sake of this method it's two on two. The first person takes the first bird to one end of a large room and begins training. The second person then brings the second bird to the other end of the room and begins training that one. Each bird is set on a training perch and kept busy with targeting and performing tricks. Each person stands facing their bird with their body blocking the view of the other bird. This keeps each bird focused on training and possibly even unaware of the presence of the second bird. Little by little, more and more of the other bird is revealed by allowing a glimpse from moving over. Also, if the birds are deemed indifferent to each other and focused on training, the perches can slowly be brought closer together. It may take a series of sessions to achieve results. The good news is that by having two people, there is always one person immediately next to each bird to keep it focused and protected from the other.
Since it appeared that Kili would jump Truman the first chance she'd get, we decided to use the above method for the first out of cage time together. Marianna trained Truman in one corner of the bird room while I worked with Kili in the other. This kept Kili's gaze on me and busy with the training. She was so consumed by the treats and training that she hardly noticed Truman. It also rewarded her handsomely for being around him. Furthermore, it ensured that if Kili slipped away from my reach, Marianna could be there to protect Truman.
It was really important that at least the first week of their interactions was provocation free. This way they learn the new order of things and their place in it (and that is without fighting or getting in the way). Then if something happens here or there later on, it will be an isolated incident and not setting the tone for how things will continue. The first session was a huge success.
For the second session, I went to the one person, two birds method. This is similar to the way I introduced Kili and Truman in the first place. I set Kili and Truman on two training perches and did target and trick training exercises with each. I use big treats so that the birds are kept busy eating for as long as possible while I work with the other bird. I don't want any bird to sit idle because it is less predictable what it might do if it isn't eating. But if they have food, I know they will focus on eating it until it is done. I started with the training perches on opposite sides of me, putting myself between the birds. This allows me to train each bird while providing separation and protection from each other.
As they improved, I moved the perches closer together and even began standing away from the birds so that they would have the opportunity to fight but would have a good incentive not to because of the training. In the beginning, it is all about preventing any fights/attacks in the first place. But to make further progress, eventually you have to give them the opportunity (but not necessarily the motive) to do that but a stronger incentive (treats, training, attention) not to do that. Then they truly learn the value of tolerance and even cooperation.
I would have Kili do the turn around trick and then look over and realize Truman was doing it as well. This was a great chance to reward them together for both paying attention and cooperating. It didn't take long that the two could sit on training perches in close proximity to each other. I will wait a few weeks before thinking of putting them on the same perch though.
Here's a video of Kili and Truman's reintroduction:
The most common questions I receive have nothing to do with advanced trick training or flight. Instead, I am constantly being asked how to get a parrot to do basics like come out of the cage, step up, or not bite. These basic questions are fundamental to parrot ownership. Unfortunately many owners cannot enjoy the most from their parrot if they cannot accomplish basic handling.
Michael, Kili, and Truman
I faced these very same questions when I bought my first parrot, a Cockatiel. I had never so much as touched a bird before in my life and here I was with a bird in the transport box and a cage but absolutely no idea what to do. I spent a lot of time and money to buy training information but unfortunately most of it was unhelpful. Sure there are lots of books and dvds about the methods for teaching specific tricks but few or none of them teach you about the absolute basics. They tell you to take the parrot out of the cage and proceed with training. Well I know from personal experience that this presumption that the owner can get the parrot out of the cage is flawed. Many owners cannot enjoy the thrill of teaching tricks to their parrot because they do not even know how to handle it or reduce aggression in the first place.
A year ago I had written the How to Teach Parrot to Step Up guide on The Parrot Forum and it is still to this day one of my most popular articles. I understand that this basic information is very sought after. Yet I still receive many questions that are even more basic still or that weren't covered in the original article which was predominantly about target training. So now, I sit down to write what I hope to be the ultimate guide to the basics of parrot taming and training. I hope you enjoy the information contained herein and find it helpful. Please read through completely, watch the videos, share with other parrot owners, reread as necessary, and ask your questions on The Parrot Forum. Welcome to the world of parrot training.
Why should you read this? You may be a first time parrot owner that just got home with a new bird wondering why it did not come with an instruction manual. Or perhaps you have had some parrots for a long time but regret the inability to interact with them and wish to learn how to approach them. Maybe you found a lost parrot and need information about how to handle it so that you could foster it. Alternatively you got a rescued or rehomed parrot that is anything but friendly. Regardless of how you came upon a parrot or found this article, you are here because you want to improve your relationship with a highly intelligent, beautiful, and complex feathered companion.
This guide is meant to teach you everything you need to know to begin handling a parrot no matter what the history or circumstances. It does not matter how long you have had it, how old it is, what species the bird is, where you got it from, or what its history is. Certainly these things can affect how long it will take or how difficult it will be. But I guarantee you that if properly and patiently applied, these methods will work. These techniques will work just as well for a Parakeet, Conure, Amazon, Cockatoo, African Grey, or Macaw.
The only case that I can think of where this guide does not apply is for unweaned baby birds that are still hand feeding. Please have an experienced breeder or hand feeder take care of the baby or at least coach you through the process and do not attempt to apply these techniques to a young fledgling.
Getting Parrot Into the Cage for the First Time
If you just acquired a new parrot – whether it is from a breeder, store, or rehomed – you will need to transfer it from the transportation enclosure to its new cage. The parrot may be in a travel carrier, crate, or cardboard box. Regardless, the procedure will be the same for getting it into the cage. There are several possibilities of how tame the parrot is. If you do not already know, you're about to find out. Bring the carrier into the same area as the cage. Close all doors and windows.
Most likely the parrot is quite scared so putting the carrier door up to the cage door will not be encouraging for the bird to come out on its own. Food lures won't work either since a scared bird will refuse to eat for several days. Your intervention will definitely be required.
You may be lucky and have a friendly parrot that already knows how to step up. The problem is that you may not know that in fact the parrot is friendly and aware of stepping up. The best way to test this is to open the carrier slowly and bring your hand toward the bird. As you open the carrier door, keep the opening minimal and blocked with your hand so that the parrot cannot rush out. Slowly bring your hand closer and closer to the parrot. If the parrot doesn't react to the hand much, then keep going closer. However, if the parrot is opening its beak and aggressively snapping toward your hand, then the stepping up method is unlikely to work.
For the non-aggressive parrot, keep bringing your hand closer and aim your fingers perpendicular to the feet. Depending on the size of the parrot you'll want to use anything from one finger to your entire arm. The main thing is to place your hand parallel to the perch it is standing on and slightly above its feet. If it was trained by the breeder to step up, it is a good idea to say “step up” as you have your hand positioned. As soon as the parrot steps up, slowly take it out of the carrier and then bring it into the cage. Like with your hand before, aim the bird in such a way that the cage perch runs parallel to your hand and slightly above its feet. The parrot should now step up onto the perch. You can close the cage door and talk to the parrot for a little while but then be sure to give it some time alone to adjust to its new home. I wouldn't suggest handling the parrot anymore at this time unless you are already experienced with parrots.
Getting parrot out of the carrier
If it turned out you are dealing with an aggressive parrot or it didn't step up using the method previously mentioned, you're going to have to get a hold of the bird to get it into the cage. Don't worry about this affecting your relationship. The parrot will eventually get over this. In fact it probably won't even realize what happened if you do it quickly enough. You definitely don't want to draw out this unpleasant experience any more than necessary as the fear will escalate and only make it more difficult to catch. It is especially important not to let the parrot escape the carrier if it is flighted because you will have a much tougher time getting a hold of it somewhere in the room.
Ideally you should just use your bare hand and grab the parrot out of the carrier. If you are too scared, you could wear thin leather gloves or use a towel. The best place to grab the parrot by is actually the neck, just below the head. Not only is it a safer place to avoid getting bit, it's also least likely to harm the parrot. If you grab by the belly, it could restrict airflow, but grabbing by the neck will not. By holding under the beak, you can keep the parrot from being able to turn its head and bite you. You can do the same with a glove. If you use a towel, you can either grab through the towel, or just get the bird in it and wrap it until you can get it in the cage. In one bold motion reach in toward the parrot. Even if it is backing away, just keep moving your hand toward it and back it into a corner. At this point the bird can't get anywhere and you can get a hold of it. Regardless of how you got a hold of it, don't prolong this and hurry up and get it in the cage. Whatever you do, don't let go of the bird (even if it bites). You'll have a much tougher time getting back if it gets loose in the room. If you had to use this more forceful method, it's a good idea to give the bird a bit more time to settle down before proceeding to taming and training.
If the parrot stepped up for you, the bird is probably quite tame and this basic taming should go much quicker. Since it is stepping up reliably, you will be able to ask the parrot to step up to come out of the cage. On the other hand if you had to grab the bird out of the carrier, odds are you will have to continue doing this until it has learned to step up.
No matter what method you had to use to get the new parrot into the cage, do not overwhelm it with attention immediately. Not only does it need some time to calm down and settle in, you also don't want to make it too dependent for attention. It is likely that the new parrot will eat little or none for the first few days. This should not be of too much concern. Just be sure that it has access to food and water and that it is already familiar with the food you are providing. This is not the time to try to do a food change or to instate any kind of food management for training.
Approaching the Cage
It is very important not to make your parrot afraid of you by rushing at the cage. Until the parrot is more used to you, it is essential to approach the cage very slowly. Don't make any sudden noises and walk carefully not to trip, fall, and terrify the bird. First impressions are important and it is critical not to let the first one be a bad one. If you have a particularly fearful bird, don't even make eye contact with it as you approach the cage. Just slowly approach while looking somewhere else. By making eye contact, it may feel like it has been singled out by a predator.
If you take an unnecessarily cautious approach, there is no way that will hurt your relationship. You will be able to speed things up in the future. However, if you rush this and scare the bird, it will be much much harder to undo the fear that is developed.
You must determine your parrot's comfort threshold. It is quite likely that the parrot is accustomed to human presence and will not freak out if you come all the way up to the cage. However, if it does, you'll need to slowly desensitize it to your presence over time. If you find the parrot trying to bite at you, thrashing around the cage, or making any other drastic displays of discomfort in response to your presence, the following technique is necessary.
Start out of the room or out of sight. Approach the cage slowly and wait for the discomfort response. The moment it begins, stop and stay where you are. Do not approach further but do not retreat. Wait for the parrot to calm down. It may still look uncomfortable but as long as it has made a relaxing trend from the original outbreak, you may reward the parrot by turning around and walking away. By using this method, the parrot will learn that it actually takes calming down rather than making a big scene to get you to leave. You are showing the parrot that the only way to get what it wants is to be calm.
Continue this technique over a period of time. You should be able to approach progressively closer and closer. Once you are able to safely approach within touching distance of the cage, you can continue with the following positive reinforcement based techniques.
Determining Treats for Your Parrot
Determine your parrot's favorite treats
First you must find out what kinds of treats your parrot will enjoy. This is fairly easy. Parrots will often enjoy seeds, nuts, dried and fresh fruits. Mix a variety of these treats in a bowl and serve it to the parrot in the cage. If this is a new parrot, it is quite possible that it is not yet familiar with these foods so the first trial may be inaccurate. Give the parrot a few days to familiarize itself to these foods unless a clear favorite is demonstrated up front. Parrots are picky eaters and will eat their favorite food first, then the second, etc. You can determine a pretty clear order of which foods they like. For smaller parrots such as Cockatiels, Budgerigars, Lovebirds, Parrotlets, and other Parakeets, millet spray generally serves as the ideal treat.
Now that you have determined your parrot's favorite treat, never serve it as part of the daily cage meals. The favorite foods are only to be used as treats for training. If you have discovered a secondary and tertiary treat, you can also save those to use for training as well. The most effective method will be to feed only pellets and vegetables in the cage and use all other foods as treats for training. However, if your parrot is on a seed diet and you are unable to convert it to pellets, then at least stop serving the favorite kinds of seeds and save them for training. Use the secondary/tertiary treats for most training and use the absolute favorite treats when the parrot does a major breakthrough.
Getting Parrot Out of Cage for the First Time
Now whether you just acquired a new parrot or have had one trapped in the cage for a long time, eventually you will have to take the parrot out. Not only is daily out of cage time important for the parrot's mental health, but it is also important to be able to clean the cage from the inside on a regular basis.
Now simply opening the cage door and waiting for the parrot to come out to you on its own is pointless. The parrot is already going to be scared of everything and the cage will at least be the most familiar place for it. You're not going to achieve a hand tame parrot by doing this and might spend forever waiting till it comes out. So instead, I will explain how to get the parrot out for the first time and then you should immediately begin the appropriate taming and training exercises so these methods no longer need to be used and the parrot will just step up for you whenever you want to take it out of the cage.
There are two methods that can be used for getting a parrot out of the cage for the first time:
1) Target training 2) Force out & reconcile
Except for the initial training, do not let the parrot come out of the cage on its own. Always reach in and request it to step up. This will help develop a positive relationship because you will get all the credit for the thrill of being able to come out. The parrot will begin to look forward to seeing you because it will learn that you are the source of good things like coming out.
Although the first method is least stressful, it also takes a much longer time to implement. On the other hand the second method is more hands on. I would say that the force out method is safest to be used on young hand raised parrots. This can range from merely asking it to step up to toweling it out. Either way, the experience outside the cage is made so rewarding that it reconciles being forced out initially. Baby parrots are much more forgiving and less likely to bite so this method can actually work quite well and create no trauma for the bird. Most likely the parrot was already accustomed to the breeder grabbing it to feed it anyway. If you are an experienced parrot owner and not afraid of the potential of being bitten, go ahead and use the force out/reconcile method. Similar to getting the parrot out of the carrier for the first time, you can test step up, just grab the parrot, grab with a glove, or use a towel. Just get the parrot out of the cage but then give it a super rewarding time outside of the cage with additional training. I will detail the taming/training exercises to do shortly afterward.
For everyone else including first time parrot owners, people afraid of getting bit, owners of rehomed/rescued parrots, and owners of parrots that were for a long time cage bound, I am going to advise against forcing the parrot out but instead to train it inside the cage. Not only does this method buy time for the parrot to get used to the owner, but it also helps the owner get used to the parrot. It mutually reduces fear and builds a positive relationship.
Performing target training in the cage begins with teaching the parrot to accept treats from your hand. This part could take as little as a few seconds to as many as a few weeks. The important thing is not to scare the parrot of your hands in the process. If the parrot isn't too shy, you can come to the side of the cage nearest the parrot and extend the treat through the cage bars up to the bird. However, if you find the parrot running away whenever you approach, then just come to a slightly further end of the cage and wait patiently. Just hold the treat through the bars and don't move. Let the parrot come to take it on its own. This may not happen on the first try but if you consistently offer treats like this, eventually it will let down its guard and come over to take it. You can use longer strands of millet spray for small parrots or a strip of fruit for larger ones. This will give your hands a bit more separation from the parrot. Do not worry about biting. Not only do the bars protect your hands, but the parrot is sooner to want the tasty treat than to bite you.
As soon as you feel the parrot feels safe eating treats from your hand, it is time to introduce the clicker. The only reason you don't want to begin using the clicker too soon is because it may scare the parrot from eating treats from your hand. But as soon as it is comfortable, you should click every time you are about to give it a treat. If you find the click to be scaring the bird, you can muffle the sound by holding it behind your back or inside your sleeve. Once it is no longer scaring the bird, you can start clicking closer and closer. The goal of clicking when you give treats is to teach the bird that the sound of a click means it is going to get a treat. This will become the bridge for the remainder of your training. The click bridges the time gap between when the bird performs the desired behavior and receives the reward. This way it eliminates any confusion about what you wanted the parrot to do to earn its treat.
Target training parrot inside cage
The next step is to teach the parrot to target. This is where you hold a target stick (chopstick or dowel) out and the parrot walks over to touch it with its beak. Naturally, at first the parrot will not know that this is what you want it to do. This is why you need to teach it by giving it a chance to touch the stick and earn treats. At first, hold the target stick through the cage bars really close to the parrot. Quite likely, the parrot will bite the stick out of shear curiosity. The moment that it does, click and give it a treat. Repeat this a few times. Eventually, test if the parrot is motivated to make a slightly bigger move to touch the stick by holding it a tiny bit further away. Try to get your parrot to lean in to touch the stick, turn its head to touch the stick, and then eventually to take a few steps to touch it. Bear in mind that this may not happen all at once and may require several training sessions to achieve.
If your parrot absolutely does not make a single effort to touch the stick for the first time (which is necessary for it to realize that it can have a treat for this), you can touch the stick to the beak the first time to give yourself an excuse to treat the parrot. Do not do this too many times though. Eventually the parrot must do this on its own in order to learn to target. If you are having too much trouble, the parrot might not be motivated enough for food. Stop and try again another time when the parrot is hungrier.
There is a possibility that the parrot is afraid of the target stick and runs away from it. In this case, do not chase your parrot around with the stick. Instead, hold the stick steadily in one spot and just watch the parrot's movements. Whenever the parrot moves away from the stick, don't do anything. However, if it makes any motion toward the stick (it could be as little as taking a step toward it or even turning its head that way), click and reward. Reward any effort from the parrot that ventures in the direction of the stick. You can continue this progressively by rewarding bigger and bigger steps toward the stick and not walking away or making smaller steps. This will eventually teach the parrot to get close to and touch the stick. It is like the game of hot/cold when you tell the other person if they are getting closer/further from some hidden scavenger prize. When the parrot moves toward the target stick, that is getting warmer and it gets rewarded for this.
Hold target stick, clicker, and treat
Eventually, you will be able to target the parrot around the cage to any place. The parrot will watch the stick and walk/climb to wherever you point it. This is the point at which you know you are ready to reach into the cage for the first time. If you're not fearful you can use your bare hands. But if you have any reservations, you can wear a leather glove or better yet hold a perch for your parrot to step up on. It is best to use a perch from or similar to the ones in the cage. You will need to master the one handed target maneuver to continue. This involves holding the clicker, target stick, and treat all in one hand because your other hand is where the parrot will be taught to step onto (or the perch it is holding). Hold the clicker in your palm and use your middle finger to click. Slide the target stick into your hand and hold the treat with thumb and forefinger. You may want to practice this a few times away from the parrot to be sure you can do it right. If you fumble with these training aids at the time of training, it may scare the bird and set back progress.
Target parrot out of cage
Prior to proceeding, practice a few known target touches to get the parrot in the mood for training. Then slowly open the cage door and continue practicing targeting inside the cage but with your hands in the cage. This is not a bad exercise to practice a few times to get your parrot used to hands inside of the cage. Next you can hold a perch in one hand and target the parrot from the cage perch to your handheld perch. Don't think that you can immediately take the parrot out and all is done. Target the parrot off of your handheld perch and back to the cage. Practice this a bunch of times so that the parrot can get comfortable. Now after practicing this enough times, you should be able to carry the parrot out of the cage and to your designated training area. At this point you are ready to train your parrot like any other.
Target Training Parrot Outside the Cage
Whether you got your parrot out of the cage with ease, unwillingly, by targeting, or any other method, you will want to begin your parrot taming and training experience by target training the parrot outside of the cage. Parrots can get territorial but also easily distracted inside their cage. Therefore the cage is not a suitable place for training. From my personal experience, Parrot Training Perches are the ideal stand to use for parrot training. However, a free standing parrot stand, chair back, or table top perch can be your next best training solution. Do not provide any toys, feeders, or other distractions in the parrot's training area. It is important for the parrot to focus on you and nothing else.
Get your parrot from the cage to its training stand using methods outlined above. Give it a little time to get used to the stand but as soon as it calms down, proceed to training. The first few times you have it out will only be about teaching it to accept treats from your hand. You should have already figured out what treats are suitable from the procedure outlined previously. Now offer those treats from your hand. You can test your parrot's eagerness and motivation to eat from your hand by holding the treat a few inches from the parrot and seeing if it walks for the treat or not. If the parrot is willing to make a few steps to get the treat from you, you'll know you're ready to begin target training.
User a clicker for training
Once your parrot is comfortably eating from your hand (and remember this may involve several training sessions), you should introduce the clicker. A clicker is simply a handheld box that makes a click noise when you squeeze it. This device is used as a training bridge to communicate to the parrot when it has completed the behavior you are trying to train. The way that the parrot knows that a click means it got it right is because you will start the clicker training with clicker conditioning. This is the process of simply clicking, and giving the parrot a treat immediately. Soon the bird will learn that when it hears a click, it will get a treat. Once you begin teaching the actual tricks, the parrot will realize that whatever it did at the moment the click happened, it has earned a treat. So go ahead and clicker condition the bird for a few sessions by clicking the clicker and giving a treat. You will know that the parrot is ready to proceed to the next step when it becomes more attentive/excited upon hearing the click sound.
Chopstick serves great as target
Now that the parrot accepts treats from your hand and knows what a click is, you are ready to begin target training. Target training involves showing a stick to the parrot and it then walks over to touch the tip of the stick. The purpose of this is to teach the parrot where you want it to walk by having it follow the stick. This is more effective than luring (just holding the treat and waiting for the bird to come get it) because the bird isn't distracted by the food. A chopstick or wooden dowel works best but any non-toxic object can be used for this purpose as long as it is consistent. Even if you used the target method for getting your parrot out of the cage, it is still a good idea to practice this skill with your parrot in the new training area.
Do not let the parrot attack, play with, or chew up the target stick. Not only will this ruin the training aid but it will also teach the parrot a behavior different from what we are trying to achieve. Use the distraction of the click upon touching the stick to catch your parrots attention. Immediately bring forth the treat while pulling the target stick away. If the parrot continues biting the stick too hard, you can click and reward when the parrot approaches the stick and is about to touch, but before the beak has actually clasped the tip of the stick.
Begin target training by holding the tip of the target stick close to your parrot's beak. Most parrots will bite the stick out of mere curiosity. The moment the parrot's beak touches the stick, click and offer a treat. Do not let the parrot play with or chew the target stick. Try again. After several attempts, the parrot will begin to catch on that touching the stick will earn it food. If the parrot is not approaching the stick, try to wait it out and see if it will go for it eventually. Try to resist the temptation to return the stick closer and closer if the parrot is not approaching. Instead, take the stick away, and try setting up an easier target scenario the next time. As the parrot becomes better at targeting, you can try to hold the stick further and further away. First it may be just far to bend the neck toward the stick, then to turn the head, eventually to take a single step toward it. Before you know it, you'll have the parrot walking all over the perch to touch the stick.
You can improve targeting skills by targeting the parrot toward you and away from you. Also hold the stick higher and lower. The parrot will in this way learn that only touching the tip of the stick is what will earn it a treat. Do not click or reward your parrot unless it touches the tip of the stick. If it touches higher up on the stick, take it away and request it to target again. It is not required, but a good idea to say the word “target” or “touch” as you show the parrot the stick. This will over time develop as a secondary command besides the sight of the stick. This can be used to give extra encouragement for the parrot to go touch the stick when it may not be paying the best attention.
Establishing Training Motivation
Keeping your parrot motivated is the key to successful training. Your parrot must want the rewards. Otherwise they do not serve much purpose. There are several easy ways to ensuring that your parrot is most motivated by food rewards.
Parrots naturally feed in the mornings and evenings so training is best done during these same times. It is best to train your parrot at its hungriest, so it doesn't make any sense to do it right after it ate a meal. Instead, take the food out of the cage overnight. In the morning, do training first and then put the parrot's meal back in the cage. You can let it eat all it wants, but be sure to take the food away again prior to the evening training session.
How long prior to training you need to take the food away will vary. Some parrots are driven by the tastiness of the treats rather than hunger. Meanwhile for others, you may end up using the same food as treats so hunger will be key. For basic food management, you do not even need to use a scale to weigh the parrot (we may introduce this for advanced training but for the purpose of the basic training in this article it is unnecessary). First try training the parrot without taking the food away at all. Next time, take the food away one hour prior to training. Next time try taking it away two, then three, and all the way up to six hours. Do not leave your parrot without food for more than six hours (except overnight while it is sleeping) unless you are capable of tracking your parrot's weight/health. Six hours without food will not harm your parrot but will simply give it the hunger to strive to do what it takes to earn treats during training. You will find the optimum duration to leave your parrot without food when training motivation improves.
After training sessions, let your parrot eat as much as it wants to so that it can maintain a healthy weight. Be sure to provide a healthy balanced diet. Pellets serve as a solid nutritional basis. Fresh vegetables, fruits, and grains can be provided in moderation. Be sure to save the parrot's favorite foods only for training.
Teaching Parrot to Step Up
Practice targeting with parrot
Now that your parrot knows how to target, it should not be too difficult to turn this into stepping up. After practicing a few step ups to get your parrot warmed up, you can start by targeting your parrot to step up onto a handheld perch. This is a good way to desensitize it to your hands without being too forceful. Progressively you can hold the perch closer and closer in so that the parrot has to stand closer to your hand every time it is targeted onto the perch.
Once the parrot is stepping up onto a perch satisfactorily, you can begin training it to step up on your hand. If the parrot still bites a lot and you are scared, you can wear a glove during the earlier parts of this training. However, keep in mind that the glove also encourages the parrot to bite because they like chewing leather. Hold your hand a short distance away from the parrot and slightly higher than its feet. Hold the target stick such that the only way the parrot can reach it is by stepping onto your finger or hand.
You may want to hold out your arm (for bigger parrots) or the back of your hand initially in case you are worried about the parrot biting your finger. Once you get more comfortable with each other, you can have the parrot step up.
Target parrot to step up
on your finger. After you achieve some success doing this, you can begin to recede the use of the target stick. Begin by saying step up every time you practice this exercise. Then stop targeting the parrot onto your hand but hold the stick in the other hand in sight. Eventually you won't even need to show the target stick at all and the parrot will know how to step up.
You should practice step up in all different areas. Have the parrot step up from finger to finger. Practice the parrot stepping up from inside the cage. Also have the parrot step up from you to other people so that it is accustomed stepping up for all people and not just yourself. If the parrot is scared and doesn't want to go to the other person, try targeting it onto their hand rather than forcing it.
Basic Taming and Handling
Once you have achieved some basic skills with the parrot like targeting and step up, you should continue taming the parrot to being touched and handled. I'm sure you want to be able to pet and hold your parrot so the following procedures are important to follow. Also the parrot should be used to being held and toweled for when it visits the vet or groomer.
The taming method is the same every step of the way. It involves figuring out your parrot's comfort threshold, pushing it slightly, waiting till it calms down, removing the discomfort, and then rewarding the parrot with treats.
The first thing you will need to achieve is the ability to touch your parrot. The beak is one of the best places to start because if you are touching the beak, you know where it is and can avoid getting bitten. Start by placing your hand in front of the parrot and slowly move it closer and closer. If the parrot makes any moves to bite or move away, stop right there. Hold your hand in that position and wait for the parrot to calm down. Wait a few seconds after it calms down, take your hand away and give a treat. Keep repeating this procedure so that you can get closer and closer. Eventually your parrot will tolerate you touching its beak. You can scratch the beak with your fingernail; the parrot will like that.
Tame parrot to be used to towel
Next, use the same method to tame the parrot to let you touch its body. Hold your hand over the parrot and approach slowly. At the first display of discomfort stop and wait to calm down, then reward. Eventually you'll be able to touch the parrot with one finger and if you keep practicing this, your whole hand. Once you can put your entire hand on the parrot's back, begin practicing cupping your hand around the back and wings. With every step of the way, apply more pressure until you have such a grip that you can pick the parrot up. At first pick it up only briefly and then put the parrot back down (don't forget to reward). But eventually you will be able to pick the bird up for longer and longer.
One of the biggest problems/mistakes parrot owners make is making going back into the cage an unpleasant experience for the parrot. If the parrot does not want to go back into the cage but is forced to by the owner, not only will it upset the relationship but it will also make the parrot resist stepping up for fear of being put away.
The solution to this problem though is very simple. Develop a routine of taking your parrot out in the mornings and evenings, prior to meal times. Spend the time you want with your parrot out and do some training. Then put the parrot away in its cage to a delightful meal. The hungry parrot will be looking forward to going back in its home to be fed rather than disappointed for having to be put away.
Also, be sure to use step up for good things other than being put away in the cage. Some people only use step up to put the parrot away and let the parrot roam on its own all the other time. In that case, the parrot will soon learn that step up means being put away and may choose to bite instead of stepping up. So instead, mix things up. Have your parrot step up so that you could put it on a different stand. Have the parrot step up so you can scratch its beak. Have the parrot step up so you can cue a trick and give it a treat. By mixing up what step up is used for and keeping it positive, you can guarantee that the parrot will remain tame and willing to step up.
This article should have answered basic questions such as: how do I get my new parrot into the cage for the first time? How can you take a parrot out of the cage initially? What is the best way to teach a parrot to step up? What do I do to train my parrot to target? How should you go about clicker training? How to teach a parrot to step up onto the hand? What are the steps to taming a parrot to allow being grabbed or touched? How to towel a parrot?
The key to parrot training is the use of positive reinforcement. You need to make things such that the parrot wants to
Michael with Kili
do what you want. Always think of the parrot's perspective and what's in it for the bird. When it comes to taming, it's all about slowly desensitizing your parrot to things. Make your parrot slightly uncomfortable with a new object or place to touch, wait for it to calm down, and then reward by taking it away and giving treats. Make scary things (hands, towel, other people, new objects) less scary by presenting them without any force and giving your parrot the opportunity to make them go away by calming down. Make this super rewarding by providing treats as well.
I hope this training guide will help you on your journey with your feathered friend. After reading this, you should not need to purchase any book, dvd, or online guide for parrot training. You have been given the tools for basic parrot taming and training and I am sure that when put to use, they will bring you surprisingly wonderful results. You can subscribe to the trained parrot blog to receive updates when new parrot training articles are posted.
Update: If you liked this guide, you will especially like my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. It's not just a tutorial about teaching a parrot to step up, but a complete approach to parrot keeping. From what parrot to get to flight training and problem solving, this book covers what a pet-parrot owner needs to know. You can purchase the book on Amazon or receive free shipping, clicker, and target stick included when you purchase directly from the Parrot Wizard.
You can support the Trained Parrot Blog effort by purchasing a set of Parrot Training Perches to use in training your own bird. These come in either Java or Dragonwood and are sized for small, medium, and large parrots. They are a wonderful training aid and can be seen used in most of the training videos included with this article.
I began bringing Truman out to the park as soon as we had bonded enough that I could put the harness on him without bothering him too much. It's a good way for him to get some sun, air, and get used to various sights and sounds. Also I shower him and then dry him out in the sun. He dries much quicker that way and he gets really fluffy and enjoys getting pet. Furthermore all this helps strengthen our relationship as he looks to me for protection/comfort. Here is a video of a recent outing to the park both with Kili and Truman.
Taking the Senegal and Cape to the park together helps socialize them to each other on neutral territory. Kili is far less aggressive here and both parrots end up more focused on their surroundings than each other. They almost become friends on the basis of familiarity this way. I let Kili show off her tricks and Truman practice target and recall. The children at the park always gather around and enjoy watching the parrots perform but sometimes it can get out of hand so it's important to keep a close eye not only on the parrots but also the kids.
I showered Kili and Truman down in the water fountain but Truman flew off and landed in dirt so he needed another one. I waited until the parrots were dry before taking them home.
The winnings of the first day of simultaneous training were short lived and things turned ugly on the second day. As Kili gained more confidence in herself around Truman, she decided to plant some more attacks. It is partly my fault as I began closing in the distance between the two parrots out of the cage, but this was to have controlled interaction rather than when I cannot intervene.
Luckily there was no damage done to either bird so I did not feel the need to intervene. To a certain extent I can encourage alternative behavior but on the other other hand they must solve their differences themselves. No matter how much I keep Kili away from Truman, ultimately she is going to want to show him who's boss. So I figure it is better to give her a controlled opportunity to do so rather than elsewhere.
One problem is that when I have both parrots out of the cage, out of nowhere Kili will just fly at Truman and knock him off his perch. This will send both birds flying but really achieve nothing. Sometimes Kili or Truman will get too close to the other and that will set off a beak sparring battle. Mostly they just point their beaks at each other but don't actually touch. They really don't bite each other so I don't see much harm in this. These little fights usually end with someone flying away or I target Kili away from the fight. I don't think I've had to break up a single fight though and I much prefer to cue more acceptable behavior than force the fight to stop.
Although it may seem that the rivalry has increased, in reality this is not so. It is merely that I reduced the restraints that prevented it previously. Instead, I am working on creating peaceful interaction and alternatives to aggressive behavior. I want the parrots to choose not to fight or at least not hurt each other rather than to continuously monitor them or keep them physically separated. Ultimately I'd like to be able to just open both of their cages and go about my own business without the fear of them injuring each other.
Part of the reason that I chose a Cape Parrot was strategic in terms of flock dynamics. Although a small bird, Kili has a large personality so acquiring another parrot smaller in size would be dangerous. I already had problems with Kili trying to attack Duke when she had just began to fly. Kili would be older than the parrot I would acquire so I had to find a baby that would have some pre-existing advantage for self preservation from her. Thus a larger and better flighted baby was the answer. Although Kili is more aggressive and better at flight, Truman is larger and can stand his own ground. Furthermore he has a more complete set of flight feathers and can ultimately outfly her. By having these pre-existing advantages, I think Truman is a fair and equal rival for Kili and this will keep both parrots in place. In theory, as Truman matures he should be able to dominate over Kili, however, because of early establishment of flock dynamics and Cape Parrot temperament, I expect the parrots to remain evenly matched with neither one being superior or more dominant.
Previously, I had shared a video of holding Kili outside of Truman's cage. I also began doing the reverse which is a bit more challenging because Kili is more likely to be aggressive in defense of her own territory rather than around Truman's cage. In the Truman Recall Training article I mentioned that I started rewarding Kili whenever Truman would come near her area. Now I had taken this a step further and would bring Truman right up next to Kili's cage. Usually this would result in her dashing across the cage, jumping onto the bars, getting really fluffy and big, showing her beak, eyes pinning, and making threatening poses and Truman. I had never seen Kili get this aggressive toward any human but clearly Truman was really really pissing her off
To diminish Kili's aggression toward Truman, I began rewarding her whenever Truman approaches her. I carry Truman up to her cage and before she gets a chance to start getting aggressive, I give her a treat through the bars. Truman just sits on my hand and watches; he doesn't need a reward. Also, I cue Kili to perform tricks which she does with zeal because she is such a show off. I hold Truman but I divert all my attention to her so that she doesn't feel jealous and thinks she is the center of all attention. I had been doing this process for the last few days and here is a video of how this looks:
Initially I planned to quarantine the two parrots for an entire month but I have long given this up as they had both landed on each other's cages when out. Kili has been healthy for two years straight and Truman had good results on all his blood work so I was not too worried about the parrots coming in contact already. At this point, I figured the gradual introduction and interaction would be more beneficial than harmful. There is much that Truman can learn from Kili.
I was trying to make the out of cage introduction to be very informal. I was going to put Truman on a stand at one end of the room and Kili on the other. Both parrots are flighted and I couldn't keep track of both so I quickly gave up on this idea as Kili was flying by and knocking Truman off his perch! I decided to try the time-tested method of training with positive reinforcement instead. I put Truman on his training perch and brought over Kili's training perch and put it a few feet away. I lined the perches in more of an L to make it more difficult for either parrot to fly at the other or land on the other's perch. I adjusted the height to make the perches approximately equal height but below my own eye level.
I had to immediately grab Kili's attention because she looked ready to pounce on Truman. I began cuing her tricks and providing hefty treats to keep her busy eating. After all, she can't bite if her beak is full. I figured I'd target Kili back and forth a bit to continue my behavior modeling attempt from the previous time. This was only the second or third session where I let Truman watch Kili perform the target touch behavior. This time it was up close and personal because both parrots were out of the cage and close together for the first time. Truman watched eagerly and I saw a certain anxiousness in his posture so I figured, heck why not let him try? I had never so much as shown him the target stick up close previously let alone train him the behavior. So I brought the target stick toward Truman for the first time ever and held it about 5 inches away. Knowingly, he made a few steps over to touch the stick like he'd seen Kili do just moments ago!
You may note that I had successfully target trained three parrots previously with relative ease, but never off the first try like this. Even Duke who picked up the target behavior after 5-10 times, wasn't walking over to touch the target stick until some more practice. Quite clearly Truman had learned the behavior to walk to touch the target stick simply by watching Kili. To test whether he understood the behavior by modeling rather than just touching the stick out of curiosity, I purposefully held it far enough that he'd have to walk over to it and surely enough he did. The three other parrots I target trained would only touch the stick if it was within immediate reach prior to learning to walk over to it.
To further test that Truman had actually learned the targeting trick rather than just one lucky shot, I had him do it many more times during this training session and he was consistently touching the stick. His attention varied but when I had his attention, he was very consistent about walking over and reaching to touch the target stick. I took this even a step further and had Kili target fly to my hand be showing her the stick over my hand. Then I had Truman do the same. It took a bit more encouragement but he caught onto this in this same first target training session. He picked up target training and target flying in approximately 20 minutes of training based on modeling when this same skill level would have normally taken several weeks to teach an unfamiliar parrot. Clearly this modeling method has much potential to offer and should make teaching tricks to Truman significantly easier than the first time around when I taught them to Kili with no model to show her what to do.
By keeping both parrots focused on training or eating their treats, I was able to prevent aggression almost completely. There were just two incidents in the half hour they were both out and neither bird came close to getting hurt. Once Kili flew at Truman and another time Truman tried to fly onto Kili's perch. On both occasions the parrots flew off their separate ways. I would fetch Truman but Kili would eventually come back on her own or I would recall her. Overall this was an extremely productive training session and the progress quite valuable. Truman learned a trick and Kili learned that she can earn treats by doing tricks around Truman but not attacking. Here is a video that shows all of this training progress as I videoed the entire training session and then picked out the good bits for you to enjoy.