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Dancing Senegal Parrot


Type: Senegal Parrot
Genus: Poicephalus
Species: Senegalus
Subspecies: Mesotypus
Sex: Female
Weight: 120 grams
Height: 9 inches
Age: 15 years, 11 months
Caped Cape Parrot


Type: Cape Parrot
Genus: Poicephalus
Subspecies: Fuscicollis
Sex: Male
Weight: 330 grams
Height: 13 inches
Age: 14 years, 2 months
Blue and Gold Macaw


Type: Blue & Gold Macaw
Genus: Ara
Sex: Female
Weight: 850 grams
Height: 26 inches
Age: 11 years, 11 months
Trick Training Guides
Taming & Training Guide
Flight Recall
Go through Tube
Turn Around
Flighted Fetch
Play Dead
Piggy Bank
Climb Rope
Ring Toss
Additional Top Articles
Stop Parrot Biting
Getting Your First Parrot
Treat Selection
Evolution of Flight
Clipping Wings
How to Put Parrot In Cage
Kili's Stroller Trick
Camping Parrots
Truman's Tree
Parrot Wizard Seminar
Kili on David Letterman
Cape Parrot Review
Roudybush Pellets

List of Common Parrots:

Budgerigar (Budgie)
Alexandrine Parakeet
African Ringneck
Indian Ringneck
Monk Parakeet (Quaker Parrot)

Mexican Parrotlet
Green Rumped Parrotlet
Blue Winged Parrotlet
Spectacled Parrotlet
Dusky Billed Parrotlet
Pacific Parrotlet
Yellow Faced Parrotlet

Peach Faced Lovebird
Masked Lovebird
Fischer's Lovebird
Lilian's (Nyasa) Lovebird
Black Cheeked Lovebird
Madagascar Lovebird
Abyssinian Lovebird
Red Faced Lovebird
Swindern's Lovebird

Lories and Lorikeets:
Rainbow Lorikeet

Sun Conure
Jenday Conure
Cherry Headed Conure
Blue Crowned Conure
Mitred Conure
Patagonian Conure
Green Cheeked Conure
Nanday Conure

Black Headed Caique
White Bellied Caique

Poicephalus Parrots:
Senegal Parrot
Meyer's Parrot
Red Bellied Parrot
Brown Headed Parrot
Jardine's Parrot
Cape Parrot
Ruppell's Parrot

Eclectus Parrot

African Greys:
Congo African Grey (CAG)
Timneh African Grey (TAG)

Blue Fronted Amazon
Yellow Naped Amazon
Yellow Headed Amazon
Orange Winged Amazon
Yellow Crowned Amazon

Galah (Rose Breasted) Cockatoo
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo
Umbrella Cockatoo
Moluccan Cockatoo
Bare Eyed Cockatoo
Goffin's Cockatoo

Red Shouldered (Hahn's) Macaw
Severe Macaw
Blue And Gold Macaw
Blue Throated Macaw
Military Macaw
Red Fronted Macaw
Scarlet Macaw
Green Winged Macaw
Hyacinth Macaw

Glossary of Common Parrot Terms

Stop Normalizing Parrot Biting!

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By Michael Sazhin

Friday February 19th, 2021

Too often I hear that biting is a regular part of parrot ownership or that biting is part and parcel of having a parrot. This claim that parrot biting is normal and must be accepted isn't valid. It is like slamming your hand in the car door every time you shut it. Instead, learn how to close the door properly so that you would not keep getting hurt.

Although many owners experience getting bit by a parrot and parrots biting is a common problem, it is not normal. Biting should not be considered normal or natural for these generally peaceful creatures. Parrots aren't meat seeking carnivores! Parrots are typically camouflaged, shy, confrontation avoiding prey animals. Biting is generally a last resort for them and it is important to avoid driving them to this last resort both for the parrot's comfort and because getting bit sucks!

There are many different reasons that parrots bite people, but the most common is simply self defense. The parrot does not want to do what the person wants and it resists by biting. This is often driven by fear but occasionally by boldness. But, in either case it comes down to the fact that the parrot is not on board with whatever the person wants to do, be it pick the bird up or put it in the cage.

Most parrot biting stems from a lack of training and the fact that parrots are undomesticated wild animals. They may be sold at a pet store, but they rarely are "ready to go" pets. Parrots are highly intelligent and very capable at training. With the right approach and training, they can learn how to behave in the household environment and come to enjoy it.

Now the claim that biting is an inevitable part of parrot ownership is downright harmful. It's an excuse for giving up trying to learn and communicate with the animal. It is a cover-up for not being more understanding or from being misinformed. Since most parrot biting comes from mishandling or the parrot misunderstanding what you are trying to do, these problems won't be resolved by accepting the biting. Recurrences will continue to frustrate the parrot, causing it to bite, and this will make the human get fed up. Instead, solving the biting problems is the way to genuinely make everybody happy.

Being "unafraid" of bites and being ready for frequent parrot biting is not sound advice for parrot owners. While I agree that you have to be ready for the possibility of a bite, it is not something that should be happening regularly. Any advice or handling that includes biting on a daily or weekly basis isn't helpful.

Senegal Parrot Biting Hand

It is so rare that my parrots bite that it is hard to remember how many years it has been since a bite accidentally occurred. Every time I do articles or videos about biting, I have to invent fake bites to have a picture to show at all. For instance, the photo above of Kili "biting" Marianna's hand is really just a screenshot from a momentary grab Kili made while trying to catch her balance. The thumbnail for the video below of Rachel biting my hand is really just me sticking my hand inside her gentle beak and making an agonizing expression to make it look as though she bit me. My life with parrots is so bite-free that I really don't have bite pictures or stories to share because they just don't happen (except that one time at the rescue when Santina was unexpectedly pushed onto me and bit really hard).

The two steps to having a great bite-free relationship with your parrot are:
1) Stop causing bites entirely by preventing situations where the parrot can bite
2) Teach the parrot every single behavior you expect to use on a regular basis through training

Train the parrot to come out of the cage, step up onto your hand, step off your hand, step onto your hand from your shoulder, go back into the cage, flight recall, and a few tricks and you will have a cooperative bird that will have no reason to bite you. Extend this methodology to get the parrot to be friendly with other members of the family and visitors through socialization.

Learn how to do all the training effectively with the help of my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots.

So although parrots biting is a common problem, it is not a normal problem if they are handled in the way that parrots should be handled. I hope you can browse my articles, videos, book, and supplies and resolve all of your biting problems so that you too can have a wonderful, loving, long-lasting, magical relationship with your parrot as well!

Guaranteed Solution to Stop Parrot Biting

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By Michael Sazhin

Thursday April 2nd, 2020

I hate getting bit by a parrot! Those beaks are sharp and strong! They can leave painful bloody marks for weeks. In fact, I dislike parrots biting so much that I just avoid getting bit altogether! In this article and video, I want to present to you my guaranteed method to never getting bit by your parrot!

So if you are wondering, how can I stop a parrot from biting? How to teach a parrot not to bite? How to punish a parrot for biting? Or what can I do to avoid bites from a parrot or parakeet, you've come to the right place.

What is a parrot bite? Let's start by defining a parrot bite. Not every contact of the beak to hand is necessarily a bite. For the message conveyed in this article, we will set using the beak to touch, feel, grasp, nip, or hold aside. A parrot bite is when a parrot uses its beak upon your hand or body in a strong enough manner to break skin, possibly cause bleeding, for the purpose of affecting your behavior or action. So, basically if the parrot uses its beak to hurt you because it wants or doesn't want something from you.

Macaw Biting Hard

The solution to get your parrot to stop biting you? Very simple! Keep your hands to yourself! If you and your hands are never close enough for the parrot to bite you, virtually all biting will be prevented. A parrot almost never comes over to you with the purpose to bite you. Bites occur almost exclusively when you are trying to touch, pick up, put down, or hold your parrot. If you stop doing that, you will stop getting bit!

Don't forget this applies to other body parts besides hands as well. If you stick your nose toward your parrot, try to kiss, or have your parrot on your shoulder, you could get bit on the face. If you keep your hands and body parts away from the parrot, you won't be bit.

In the most extreme case of a parrot that deliberately walks over to bite you or worse yet flies at you to bite you, one further step may be required which is to keep a physical barrier between you and the bird like the bars of the cage. If the bird is in a cage and you don't stick your hands in or near the cage, I guarantee that bird will not bite you either. That's it, simple as that, biting is solved. I bid you adieu.

But, wait a minute, if you can't use any part of your body on the bird, then how can you take it out of the cage? If you can't take the bird out of the cage, how can you change food/water and clean the cage? How can you enjoy this bird as a pet if you aren't allowed to do anything in order to avoid getting bit? Now that is where the real effort begins. As I have pointed out, solving biting is extremely easy. Keep your hands/body away from the parrot and you won't get bit or keep the bird in the cage. The real effort comes in how to take the bird out of the cage without your hands. How can you put the parrot back into the cage? How can you play with the bird without using your hands?

Parrot Bite Hard

First off, especially if you have a particularly bad biter, starting with hands off interactions is a great place to begin. There are many things you can start doing with your parrot right away that don't involve your hands being close enough that the parrot can bite you. Target training, trick training, and talking can often be done without any close contact or biting. These are a great place to start.

Next, you should learn how to apply training to teach your parrot to target reliably. You can use a Parrot Training Perch to practice step up exercises where your parrot learns to want to come onto your hand by itself rather than you putting your hand up to the parrot and getting bit. The DVD included with the Parrot Training Perch Kit demonstrates how to practice these exercises.

As you build good habits and routines based on positive reinforcement training, you will start being able to do things that you want with the parrot without getting bit. The exercises described in my book and other supplies teach you how to build up training momentum gradually where the parrot is able to feel comfortable and does not feel the desire or need to bite you. Using tools like the clicker, target stick, training perch, and more, you will be able to keep your hands safely away from the bird while teaching cooperation. The entire time that training is going on, you are going to feel safe from biting and the parrot will not feel the need to bite. A win/win for everybody and good habits to follow.

Now when it comes to punishment for biting, that is the trap that most people fall into. When most people think about how to stop a parrot from biting, they are thinking about some kind of punishment or consequence that would convince a parrot not to bite any more. The punishments that people try to inflict can range from a stern look, to shouting, saying no, pushing, hitting, squirting, putting down, returning to cage, or throwing the bird. Unfortunately, not a single one of these or any other responses will actually teach the parrot not to bite next time. The milder punishments don't do anything or possibly even encourage biting because it might be fun for the bird to get you to react and talk. The harsher punishments will make the parrot entirely fearful of you and even more likely to bite in the future to try to keep you away and thus protect itself from you inflicting further punishment or harm to it. This is why the punishment or consequence in response to biting does not help prevent future biting. But, keeping your hands to yourself and using positive reinforcement training to teach the bird to voluntarily do what you want it to do is what really works.

Some people feel that if they don't respond to a parrot biting with some sort of punishment or consequence that the parrot will think it is boss and bite more in the future. The problem is that it will still hurt to get that bite and the parrot still keeps biting in its arsenal of ways to behave. By keeping your hands to yourself and avoiding any bite in the first place, this is the first and correct step in taking biting entirely out of your parrot's toolbox of trying to get you to do or not do something. It is better to use positive reinforcement training to get the parrot to come onto your hand because it wants to rather than to try to hurt the parrot in response for being forced onto your arm when it did not want to step up in the first place. Responses to biting keep biting going. Avoiding opportunities for bites to happen actually teach a parrot how to behave instead of biting for the long run!

Many people will talk about what they do in response to a bite. The thing is, if their response was a smart and effective one, they would not have to have a response to biting anymore because it would be resolved. Punishments and responses don't work and that's why people keep trying them with no solution. On the other hand, using the approach I have outlined here and teach throughout my site, I haven't received a single parrot bite in many years. I don't have a response to biting! Instead, I keep my hands away from a parrot that doesn't want contact or that I am not familiar with until I can develop a friendship where the parrot would welcome it.

This is why the bite photos I used in this article are fake. They were staged. My parrots don't actually bite me so I would not be able to show you a photo of what that looks like. So, I just put my finger in Rachel's beak and just pretended to be in severe pain. Even though her beak was on my finger during the photo, she was not actually squeezing or causing me any actual discomfort. Acting. That's what you gotta do when you have such an effective solution to parrot biting that you can't even show or remember what it looks like!

You can stop bites immediately by keeping your hands away from the parrot for now. To get your hands on the parrot, have the parrot step up, and develop a great relationship with your bird, enjoy all the Parrot Wizard resources available to you. Browse my complete collection of free Parrot Wizard Videos, read free Parrot Training Articles, read my book The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots, get a Parrot Training Perch Kit, explore the Parrot Wizard Lifestyle, shop for behavior enhancing supplies.

So, please stop having to endure painful parrot bites going further by following this advice. Do things that keep your hands away and safe for the parrot while working on incorporating training to teach the bird how to cooperate voluntarily. Here is a video with more information and thoughts about stopping parrots from biting.

It's your fault you got bit and you deserved it too!

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By Michael Sazhin

Wednesday August 13th, 2014

It's your fault your parrot bit you and you deserved it too! This is an essential realization to make or you will never be able to solve biting problems. People who refuse to accept responsibility for soliciting biting from their parrot cannot learn to reduce biting. We have to first realize what we do that causes the parrot to bite in order to work on resolving it. Or at least, if we cannot determine the reason, we need to at least follow an approach that will prevent or reduce biting.

The fact that it's your fault when your parrot bites is actually great news as you will come to realize. If it is your fault and something you did that caused the bite, then that means it is also in your power not to cause the bite! If this weren't the case and if the parrot were to bite for truly no reason, you would have a very hard time trying to solve that situation. Keep in mind that even if you are unaware how it is your fault that your parrot bites, it is still present and can still be solved.

Macaw Bite

I am hard pressed to find good bite stories or videos to share because I hardly ever get bit by parrots. Kili & Truman haven't bit me, or anyone else for that matter, in years. Santina bit me a few times at the rescue but not once since I brought her home. Even when I meet birds at stores, rescues, and other people's homes during consultations, it is very rare that I get bit. This is because most parrots aren't naturally aggressive creatures.

Most parrot species, and birds for that matter, tend to avoid conflict by flying away. Clipping wings denies parrots of the ability to fly away so they are forced to resort to biting in self-defense. Since Kili & Truman can fly away if someone is bothering them, they do just that rather than bite. This has not only eliminated biting but it has also taught them to be more trusting around people. They don't start biting off the bat to avoid all interaction. Instead they tolerate as much interaction as they want or tolerate but if it becomes too much, they can fly to safety.

Parrot Bite Ear

There are many reasons a parrot might bite specifically but for the most part it is because something is being done that the parrot does not want to happen! Most often this comes in the form of self-imposing on the parrot (such as forced step up or touching) but sometimes it can be less direct. It could be indirect such as imposing on the parrot's territory by touching its cage or by making it jealous. Regardless, these situations are created when a human disturbs the peace by imposing an undesired interaction.

The key to reducing biting is to teach the parrot to actually desire the things that would have normally caused it to bite. Teaching a parrot to want to step up, to allow head scratches, to want to go back into the cage, etc makes it such that the parrot would not even think of biting you. My parrots want me to scratch their heads, to take them places, to handle them, and to put them back in the cage. They'd be crazy to bite me because then they'd miss out on the things they actually want from me.

Parrot Bites Hand

In the short term it's about reading body language and not sticking your hand in a bee's nest. In other words if the parrot doesn't want to be touched, then don't touch it, if the parrot doesn't want to step up for a guest, don't make it. However, this doesn't solve the problem because we as pet owners want friendly pet behavior from our parrots.

Even with unfamiliar parrots, I tend not to get bit. Sometimes it's because I recognize a viciously aggressive parrot that would take a lot of time to tame and keep my hands to myself. But most of the time it is because I take a moment to familiarize myself with the bird, look at its body language, learn what it likes, learn its comfort levels, and built instant trust by not violating existing comfort levels in the short term. One thing that has kept my hands very bite free with unfamiliar birds is that I go up to any parrot with the presumption that it is a biter and uncomfortable with my presence. Until I can determine otherwise, I don't put myself within biting range. I test the bird a little at a time while building trust and discovering its body language and comfort. With some birds things are quick enough that I have it on my hand cuddling in no time, with other birds I realize they are far from ready and avoid getting bit and making them upset.

Blue and Gold Macaw

I want to caution you against reverting to punishment or negative reinforcement as a means of dealing with biting because in most cases it won't help or worse yet encourage more biting. For example “nudging a parrot's belly to make it step up when it is biting” will likely cause it to bite more because it wants to avoid stepping up. This doesn't solve biting. Squirting a parrot with a bottle or using other forms of punishment will make the parrot fear you and parrots bite what they fear so again a counterproductive solution. Negative punishment  may work as a solution for mostly well-behaved parrots that are trained and rarely bite (“if you bite me for attention, I just won't give it to you”) but for less tame parrots is useless. Rather true negative punishment would be effective but what one might think to be such is not. Threatening to ignore a bird that hates you is hardly upsetting and possibly even desirable to the bird! Putting a bird down or back into the cage as punishment for biting might make it bite even more because it doesn't want to go back. Thus it is best to prevent situations that lead to biting, keep your hands to yourself until you can make it such that the parrot wants your hands there, and ignore biting that you accidentally cause. Ignoring biting does not mean to let the bird bite all it wants. It simply means not to allow the fact that the parrot bit you affect what you do in regards to the parrot in any way. Don't give a toy, don't squirt the bird, don't put the bird away, don't talk to the bird, don't walk away. Just ignore the bite as though it didn't happen. When a bird bites the cage bars and nothing happens at all, the bird loses interest in continuing that sort of biting. This is why ignoring is the best way to avoid encouraging further biting but prevention is better still.

Macaw bites nose
Goodbye nose! Just kidding, I didn't have enough pictures of real bites so I threw this one in of playing around

So the question isn't how to make a parrot not bite (there is nothing you can do directly except keeping yourself out of harm's way), it really should be how can you be such a pal that your parrot wouldn't want to bite you in the first place! To that, the answer is less simple. It's not complicated but the explanation is rather long and comprehensive. For this reason I suggest getting my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. You will encounter my complete approach to establishing a well-behaved, non-biting parrot through an array of elements including proper housing, toys, sleep, food, weight, health, exercise, flight, socialization, training, and companionship.

PS A Cape Parrot was recently lost in Oakland California. Everyone please share this facebook post with information about the lost bird so that it can be reunited with its owner.

How to Give Food to a Parrot Without Getting Bit

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By Michael Sazhin

Sunday February 16th, 2014

I hate getting bit. In fact I hate it so much that I make sure that I don't. I have approached countless birds – that aren't mine – at stores, rescues, and other people's homes and I rarely if ever get bit. This is because I don't put myself in harm's way. I adjust to the bird and let the bird adjust to me. I read the bird and act in a predictable way to help the bird read me. This article is about offering food to a parrot from your hand that you don't know or think will bite.

If you don't personally know a bird (and by personally I mean where it has stepped up for you before; just cause it has stepped up for others doesn't mean you know that it will do the same for you), the safest approach to keeping your blood inside your skin is to take caution as though the bird could bite. On the other hand, if you already got bit by the bird offering food in the past or know that others have, then you especially need to follow these steps. Even if your bird doesn't bite you, you will still want to familiarize yourself with these steps in case you encounter someone else's parrot or someone else needs to encounter your parrot!

Being able to read and understand body language is important but sometimes you just don't know. If it's your own parrot that you have a long experience with, you may be able to read the body language and avoid a bite on yourself or someone else. But if you are visiting a bird or just acquired a new one, until you see body language in context, you just may not know.

Offering food from your hand is the first essential step to being able to apply positive reinforcement training to teach the bird to step up, accept head scratches, and more. Until you can get within touching range of the parrot, inevitably you will end up relying on negative reinforcement and positive/negative punishment. So to have greater success with the parrot and to get it to like you, it is important to get to the point of being able to safely offer food as soon as possible. There are safe ways of offering food and then there are ways to get bit instead.

Parrot about to bite

I really came to realize the importance of this procedure when my friend Ginger, from Ginger's Parrots Rescue, got bit by Santina. Here is someone who deals with many birds and surely knows what to do but still mistakenly put herself in harms way. A few weeks prior, my little sister got bit while offering food to Santina as well. On the flip side, I watched my brother use my same approach and was able to handle the large macaw with no trouble.

One of the problems I have is that Santina is super sweet to me and never bites me (since I brought her home from the rescue) so I don't really know her aggressive body language. It kind of has to do with dancing around and being fluffy but then again she looks much the same way when she wants a head scratch from me. Since she has experienced so few other people, inevitably the first few end up being test dummies to see if she will bite and what kind of postures she displays at that time.

First, you are going to need to find out what the parrot actually likes as a treat. Offering something the bird doesn't like won't protect you from a bite. On the other hand offering something the parrot would like can quite likely become a sufficient distraction from biting. Finding out the bird's favorite treats was already covered in this article. But if you're approaching a bird without knowing what it likes, some go to treats include millet spray for budgies/cockatiels, sunflower seeds for small parrots, almonds for medium parrots, and Brazil nuts for large ones. Not only are these treats favored by most parrots but they are also large (relative to the size of the bird's beak). This will improve the likelihood that the bird's entire beak will be occupied by the treat and not leave room for a bite. Also, the treat is so big that you can protect yourself behind the extended treat as I will explain.

The first step is to leave the bird alone! All too often people get too excited about wanting to handle a bird that they overwhelm it. Instead, give the bird some time to get comfortable with your presence. If you have a visitor apply the same procedures to guide their interaction with your bird. At first, ignore the bird completely. Don't even look at it. With a little more time, from a distance begin to interact with it remotely. Make slow but deliberate steps toward the bird with the special treat in hand. If at any point the bird begins to flip out (jumping off perch, flying away, snap biting toward you in the air, etc), you've got a lot more of an issue than just offering food without getting bit. That type of situation is beyond the scope of this article, please refer to my book instead. But if all you are dealing with is slightly aggressive posture, eye pinning, or other agitation that is not extreme, continue slowly moving closer. Maintain a pace that evokes the least of this type of reaction until you can get into range.

Never put yourself closer to the parrot than the distance it would take for the bird to bite you. Except in some extreme cases, most flighted parrots will not fly to attack you. If they get too scared they will just fly away. If in a cage or clipped, the parrot is left with no choice but to bite if it feels trapped. This is why we are going to work on the careful no-bite food exchange to show the bird that first of all absolutely nothing bad will happen (negative reinforcement) and that in fact something good will happen (treat, positive reinforcement). At first the negative reinforcement element actually plays a more substantial role in early training but if the treats are desirable, positive reinforcement will quickly take over.

When you can reach the distance within a few feet from the bird, it is time to slow down and exercise greater caution. Show the treat in very plain sight. Maybe even pretend to eat it and make a big deal about how nice it is. So while up till this point the goal was to move closer to the bird without freaking it out too much, from this point the goal is to move the treat toward the bird without getting bit. Realize that the bird has different ranges of reach. It can bite what is right at its beak, it can reach forward and bite and it can make a lunge snap bite that can reach furthest. What I do is walk up to a point where I can reach the bird with my arms without moving my feet any more. I reach the treat at a slow but constant rate toward the bird. I keep going closer and watch for the bird to teach to take it. I put the treat just far enough that the bird can stretch its maximum range to try to get it from me. If the bird is looking at and reaching for the treat, I am strongly assured that the bird wants the treat and shouldn't bite. I don't let my guard down completely yet. While holding the treat at the furthest point, I continue to reach it closer toward the bird until it is just close enough to take the treat but not close enough to bite yet. I hold the treat loosely and make it easy for the bird to take it out from between my fingers. As soon as the bird grasps the treat I take my hand back out of bite range but I don't go away. I stand around while the bird eats the treat to build more trust. If the bird avoids eating because I am imposing too much, I might take a step or two back but I still try to stay close while it eats. Then I recede to get another treat and try again.

Safely offering food to parrot

After several treats, the parrot should start to become more at ease because it knows that all you want to do is provide a treat. On the other hand you should be able to get more confident that the bird isn't trying to bite. Depending on how aggressive/scared the bird is, the rate of your continued progress will vary. Maybe you have now gained the trust of an already tame bird and it will let you scratch its head and step up. Or maybe this is just the beginning of a long taming process. But either way, with the power to apply positive reinforcement in your training, things have the potential for major improvement from this point further.

Try to make the first approach happen within the span of about 30 seconds from when you begin to approach the bird to when the treat is in the beak. With success, keep trying to cut that time in half. You don't want to take too long any more than you want to rush. A rush can scare the bird into biting. But drawing the process out too long can lose the parrot's interest in the treat and hinder your chances at success.

If the parrot drops the treat but doesn't bite, try finding a more desired treat. Look for greater interest from the parrot's gaze. If the parrot bites, end the session and focus more on finding very desired treats and practice your approach to be able to bring in a treat without giving the parrot enough reach to bite. If done properly, you should not end up receiving a bite using this approach. The more times the parrot can take food without biting, the less likely the bird will consider biting as something to do in similar circumstances in the future.

This approach helps you have a more confident approach because it protects you from being bit but also is more comfortable for the parrot (thereby reducing the desire to bite just the same). The parrot will learn just to get treats for nothing and success will come with practice. For more information about taming and training parrots, please refer to my complete approach presented in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. Here is a video in real time of me teaching Ginger to approach Santina in a way that gets her to take the treats rather than bite.

Your Parrot's Worst Enemy vs Good Parrot Behavior

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By Michael Sazhin

Wednesday June 1st, 2011

This is a story of why rather than how to train your parrot.Of course there are many threats and enemies to our parrots' well being and happiness, however, one stands out in my mind as a major hindrance to this is an owner who makes excuses rather than do what is right. There is a psychological term for this called cognitive dissonance. This is when a person truly believes one thing but tries to rationalize it a different way. Sometimes this is to avoid responsibility, difficulty, or simply to try to save face in a losing battle. For example, parrot owners are pretty well informed that chocolate is a toxic food to parrots but if an owner slips some chocolate to a parrot thinking, "one time isn't going to kill him" is an example of cognitive dissonance. The owner knows that it's not safe to do but tries to come up with an excuse for doing it anyway. It is possible that one time kills the parrot but even if it doesn't, testing this out with full awareness of the possible consequences is irresponsible.

Certainly there is a distinction between cognitive dissonance and ignorance. Ignorance in itself could be dangerous (giving a parrot chocolate without knowing any better), however, an owner who frequently engages in cognitive dissonance is establishing a higher long term risk to the parrot's well being. Ignorance can be solved with learning or at least trial and error. If an owner who has been giving chocolate to a parrot unaware of the danger learns that it is dangerous and stops, at least the risk will not continue. However, an owner that tries to rationalize doing the wrong thing, will continue putting the parrot at risk for the rest of its life. The examples can range from trite to lethal but the problem of an excuse based attitude prevails throughout.

Since this blog is mainly focused on parrot training, I will look at more training based exampled of cognitive dissonance and try to take a behavior based approached to solving them. There are two different attitudes I often see regarding untame parrots. There are the people who identify the problem and come to me (likely through putting in the effort of searching the internet) asking for advice how to tame them. This is a logical way of doing things and will hopefully empower the owner to take the training steps necessary to tame the parrot and develop a better relationship. A better relationship is always better both for parrot and owner because the parrot is less likely to get lonely and develop health issues, the owner is more likely to enjoy spending time with the pet, and if there are no such problems, the owner is far less likely to rehome the parrot. A good parrot/owner relationship is always a winning situation. Now on the flip side I will come across (whether it's during online discussion, at a parrot store, or in people's videos) owners blaming the parrot for everything. I constantly hear things like "the parrot is mean," "the parrot wants to be dominant," "I want to let the bird be a bird," "I don't have time to train my parrot," "the parrot doesn't want to come out of its cage," etc. Not only are these excuses untrue, they are detrimental to progress because it gives the owner a reason not to try. If the owner doesn't try, then of course nothing will get solved. I'll take a moment to dispel these common myths in hope of convincing people that they can move past them or other excuses:

The parrot is mean - The parrot isn't necessarily being mean, it is biting in self defense. It is likely defending itself, mate, or cage territory. These things can be solved through proper training because it will teach the parrot that you are no threat and that biting doesn't solve things. Furthermore we can change their cage set up or take them to a different room to resolve territorial aggression for training purposes.

The parrot wants to be dominant - People think that parrots bite when they are higher than a person because they want to exhibit dominance. Mine don't. They will fly down to me from high places or I can reach and have them step up without ever biting. People use dominance as an excuse to blame the bird rather than to realize that the bird just enjoys being in that place more than being with the owner. A very common event where this kind of biting happens is when the parrot is on top of its cage. The owner tries to get it to step up but the bird bites a lot. The owner assumes the parrot is trying to be dominant when really it doesn't want to step up because the most likely thing to follow is getting put in the cage. Many owners let their parrots sit on top of their cage for a long time and only use step up for putting them away rather than doing something more enjoyable than sitting on top of the cage (which of course for many parrots is a big thrill). The parrot simply learns that biting the hand will make it go away and then it can go back to enjoying sitting on top of the cage.

I want to let the bird be a bird - There is no point in using this defense because the bird isn't in the wild, it's in a home. This is already unnatural. The purpose of training and bonding is to give the human and parrot the greatest enjoyment and best lifestyle possible in the unnatural home environment. There is no need to compete with nature, instead, if we can find the most successful and least intrusive ways of providing for our companion parrots' health and well being, we are successful. Of course we need to balance our own sanity and preserving our homes so there obviously needs to be compromise. The beauty of training is that it teaches/convinces the bird that the things you want from it (which may totally be unnatural like stepping on a human hand) are what it wants anyway.

I don't have time to train my parrot - If someone can't find 10-30 minutes a day to train their parrot, I doubt they have time to give it adequate care at all. Most owners will spend a few hours a day with their parrot so reorganizing that time to include a little bit of training is pretty easy. The important thing for basic training and taming is consistency rather than duration. The kind of taming/training required for a good relationship requires more days and routine of practice rather than length of individual sessions. 10 minutes every day will go a longer way than an hour once a week. The amount of time you save on dealing with parrot nuisance/problems will outweigh the time it takes to do a little training (cleaning poop from unwanted places, excessive destructiveness, biting, refusing to go into cage, etc). If you chose to have a parrot as a pet, it should be both in your interest and responsibility to find some time to spend with it every day.

The parrot doesn't want to come out of its cage - Well duh! If the parrot hasn't been out of its cage or hasn't had a good time when it was out, of course it won't want to come out. For many untame parrots their only human experience was people grabbing them at stores to shove them in boxes and moving them around. Unlike domesticated animals, parrots are pretty much wild animals. The only thing attaching them to humans is what they had learned. It may be hard to convince a parrot to come out the first time but if you use some in the cage training methods you can make it want to come out by following a target stick or you can force it out and then make the out of the cage experience so wonderful that it forgets being forced out and starts to like coming out. Until it comes out and has a good time, it won't have a reason to want to come out.

So as you can see, there are real solutions to real problems. Excuses don't get their parrots or owners anywhere. Taking a problem solving approach, doing some research, and patiently applying it is always the way to go. Excuses/rationalizations can come both for doing something or not doing it. Mainly training related excuses are for the purposes of not doing it. On the flip side, owners will make excuses for justifying things they do that they know to be wrong. The one excuse I absolutely hate the most is "I clip my parrot for its own good." This is an excuse plain and simple. When someone says that, what they really mean is "I clip my parrot for my own good." Most owners of clipped parrots fear that their parrot won't want to be with them if it can fly away, that they won't be able to train it if it's flighted, that it will poop everywhere, that they won't be able to put it away, that the bird will get hurt, that the bird will get lost, etc. However, I believe that with a little caring, sacrifice, patience, and training, almost any household can keep flighted parrots.

Now I realize there will be exception cases of injured parrots that maybe shouldn't fly or parrots at overcrowded rescues that can't afford to keep them flighted, however, these are exceptions and really shouldn't apply to most companion parrots. I believe the quality of life improvement for the parrot being flighted far outweighs the convenience of it being not. Some benefits include extensive exercise, lower stress (and healthier plumage as a result), better safety, lower or eliminated chance of feather plucking, greater mental stimulation, and most of all: freedom of choice. Birds naturally flee what they are scared of in the wild by flying away and they can explore the things they are afraid of at their own pace. Clipped parrots are constantly forced into interactions whether they want them or not and whether the owner is aware of them or not.

By giving out parrots greater amounts of choices (even if we teach them to make the choices that we want), many behavioral byproducts of eliminating choice are avoided. Like I previously mentioned about the case of a parrot that knows how to step up biting instead of stepping up to avoid being put away, the lack of choice is causing stress on the parrot (and possibly biting or displeasure with the owner). If on the other hand going into the cage could be a more positive experience, the parrot would choose to go in. If going in the cage is what it wants, it won't bite the owner who is trying to have it step up.

The biggest problem with parrot training is getting the parrot to want what we want from it (whether it's performing a trick or going into the cage). If the parrot already has everything it wants, then it is difficult to find something it wants even more to motivate it to do what you want. People who spoil their parrots (constant and extensive supplies of food, toys, and attention) are more likely to revert to punishment for undesired behavior rather than using positive reinforcement for desired behavior. This may appear effective in short sight but is terrible in the long run. For example using the cage as a means of punishing a parrot for unwanted behavior such as screaming is counter productive. First of all, if the parrot likes its cage, going back may not be much of a punishment. On the other hand, if the parrot dislikes its cage, then it will try to avoid ending up in the cage by biting. In an attempt to reduce screaming, punishment could lead to flying away from the owner or biting the owner to avoid being put away. Even if the parrot is small enough that the owner feels unaffected by the bites, the parrot is likely still going through the stress of being forced to do something against its will.

Michael and Truman the Cape Parrot

So ask yourself, would you prefer your parrot see you as a wonderful provider of good things or the bad person who takes good things away? Performing the role of punisher doesn't discipline or teach the parrot any kind of respect either. It just teaches it to try to avoid the person who punishes it all together. When I talk about being a tough owner, I do not mean forcing the parrot to do things against its will. Being tough is more about having the patience and self control to resist giving into what the parrot wants when its behavior is unacceptable. Being tough is wanting to take out a parrot to play with it but not taking it out because it is screaming. Being tough is ignoring a bite when it happens. But being tough is not putting a parrot in a cage for biting, this is just being vengeful (without regard to the actual long term effectiveness of the consequence).

Something that peeves me is when an owner expects a parrot to like him or do what the owner wants merely for the fact that the owner paid money to buy the bird. Or even for doing things like putting food in the bowl, water in the cup, and cleaning the cage. The simple fact is that the parrot has no correlation between these things and the owner. Food just shows up in its cage daily no matter what. The parrot doesn't learn to be on good behavior in order to get food. A more successful approach is to shift the presence of good things to coincide with the owner and good behavior. This is what training is all about.

Using some basic food management as well as managing other favorable resources isn't deprivation. It's just a shift in the timing so that they can be rewarding. So instead of letting a parrot eat 100% of its food in the cage, perhaps feed it 80-90% in the cage and then let it earn the rest from you for good behavior. The only thing is that motivation is highest at peak of hunger so it is more effective to train the parrot using the first 10% of its meal as the reward rather than the last 10. I'm not going to spend too much time getting into how to use effective food management and management of other favorable parrot resources but instead I will show some ways that a trained parrot makes a good pet.

My parrots step up for me automatically and unlike in the training videos where I explained teaching step up, I never give treats just for stepping up. To someone who doesn't know, it would appear that may parrots just obey and always step up without reason. However, there is a reason and a very good one. The parrots have learned to trust my step up requests because they inadvertently lead to desirable things (positive reinforcement) indirectly. If Truman steps up, I may walk over and show him something interesting, I may pet him, or I may cue him to perform a trick and earn a treat. Regardless, step up is likely to lead to something favorable for the parrot and never anything undesired. Since I make even going back to the cage a favorable experience, there is almost nothing bad that happens as a result of step up so my parrots step up very willingly.

This is why trick training is so useful even if you aren't particularly interested in the tricks themselves. Trick training sets up an atmosphere for learning and also teaches both you and your parrot to work toward better behavior. Training never ends and it is important to always expect your parrot to do better. This keeps it learning and doing more and more good behavior for fewer and fewer treats. At first you may need to give a treat for every step up. However, when you've taught your parrot to wave, you could have it step up without a treat for the opportunity to stand on your hand and wave to get a treat. At first it's just a trick chain but eventually the basic tameness becomes second nature. Your parrot may get used to being held or touched for the training of certain tricks (such as wings) and later on this proves helpful for routine maintenance behavior.

My parrots are excited to come out of their cages because being out can lead to treats, petting, flying, talking, and other things parrots enjoy. So I know that coming out is in itself rewarding and can be used as reinforcement for good behavior. I make sure my parrots aren't screaming, and in the case of Kili says hello, before I even consider letting them out. I taught Kili to say hello when she wants to come out instead of screaming by letting her out a lot of times after hearing her say hello (she got the hang of it realizing that saying hello just gets her out some of the time). I upped the requirements from there to also being on a perch to be let out. It's kind of hard to get Truman out of the canopy of his dome Cage so instead of chasing him around the cage to get him, I figured he's the one getting the special treat of coming out so I'll let him do the work. I used to open the door and hold my hand near the closest convenient perch and he had to climb down to it. Now when he sees me coming to let him out he goes there himself and it's a signal to me that he would like to be out. I never let the birds climb out of their cages on their own. The only way they come out is by stepping up. Thus I am giving a super reward for step up (the reward of getting to come out) at least twice a day, every day for the parrot's lives. This is such an easy way to reinforce step up and get credit from the parrot without creating any additional deprivation. The parrot already has to spend time in its cage so the deprivation of out of cage time is naturally present. I'm not suggesting putting the parrot in the cage on purpose to teach this, but since it is already anyway, let it be to your advantage.

Petting Cape Parrot

Some people can't pet their parrots because they are scared and don't know it feels good. By using some basic taming/training techniques, the bird can be taught to accept touch in return for food. Once it is used to being touched and no longer scared, you will have the opportunity to pet it the way it likes and develop an alternative primary positive reinforcer to food. But without knowing what petting is like, the bird won't let you so it can't know what it is missing. So food can be effective for taming these other methods of reward. I don't think it is necessary to withhold petting just to be used for training, however, it is important not to do it during or after undesirable behavior. For example don't start petting your parrot because it bit you when you stopped to make you continue. As long as bad behavior isn't going on during petting, you are already rewarding behavior alternate to bad (like biting, screaming, etc).

Now of course what we perceive is bad behavior may well be natural behavior to parrots in the wild. Biting enemies and screaming to flock mates are survival tactics highly rewarding in the wild. Since these are harmful to our pet/human relationship, it is best for us to use training to avoid these. They may not be entirely avoided with positive reinforcement training, however, the more non-bad behavior that you can reward, the less bad behavior can occur. When you spend 20 minutes training tricks, that is a concentrated dose of good behavior learning for your birds. They learn that shaking their head, waving their foot, or showing their wings gets them what they want. By learning effective methods of getting what they want, they are also eliminating some ineffective methods (that are more natural and effective in the wild). Then the things they learned in training help the rest of the time when they are out because good behavior is differentiated from bad. And as long as the owner avoids rewarding bad behavior outside of training, the learned stuff carries over outside of training to lead to a well behaved parrot.

There is so much I can say about how resource management and training leads to well behaved, healthy, happy parrots but instead I will just share a video that shows how I can spend time with my well behaved parrots outside of training time. While I may spend 30-60 minutes a day teaching flight recalls for treats, at other times I can recall my parrots just for the sake of hanging out but they already know what to do from training. The same applies for step up, going in the cage, petting, and virtually all other "good behavior" from them. By constantly challenging my parrots and setting higher requirements for rewards, the easier things or things previously learned become routine and are maintained through indirect rewarding. Over time this good behavior begins to look natural and it's easy to forget the true source of all of it: parrot training!

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Trained Parrot is a blog about how to train tricks to all parrots and parakeets. Read about how I teach tricks to Truman the Brown Necked Cape Parrot including flight recall, shake, wave, nod, turn around, fetch, wings, and play dead. Learn how you can train tricks to your Parrot, Parrotlet, Parakeet, Lovebird, Cockatiel, Conure, African Grey, Amazon, Cockatoo or Macaw. This blog is better than books or DVDs because the information is real, live, and completely free of charge. If you want to know how to teach your parrot tricks then you will enjoy this free parrot training tutorial.
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