Patty | BirdTricks | Parrot Training Blog - Part 3

How Well Do You Know Your Bird?

 August 23rd, 2015
Posted By:


I wonder how many hours in my life I have dedicated to staring at my birds? To a non-parrot owner, that might seem like time wasted, but we all know better.

It blows my mind whenever I read something about “new discoveries” regarding parrot intelligence in some science journal.  A bird’s foraging skill is hardly a new development. It is how they have fed themselves for millions of years.

But to a non-bird owner, or a scientist who is just getting around to noticing, it is front page news that such simple beings could work out complex strategies to find food. Can you imagine the fainting that will go on when they realize birds can disassemble their cages to get out…or open a combination lock?

I understand that the scientific process is necessary, and that they can’t trust our biased, unscientific minds to relay fact, but c’mon! We, the parrot owners of the world, have been doing research for as long as we have had our birds.

When you share your home with a creature that can’t tell you what he is thinking, you have to rely on your eyes for clues. Observing your bird can give you some crucial information.

I know that my quaker Libby will make a complete circle around her food bowl every morning before eating and that my goffins cockatoo, Theo, falls asleep in the shower but while the cute factor is pretty high, this information doesn’t give me any valuable insight into their world.

More beneficial is noticing the way my birds look at each other. I know that when one bird is overly focused on the activities of another, they are up to no good and they should be kept apart from the bird that has caught their interest.

I know from observation which birds are most likely to get into something while they are out of the cage and what that something might be.

I know which bird is most likely to head for an open door, or to follow me from room to room. I know from the sound of their flapping wings which bird is approaching me from behind.

I know which birds need more frequent water changes because they are food dunkers or bowl bathers.

We get questions often about the safety of certain bird products. A common one is the use of plastic in toys. The beaks of medium and large birds can easily and thoroughly destroy a toy made of plastic leaving behind small bite-sized pieces. Does this make that toy dangerous?

The same question is asked of toys with fabric or rope, particles of which are sometimes surgically removed from the crops of birds that eat non-food items. It happens.

However, the thought of unnecessarily denying a bird a favorite toy disturbs me, they are so lacking in things to do in captivity. I instruct to people to make a decision based on their observations about their bird. It is a situation where you need to know your bird and what its habits are. Being observant can help you keep your bird safe, healthy and happy.

Sun conure

Sun conure

However, as pertinent as information gathered from observation is, it is just as important that you understand that there is a side to your bird you will never come to know.

Part of knowing your bird is factoring in the reality that you don’t understand everything. Parrots, which are still rather new to us as “pets”, are not yet domesticated through breeding and are still in possession of their wild ways. We see evidence of this every day from what appears to be irrational fears to strange breeding behaviors. We accept the behaviors and try to work with them, but we don’t really understand them. As humans, we can never pretend to understand the instincts of an animal.

Acknowledging this gray area should help you to keep from becoming complacent and remind you that you never really know what your bird is thinking. If you expect the unexpected, you will be less likely to let your guard down.

How well do you feel you know your bird?



Why Training Your Bird Can Save Your Relationship

 August 16th, 2015
Posted By:
Hyacinth Macaw

Hyacinth Macaw

This post is probably not going to make me popular. However, my popularity in the avian community has never been driving force in anything I have said or done here. I don’t use Birdtricks to gain personal affirmation in the form of shares and likes. My only interest in this community begins and ends with your birds.

I will be speaking my mind in this post and saying what I feel needs to be said. I want to point out, though, that when I say “we” throughout this article, I don’t mean YOU, I mean “we”. I have made mistakes with my birds. Jamie and Dave have. Anyone who says they have not is lying. 

Let me tell you a secret… The unfortunate and regrettable truth is that WE cause our birds their problems. Even if our birds sucked up to us in a way that made it impossible to walk away from them, WE made the decision to bring that bird home. WE have done, or not done, whatever it is that has caused the screaming, biting or plucking. WE either do something about it, or WE don’t. Our birds are at our mercy.

You can travel far and wide in this community and you will find NO ONE that has a magic pill that can fix your bird’s problems. If your bird has a behavioral problem, you will have to put effort into fixing it. If you are unwilling to do that, just bring your bird to the rescue it will wind up in anyways so someone there can do the work you are unwilling to do. There. I said it.

So let’s get to the meat of this post…

I was looking at a Facebook page a week or so ago and I read something that concerned me. One person, whose name I recognize from our Facebook page, was politely complaining that when she asked for help with a biting problem I recommended training as the solution. Others agreed that it makes no sense. I completely understand the complaint.

I understand that not everyone wants to train their bird. I know that some people could care less about having a bird that waves on cue. I know there are still some people out there who see training as a bad thing – like it’s forcing a bird to bend to your will for food, or using your bird for your entertainment. I completely understand where this thinking comes from – having been there myself at one time. But I PROMISE YOU that this is not what it’s about and that training WILL HELP YOUR BIRD.

As I stated above, WE are the reason our birds are in trouble. The majority of companion parrots are doing poorly in human care. We are failing and there are packed rescues with powerful evidence of this.

Having a bird with problems does not make you a bad person. Nor does it make you a bad bird owner. It simply makes you human. In a way, we are destined to for this to be a bumpy ride based on the simple fact that we are not birds. There is no sense in beating yourself up for your bird’s problems. But what are you willing to do about it?



You already know I am going to recommend training. Before I tell you WHY training is what you need to do to help your bird, let me take away any excuse you have to not read any further because you are too busy to train your bird: in the beginning, you will spend under three minutes a day teaching your bird target training. Once you establish the basics of training, you will only need to keep up on it from time to time so that it doesn’t have to be relearned. The time you will spend keeping your bird trained will only take as long as it does to cue a trick and give a reward. There is nothing you can say to convince me you don’t have time for this.

You may wish to go on to teach your bird tricks (which we hope you will) or you may just use the target training for useful things like getting your bird back into the cage at night or into a carrier without having to use force. Even considering all the practical positive results of training, the real magic happens during the training sessions…

Biting and screaming are communications from your bird. A biting bird uses the beak to tell you that he is no longer willing or able to attempt a normal relationship with you. He feels he must bite to make his message clear.

A screaming bird is desperately trying to convey a point. He has discovered that screaming gets the reaction that normal behavior has failed to get. Your bird definitely has your attention now.

Unfortunately, biting and screaming only widens the rift between us. Even when we recognize this breakdown in communication, when our birds are screaming or biting us we don’t tend to react in a productive way. Imagine how that feels to your bird to be trying to tell you something and you just get angry with him. Communication, or the lack of it, is our main area of failure with our birds.

Training galah to fly through hoop

Training galah to fly through hoop

Training IS communication – very clear and direct communication. You cue a behavior and your bird willingly responds in the way he understands he should to get a treat. There is no guess work, no confusion.

Does training fix existing problems? No. What it does is give your current relationship with your bird new purpose and direction. The cooperative effort between you both gives hope for a better future together.

Maybe this example will help you understand:

Years ago, when I lived in Chicago, there was this guy I just didn’t like. You know how some people just rub you the wrong way? It was mutual – he didn’t like me either, but life kept throwing us in each other’s path. Eventually, we were in a situation that required us to work together on a project.

Neither of us were thrilled about this arrangement, but we decided to do what we had to do to make it work. And we did. By the end of the project, I had enormous respect for this guy. He put out a huge effort to make it as comfortable for me as he could. I did the same for him. We grew to appreciated each other, if only for the consideration we each showed the other.

The things about each other that were so annoying before became small and inconsequential. They never went away, but they so diminished in importance that we were able to look past them.

THAT is what training will do for you and your bird – it’s a second chance for your relationship. It is the light at the end of the tunnel. What it comes down to in the end, is each owner’s willingness to put out some extra effort when their bird is in trouble. What are you going to do?

Click here -> ONE DAY MIRACLES


Do You Have A Bird Sitter?

 August 9th, 2015
Posted By:

Goffins cockatoo, Theo

When the subject of vacationing comes up, a large number of parrot owners reveal that they don’t travel because they are afraid to leave their birds. Either they don’t have anyone they trust to care for them or they are afraid that their bird will have disowned them by the time they get home.

Today, I am going to try to talk you out of that thinking…

Bird keeping is a tough job. The work involved is physical – the cleaning, meal preparation, chasing around a feathered toddler every day. Mentally you have to be able to think on your feet – it is not a given that you will always be one step ahead of your parrot. Emotionally, though, they can be utterly draining. These small creatures tug relentlessly on our heartstrings and it is sometimes a struggle to understand them and do right by them. I know I am preaching to the choir.

But you know what? Another part of being a good parrot owner is making sure that your bird has a permanent home with you. If you don’t look out for yourself, your physical and mental well being, you might not always be there for your bird. I have seen long time, committed bird owners give up their birds because they burned out. Bird ownership was owning them.

One couple I know confessed to not having been away from home in almost 14 years, since their macaw came to live with them. Someone else realized she was in trouble a few years ago when her out of state daughter was getting ready to give birth to her first grandchild and she found herself hesitating before booking a flight, afraid to leave her bird. These people were dedicated to their birds, but life was passing them by and eventually they had to do something about it.

Others become overwhelmed with the workload and responsibility. Without ever getting a break, without arranging for time for yourself, you might one day find yourself facing a similar decision. Just because you aren’t there yet, doesn’t mean that you won’t be one day. The people mentioned above, NEVER saw this day coming.

Cockatiel Tinky

Cockatiel Tinky

Everyone with a bird should have a bird sitter on call. Vacations and work related travel are probably the two main reasons for having a bird sitter, but there are others that you should be prepared for. While your first thoughts might be to have someone you know well take your bird for you, you should have one bird sitter that is neither a family member or a close friend.

A serious accident involving a loved one, even when it is local, can have you standing by at the hospital for days. This might also make the family member or close friend unavailable to watch your bird as they may be at the hospital as well. This is not the time to be searching for a pet sitter.

A person I know threw a huge family reunion bash last year. She has a huge back yard that would accommodate a large group for a barbecue so she was elected to host the event and her relatives flew in from all over to attend. Her normally quiet macaw was overwhelmed and screamed for the entire weekend and made an expensive occasion that was a year in planning unpleasant for many people. A bird sitter would have saved everyone, both human and avian, a lot of discomfort.

How likely is your bird to behave well during a simple dinner party?

Can you even imagine throwing a Halloween party at your house?

What if you need to do remodeling in your home that would be unsafe for your bird? What would you do?

When I refer to life passing parrot owners by, this is what I mean. It is unnecessary for you to go without because you have a bird and doing so will only cause you hardship that might one day be blamed on the bird (when it is, in fact, your own fault). There is an alternative for you.

I think one of the best uses for a bird sitter is to preserve our sanity. When the duties of bird ownership are bearing down on us, this is our escape hatch. A weekend free from responsibility can be rejuvenating and give you the fuel you need to go forward without feeling forced to be a good parront. Further, the benefits of the socialization your parrot will gain is very, very good for your bird.

If you don’t have a bird sitter in your town, create one. Find someone who has an interest in parrots that you can train to be the bird sitter you require and give them the opportunity to earn some extra cash. You could put up a notice at a local pet store or vet’s office.

You can start the process by leaving your bird with this person for the afternoon, then eventually overnight and then the weekend. If you do this often enough, you and your bird will grow to feel comfortable with the arrangement and suddenly you will be free to travel or have have company over whenever you want!


A Small Warning Sign That Precedes Big Behavioral Problems

 July 19th, 2015
Posted By:
Military macaw

Military macaw

When people contact us about problems with their birds, one common (and notable) element is that most people are very surprised to learn that their relationship with their bird isn’t what they thought it was. They explain their once friendly and interactive relationship and now, suddenly, their bird wants nothing to do with them. They are always reluctant to believe you when you assure them that none of this happened suddenly.

No matter what bird sites you frequent, you hear over and over to watch your bird’s body language for indications of what they are thinking and feeling. There is a very sharp learning curve to navigate when you are trying to read the body language of another animal species. It is questionable as to whether we read the body language of other humans well. You can count on the fact that we make innumerous mistakes while we learn about our birds.

Most birds graciously ride out that storm with us forgiving us time and time again for our failures with them, most of which we are unaware of. (I like to think that if we knew we were botching things up, we would do our best not to.)

Fortunately for us, birds are impressively patient and apparently see their human caretakers as worth the effort. But eventually, if things fail to improve, even the sweetest tempered bird will get fed up and reach the breaking point. This is the “suddenly” that bird owners see – the day their bird snaps and issues not a warning, but an actual bite that is intended to injure you.

Before this day, everything seemed like business as usual. Some days the bird was not wanting to play, but that was easily explained away as an “off” day or grumpiness over not being allowed to eat the TV remote.  But other than that everything has been normal…except for the times he moved away from you to the back of the cage or lunged at your hand when you came by to take him out. Oh and the “hormones”, there’s that… The blame and excuses fly everywhere and no one is looking for an actual problem.

Alexandrine parakeet

Alexandrine parakeet

If your bird “changes” overnight you should consider it a health emergency and get your bird to the vet. But unless there has been a major incident that has deeply distressed your bird, nothing happens suddenly from a behavioral standpoint. Things change in incremental stages and there are warning signs all the way – catching them is the hard part.

It is fair to expect your bird will have an “off” day every now and then. It is reasonable to expect your bird to be upset with you when you take away something they want. Some birds are less tolerant than others, but “moodiness” is not part of a bird’s nature.

Here is a comparison: if you deny your child a candy bar while checking out at the supermarket, you can expect some pouting in the backseat on the ride home, right? But if your child were still upset over the event days later, wouldn’t it cause you to question why your child isn’t letting it go? It’s the same with your bird – if he is holding grudges, there is something much larger going on.

Before you ever get to this point, learn to see the warnings signs that will tell you that your relationship is strained.  One of the earliest and easiest to spot signs is in your bird’s step up.

When a finger or hand is presented by a trusted human, the step up is practically reflexive. They will step up eagerly and confidently.

If you notice even the most brief hesitation, take it seriously. It is your bird deciding whether or not stepping onto your hand is a good idea. That hesitation is doubt and it will tell you that your bird questions whether you are safe to be with or can be trusted to take him to some place he wants to be. Somewhere, somehow, something has happened to make your bird be uncertain of your intentions.

When this small hesitating issue is not recognized and addressed, the next stage is a refusal to step up at all. This will cause most people to be persistent. In their mind they are trying to coax their bird onto their hand, but it is pushy and disrespectful from the bird’s point of view.

Eventually the bird will move deeper into the cage when your hand comes in, even turn his back to you. When your “demanding” hand does not get the hint, biting becomes the only course of action left. Your bird has been trying to avoid this conflict all along using body language, which appears to have been ignored, and now you are viewed as an abusive human that cannot be trusted.

Don’t let it get to this point. That fraction of a second that your bird pauses before the step up can tell you about months of suspicion about you. Make sure your hands are bringers of good things and carry your bird to good places. Make sure they are never forceful and that they pay attention when your bird is reluctant to interact with them.


Keeping Birds Happy When You Travel A Lot

 July 12th, 2015
Posted By:
Alexandrine parrot

Alexandrine parrot

Q: I travel frequently because of my job and lately I have been feeling guilty about leaving my bird so often. Do you think this will cause her to become unhappy?

-Monica, B., San Diego, CA

A:   The answer depends mostly on your situation, but also on your bird’s personality. You haven’t given me much information, so I will try to look at this from different angles.

If you live alone and have made arrangements to have someone come in to feed her every day, then I feel it is a bad situation for your bird. Birds are very social and being left alone in a cage for long stretches will definitely take a toll on her from both a physical and emotional standpoint.

Not only will the lack of out of cage time result in poor physical condition from insufficient exercise, but after a while, most birds who are poorly socialized lose their willingness to interact. It is not fair to expect a bird to live in solitude because of one’s job.

If you do not live alone and have made it an issue to be certain that your bird is content in the company of the others living in the house and have trained them to be good caregivers, your bird will be fine. Birds are resilient creatures. As long as they feel secure in their surroundings they are quite adaptable.

If you find it necessary to bring your bird to a location outside of your home while you travel, that also can be done without stress.

I know of divorced couples who share custody of their birds. These birds live between the two homes for a few months at a time in each location. I know another divorced couple with multiple birds that they rotate. This arrangement works out well as two of these birds do not get along well and the rotation keeps them apart.

There are also people who travel with their birds and have great results.

In the end it all comes down to how well you do your job as a parrot guardian. If you have kept your bird socialized to many people and have allowed a lot of new experiences for her, the chances of her adapting comfortably to this lifestyle without stress is greatly increased. It is important to understand your bird’s body language so that you can accurately gauge her reaction to environment changes.

There are many people who have birds and travel for a living. One common report from those I have spoken to is that they don’t really regard the bird as “theirs” any more. The bird becomes a family bird and sometimes switches its allegiance to another person who is home with regularity.

This can be hard to cope with and it took time for some to come around to feeling at peace with the idea that this was what was best for their bird even though it didn’t feel good to them. In the end, they knew that letting go was the best thing for their bird. Remember that whatever choices you make, your bird is the one who will have to live with the consequences. Be very certain she is okay with the arrangements.



My Bird SCREAMS When Someone Comes To Visit!

 July 5th, 2015
Posted By:


Q: My bird is really well behaved most of the time but when someone comes over she screams and if I let her out she tries to bite them. How can I stop this?

-Bryce H., Birmingham, AL

A: Birds are naturally concerned with anything new that appears in their environment. It is a safety protocol for them to be very aware of and familiar with everything in their vicinity because things that are out of place might indicate danger. When something new appears, red flags go up and cause some birds to question their safety. They tend to eye all new things suspiciously and act accordingly. This reaction can also extend to new people in their environment.

Added to this sense of insecurity might be feelings of territorialism. Birds will often have a favorite human in the home. That is normal. They have preferences just like we do. However, it becomes a problem when the bird takes such an interest in that person they reject interaction with anyone else.

As their possessiveness for this person is allowed to develop, they often feel their relationship with you is threatened with the presence of another person (or bird or other pet) and will act aggressively to eliminate anything that jeopardizes your exclusive relationship. In an odd twist, the bird will sometimes bite their chosen person.

So there you have two reasons for your bird to feel tension when someone comes to your house. Not only is there the presence of something new, but your attention is focused on the person and NOT on your bird, adding insult to injury.

To eliminate your bird’s loud and aggressive behavior, you need to reduce the stressful impact of the visitor’s arrival by making your bird feel differently about the event.

This is most common with birds that are not well socialized with other humans. There is no reason for them to trust a person other than yourself because it has not been well-established that every human is non-threatening. Taking your bird out with you on a harness or in a carrier for a brief walk every week in a place where people gather will help this situation a great deal.

As you introduce your bird to new people, (people will always be interested in your parrot) they will become objects of curiosity rather than something to be feared.

Take some treats along with you on the walk and reward your bird every time he shows relaxed behavior around a stranger. If your bird feels comfortable, the stranger can offer the treat.

This activity will reduce your bird’s natural concern over a new person, but it will simultaneously teach her that other humans also have value and make her feel less inclined to have a singularly exclusive interest in only you.  This will dial down her need to defend her possession of you and aggressive behavior will no longer be necessary.

Additionally, this may not only affect her “present”, but also her “future”. In the event something should happen to you, she will be better prepared to adapt in someone else’s care. A well socialized bird is secure and happy and we get to have company over without all the drama. Win/win.