Sarah Stull | BirdTricks | Parrot Training Blog - Part 4

Glossary of Bird Names

 April 11th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull

A Congo African Grey – CAG.


While abbreviating names can be much faster to write or type, sometimes it can get confusing even for people who are used to doing it! That’s why I’ve compiled a glossary of the most common abbreviations of bird names.

Cockatoos are the easiest, although they sound more confusing at first. Quite simply, the ‘too’ of cockatoo is abbreviated into numerical form, 2. Then the first letter refers to the actual species or sub-species. Note that cockatoos are also often referred to as ‘toos. Like this:

U2Umbrella Cockatoo, also referred to as white cockatoos

M2Moluccan Cockatoo, or salmon-crested cockatoo

G2Goffins Cockatoo

C2Citron-Crested Cockatoo

S2Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo

T2Triton’s Cockatoo


Umbrella Cockatoo – U2.


Next, most other species tend to abbreviate by the first letter of the species name. Thus:

CAGCongo African Grey

TAGTimneh African Grey

GCCGreen-cheeked conure

PGCCPineapple mutation green-cheeked conure.

BCCBlue-crowned conure

MCMitred conure

GWMGreen-winged macaw

B&GBlue and Gold macaw

MMMilitary Macaw

BTMBlue-Throated Macaw

BFABlue-Fronted Amazon

IRNIndian Ringneck Parakeet

DYADouble Yellow-Headed Amazon

YAYellow-Headed Amazon

Blue-fronted amazon parrot 'Barney.'

Blue-Fronted Amazon Parrot


A brief note about the beloved Budgerigar – often called a budgie. In America, budgies are often called parakeets. While they are indeed parakeets – or ‘keets’ – I think it’s important to mention that parakeet is not restricted to budgies. It means ‘long tail’ and covers a wide range of species. Conures, Quakers, Indian Ringneck Parrots, and Mountain Parakeets all belong to the parakeet family. There are actually quite a lot!

Hopefully that helps in case anyone ever gets confused.

The Importance of Having a Plan B With Parrots

 April 10th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
Parrotlet in his emergency travel cage

Celestial Parrotlet in his emergency travel cage.


I’m one of those people who doesn’t take much time away from my flock unless I can help it. If they can go with me, they do. If not, I tend not to go at all. At one point in my life, I had even said that I would never travel, would never take a holiday – but when you have birds, ‘would never’ are dangerous words. Keeping an open mind helps both you and your birds.

The problem is life. Life gets in the way. The best thing for you is to imagine the worst possible scenario and prepare for that. Me, I was forced to move from the UK back to the U.S.A. due to a law change. That was my worst possible scenario and it happened!

Only two of my birds could go with me. My ‘I will never re-home’ rule became ‘I will never re-home unless it’s for the good of the bird, and/OR unless circumstances can’t be changed.’

I hear people say things like ‘I’d never leave my birds,’ or ‘I don’t travel.’ Personally, this is something I agree with in general. It’s a sacrifice many owners make. But then the immigration laws changed, and I had to leave my flock. This was beyond my power to change. If you get sick, someone in your family is hurt or dying, or some other emergency arises, it’s good to have a Plan B in place.


These birds have all been re-homed to the Island Parrot Sanctuary – and not all were from bad conditions. Re-homing isn’t always a failure. Sometimes it’s down to sad circumstances.


When I got the devastating news about my move, I was beyond thankful that I’d made my own emergency plans. Here’s what you should do to prep for the possible worst:

  • Keep a list of important numbers, including your regular avian vet, an emergency clinic that treats birds, and at least two people who are familiar with your birds and can take care of them if an emergency arises. This can be tied to your pet’s carrier if need be.
  • Make a care sheet just in case. This will include medicines, dosages and times, dietary needs, as well as any other important information about your bird.
  • Have someone you trust to take care of the birds. I can’t stress this enough. We know a couple wonderful friends whom I trust whole-heartedly when it comes to the care of my flock. Some people teach their parents, siblings, or partners to care for their flock. You can even make friends with people at your local bird club – just exercise caution.
  • Socialise your parrot so that when you have to go away – it will happen sooner or later – your absence isn’t some big, scary, unusual event. I regularly take my birds out in their travel carriers to meet new people and see new things. And I bring people I trust in to meet them in the house, too.
  • Leave your bird on its own sometimes. I’m not talking about for multiple hours at a time every day, but if you always stay home with your bird and it’s used to your sole companionship constantly, what happens if bad luck strikes? You’ll do your bird a favour by teaching it to play and forage and generally function on its own while you’re gone.

All our birds are familiar with foraging. We keep several toys that anyone can fill up and pop in the cages.


Our umbrella cockatoo was re-homed to a sanctuary near to where we lived. I just couldn’t bring him with me – only two birds could come due to the laws. He is now in a veritable heaven, though – it’s beautiful there, and he is much loved. Plan C was an absolute worst-case scenario, but because I had it, when that bad run of luck struck, Bobo was able to go to a safe place.

Just remember that life doesn’t always go as planned. When it doesn’t, it’s better to have prepared for the unknown than the alternative. Make a plan B, or even C. Even if you never need it, it’s a responsible thing to have in place.

Ten Quick Safety Tips for Surviving Spring with Your Parrot

 April 4th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull


In the spring and fall, hormones are often at their worst for our pet parrots. They turn into apparently crazy terrors who would sooner eat you than look at you. These are ten quick safety tips to keep YOU safe this season (the Spring Horrormones course will help you stay sane in the meantime):

  1. Know how to towel or restrain your bird – if he or she charges you, you need to know how to gently, calmly, and efficiently restrain them.
  2. Master touch training before the hormonal season starts – directing a bird from place to place via touch training is a great strategy for staying safe. If you haven’t taught this yet, however, start now! I often target my birds right into their cages. They’re so focussed on treats that they don’t care. If I need to reach in, I can have someone else target them around to the other side and keep them there with the chopstick.
  3. Don’t cuddle – cuddling your parrot is not a good idea, especially at this time of year. Even if you’re doing everything else to reduce seasonal hormones, once you start touching your bird outside of his head, neck, and feet, you’re inviting him to mate with you. This triggers hormones big time.
  4. Put food in the cage when you want your bird to go in – mealtimes work great, or slipping in a jackpot reward of seeds and nuts that are otherwise removed from the diet. Maverick the Senegal will climb right into his cage with no issue when I make a big deal of putting his supper inside.
  5. Try not to handle an aggressive bird directly – use a T-perch, pillow, towel, glove, extra layers of clothing, or whatever it takes to make sure you stay safe. Just remember not to scare your bird in doing so, or you will lose his trust. You need to feel calm and confident so that your bird does not pick up on your negative emotions and react.
  6. If you have issues with biting, offer treats via spoon, cup, tongue dispenser, or by dropping it nearby – don’t try to offer treats to a bird who is just going to bite you anyway.
  7. Have at least one hands-off trick to that can distract from biting – I like stand tall, myself. Spin, wave, roll-over, or speaking on cue all work too. If you notice the signs of a parrot about to bite, simply cue this, reward, and move on to a different activity. Teaching tricks at this time of year is the best! It’s a hands-off enrichment process that’s safe for everyone.
  8. More foraging and new toys – owning parrots is all about knowing how to distract them and re-direct their energy. Toys and foraging do both. At this time of year, it’s also important to swap cage contents around. I do so weekly, adding in fresh toys each time.
  9. The power of treats – your parrot’s most treasured reward can be anything, and you should use this to your advantage. During the spring, I choose one particular treat and use it as my last resort only. For Maverick the Senegal, this is hemp seed. For Ptak the parrotlet, this is his jingling ball toy.
  10. Don’t put yourself in a situation you know will trigger your bird – there are certain things I know will set my birds off: For instance, my Senegal will charge me if I make prolonged eye contact. I avoid these things like the plague at this time of year. It can be hard to know what’ll trigger a hormonal response, but if you can recognise the main things, that’s a great start.
Gloster canary 'Pip.'

Gloster canary ‘Pip’ demonstrates the emergency hold for small birds (although she’s squirmed around). NO pressure on the sternum. Stretch the neck gently up. For larger parrots, wrap your hand carefully around the neck, not twisting, and place the first joint of your thumb in the hollow beneath their beak. Use your free hand to restrain feet, bringing the entire bird against your body.


How to restrain a small parrot: Remember, no pressure on the chest.


::Bonus:: The magical travel-carrier – this is my big secret. I train all my birds to go into their carriers (via touch-training, again) at a time of year when everyone is much more relaxed. My flock all associate the carrier with good things. Come spring and autumn, if I’m having issues with biting, I target them inside and off we go. It’s a hands-off activity that tuckers them out, entertains them, and lets me stay safe.


If our cockatoo was nesting, I’d use his carrier to safely remove him, get rid of the material, and then take him for a walk as his reward.

Teaching Parrots to Be Touched All Over

 March 28th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull

Senegal Parrot


People instinctively crave touch, as to us, it means empathy, love, and affection. To a parrot, however, touching outside of the head, neck, and feet means that you are initiating sex, very simply. A parrot can be perfectly happy without touch, though many love it.

We should not be touching our parrots outside of the head, neck, and feet, as it brings such frustration to our birds. If continued, human touch can actually spur hormonal attacks in our feathered pets. There are a lot of things that parrots love – for instance, unhealthy food – but it’s our job to limit it for their own health and overall wellbeing. Yet despite the fact that we should not generally be cuddling our birds, there are many instances when it is actually appropriate to touch a pet parrot in an otherwise ‘inappropriate’ way: for instance, in training.

Harness training immediately comes to mind, or preparing your bird for the inevitable vet visits in his life. During harness training, owners need to prepare the bird by lifting wings, touching a bird’s sides, and more.


Harness training enriches a bird’s life in numerous ways.


Birds should be comfortable with being touched all over if possible. A baby bird is easiest to teach this to, but lots of us obtain birds that are fully grown. What do you if you want to train an adult parrot that touch is okay?

Assuming yours is okay with being petted, just watch very carefully for hormonal behaviours. I’ve found that it is possible to instigate a training session prior, so that the bird is focussed on treats. Maverick, our Senegal, can be completely distracted by the prospect of food if we begin a session with some harness training exercises, like wing lifts. You need to watch carefully, though, and only reward at the end.

Stop everything immediately if your bird:

  • Bobs his head to regurgitate
  • Begins to quiver or shake
  • Vocalises with a mating noise such as clucking
  • Raises her tail or wings for you to touch beneath
  • Tries to mount your hand, or anything else nearby, to masturbate (if male)
  • Drops wings
  • Pants
  • The featherless areas of the face flush like sunburn (common in macaws)

These behaviours mean a bird is sexually stimulated, and you need to stop and not reward them. They may be done singly, or in any combination. Remember, rewarding those things tells your bird, ‘Okay, I’ll be your mate.’ He just can’t understand why you will never follow through! Long-term, this could bring screaming, maybe plucking, and attacks on the humans in your household – even you.

Try not to pull on the tail, rub under the wings for extended periods of time, or touch a bird’s vent (butt). These are all major triggers for hormonal behaviour.

What do I do if my bird isn’t comfortable being touched or petted – at all?


This is the only touch our cockatiel would accept… her beloved bell.


This is okay, too. From a vet’s perspective, it isn’t ideal, but our cockatiel, for instance, was never comfortable with touch. Never once in her life did we pet her.

To get her comfortable with the kind of handling she’d receive at a vet’s office, we towelled her numerous times, so that it was not a new or scary thing. Towelling equalled millet – her favourite. And towelling was mostly okay.

It did take us a little while to accept that Mishka the cockatiel would never accept scratches. But in the end, that was who she was.

So long as your bird is healthy and seems happy, we owners can let our birds be themselves. There’s nothing wrong with working to teach your bird to accept human touch, but you shouldn’t feel the need to if the bird is happy.

If you really want to teach a super-shy bird to love scratches, you can try using the ‘time out’ method, or negative reinforcement (negative meaning to remove something from an environment – in this case, you!).

How to Import Pet Birds Into the U.S.A. – the Complete Saga.

 March 21st, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
Senegal parrot in his IATA-approved travel box.

Senegal parrot in his IATA-approved travel box.


A lot of people want to know how to import pet birds into the U.S.A. (in my case from the UK), and having recently experienced this, I can tell you bringing a parrot or finch into the country is not easy or cheap. But it will be utterly worth it if you decide to go through with it, for everyone involved.

I’ll do my best to explain!

To begin, I firmly believe that the stress and potential risk of importing your bird is worth it. Opinions on this differ, but in my heart, I feel that it’s better a few weeks of quarantine than a lifetime apart.  I am so, so fortunate that my family has helped me out in this process. Parrots grieve, after all, and experience very real emotion. They may not be human, but I feel they will benefit from joining me overseas.

Leave several months – if not a full year – for all the paperwork, or you will find yourself held back by one single piece, as I did, multiple times! (I’m fortunate again that my partner was remaining in the UK at that point, and was able to care for the birds and see to the exporting part of the process.)

You can only import two birds per year, per person, so be prepared for that, too.

Ptak and Maverick's Arrival 014

Parrots meeting me after import


Let’s start with import:

Begin with the Centres for Disease Control. The first permit they direct you to is the USDA Import Permit. Getting this says that they will have a place at the government quarantine centre for your parrot, so the window for it is very narrow: one month at most. This part was very quick for us to complete – it literally was done by email and completed within a few days. I recommend submitting the import permit last.

Side-note: There was a slight hitch here, where they FORGOT to post our original import permit out to our flat, but I received email permission from a relevant USDA employee, which allowed us to use a printed copy.

The next piece, our U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service Permit, however, was not anywhere near fast as that import permit. It took five months, where they advertised four weeks to two months to receive. Start this piece first.

The Fish and Wildlife permit requires the following information:

  • Your bird’s ID. You’ll want to microchip and band your pet if possible, and record that information.
  • Proof that you have continually resided outside the U.S.A. for at least one year, and have owned your pet legally for at least 90 days.
  • Sex of the bird(s).
  • Proof that your pet is captive-bred, such as a signed statement from the breeder that includes various information listed on the form, or a personal statement signed by yourself that gives all the information you have on the circumstances you obtained your pet.
  • Travel arrangements – how, when, where. Also includes the dimensions of the travel cage and how you’ll care for the animal during transit, if applicable, plus the airline you’ll be travelling with.
  • Port of arrival (one of the four listed below).
  • Various relevant personal info.

Notice that the Centres for Disease Control indicate that you will need a health certificate issued by your government, and countersigned by a particular official. No? They don’t mention the countersigning? It turns out – much to my surprise – that you will need to travel to a specified office for a countersigning by a government official. Factor that into your plans.

At this point in the process, our animal shipping company was responsible for the health certificate paperwork reaching my usual veterinarian (the paperwork is from DEFRA). If you can afford to hire someone to see to the entire process, do it. But if you need to save that money, like I did, read on.

The birds’ health certificate must indicate amongst other things that the birds have never visited a country or region infected with avian influenza, as listed on; nor will they be able to ship through one of these places even temporarily.

There are just three ports of entry for bird imports, as advised by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

  • New York, NY (718) 553-3570
  • Miami, FL (305) 526-2926
  • Los Angeles, CA (310) 725-1970

Parrotlet in airline carrier.


Forty-eight hours before arrival, the owner must call the Fish and Wildlife Service and let them know about the import. I was in contact with a few government officials at JFK, as well, whom I regularly updated with flight information, etc. It was important to make sure that a certified government veterinarian was going to be present at the time of their arrival.

Also very important here was ensuring a good arrival time. The truck responsible for moving the birds to the quarantine centre departs around 12:00pm, and so they needed to arrive before then in good time to be cleared. Lesson: The earlier the flight arrival, the better!

A few days before the actual shipping date, your airline will also contact you asking for ‘the okay to forward.’ You just have to give this so that they know someone is waiting for the birds.

Next, we can’t forget the export side of things:

Also at, you’ll need the CITES export form. Fill that out, send it off with the appropriate fee, and you’re good.

If your pet falls on the CITES I list, there will be more paperwork still, and I’m afraid I don’t know how to advise on that one. Calling your local government would be the best bet. Luckily, my birds were both CITES II, which is relatively more relaxed in terms of requirements (on both sides). It is said to be much, much more difficult to import CITES I birds.

Finally, fast forward to the big day.

You have all the paperwork with you to send with them (and photocopied for reference), and so you take the birds to the airport. They will need to be shipped in IATA-approved carriers provided by your shipping company, with fresh fruit and plenty of food.

Upon arrival in the U.S., pet birds will need to be collected and cleared through customs. Unfortunately, this can be very difficult for those of us who don’t live near one of those designated ports. After talking to New York, we ended up hiring a customs broker who cleared the birds through customs and put them on the truck that takes them into quarantine. He also ensured that the government knew these were personal pets, and not me running a business.


Definitely pets.


After being unloaded, any birds will be checked by a U.S. veterinarian (for a fee), and then put into isolets. The cost of this seems extreme, as it runs $450 per bird, in an individual isolet, for 30 days. Parrots or finches who can live together safely can potentially share one, however. As it turns out, the isolets are state-of-the-art, beautiful enclosures with branches, toys, fresh food, and more. They have unique filtered air systems that function even during cage cleaning, so no bird ever shares the same air – but they can see each other, which is a comfort to most parrots. Human attention is given where possible, and a radio is always left playing softly.

After quarantine is up, your broker can also potentially arrange a convenient flight for the birds. I was going to do this, but the USDA vet wouldn’t let them fly due to the extreme weather we’ve been having – and for this I was glad. It was much safer to drive up and collect them myself.

Birds' Arrival 241

Senegal parrot soaks up the sun


As the end of your import journey approaches, ensure that you’ve done your research, and know the state requirements for pet parrots. Some states outlaw quaker (monk) parakeets, for instance, so check to make sure you don’t get in any trouble.

Throughout all of this, the government really seems to work with you, so long as they see you doing the same. I have probably bugged several of them half to death with my questions, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

Writing this now, I have my birds with me – and it is the BEST feeling. Importing them to join me here was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. But it is worth it. One bird playing on the desk, another preening on my knee. Life is good.


Music and Your Parrot

 March 14th, 2014
Posted By:
Sarah Stull
Senegal parrot playing.

Senegal parrot loves music.


One of the things I often get asked by friends and family is, ‘Doesn’t your bird hate your musical instrument?’ It is, after all, very loud. And it takes my attention away from them.

As a musician, I find that my parrots have come through necessity to relate to my music. I had to find a way to turn my own practise time (which is of vital importance to me) into a fun time for them, too. Otherwise I’d simply get no peace. Some of them – my Senegal and parrotlet – have even begun to mimic what I play.

At least one member of the flock hasn’t always loved the tones of my viola, though. Our neurotic cockatiel used to lose it when I’d go in to practice – she’d hiss, shriek, and generally throw a fit. We had to desensitise her pretty quickly.

This became a lesson in training in multiple ways. One, it was about desensitising her to something scary. But there was another training lesson for us in there, too, as we had to figure out ways around this problem for all our birds. Every one of them was different.


Cockatiel and viola.


We used the same method you can use to desensitise any parrot to any object.

First, we let her sit on us within about five feet of the instrument while we humans projected an air of calmness. We used her body language to gauge whether she was comfortable. Our cockatiel was capable of leaving, but she didn’t, so we’d reward her content body language with her most treasured treats (in this case, millet). These sessions would last maybe five minute a day, maximum. We probably stared out for a few seconds or so, gradually increasing the amount of time.

Next, when our cockatiel was comfortable with simply being near to my musical instrument, we moved on to me playing something in another room. My partner would quietly reward her for being calm, or playing with her toys.

Finally, I moved into the same room. I made a fool of myself then, playing and dancing – making it look like I was generally having the best time ever. Mishka grew to appreciate this. Another key aspect of her enjoyment was our canary’s enjoyment. If you’ve seen my intro post, you’ll know that our cockatiel loves our canary – although the feeling is not mutual. When she saw how the canary enjoyed singing along, our cockatiel was fast to join in. Parrots hate being left out. (Learning by example is a fantastic way to teach a bird something.)

Music is also an instinctive thing for birds – just look at songbirds like our canary. It’s how they attract and impress potential mates, signal their feelings (such as happiness or contentment), and in many cases have fun – like with the scream session.

Our Umbrella Cockatoo, Bobo, absolutely loves music time (once he got used to the sight of me with an instrument), and often makes up his own harmonies and tunes to anything playing in the background. This is a great hands-off enrichment opportunity.

Our cockatoo’s singing is a different example of the importance to music  to birds – Bobo instinctively knows to associate the word ‘la’ with many different notes and tones. I even have a video of him singing his theme-tune (the Imperial March from Star Wars). In it, he does some perfect harmonies. And while our other birds aren’t necessarily as creative, they appreciate shouting and dancing to the music in the house.

If you or someone in your family plays an instrument, how does your bird react? Did you need to condition your bird at first, or did they instinctively love the noise and joy that comes with music?