Dave | BirdTricks | Parrot Training Blog - Part 2

Performing live, all summer.

 December 18th, 2011
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We’ve kept you waiting long enough.  So here it is: Coming May 2012 to Silverwood Theme Park in Athol, ID – BirdTricks.com Presents “ParrotFX, the Ultimate Parrot Stunt Show.”

We are currently producing the show, so stay tuned. I’ve conceptualized this performance as a theatrical parrot production, and not your typical parrot-info-show.  Combining my experience as a magician and producer, with the knowledge of training parrots, this is sure to be a production to impress.

If you have any specific ideas of something you’d love to see please feel free to suggest them below and we’ll try to fit them in.  The production will run for 6 months, and is free with admission to the theme park.  This is a great homecoming for me as I performed magic in this theater back when I was 17, and grew up just 90 minutes away.  In fact, Jamie grew up about 15 minutes away from the park.

We have several conceptual drawings, but I’ve only attached a few for you to see.  Stay tuned as we slowly release more details, and behind the scenes footage of our training.

If you’re interested in seeing the show, please let us know and we can update our exact dates and times so you don’t accidentally show up on a day off.  Looking forward to seeing many of you there!

2 Years: Lessons Learned – Love Your Birds

 November 25th, 2011
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Two years… 730 Days… 17,520 hours… Countless Miles… No matter how you look at it, two years on the road is a long time!  Especially when you travel the country by truck and RV… correction; make that two trucks, and two RV’s, a flock of birds, magic props, motorcycle, and a house cat.  Driving separately from Jamie can be painstaking, but it does give me some time to reflect.  Not only on shows and future plans, but on training, and what I can do to become a better trainer.

Image Copyright Feld Entertainment 2010

I’m one of those people who is constantly in the pursuit of perfection.  Always trying to learn more, and always trying to become a better person and professional.  At many times, it’s to a fault.  These past two years have really given me the chance to realize how important it is to live in the moment.  It has also given me phycological insight on how to get my birds to reach perfection on and off stage.  After all, I’m hired to perform a 1st-class production with professionally trained parrots – and likewise, my birds are expected to be “1st Class Performers” as well. It would be hard to be “the best” if my birds would land in the rafters, or fly out the backdoor and disappear into the Vegas desert, only to be found a week later by strangers.  In my industry, there’s no room for errors.  Sometimes that can translate to a lot of pressure for my birds, after all they didn’t sign the contract, I did.  So I always do my best to reward their every moment.

October 30, 2011 finally arrived, and we performed our last show in Wilkes Barre, PA.  I had performed for five different Ringling Shows over that two year tour, and it was all coming to an end.  Aside from a huge sense of accomplishment, there was a strange calmness that suddenly overwhelmed me backstage shortly after performing Catapoultry with Bondi.  I looked around and realized… 5,000 people in an arena, sold out shows, TV, Radio, Print… it was all coming to an end in 73 minutes from that exact moment.  Surrounded by black curtains and 7-sets of birdie eyes staring at me through the dimly lit backstage, as if they could tell I was finally processing it all; I took each bird out, kissed them on the head, held them for a moment and thanked them out-loud for being there for me for the entire tour. The ups and downs, the tornados and snow storms, 20 degrees to 120 degrees – it didn’t matter, they had achieved perfection in nearly every show, night after night, mile after mile, audience after audience.

Fiji’s Last Show – Photo Mishelle Statford

It was when I picked up Bondi, who had been looking at me concerned the whole time, that a single tear made it’s way past my right eye, and was now slowly passing my lips.   I kissed her on the head, thanked her for giving her all, even on days that she wasn’t feeling well.  It was as if she and I connected more than ever.  She mirrored my mood through every phase of the tour, from being a rock star on stage, to the tender moments offstage that an audience and cameras never see.  When we lost Fiji, she completely shut down with me, as if she was mourning her loss through me.  And on October 30, 2011 she once again  understood my feelings and that this was her last show, and we could both go home and relax until our next journey begins.

Bondi Performing Catapoultry

I learned many things on this tour about life & training.  From the highest highs to the lowest lows, and yet one lesson stands out miles ahead of anything else I could ever possibly write.  A lesson that we should all live by, a lesson that keeps you moving when your down and constantly elevates you while you’re up.

“Always love your birds like it’s the last day you’ll see them, for they provide more to us than could ever be transcribed into any human language.”

I’m so grateful for everything they’ve given me.  Those of you who can truly relate know the exact feeling I’m conjuring when I say these words.  And those of you who are just now paving that path with your birds will soon understand the feelings that are impossible to put onto paper.






Making The Most of Your Surroundings

 October 15th, 2011
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In our seminar DVD set, I talk about the Gypsy Experience as a means to training your bird.  It refers to my lifestyle – everyday a hundred new mile markers roll by, every night my birds are in front of more than 5,000 people.  Every day they experience different people, places, and things.  For a species that spends 80% of its day foraging for food and having to figure out new things, this is the next best thing to a magic potion for success with your psittacines.

Whether I’m traveling by land or by sea, I always try to “add value” for my clients by offering to do a free animal training seminar.  To my clients, I’m going above and beyond by doing more than they hired me for, and secretly I’m doing wonders for my flock!  They get to meet people of all ages and races.  The more you can expose your parrots to these new experiences everyday, the more confident they’ll be throughout their lives.  Additionally, it adds invaluable training time for them.

Inevitably, birds seem to think that a trick is completely different when you add a dozen (or 5,000) people into the equation.  It’s as if they do the trick perfectly on stage with full lights, sound, and pyro… but when you add applause into the equation it’s no longer the “pick-up-your-foot-and-wiggle-it-back-and-forth” command.  Similar… but now it’s the “pick-up-your-foot-and-wiggle-it-back-and-forth-with-applause” command… totally different!  ;o)

If you can find yourself in a position to be able to get your birds in front of more than a couple people, do it!  It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.  That’s the beauty about doing an animal seminar.  You can educate people about your parrots, talk to them about training, and the audience can see them during the learning process.

I wanted to get Rocko in front of an audience, to test how he would respond.  The following video showcases that beautifully.  The angle isn’t the best, but due to laws we couldn’t include kids in the video without written consent from each parent.  Clearly that wasn’t an option, so we shot it from the side.  In this video you’ll get to see what it looks like when we’re training our birds a new behavior.  Sometimes it requires a lot of patience… I use these opportunities to get my birds ready for the big stage, socialize them, build confidence, and entertain/educate my audiences.

Enjoy Rocko’s first animal training seminar, and a sneak peak behind the scenes of my training.

One Year Later… Remembering Fiji

 October 12th, 2011
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It’s hard to believe that it has been exactly one year since we lost Fiji (October 12, 2010) in a tragic accident that shattered the earth beneath my feet.  I’m sure that many of you can relate when I say – that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through.  With all tragedy comes some kind of peace and chance to learn.  This experience really altered my reality and gave me a new perspective as well as an increased gratitude to you, our friends and fans.

Over the past decade and a half of working with birds, I’ve learned a lot, and realized that with each new bird we seem to do a better job raising them.  Fiji, pictured at the top of this page, is shown being outside in Saipan, wearing a pair of falconry jesses so she wouldn’t fly off.  Strange to realize how far we’ve come since then as we can now freefly Rocko with full trust.  A decade ago, I would have never imagined tossing a $10,000 bird in the air with the trust and confidence to know it would come back. Fiji really helped give me another look at training birds.  She was difficult and offered her own specific set of challenges.  Working with her allowed me to really fine-tune my training methods.

It seemed no matter how hard I tried to flight train Fiji, I couldn’t get her to fly more than four yards successfully.  She’d overshoot her landings, or just abort the mission all together and drop to the ground, insisting on hopping the rest of the way.

I can recall countless times in many of her 2,000+ shows she performed in, where she’d just decide to take flight into the audience.  Aparently she had the skills to do that, but not to a place of my choosing.  One of my fondest memories of this was while on tour with Ringling Brothers show, Illuscination, where she flew to the second level in the arena, which was clearly not designed for climbing.  Fortunately for me, we have a live band… so here came the improv!  The band looped in the background as I turned a 3 minute routine into a 6 minute comedy sketch.  Wearing 19.5 lbs of costumes, I scaled the flat vertical wall of recessed chairs that led to the second level of the arena.  Fiji had landed on a hand railling at the top of this level.  The whole thing was full of laughs in a “kinda-had-to-be-there” way.  Sweaty, tired, and out of breath when I finally made it to the top (mic still on, music still dancing playfully in the background) a lady looks over at me at tells me to announce that it’s her son’s birthday!  Ha!  I quickly censored my thoughts, and replied with a G-rated comeback before grabbing Fiji.

Now, with a bird in one hand, I announced to the audience that I’d now attempt a never-before-seen stunt, “I’ll now attempt to scale this two-story wall with a bird in hand… drumroll please!”  The audience cracked up as I made use of my rock climbing experience and descended to the arena floor with a burst of laughter and applause for not landing on my face.  Just before stepping into the ring, now 5 minutes into the routine, I paused and looked at the audience.  “I know what you’re thinking,” I said with a smerk… “It’s a good thing I don’t work with tigers!”  The audience cracked up, and I finished the routine.

To this day, I’m convinced that Fiji could be in the Guinness Book of World Records.  She performed more than 2,000 shows, traveled to 20+ countries, and is probably the only toucan in the world to have navigated through the Panama Canal by cruise ship, both directions, about a dozen times!  In fact, she often slept in the window in our stateroom (pictured below), which put her just inches away from the canal’s walls.  She’s been in countless newspaper and magazine printings, on TV commercials, DVD’s, and many online videos.

There’s barely a day that passes that I don’t remember Fiji, yet at the same time I’m so grateful for the experiences she gave us, and the knowledge she helped us gain about toucans as well as training.  The page has turned, and Rocko has emerged thanks to all of you.  It’s now time to move forward, apply the knowledge, share the knowledge, and give our new toucan a life on a road that Fiji helped pave. Thank you, and rest in peace Fiji, you are missed daily.

“If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costume and come back as a new character… would you slow down?  Or speed up?” – Chuck Palahniuk 

Zazu’s House Parrot Sanctuary Documentary by BirdTricks.com

 October 1st, 2011
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As a professional performer who happens to work with parrots, I meet thousands of people each week and I get invited to a lot of parrot rescues because of this.  Now I know that most of the rescues I’ve been to sure meant well, but the fact remains that only a few are making a difference like Christy is at Zazu’s House Parrot Sanctuary just north of Seattle.

I was in the middle of loading my illusions into the arena in Everett, when I received a picture message from one of our tour managers.  She had taken a picture of a Hyacinth in a pet shop across the street from us, and told me it was “the most amazing shop and birds are out everywhere!”  She was right about it being an amazing shop.  I walked into Apollo’s Bird Store and struck up a conversation with the owner, Bunni.  You could tell instantly that she was a fan of birds and was willing to do anything to make sure they go to good homes.

Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Bothell, WA
Pictured: Blue and Gold Macaw

It was then, that I first heard about Zazu’s House.  It was this mysterious rescue that I needed to know more about.  Bunni mentioned how the rescue lives off of donations and that once a year the pet shop holds a silent auction to raise money for Zazu’s House.  Last year they raised almost $10,000 which went towards the construction of a new building.  It was this drive that made me realize I needed to see this amazing place.

Within a couple days we had an appointment with the rescue, and we followed Bunni out while trying to make sure we got back to Everett in time for shows that evening.  When the gates opened up and we drove up to the estate, I was blown away.  This wasn’t just any old rescue, this was a heaven! 

Photo by Dave
Location: Bothell, WA
Macaw Haven Aviary in Zazu’s House

There were two sections.  One was for “special needs” and the other was for macaws only.

Since I choose editing video over writing to relay my message, I scheduled another visit so that I could film this incredible place, and share it with you.  I felt inclined to donate, and hope that if you’re in a position to do the same that you do so without hesitation.  Just watch the video above and you’ll soon know why.


Our Toco Toucan Arrival Story and a BIG Thank You!

 September 4th, 2011
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Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Kent, WA
On my arm: 2 month old Toco Toucan “Rocko”

 It all started by half-joking about wishing I had the funds to buy a toco toucan; my dream bird, when we received an outpouring of love beyond my wildest dreams from our entire facebook friends list. And now, as I write this, Rocko gently plucks at the keyboard begging for my attention…

As many of you know, we were devastated by the sudden loss of Fiji, our Swainson Toucan. She was like a daughter to us for more than 6 years – traveling to 20 countries, performing in 2,000+ shows all over the world, and sleeping right beside us almost every night.


Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Saipan, MP
Pictured with: Swainson Toucan “Fiji”

We searched high and low to find another toucan, and discovered that the US had put a ban on importing them. The only thing available domestically were breeder pairs or 6 year olds swainsons. Since we didn’t want to “replace” Fiji, we decided to just wait it out, and had thought we’d never have another toucan.

Nearly 9 months after Fiji passed, I received an email from Chad Jenson saying he had just hatched a clutch of Toco’s. As if that wasn’t enough, he sent me one of those painfully ugly-but-cute photos of the clutch… so young their eyes weren’t even open. I suppressed the though of owning one, since I didn’t have an extra $10,000 set aside for a toucan.


Photo provided by Chad Jensen

A couple weeks later I received another picture, and cracked up when I saw their little expressions developing.


Photo provided by Chad Jensen

It was at that point that I decided to post the picture on our facebook, and it all went fast from there.

Several people commented about how I should start a donation account, so they could help me get one of the babies. Although the thought was generous, I shrugged it off as I didn’t truly believe that I could raise $10,000 and I didn’t want to be stuck with $2,000 in donations and have to refund it. Meanwhile, one of our friends kept writing me saying they’d help with a large donation. I really didn’t think it would happen, so again I shrugged it off.

After nearly 3 emails, I decided this person might be serious enough, so I replied to find out more. To my shock, they donated half – now I was motivated.


Photo provided by Chad Jensen

I would like to personally thank each and every one of you who made it possible for us to buy Rocko, our new baby Toco Toucan. We decided on the name Rocko, since he is a DNA sexed male and I was always a fan of “Rocko’s Modern Life”. Someone suggested the name Rocky on the facebook, which is pretty close! I think he will be growing into his name as time goes on, and it really suits him.

The other day I was telling this story to my mother when she said, “Wow, I bet those people who helped donated don’t even have any idea how much this really means to you!” and all I could say was, “Actually, I think they do.”


Photo by Nathan Slabaugh
Location: Kent, WA
Showing Rocko what he’ll grow up to look like: Toco Toucan “Rocko”

By the massive response we get on our toucan posts, I KNOW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you all understand how huge this is for me and how much it really does mean.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

Lisa Dunne
Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey
Cheryl Campbell
Kai Bansner
Chad Jensen
Erica Loria
Jyoti Hardat
Gregg DePorter
Borut Zupancic
Lou Buckner
Connie Hess

And all of you who constantly pestered us to take you seriously about donating and raising the money for us to get such a beautiful pet. We promise to share every moment with all of you and will be uploading videos and pictures as often as possible to share.

All updates and blog posts about Rocko will only be posted here on our blog so check back for updates on our little fella.

Love to you all…


Related Links:

To learn about Fiji’s passing, please read the following blog articles written by Jamieleigh:

To friend us on facebook, copy and paste or click on the following URL: https://www.facebook.com/pages/BirdTrickscom/10162906198 or search for “BirdTricks.com”.