Check out Kili's Doritos commercial! You can hear Truman providing the narrations as well. It was a lot of fun shooting this and the production crew was awesome. Both Kili and Truman did an awesome job on the shoot. We actually filmed both of them but they ended up choosing Kili anyway. However, Truman did a terrific job doing his stuff just as well and could have easily been the star of the ad.
Unlike most ads that just show parrots as talking decorations, this one shows them for the fierce beasts they really are! Who wants to get a parrot now!? Please share with all your friends and leave a comment about what your parrot would do if it saw you eating chips!
So finally the day has come when all of Kili & Truman's theater flight training would be put to the test. For two months I had been training them in the high school theater to get them not only accustomed to being on stage, but also to learn advanced indoor flight recalls.
Throughout the dozen or so training sessions we had both our ups and downs. There were fantastic training sessions in which both birds recalled eagerly. But there were also training sessions where the parrots would not budge a feather and would be nearly impossible to get them to fly. There were sessions when Truman spent the majority of the time up in some high place refusing to come down. However, each session yielded progress over the last by making the parrots more and more accustomed to being on stage. We trained with the stage lights on and eventually with music playing to test the parrots' resistance to distraction.
Nearing the show, I left for two weeks to travel around West Africa (yes, this happened before the performance but I have a lot of footage to edit so unfortunately you won't get to see this until later). During that time my brother came to take care of my birds but little training was done. When I returned, I had just a week to get the parrots ready for the big show. Normally I trained on Tuesday's and Thursday's, but this time I did not want to have a training session immediately prior to the Friday morning performance. So instead I did flight training two days in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then I gave the parrots a break on Thursday. Then Friday morning we had to get up very early to get to the school, set up, and do some flight recalls to warm up prior to the audience entering.
Originally I had a five minute speech planned about motivation and the basics of behavioral psychology but I had to bag that since I was pressed for time. I decided to show the 20 Tricks in 2 Minutes and Kili is the Word videos after the live performance because I realized that the props and birds are too small for people in the back to see. So in order to have time for the videos, I had to drop the talk. Mostly I was relieved to skip the talk because I had inadequate time to prepare it. It's a topic I have given much thought about and can have a good conversation about, but I would not be as good giving a speech about it. Before I learned about the time constraint, I felt obligated to make an educational moral to my performance by discussing psychology, learning, and motivation (all things I've learned from my parrots). So after the head of the upper school announced me, I just went straight to my parrot show by recalling Kili down from the balcony.
My brother was assisting me by releasing the birds to me. He had both parrots in a carrier and was ready to move quickly. As soon as he released Kili on the balcony, I bought him time to move downstairs while I introduced Kili. Then he released Truman from the back of the theater when I called his name. The students were shocked to find the birds swooping across and coming flawlessly to my hand. Audience members sitting up front later commented being able to feel the air rush over them as the parrots passed across on their route to my hand.
I had been debating with myself whether or not to fly Truman at all. In earlier training sessions we had major reliability problems. If he would miss the landing or just not feel like it, he would start flying around the theater and always land high. Unlike Kili, Truman would never replan his flight and come back down to me. At best he would land somewhere high and fly down but many times we had to get him ourselves. However, he did pretty well during the two training sessions prior to the performance so I decided to take a chance with him. During the training sessions immediately leading up to the show, I practiced the flight from the back of the theater to my hand many times with Truman instead of just random flights as I had been doing earlier. So with the extensive practice I felt that Truman knew what to do but still risked that if he missed my hand, he would fly off. I did some more practice the morning of the show and he did not fly off once, so I decided to go for it during the show.
I had Truman perform his tricks first to let Kili headline the show afterward. Truman was a bit hesitant at first. You see he had never been in front of such a large crowd and we basically tricked him by keeping him in a dark carrier and then releasing him straight on a flight he was accustomed to. So his first chance to see the crowd really wasn't until he had landed on my hand. It took a few seconds to get him to focus but eventually he did his tricks. By no means his best but he did fine. No matter how much motivation he may have had from hunger and social pressure, the novelty of the situation was still quite overwhelming for him.
Kili only had about ten seconds of stage fright, then she just blossomed. Kili just adored the attention performing her tricks and did better and better as the crowd reacted. I still fed her occasional treats so that in the future she would not distrust me not to give her treats during a performance, however, she was motivated to perform just as well without them. I could tell that she was doing it all for the attention and not the treats. This way I was able to give her tiny treats between just a few of the tricks to make the performance appear seamless. I forgot to have Kili do ring on peg but no one noticed because I went straight to play dead. When Kili dropped over and lay on her back, amazement beheld the crowd. None the less, I think the absolute favorite trick among a high school full of athletic students, was the basketball trick. I think the varsity team may be calling Kili back for try outs next season.
Not only did the performance go very well, but it was a very pleasing culmination of all the previous theater training efforts at the school. The birds learned advanced flight skills and expanded their performance capabilities. Now the performing parrot duo is ready to tackle virtually any indoor on stage performance.
My World Record 20 Parrot Tricks in 2 Minutes has now received over one million views on youtube. I would like to thank everyone who watched that and my other parrot videos. But most of all, I would like to thank my regular readers and youtube viewers because if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be making all of these videos. It is because of their continual support that I have been motivated to put in all the work of capturing and presenting the parrot training that I normally do for my own pleasure anyway.
Actually, the footage was seen much more than a million times. Between all the unauthorized copies of the video floating around the internet and the fact that it was featured on Japanese television, I wouldn't be surprised if it had been viewed at least another half of that outside of my youtube channel (or more, really not possible to count). Here is a small selection of websites the twenty parrot tricks in two minutes video was featured on:
I'd like to answer a few of the frequent questions I received about the video. I am going to try to paraphrase them from memory:
How long did it take to teach Kili 20 tricks for the video?
The video was taken in early January of 2010 while I acquired Kili in September of 2008. This would mean that I would have had Kili for about a year and four months by the time the video was recorded. Considering I didn't start training her immediately and that she had known these tricks for some months before I made the complete video, basically it took one year of consistent training to get her to that point. I estimate an average of an hour of training per day across that range would mean that I spent around 500 hours training her to be able to do that. Please don't forget that she knew 25 or closer to 30 behaviors by that point but I chose not to include some for lack of time.
Why did you choose to do 20 tricks in 2 minutes?
I wanted to create a high paced medley to show all of the tricks that Kili knew up till that point. I was having a hard time counting how many tricks she knew in total but I was certain she knew at least 20. I thought it would sound nice to do 20 tricks in 2 minutes and I knew it couldn't take much longer or I'd lose the viewers' attention span. So I simply set this as my goal and attempted it. I had no idea if it was possible or not until I began rehearsing it and doing some time trials with Kili. Originally it was taking closer to 3 minutes but with mistakes here and there so I was convinced that if I could move quickly and organize all of the props in order, I would be able to make it in 2.
How many takes did it require to make the video
It took around 30 tries to get the performance required and in time. One of the difficulties was that she would have to do all 20 tricks accurately and quickly. If she messed up just one trick, whether in the beginning or the end of a run, the entire video was compromised. I wanted to show the entire sequence in a single uncut video so that people could see that a single parrot really did all those tricks in such a short time and without any fancy editing.
What was the hardest part about making the 20 parrot tricks in 2 minutes video?
Actually, believe it or not, the hardest part was for me to remember the order of all the tricks I had to cue Kili and when I could give her treats. I made a list of the tricks in order and highlighted the ones when there would be time to give her a treat. Unfortunately it wasn't big enough and I couldn't see it while I performed it. So I was messing up a lot at first with the order and that was slowing me down. One of the reasons we had to practice a lot was so that I could get the order right. Also I wanted Kili to get a bit accustomed to the order so she would be able to do it quicker as well. She was actually performing very well at first but beginning to lose focus by the time I got the take I would use. This is why I was caught assisting her with hand cues on a couple of the tricks cause it was the only way I could encourage her to do them quicker. I think it was on wings and turn around that I showed a hand cue in addition to verbal. In earlier takes I had her doing them strictly off the verbal cue but by the take I used, she wasn't opening her wings wide enough unless I showed her the signal.
The training was complete by this point and Kili knew all the tricks well. The challenge was sooner to have her stay focused and perform quickly rather than demonstrate knowledge of the tricks themselves. Under a little bit less pressure and slower pace, Kili was able to perform all the tricks flawlessly. In fact I was a bit peeved that she did a fantastic run during practice but then wasn't doing as well for the video. There were a couple rough spots in the routine that ended up in the video. I would have liked to have perfected those but I was really tired and so was Kili after so many takes. I really didn't want to have to leave all the props out in their spots for yet another day so once I got a workable run through, I decided to call it quits.
What's the song in the background? Was it playing during recording?
The song is called Paradigm Shift by Liquid Tension Experiment. They are an instrumental offshoot from Dream Theater and make some incredible music. I chose the song to match the high paced excitement of doing the routine so quickly. The music was not playing during recording but was mixed in afterward. While the distraction may have been a concern, it was mainly that it sounds better if mixed on computer rather than through the microphone. I have trained Kili in the past with music playing or noisy environments so I know that she could do it. As long as she can see me and hear the cues she will perform if she is motivated enough.
Who was holding the camera?
My then girlfriend, Kathleen helped me record the video. Following all of the action was no less of a challenge than performing the routine with Kili itself. I configured all the tricks around a semicircle so that the camera could follow me and the bird around and have the tricks be sequential. This was the only way to keep things moving quickly and show it all uncut. It took several takes to learn the camera tracking but fortunately that was perfected by the time the bird improved at the routine.
Did you intend for the 20 parrot tricks video to become this famous?
While I didn't have specific intentions or guesses at the magnitude of the popularity, I did hope this would be my most popular video. I was actually pretty disappointed that my Flighted Parrot Tricks Medley did not become popular. That was a well developed video that demonstrated a lot of advanced tricks involving flight but for some reason it just did not take off. It was meant to replace my Play Dead and Other Tricks video as an update of Kili's talents but just wasn't happening. So I set out to make an even more awe inspiring video.
Surprisingly, the 20 parrot tricks in 2 minutes video didn't take off immediately either. Viewers liked it but didn't really give it much thought. It took over half a year until the video got really noticed and went viral on the internet. Now people are acting like they made an incredible discovery when they post the link. But really the video has been around a while and just wasn't so noticed before. Also it by no means Kili's most complicated video. I have videos where Kili does a four piece puzzle and another where she does 4 rings on peg by color. And these videos came way before 20 parrot tricks. So in some ways I actually had to dumb down her routine in order to be able to meet the target 2 minute time frame. I couldn't show the puzzle because it takes nearly a minute for her to complete. I reduced the rings on peg by color to just 2 for the video so that it still demonstrates a knowledge of colors but eliminates the delay.
What treats are you feeding the parrot?
She likes many foods so I can use any of a number of things. Often I just giver her seeds and stuff out of a typical parrot seed mix. Other times I'll give her apple, banana, almonds, peanuts, oatmeal, bread, popcorn, or even pellets as treats. She's not that picky. She just likes getting rewarded. However, in the video I think I mainly used little peanut crumbs as treats because they were the fastest treat she could swallow whole and yet motivating enough for her to work for them.
Why did she take so long to flip the card?
The issue was that it was getting too repetitive. I had run through the entire routine with her many times trying to improve the timing or get a perfect take. She was figuring out on which tricks she was getting the treats and which ones she wasn't. She knew damn sure she was not getting it after the card so she didn't want to do it. I later began making the rewards more random but it was still difficult to do because there were certain tricks I couldn't reward after in order to maintain the flow. The ideal way to do this is to practice with the treats coming completing at random so that the parrot has to attempt all the tricks to see when it gets the rewards.
Is your parrot special or can any parrot do tricks like this?
I don't believe that Kili was born with any special capabilities that any other Senegal Parrot would lack. She's a pretty ordinary parrot but I just took the time to teach her one trick after another. I'm not sure how the speed would work with other species but I think any parrot can learn 20 tricks. Duke the budgie had learned over 10 tricks and demonstrated 8 in under a minute. So if a parakeet can learn so many tricks, I don't see why any parrot couldn't do at least the same.
Is the world record official? Is it in the Guinness Book of World Records?
No, it's not an official. I don't know of any record keeping in regards to parrots anyway. I simply thought it would be cool to call it that because I have never seen any parrot come even close. I have not met or seen a video of another parrot that could do 20 tricks period, let alone all 20 in just 2 minutes. Most parrots used in shows are actually far less skilled. They are often taught just a few tricks and then they interchange parrots based on the trick they want. However, with Kili I wanted to show that a single parrot can know so many tricks and do any of them on cue. If anyone knows of a parrot that can do more than 20 tricks and/or quicker than in 2 minutes, I would definitely like to know.
So what's next? Are you going to try to beat your own record?
I am putting a lot of focus into training Truman right now and would like him to eventually be capable of the same routine. There are some new tricks I am testing on Kili but in the future I would like to do 15 tricks in 1 minute and using only a single treat. This wouldn't be a greater number of tricks shown but would demonstrate a quicker pace, fewer mistakes, and variable ratio reinforcement at its max. Ideally I'd like her to do the tricks for the sake of doing the tricks.
How can I teach my parrot the 20 parrot tricks in 2 minutes routine?
Well you've come just to the right place. I started the Trained Parrot Blog to share with everyone (for free) how I teach Truman all of the same tricks from the very start. You see with Kili, I never really recorded the training sessions. She was my first experience so I really didn't even know if the tricks would work. I simply recorded results as they came. However, having succeeded with Kili and Duke, I feel that these same techniques should work on Truman. He's become used to cameras/lights from the day I got him so he's by no means camera shy. I simply record all of my training sessions and then share the results here on my blog. So keep checking back and I will show you how I train Truman the 20 tricks routine all from scratch. There's no need to spend a fortune on books, dvds, seminars, or online programs because I'm willing to show you how I do it just for the hell of it. Feel free to subscribe to the blog so that you can receive email updates when new articles come out. I would recommend you get a set of parrot training perches because they make training much easier (particularly for flight) and you can see that I used one for the first portion of my trick routine in the video.