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I have a 1 year old African Grey congo male and I would like to teach him to free fly. Can you let me know how to do this or where to sign up to? His wings were cut when I got him a year ago and still not grown back but I read somewhere there if you pull out the old ones they will grow back fast. Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?

Answered by Lee McGuire:

Hello Maria. You ask several interesting questions. One could write pages and pages about each of your questions but I have tried to keep the answers short and to the point. Let's take your questions one by one and see what we can come up with. I've grouped the two first sentences and the last sentence together since they are very much related.

"I have a 1 year old African Grey Congo male and I would like to teach him to free fly. Can you let me know how to do this or where to sign up to?.....Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?"

Before we dig into your free fly question more, we need to be very clear on what you mean by free fly. Do you mean fly freely inside the home? Do you mean fly free outside at all times only returning for meals or sleep? Or, do you mean flying freely under specific circumstances where you are there to provide some supervision?

Parrots have wings. They fly. Right? Well it isn't quite that simple. Flying is not a trick,, it is a skill that is learned through shaping both in captivity and in the wild. In the wild, the environment provides the initial feedback on how to do it better. After each crash, after each ungainly landing that can include flat and bumpy, abrupt stops; a bird will adjust what he does the next time. As can be seen from the last sentence, flying involves not only flapping the wings but take-off and landing as well as learning how to position the wings in flight for optimum effect to stay aloft. To teach free flying in the outdoors requires a very skilled, and experienced, trainer who has a mentor to help them along. Even then, in most situations birds are trained indoors or in a netted enclosure before ever setting wing outside. No matter where, or if, you decide to fly your bird having a solid recall (that means coming to a specific location when signaled - whether it be an arm or a perch) is another skill that needs to have a very strong learning history before venturing outside.

Answers to each of the above questions asked in the first paragraph come with their own set of risks and rewards for both the caregiver and the parrot. It is also important to know if the parrot was fledged before its wings were clipped. That information can tell a person if the bird has already gained some experience flying for a period of time before being grounded with a wing clip. There are also other important decisions that need to be considered which can impact both the bird and the caregiver such as raptors, windmills and live electrical wires or transformers that are numerous free range.

Each caregiver has to decide the amount of time and effort they are willing to put into teaching the parrot the skills that it will need in each of the above free flying situations especially when starting with an older bird where the natural window of opportunity of learning when leaving the nest in the wild has passed. Can one parrot-proof the home so that it is safe for a flying parrot? Windows, doors, water in sinks and tubs are just a few hazards that we need to be aware of. Does one have the personal level of risk tolerance needed to fly outside where predators may attack and birds may well, and do, fly off? Some are lost forever and some are recovered. No matter the outcome, those times are always a very emotional rollercoaster experience for caregivers. Asking those questions now may well prevent heartache later on.

Rather than make the decision immediately, you might want to work on acquiring training skills first. The skills which we, as parrot caregivers, need to have in order to train any bird. First we have to understand how behavior works. The only course I recommend for that is Living and Learning with Parrots at (the Caregiver C). The reason I recommend that course is not simply because I teach it but I fully believe in the systematic way behavior is approached. Dr Susan Friedman had helped thousands of people the world over understand how parrots, and other animals, learn. For hands on experience, go to Steve Martin's Natural Encounters website and take the Caregivers Workshop. Another resource is Chris Shanks at Finally, find an experienced mentor who free flies and can guide you through the nuances if the choice is made to fly outside.

"His wings were cut when I got him a year ago and still not grown back but I read somewhere there if you pull out the old ones they will grow back fast."

Moving on to your second question, anytime now this grey should start molting out those clipped feathers and new ones will replace them. That is a natural occurrence with parrots. Old used feathers are molted and replaced with new ones.

Pulling a number of feathers can be very painful for the bird, especially flight feather and is not recommended. Think of how painful it is when someone grabs a hank of hair and yanks it out by the roots or a finger nail pulled off by accident. Both hurt and are painful. That is much what pulling out the remaining feather shafts would be like for your grey. On top of causing pain, it can also decrease the trust relationship been the bird and the caregiver as well as teach the bird to fear the caregiver. That's the very last thing that any of us want with companion birds. Trust is something that this bird will have learned after living with you over time. If only positive events and conditions surround the relationship between you and your grey, over time both sides have learned to trust one another.

Rather than run the risk of bankrupting the trust account that you have built up with this bird in the past year, one could use the time productively and start training this bird to recall on foot, to target, to perform simple tricks such as turn around, raise the wings fully and to station to a specific spot/ area. That strategy has a twofold purpose. It will teach you how to teach this bird using positive reinforcement and will teach the bird to learn from you. The overall effect will result in you making many deposits in the trust account you and you grey have while he grey gets to make many choices in his life. Choices are important since those individuals with the most choices are the most behaviorally healthy.

"Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?"

Another great question. Parrots, like humans, learn throughout their lives. If we humans hit a finger with a hammer, then we adjust how we hold the hammer or how we use the hammer to avoid hitting the finger in future when we find ourselves using a hammer again. The same strategy applies to parrots.

Like us, parrots tend to behave in ways that give them access to the most reinforcement. Those behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated more frequently. There you have the short answer to how behavior works. Parrots and humans don't ever stop learning. A 25 year old bird can learn to pick up a cup, dunk a basket ball or to come to a specific station when called as well as a youngster. At one year of age, that is what you have with your Congo African grey, a youngster, a learning machine, who has a lifetime to develop new skills. As I said above, flying is a skill not a trick and like all skills requires practice, practice and more practice in different areas to become proficient. As countless mothers have told their children over the years -- practice is key to developing a skill.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hello. I live in Cyprus and I have 10 non handfed rescue parrots in an outside aviary right next to our terrace of different species each with a mate of its own variety. I also have a hand fed 1 year old male african grey who is one of our house pets. He has mated with me but accepts treats from my son and husband without allowing them to touch him. He seems very happy, talks all day, is allowed out of his cage at his own will (spends most of his time on top of it doing acrobatics) comes on my shoulder for road trips or when I'm in the garden etc. When I put him downstairs with the other parrots when we go out for the day or to clean his area he comes to the part of it which is closest to the house and makes noises until I get him out - he has not been threatened in there he just seems to prefer our company.

I have not clicker trained him as he was given to me by someone and I had not done my research. However, he comes onto my hand when I tell him to step up, unless sometimes he is not interested and wants to stay where he is. He shows me affection but he nips quite hard sometimes, though I don't think its intentional. My husband and I are organic farmers so we work from home and so Loulou the grey is not alone. When we leave for holidays for one month our housekeeper looks after him and he seems to do as she tells him when I am not around, although when I'm here its only me he wants. I will try to clicker train him because I am concerned that if I pass away (I'm still 33) in the future I don't want him to be unworkable.

I have only one son 2 years old who is very good with animals and do not want more kids so I'm hoping I can instill in my son the love and care for Loulou for the future. I am being overly pessimistic I know but I like to plan ahead- way ahead! My question is - should I get another african grey (same/opp sex) or another parrot species for Loulou as a bird mate? I have time for her and all that, I'm just thinking ahead again and have read that it is easier for a parrot to accept another when at a young age than later on, although not sure if this is true. Our friends have a one year old rescue Umbrella Cockatoo and Loulou loves it when the former preens him, whenever I take him for a visit. And he always asks for preens from our dogs - puts his fluffed up head forward bent over in front of their nose, and then proceeds to gently nip them if they don't respond. Thanks for any suggestions.

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Maria,

Thank you for writing the World Parrot Trust about your 1 year old African Grey, Loulou. You are doing so many things right with him and it's great to hear from someone who thinks into the future as you do. It's wonderful that you and your family have 10 rescued parrots, too, and that you provide an outdoor aviary for them with others of their kind. Thank you for your daily care of parrots in need. This is very meaningful.

You give a great description of Loulou and I can see him in my mind quite clearly. Even at only 1 year old, he shows some behaviors common in captive African Grey: one person favoritism the most predominant potential "problem" behavior. Now, while he's young, please begin to form your relationship with Loulou so that he considers you a Mom, flock member, friend, and buddy, but NOT his mate. This happens through diversity of engagements, and diversity is key for a high-caliber captive life. You can always be his main favorite, but he needs to receive reinforcement that's meaningful to him from other people, too.

This starts when you are in the same room so you can praise him, too, when he takes treats from and interacts with others, and then you'll step further away so the secondary people deliver more and more of the reinforcement and interaction. You increase your distance from Loulou as he increases his willingness to interact with (whistle with, bob/dance with and take treats from) others. All members of the household are flock members and it's important for Loulou to understand first through your actions that you are pleased when he takes treats from and makes flock noises with others, climbs into his cage when asked by others, and plays independently. Gradually, when you notice that he's getting the appropriate amounts of reinforcement from others and is interacting with them, you can leave the room and know that Loulou is having a good time. These skills will grow as everyone practices them.

You ask about getting another African Grey parrot as a potential friend for Loulou. I think, given your experience with rescue and Loulou's willingness to be preened by a cockatoo and your dogs, another African Grey will come in to your lives if and when that is what's supposed to happen. You probably won't need to look for one. One will find you and Loulou. If this happens (it may not), the two Greys – regardless of their sexes -- may develop a deeply meaningful relationship, a casual friendship, lasting animosity, or anything in between. Yes, it seems that older parrots who lose their mates choose younger replacements, but that could also be younger parrots choosing more experienced friends. In general, younger captive parrots are more accepting of change than many older captives, but in my experience, an easy-going personality trumps age every time. Parrots proficient with change are those who are physically adept – they stand on a variety of surfaces, flap their wings, climb, bounce, fly, land, and walk like athletes because they are athletic and live in spaces provisioned for athleticism.

You also mention clicker training. Yes, clicker training can yield effective training rewards mainly because 1) the person clicker training gives undivided attention to the parrot, therefore, 2) the rewards (treats and clicks) are delivered immediately (contiguously). In other words, clicker training works because people are attentive and the parrots get instantaneous rewards for appropriate behavior. Certainly clicker training can enhance interaction and is an effective learning tool: it helps build relationships that are based on undivided attention and positive reinforcement.

Whether you use a clicker or not, the key elements of successful training remain unchanged: undivided attention by a trainer who notices every nuance of body language and who consistently delivers continuous reinforcement and that only for desired behaviors. There are many ways to engage in positive reinforcement training; clicker training is one, but multitudes of meaningful and positive relationships develop without clicker training, too.

I recommend that you and Loulou get him comfortable stepping up on a few different surfaces. Sure, he might always step up on your hand for his whole life, but many Greys I've known are more willing to step onto the rim of their food bowl, for instance, or on to a basket or stick, for less-favored persons. Stepping onto inanimate objects is less stressful for parrots than stepping onto a non-favored hand, plus it offers a great degree of success for people, so it's doubly rewarding. It will be quite easy for you to train Loulou to step onto any or all of these types of objects, starting with his food bowl.

For this lesson, I recommend that you ask him to step onto his food bowl and he probably will as soon as you ask. Once he's situated, carry him while he's perched on his bowl to his play gym, aviary, play baskets or other places where he's allowed to go (not your shoulder). Ask him to step off, then practice a little if that feels right to both of you. I'm sure you already know not to rush Loulou or any parrots during this learning process – they learn behaviors that benefit captive lives at their own individual paces. Behaviors that increase their chances of survival in the wild are probably learned more quickly, but behaviors that their wild parents, grandparents and wild cousins never need to learn require very clear instructions from us as we carefully observe their novel understanding and appreciate their industry.

Because you and your husband are organic farmers, you probably have some good, well-enriched surfaces available where Loulou can hang out. So next, I recommend that you add a nice basket or two (or three) to places where Loulou goes; baskets that function like mini-playgyms. Find some with nice flat bottoms and a good sturdy handle, then put a flat rock in the bottom to weight the basket which is then covered with papers for easy clean-up. My parrots perch on these baskets, play on them, dig in them, and the shy non-hand-tame ones get carried here and there while perched on them, or fly to them when they choose to do so. When my husband and I travel, our caregivers use baskets and food bowls for conveyances for many parrots.

Put these baskets in various places where Loulou will see them and draw his attention to them. Chances are, he'll be really interested in them and want to explore them which you should facilitate. Once he knows they are his, you can offer these basket handles to Loulou when it's time for him to come out of his cage. When he's fluent with this skill, others can and should do the same.

These baskets that function as conveyances and mini-gyms are also useful tools that provide variety to parrots who like to sit on their favored person's shoulder, an activity that needs to be monitored. So the third thing I'm going to recommend is for you to prioritize getting Loulou comfortable in a variety of settings, baskets included, that are not your shoulder. Limit should time. Many parrots who spend the majority of their free time on their favored-person's shoulder tend to get entrenched in that position, and so excessive shoulder time works against variety. You may want to think of the amount of time that Loulou is interacting with people and be sure that only about 30 – 40% or even less of that time is on your shoulder.

Just as he eventually allows interaction with your caregiver during your annual holiday, he can and will learn to consent to interaction from others while you are in the same room or in adjacent rooms, but that takes work and dedication on the parts of others, not you. It's so rewarding, though, that your family and friends will have no trouble learning how to interact like friendly flock members with Loulou. You will set up the programs for your husband and friends and eventually for your son when he's older, but the caliber of relationship they have with Loulou will depend on their consistent efforts and how rewarding the experiences are for them, as well as for Loulou.

Captive parrots who have a positive response to lots of variety and who are physically adept fliers/athletes are most proficient at navigating whatever life brings, and super-engaging companions, so set Loulou up for his life-long success and the entire family/flock is sure to enjoy the experience.

Regarding the interaction between Loulou and your dogs. This may be difficult to understand, but it’s not a good idea to have your parrot and dogs interacting. There are too many horrible true stories about dogs who suddenly lunge at parrots. We cannot ignore these sad cases, many of which happen in surprise, even with dogs and parrots who are “friends.”

In any physical conflict between parrots and dogs, the odds can never be even. The odds are always that parrots run the risk of injury or death.

Loulou has the most to lose. Even the best people cannot control all possible scenarios between dogs and parrots. In cases of dog-to-parrot aggression, the odds are stacked against parrots and for this reason I recommend that dogs and parrots do not interact.

Maria, thank you again for the opportunity to participate in the wonderful relationship you already have with Loulou. I hope you find these suggestions helpful and I wish you and your family and flock all the best.

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm
Santa Barbara CA

filed under: Behaviour and Training

I have a 20 week old Blue and Gold Macaw called Tyson who is coming along nicely with training. I work during the day and when I come home from work he runs around the cage frantically until I get him out. I have a few chores to do before I can let him out each day so I make him wait. Also on the weekends when I'm home all day he runs around frantically for the first hour if he can see me (his cage is in the kitchen/dining) Will this behaviour settle? He usually gets at least two hours a day out of his cage in the later afternoons/early night. I have taught him to fly to me on command, only problem is when is he out he flies to me constantly. Will he ever stay on his cage or play stand and play with his toys?? He has numerous toys, foraging material and sticks to chew but when he's out I am flavour of the month. This gets difficult as I need to get dinner etc.
Thanks, Sue

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Sue,

Thanks for your questions about Tyson's behavior. My experience tells me the behavior you describe is not uncommon for birds in your situation, and these behaviors are just a few of the reasons parrots make challenging animals to share a home with. Wild macaws spend their lives with a companion by their sides. They are almost never alone in the wild. So, it makes perfect sense that a parrot in a home would do everything it can to be with you, his companion, when you come home. His behavior of running around the cage before you let him out is very likely a behavior that started out of his frustration and was reinforced by the action of you taking him out of the cage.

A behavior that is repeated has quite likely been reinforced in the past. The very act of letting Tyson out of the cage when he is pacing is likely to increase the pacing behavior. The goal now is to replace the pacing behavior with sitting on the perch behavior. If you encourage Tyson to climb up to the perch and reinforce that behavior with a treat, or even opening the door to let him out of the cage, it is likely that he will come to understand that he needs to be on the perch before you will let him out of the cage. You can also gradually extend the amount of time before you let him out of the cage so he will learn to sit on the perch a bit longer when you are home.

You asked if he will ever stay on his play stand instead of flying to you. The answer is; he will stay on his play stand when it is more reinforcing than flying to you. As yourself, "why should Tyson stay on the play stand?" What's in it for him? If being with you is more desirable to Tyson than staying on the play stand, why should he stay on the stand? Birds don't do things because they are "supposed to." They do things that the want to do. So, how do you arrange the environment so that Tyson would prefer to stay on the perch? You may be able to make it more appealing to him with toys and other enrichment items. Or, you can use treats of various types to reinforce the behavior of sitting on the perch. If he likes the treats, you can teach him that sitting on the perch a bit longer between treats will earn him a larger or more desirable reward. That variable schedule of reinforcement is similar to what I mentioned above with the pacing behavior.

Behavior is a product of consequences. When we see a behavior occur in a predictable or repeated manner, we know there is something reinforcing that behavior. We usually only need to look into the recent past to see that our actions have reinforced the unwanted behavior we are experiencing. I often hear people complain about biting, screaming, pacing and many other behaviors that they see in their birds. It is most likely that these problems are repeated because the person has reinforced the behaviors with something as simple as giving the bird some attention. Our goal should always be to replace unwanted behavior with more desirable behavior instead of trying to stop the unwanted behavior. To try and stop behavior is to try to punish the behavior, and punishment is a poor training tool when compared to positive reinforcement. We always want to stay in the positive reinforcement behavior change system to give our birds the best welfare and most enjoyable life.

I hope that helps.


Steve Martin
President, Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi we have a male blue fronted amazon parrot around 2 years old, we have had him since 20 weeks old bought from a pet shop near us. There are a few of his behaviours that we just cant correct; after reading various parrot training books etc everyone says different things. He has always had a very close bond with my partner, we have never been able to touch him until a few months ago he now occasionally lets my partner scratch his beak + neck, the main behaviour we cannot seem to correct is screaming. Although I understand it is a natural behaviour and parrots do scream, we knew that before we got him but he screams a lot of the time. I myself talk to him a lot and he gets a lot of attention, although I admit we do not regularly let him out of the cage because of the second problem... biting on numerous occasions when my partner attempts to interact with him he will grab his finger with his foot and bite it. Almost like he's playing, but very hard, so when he is out of his cage he bites when we try to get him back in. We would love to have him out all the time otherwise... also when we bought him he was in a cage with another blue fronted amazon assumed to be his sister/brother, as a question could his behaviour relate to wanting company from another bird? If so would you recommend to try another bird after so long?
Thanks, Becky

Answered by Hillary Hankey:

Hello Becky,

It sounds like you have a lot going on with your young Blue Fronted Amazon, and I applaud your efforts for seeking out quality information. As you have observed, each behavior challenge doesn't exist in a vacuum, but rather, they are often all intertwined. Almost always there is one particular behavior that takes priority over the others to address; in this case you mentioned your Amazon's screaming. While screaming is a natural behavior as you noted, we can influence the intensity, frequency and duration by managing our own behavior in response to our parrot's calling. This behavior easily creeps into the realm of excessiveness because it is 1) natural for the parrot and thus readily performed and 2) annoying and easy for us to reinforce inadvertently.

Many times we are given the advice to ignore all screaming without any qualification of what exactly "ignoring" looks like, and in application, ignoring means different things to each of us. Even if we could ignore the behavior all of the time, that is only half of the equation to providing a sustainable solution. So first, we need to find the triggers that are likely to set that stage for you bird to start screaming. These could be hearing a familiar car pull up, talking on the phone, leaving the room, playing the tv or radio, to name a few common ones. Once we have identified those likely precursors that are specific to your bird's screaming, then we should identify specifically what we want him to do instead. What is he good at? Does he talk? Play with certain toys? Know how to forage for goodies in destroyable, safe items like paper bags filled with shredded paper? These are all things that he can do instead of scream that are rewarding for him. For those triggers that we can predict, like playing the tv, we can keep him busy with some favorite foraging items before we turn it on. As he stays busy, we can continue to walk over to the cage and drop a treat or lavish praise for what a wonderful boy he is.

For those events that we can't always predict, we can give him other tools to get our attention. As an example, we can teach him that making pleasant noises and talking produces our happy faces into the room, treats in the bowl, lots of talking from us, praise, and other things that he might value. If he starts to scream, we immediately leave the room and stay out until he quiets or makes a desirable sound. After a few repetitions, he should start to get a hang of the differentiation. One of the more difficult parts is staying consistent. This is why keeping him occupied with many wonderful forms of enrichment is so important... a busy beak is one that isn't focused on making all that noise!

With regard to biting, whether it's occurring during playing or other types of interactions, it's important to understand that this is a type of communication that is on the extreme side and can lead to more intense biting if ignored. When your partner is playing with him and these occur, he should be aware of your bird's body language before the biting occurs and back off and let the bird calm down for a minute or two. Are there pinned eyes, flared neck or tail feathers or an open beak? If your parrot doesn't give off much warning during these times, but the general conditions are the same, then it's best to avoid those conditions to make sure to prevent the biting. Returning to the cage can be a very common scenario for bites to occur. This is because he gets so much social stimulation and enrichment from being outside and the balance of stimulation in the cage is a little off. Try making sure his toys are regularly rotated and offering him so new ones every few days to make that cage more stimulating. And as you become more comfortable with him and learn more about his body language indicating a bite and how to prevent it, he might even get more out-time, which will help him feel more satiated with his social interactions. And finally, if your Blue Front has a favorite treat, like a whole nut in the shell, try offering him that when he steps off your hand into the cage to reinforce that behavior of returning to the cage. He will really start to look forward to it, especially if that is a rare treat that he doesn't get too often.

Individual birds have different thresholds for how they feel about being touched and scratched. It's wonderful that you both have been moving slowly and carefully with his comfort level. As long as you keep allowing his body language to show you his acceptance of your advances and choose your timing carefully, it sounds like you will continue on this path. And though it is hard to know how he would react with another bird, what we do know is that many parrots do well both as single birds and in multiple bird homes, and many birds also experience behavior problems in both types. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are lonely; they act the way that do based off of the cues they receive from us, whether we realize what cues we give them or not. As you have found out, many people have many different ideas how to manage those cues. It can get confusing to you and damaging to your bird to try the chef salad approach of "a little bit of everything." You did an excellent job of seeking out information from a well-supported and learned organization. You are off to a good start already!

Hillary Hankey
Learning Parrots
Avian Behavior International LLC

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi there, I have a parrotlet called Fynn and I've had him about a year now from when he was a chick (parent-reared, if that helps). I know parrotlets are sometimes territorial and the main thing to do is to teach them to step up. This does not work with him. He bites hard and lunges if I come close to his cage, and I always get bitten getting him out. He won't step up onto a twig either. But when he's in a different room he's a different bird- he loves kisses and stays with me (despite not being clipped- I understand this makes him harder to train as well but he's beautiful when he flies). This problem has got worse now I have moved to Uni with him, and his cage is in my bedroom. Now he won't have anything to do with me and I can't really take him into a different room. Please could you let me know if there are any ways of getting him to be less aggressive about his cage?
>Thanks so much smile

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hi Lauren,

Cory here from Susan Friedman’s ParrotBAS teaching team! Thank you for coming to us with your question. The great news is that biting doesn’t have to be a necessary part of living with a parrot. With careful attention to Fynn’s body language, thoughtful arrangement of his environment, and a positive reinforcement teaching plan, the biting can be reduced and Fynn can be taught a behavior you would like him to do instead of the biting.

It is great that you described the undesired behavior in observable terms (biting when asked to step up in cage), because this is the first step towards predicting and changing it! Biting is something that Fynn does which we can see. Labels such as “territorial” do not describe what Fynn is doing, but rather what we think Fynn is being. Since behavior is defined as something that an animal does which can be observed, given certain conditions, it is best to focus on specific behaviors that we want to see more of - just like you did. We can’t teach “friendly”, it's just a label, but we can teach Fynn to approach hands and step up, or even fly to you on cue, all of which are specific behaviors.

All repeated behaviors, including biting, serve a function, a purpose, for Fynn or he wouldn't keep doing them! Animals, including people, choose behaviors to either avoid something undesirable to them, or to gain something they value. The key to understanding what function the biting behavior serves is to look into the immediate outcome, the change the behavior causes in the environment. The event that happens right before the behaviors occurs, called the antecedent, is a signal or cue to the bird about what to do right now to produce the outcome. Identifying the antecedent helps us predict when the behavior will occur. The event that immediately follows the behavior (called the consequence) determines whether the behavior will increase or decrease in the future. When the antecedent (A) happens, the animal can do the behavior (B), in order to gain or avoid the consequence (C). With the information that you have given me, I suspect that in this case it could be that when you reach your hand into Fynn’s cage (A), Fynn bites (B), in order to remove your hand (C). In other words, it seems like Fynn is biting in order to stop your approach and to create distance between you and his cage.

So, how do we teach Fynn to enjoy having you in close proximity to the cage? Approaching Fynn’s cage will become a signal that good things will happen if you continuously pair yourself with positive reinforcers such as food, and this means that your presence itself will become reinforcing to Fynn. Each time you pair yourself with food you will be making a deposit in Fynn’s trust account and growing a positive balance, so you can do this several times throughout the day by walking up to Fynn’s cage and simply giving him a bite of his favourite food. The key to keeping the trust account from going bankrupt is to avoid any negative or forceful interactions with Fynn. Of course, since Fynn is flighted, he can fly away from anything aversive. Resist calling him names like stubborn, territorial or unfriendly. When that happens, it is good data for you that Fin is escaping your approach and so you need to change what you do and add more trust into the account.

While step up is a great management behavior to teach and it’s your ultimate goal with Fynn, it isn’t necessarily the first thing that you should teach him. A great stepping-stone towards the step up goal is to teach Fynn a behavior called targeting. Targeting is to touch his beak to an object like a chopstick. It sounds (and is!) simple, but it also extremely useful because of it’s versatility and many applications, one being that it can help you avoid being bitten while teaching the step up behavior! The great thing about targeting is that you can teach it to Fynn while he is in his cage so that he isn't pressured to come to your hand, your fingers stay safe and you can work at his pace to continue building trust.

Once he follows the target stick for a treat, you will be able to target him out of the cage. New behaviors like targeting can be shaped through reinforcing small approximations towards the final behavior goal. When you present the target stick to Fynn at first, be sure to hold it on as close as he remains relaxed. Then some approximations you can reinforce are: 1) Looking at the target stick, 2) Leaning towards the target stick, 3) Touching beak to target stick. Each step should earn him a food treat and should be repeated until he performs that step without hesitation. If he happens to be afraid of the target stick in the beginning, just introduce it gradually at his pace, pairing its presence with a food treat. Body language that could indicate that Fynn is uncomfortable with something could include things like feathers slick against his body and leaning away. Learning to recognize subtle changes in Fynn’s body language and respecting it is a great investment in having a good relationship with him!

Once Fynn is touching the target stick with his beak, you can then teach him to approach it from further away by gradually increasing the distance you hold it out at. You can also teach him to follow a moving target by first reinforce him following it for a step, then a few steps, and so on. To keep the positive reinforcement really effective when teaching new behaviors deliver a food treat every time he does the approximation correctly, and immediately (within a few seconds). A great thing that you can do to improve your timing is to use a word like “yes” as a bridge to mark the exact moment that Fynn does the correct behavior, and then follow it up with food each time.

When Fynn knows how to target, you will have a full trust account and it’s time to zero in on teaching him how to step up onto your hand. To start, you can use the target to move Fynn onto a designated perch in his cage and reinforce him for standing on it while you open the cage door. It’s important to continue to reinforce Fynn for having calm body language as you gradually move your hand closer to him. Here’s where the target comes in handy. You can use it to orient Fynn’s head upwards as you shape him to step onto your hand because he can’t hold his head up and bite you at the same time - they are behaviors that are incompatible with one another. Since Fynn already knows how to follow the target, he can follow the target onto your hand at his pace, and then you can fade the target so that it isn’t needed anymore. Or, you can target Fynn to the top of his cage or to a perch affixed to the inside of his door.

For more ideas, go to and read Susan's and Lisa's article called "Right On Target", under "Written Works." It is always best to focus on what we want the animal to do, since after all, animals are built to behave and we can take advantage of that to empower them to do desired behaviors. There are some wonderful resources available to learn more about this: Dr. Susan Friedman’s excellent articles can be found at, Natural Encounters also has some quality avian training articles at and some great parrot training videos by Barbarah Heideneich can be found through

I wish you the best of luck with training Fynn!

Cory Cordes
Animal Behavior Technologist

filed under: Behaviour and Training

My name is Filippo, I own a congo grey since 1998. When I bought him I was
9 YO, and I have always been the only one in the family to take care of
him. The parrot was bought from a good breeder in my area, and he has been
handfed. In the past I have ignored him a little, but since a couple of
year I have tried to interact more with him. He spends the winter in a
100x50x140h cm cage in our kitchen, while in summer I move him in a
200x400x200h aviary in my garden, but very close to the house. I want now
to solve some of his behavioral problems:

1- BITE: yes, like many ignored parrots, he bites quite hard, and often
makes me bleed. Even if this is probably the greatest problem, I am
managing to solve it on my own, little by little, not trying to reinforce
the behaviour, and I immediately stop to interact with him and put him back
in his cage as soon as he tries to bite. Things are really going better,
even if sometimes he still bites, the frequency is much much lower than it
used to be. I have to say that he has always been a little pinchy, even when
he was a baby.

2- MATING: When I pet him and I play with him, he soon develops a
mating-like behaviour, moving up and down his head rhythmically, opening a
little his wings and regurgitating a little bit of food sometimes. I think
that these are mating behaviours, don't you think so? I don't know if I
have to reinforce, ignore or avoid them, but I tend to watch at them
positively. What do you think?

3- POO: It seems quite silly, but one of the greatest problems that I find
when I leave him free in the house is that he poos absolutely everywhere:
on my books, on the couch, on the bed, even on my own clothes. As you can
imagine, this could be very annoying and prevent me from letting him out a
lot. Is there a way to teach him to poo just in his cage or on his tower?

4- FRIEND: How do you see the introduction of another parrot in the family?
Could be a positive model or I will spoil the relationship I have with my
grey? And in case, it's better to get another grey or another species will
be ok? my dream is to get a macaw.

Thank you for your answer


Behaviour and Training
Requestor Name:
Filippo Rivarossa

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Filippo! My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors at Natural Encounters, Inc. I’ve recently received the questions you submitted about your African grey, and I’d be happy to offer some input and advice. I’ll go ahead and tackle your four topics one by one below.

This is a very common thing that many parrot owners are faced with, and it sounds like it’s an issue that you are having some success dealing with. If you look at any behavior that an animal performs, it serves some function for them – it either gets them something that they want, or it gets them away from something that they want to avoid. Are you able to pinpoint certain places or situations in which your grey seems more likely to bite than others? All behavior is influenced by the environment at the time. Does he bite more around certain places, people, or objects? Looking for things in the environment that coincide with when biting happens can help you to start thinking about ways to set up the environment differently so that it is less likely that biting will occur.

Another important thing to be aware of are the variety of subtle body language cues that occur before your bird bites. There are a variety of small behaviors that your bird may display before biting – feather slicking down, movements becoming quicker, eyes pinning, etc – that are the bird’s way of saying that it doesn’t like something that’s happening at that moment, and your best bet is to respect those cues and take a step back. Learning to be sensitive to these cues will save you a lot of headache, and will help to make the bird feel more comfortable overall when it learns that it doesn’t need to bite in order to communicate to you what he does (or doesn’t) want.

Finally, if you can learn to read these body cues and begin to pinpoint the situations when biting might occur, you can ask yourself what you would rather have your bird do instead of biting at that moment. Any time we see a behavior that we don’t want to see repeated, we ask ourselves this question: instead of trying to stop this behavior, is there another behavior I can train the bird to do instead? For example, if a bird is biting when I bring my hand into his cage to step him up, I might decide to train the bird to step onto a perch near the door when I open it, and then to lift up his foot in order to tell me that he wants to step up in order to earn a treat. Most problems behavior, biting included, can be dealt with very successfully in this manner.

From the behaviors that you describe, I would guess that these are indeed behaviors that are associated with a bird that is closely bonded to you. Whether or not these are a good thing or a bad thing is up to the bird’s owner. Like you, I tend to think that it’s perfectly fine for a bird to display these behaviors for its human “mate.” Where you might run into trouble is if you want your bird to be able to spend time or otherwise interact with other people. Birds that are closely bonded to one person, much like a bonded bird in the wild, may take to threatening or even attacking others that encroach on their space or territory. Also, encouraging these breeding behaviors by pairing them with other things your bird might like (treats, attention, praise, toys, head scratches, etc) will likely increase the frequency of these behaviors in the future, so it’s just something to be mindful of.

This can be huge challenge for companion parrot owners to deal with, but it is something that you can work on through training. Just like when we talked about biting, paying attention to body language is going to be very important. Before your bird poops, you may notice that there are a number of different signals that he displays beforehand – crouching down, loosening of the body feathers, a lifting of the tail, and leaning back on the perch are common things many birds do before relieving themselves. Learning these cues with be vital to successfully training your bird to poop on command. The other important thing for you to look at is to try to get a general idea for how often your bird poops. A smaller bird such as a grey will go to the bathroom more frequently than a larger bird like a macaw, so it may be as frequently as a few times per hour.

Here’s where the training comes in. First, identify where it is that you want the bird to go to the bathroom (in the cage, over some newspaper, on a particular towel, etc). Second, decide what you want your cue to be for the bird to poop. For example, you might say the phrase “go poop” or “go potty,” though it can be anything you decide. Next, when your bird is out and you see a sign that it looks like your bird is about to poop, ask him to step onto the hand, take him over to the place where you want him to go to the bathroom, say the cue that you want him to learn, let him poop, then follow that up with reinforcement that your bird really likes (praise, a treat, etc). Learning how often your bird tends to go to the bathroom will let you know roughly how often you need to be ready to follow the steps above, and following it up with a treat each time he poops after your cue – and never when you haven’t given the cue – will teach him what your cue means and why it is important.

The key to success here is going to be patience, consistency, commitment, and more patience. The more often you can follow this plan, the faster the bird will learn. Keep in mind that your bird will likely continue to go to the bathroom at times and in places that you don’t like, but by following the above plan these incidents will become far less frequent, and the interaction that your bird will get during this training will only help to strengthen your already strong relationship.

The choice to add another bird to a one-bird family can be a difficult one, so it is great to hear that you are seeking advice before going ahead with it. It is possible that adding another parrot to the house could be a very positive addition to your grey’s life. At the same time, another bird may very likely be perceived as a threat to your bird, and something that he might try to harm. In either case, it is something that will very likely affect your relationship with your grey. Have you had the opportunity to see how your bird reacts around other companion parrots before? If so, this might give you an idea of how things might go with another bird around.

As for the question of what birds make good mates, many people decide to get birds of the same species as mates for their birds, though others may have birds of different breeds that become very closely bonded to each other. I would be cautious of trying to pair your bird up with something like a large macaw. In addition to the many challenges associated with having one of these large birds on their own, it may be very hazardous to have your much smaller grey interacting with a macaw, as their difference in size could make it very easy for the macaw to harm or even kill your grey if they got into a fight.

If you do decide to get another bird, the most important thing is to be very cautious and responsible in the way in which they are introduced. The two birds should have separate enclosures, and you can see how their behavior changes when these cages are kept closer or farther apart. If both birds are out of their cages, it should only be at a time when you are able to monitor them both closely, and be able to intervene immediately if a problem arises. Down the road it may be possible that the birds might be able to spend more time together, even time alone, but this should only be after you’ve seen that there is an extensive history of positive interactions between the two, and even then you need to recognize that there will always be the potential for negative interactions to occur. Just asking us these questions tells us that you are a caring and responsible bird owner, so taking it slow and always being aware and attentive are things that I’m sure will come very easily to you.

Thank you again for sharing your questions and challenges with us. I hope that the information that I have included here has been helpful, and please feel free to follow up with us again as more questions come up. Best of luck to both you and your bird!

Chris Jenkins
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

I have an african grey parrot. His name is Gago. He is living with us now more than years. He speaks like a human being. He has vocabulary of over 100 words. He is very clever. Gago likes or loves my wife and he never bites my wife but he bites me when I want to put him in his cage or to take to other place in our home. Sometimes he bites me without giving any sign. I understand that he doesn't like me. How can I change his attitude to me? Thank you for your help.

Answered by Hillary Hankey:

Hello Mehmet, Sounds like you have a very intelligent parrot in your house. It’s never easy to be in a love triangle involving a bird, no matter what end you are working from. Good for you for seeking quality information on this behavior challenge. With a basic understanding of how behavior works and using a powerful tool in positive reinforcement, we can focus on a few key areas that will help you reduce the biting and build a better relationship with Gago.

Preventing the bite

Avoiding situations where Gago has bitten in the past or is more likely to bite is one of the most important steps we can take to improving your relationship with Gago. On the one hand, we want to keep him from rehearsing the biting behavior. Any behavior that is performed over and over again, whether it’s driving a car, showing off a card trick, or, as in this case, biting, is going to come more fluent and more efficient, which in this case, is not something we’d like to see happen! We don’t want that behavior becoming stronger, longer, faster, and more intense.

Additionally, when a parrot bites, it means we have put him in a situation where he feels that is his most effective – if not his only way - of getting his point across. A parrot usually gives signs through body language that he is uncomfortable or stressed before he bites. You noticed that Gago doesn’t always give a sign before he bites; good for you for looking for those signs! If in the past we have ignored those body language signals and continue interacting with the bird in the same manner, he will learn that the only behavior that gets his point across is biting. When the biting becomes so swift, we can look at two areas to help us prevent the bite from happening:

1. Identify environmental conditions that have usually preceded the bite. For instance, stepping the parrot up off of a favored person, putting our hand in front of his abdomen to step him up from a perch, and, as you mentioned, putting the bird back in the cage or taking him to an unfamiliar room are all very common conditions that we can reliably use to predict a bite.

Once we have identified the conditions, we can effectively avoid them! If he bites when you put him back in his cage, than we can have the person who has a stronger relationship with him be the one to do that until you are able to maintain a healthy relationship with him.  If being taken in to a strange room or being placed on an unusual perch has historically brought about a bite, then these too can be avoided.

2.  Look for the tiniest of signs that Gago might bite. These might include a tightening of feathers against the body, lowering his head, gripping his toes tighter on his perch, shifting his body weight in the opposite direction, taking a step away, even possibly just turning his eyes away from you… these are all tiny signs you might notice would precede a bite. Once you have identified these and see them while you are interacting with Gago, then you can stop what you are doing, and immediately return to the last place he was comfortable. This strategy will teach him that he can get across the point that he is uncomfortable without having to bite, allowing him to use less body language to get the same point across.

Become the bearer of all things good

In addition to avoiding situations that Gago would be most likely to bite, we can at the same time start increasing the value of having you close by Gago. We can remove all of Gago’s most favorite goodies, such as nuts, sunflower seeds, grapes, banana, and so on, from his food bowl and have them delivered to him by only you. Much like a child getting his dessert only after he has eaten his dinner, we are still allowing Gago to have his full diet, just arranging Gago’s personal favorite food items with teaching interactions so that he associates these highly enticing treats with activities he has previously found less desirable. You can either feed this to him by hand through the cage bars or on a perch, one goodie at a time. If Gago has a history of biting your fingers when you try to handfeed him, you can try using spoon to offer the treat or simply drop in his food cup. The idea is that once Gago starts to realize that every time he sees you, he gets something really yummy out of it, he will start looking forward to your presence.

Utilize a positive reinforcement program to build on his good behavior

Once Gago has started to associate your presence with his most favorite goodies, we can go about using positive reinforcement to give him information about what we want him to do in situations where he previously would have bitten. With positive reinforcement, we give the parrot something he likes, such as a food treat, scratch on the head, favored toy and so on, when he performs a behavior we want to see continue or increase. For instance, if there are certain scenarios where he will step on to your hand without biting, then we can immediately offer him a treat for doing so. It’s important to deliver that goodie promptly so that he associates it with the behavior we want. In this case, because he loves your wife so much, it could be that in order to have the opportunity to be with her, he steps up on to your hand. (There is a fabulous article about this written by Dr. Susan Friedman’s daughter here:

Something that might help us when we think of behavior and start to learn about positive reinforcement is analyzing the relative value certain activities might have for the bird. For instance, sitting with your wife sounds like it is a very high value activity for Gago. So could be sitting on a high perch with a panoramic view of the household, away from reaching hands and strange objects. On the other hand, walking in to a strange room or going back in to his cage, away his favorite person and away from the hub of socialization and enrichment, would have a significantly lower value to the bird.

When moving from a high value activity to one of lower value, we can use positive reinforcement to balance the value the bird might find from each activity.  Let’s take the example of Gago going back into his cage, a common environmental condition of parrots to bite. If every time your wife puts him back in his cage, he gets a lovely nut, the value of stepping on to that cage perch will increase. It might help to increase the overall value of being in the cage by making sure it is filled with lots of enriching toys, perhaps rotating the toys every few days so the environment stays fresh.

For further information about working with parrots through positive reinforcement is Barbara Heidenreich at She has a terrific magazine called “Good Bird!” and many articles and DVDs. Additionally, for more information about how understanding behavior can help us with our birds, you can visit Dr. Susan Friedman’s site and look for her articles under “Written Works.”

With a keen eye like you have demonstrated and armed with some information, I have no doubt you and Gago will be on the road to a better relationship. It takes patience and you can keep the sessions short and happy, and you will each come away feeling more empowered!

Hillary Hankey

filed under: Behaviour and Training

My 1 year old Congo African Grey (Bruno) loves to play. I often see him swinging on a rope upside down, making funny noises and pretending to attack toys hanging from the cage ceiling (or rather "defending" himself from the toys that are trying to "attack" him). When he is on the top of his cage, he loves to throw objects (like a small rubber ball) into the air, then run and pick it up, then throw again, run and pick it up and throw again and again.

My question is: is this type of active physical play normally seen in wild nature?

I know that parrots in the wild engage in play fights or flights to practice predator evasion. but that is more like a social play. Do wild African Greys play the same way as Bruno does? I heard an opinion that unless the bird is very well fed, it shouldn't be expending energy engaging in play like that. Every bit of stored energy should be used to obtain food, shelter and in other survival activities. Is that true?

Thank you, Lena

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

Dear Lena, First of all, anytime a parrot exhibits play-like behavior, that's a very good sign indeed as it indicates that the bird is feeling good about life. After all, depressed, malnourished, or sick birds are really unlikely to be inspired to play.

Wild parrots, especially young birds in their first few years, are especially likely to exhibit behaviors which for us look like play. To the best of my knowledge, no one has spent enough time around wild Grey Parrots to have a really clear sense for how common this is in birds of various ages. Hopefully in the coming years, that will change and we'll get more of this kind of detailed information about their lives in the wild.

Very few wild animals are on such a tight energy budget such that expending some energy on play behavior would be of concern. Parrots in particular tend to feed on super abundant and very rich food. For example, one of the Grey's favorite fruits in the wild contains about 50% fat, so some of their preferred food items are extremely rich. Generally wild parrots feed a short period in the morning, and then spend most of the day resting, and then feed again in the mid-late afternoon. They have a lot of free time and should have ample energy for play should they be so inclined.

In any event, the more your bird spends time in play mode, the better. And the more different kinds of play you can introduce him to now while he's willing to try new things, the more likely he'll retain some of these playful, healthy activities later in life.

Good luck!


filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi Jim, I have three budgies. One is a female, six years or older. I adopted her a year ago. She will step up, and take treats from my hand. The second is a male, from the pet store, he is under one year of age. He steps up, will eat from my hand. The third was adopted, he was caught by a cat and had spent an undetermined time in the wild, I have had him for a few weeks. He is very timid and scared. They are in separate cages at the that the correct thing to do until I have formed a bond with them? I need advice on how to proceed with handling/taming them. (I have not clipped their wings) I would like to be able to let them have time outside the cages. My house unfortunately is very 'open plan' with few doors, so it is difficult to find a safe, smaller area to work with them. I have been going very slowly with trying to tame them, and would like advice on how to deal with three birds at once.

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day, Thanks for getting in touch with WPT with your question. Perhaps the first mindset to establish in achieving your long-term goal of building a trusting relationship with your third Budgie is that you can successfully build that relationship in the short-term whilst he is still inside his cage. As you are already aware, once he is out and about with the other two, arranging your environment so that you have opportunities to shape a positively reinforced association with you would be a real challenge. With a bunch of impeding variables that would be difficult, if not impossible, to control in an out of cage environment, let’s focus on what can be achieved while he is still in his cage.

Re-shape your goal set and focus on opportunities for you to put in place the following strategy…
First steps in developing a trusting relationship for you and this Budgie will be achieved by dedicating multiple times during the day when you can sit near his cage and allow him the time to observe you, become comfortable in your presence, and establish a reduced sense of threat from your presence in his environment.

This process is essentially allowing him to `gradually desensitize’ to you. To achieve this, gradually decrease the distance you are sitting from him when you observe that he is becoming more comfortable with you. This distance criterion is gradually shortened through observation of `calm’ indicators from his body language. Comfortable perching position, sitting on one foot, relaxed feathering, preening, feeding, drinking, vocalizing, playing with enrichment items, perching closer to you than moving away. These are all indicators that you can move closer and allow another period of time for him to establish comfort at that new distance.

As an already experienced and savvy Budgie owner, you will no doubt be well equipped to observe him and know when to raise your criteria for closer interaction. Combined with this, set his cage up so that there is a food bowl in a location that enables you to drop in a highly valued food treat as you walk past without having to put a hand in the enclosure itself. Each time you walk past his cage, drop a treat in there for him to hopefully start pairing the presence of you and your hand with the delivery of something of value to him.

Once your Budgie is observably comfortable with you sitting near his cage, start looking for opportunities to deliver those bowl treats for any slight movements towards you. From there the criteria can be raised to offering the food treat between the cage bars. A millet spray is a great reward for this and enables you to position your hand further away initially bolding the millet at the base and the seed head through the bars. If that criteria is achieved you can consider taking the next step and opening the door to deliver access to the millet spray by hand.

To improve your chances of success and to increase his potential motivation to move towards accessing a millet spray or seeds dropped in a bowl, make sure that you present these reinforcement opportunities at times prior to his normal feeding routine. If he has a full belly from his daily free feed then he will be less likely to be motivated to interact with you to receive the same thing that is on offer without the mental hoops to jump through.

Always assess his comfort and level of trust in you before raising your criteria. Sometimes people will suggest that this process is a case of two steps forward and one step back. I disagree. If you work sensitively with your Budgie you won’t be taking backward steps – just moving forward and building behavioural momentum towards your goal of having a trusting relationship with him.

Keep him separate or integrate him into your flock? For now I would definitely work with him on his own, in his own cage. It is much easier to control the variables and distractions that would make achieving your relationship building goals difficult if he were in with the other two. Budgies do thrive in flocks though and being a part of a flock enables a wealth of observational learning. Once you have established an improved level of trust and confiding responses in your presence you can consider co-housing all three of them. That would definitely be the long term goal. If your existing two Budgies are already savvy operators within your home and have regular fly arounds, I'm confident that you will find your guy is watching them and learning where suitable perching positions are. When he finally gets the chance to join them he will likely follow their lead - and then the fun begins grin

I would also highly recommend accessing the following articles available here at WPT for additional insights and for the `next steps’ once you have your Budgie literally `eating out of your hand’ ☺

Best of luck from Down Under,
Jim McKendry

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Thank you for considering my question. I have a rainbow lorikeet that has ended up as my pet. I'm a WIRES carer and he (I can't be sure he is a male) came into my care in April as a displaced chick while he was a grey ball of down. I hand raised him with the intention of releasing him but at a certain point I took him to a vet who advised that he had beak and feather so was not releasable but that he could have a good life as a pet.

So at that point my partner and I started to treat him as a pet. A few weeks later I took him to another vet due to a thrush infection and while there, they did a DNA test that showed he does not have B&F. He does have poorly formed feathers though which the vet attributed to a nutritional &/or trauma incident related to him coming into care. He can fly in a limited way but needs to molt before he will be able to fly properly and the vet advised that he would not be releasable due to the length of time in care.

My partner and I love him very much and he has become known as Friend. I am a relatively new wildlife carer and we have never had a pet bird before so we have been figuring things out as we go.

Friend has a large cage but we try to let him out as much as possible and he loves interacting with us and is super playful. About two weeks ago Friend had been hanging out with me in my bedroom for about an hour, playing and exploring the space. At one point he just flew straight up from the bed and bit me extremely hard on my upper lip, drawing blood. I had to catch him to put him in his cage. He has since engaged in the same behaviour about 6 times with me, always going for my face and in particular my mouth; though he hasn't done it to my partner Nathan. We are both very attached with Friend though I am the one who feed him as a baby, I'm the one who does things like give him medication if he needs it.

I have started to recognize his precursor behaviour, his eyes pin and he stares intently at my face and there is just a shift in his body language. Each time he has bitten me (and now when he is starting to show the signs) we have put him back in his cage and waited for at least 15mins & he has settled down to get him out.

I'm afraid I'm starting to become fearful of handling him. I don't want him to be unhappy and I really don't want to be bitten.

I had thought that perhaps it was a result of hormones related to Spring but everything I have read says that they don't sexually mature until two years and he was only born around March/April.

As we don't know much at all about having a pet bird we haven't trained him at all and it was fairly common for us to have to catch him to put him in his cage when it was time. After reading info online I see how silly
that is and we're trying to use positive reinforcement of his much loved grapes to get him into his cage.

He use to do a thing where he would hop around our heads and shoulders and flap super rapidly for about 30secs and bite at our heads though not hard. We use to cover our faces while he flapped but we didn't stop him doing
it. Since the biting started we have not allowed him to engage in this behaviour on us.

I really want to sort out what is going on for him and I want to do the right thing by him and me. I would really appreciate some advise, I'm worried that I could be making it worse through ignorance.

He is molting at the moment and he spent last weekend at the vet because he had been regurgitating. The vet thought it was an infection though he was also treated for heavy metal poisoning just in case. I have given him his last dose of antibiotics tonight.

I'm more than happy to do as much research and training with him as I need to and Nathan & I are happy to go to as much effort as is needed. We would happily consider getting him a companion rainbow lorikeet and have been
thinking about it anyway as we want his social needs to be met especially during the day while we're at work. I was a little bit worried about the possibility of them not getting on and how to go about it. At this point I
feel like I need to sort out the issues with his behaviour before adding another bird into the mix. We would even consider taking him to live at a Wildlife park such as Featherdale if that was what was best for him. We would find it a very difficult thing to do but we would rather he was happy. He calls back and forth to the local wild lorikeets and they occasionally come down close to observe him. I just worry that having been a tame bird that going to
somewhere like Featherdale may also cause him problems and stress.

I'm sorry for the super long question but I want to give you the full picture. If you have any questions please let me know.

Thank you for your time.

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Michaela,

You asked Jim McKendry about Friend's behavior but he is unfortunately unavailable this month. I hope the responses from my team are helpful! S.

Hi Michaela,

Shauna from the LLP teaching team! It is a super call on your part to be looking into Friend's diet. Good nutrition is imperative to help assure a bird’s health (physical and behavioral) and longevity. This becomes even more critical in cases of malnutrition evidenced by poor feathering such as you describe with Friend. Malnutrition can result in a wide range of adverse effects by compromising a bird's state of overall well-being.

It’s important to keep in mind that there have been only a few wild Lorikeet or other parrot diet studies to date, resulting in very little information about species typical diets. However, it is also worth considering that what birds eat in captivity needn’t be absolutely identical to the diet of their wild counterparts, given the huge difference in lifestyles between wild and captive birds. The brass ring of nutrition is the health of each individual in the environment in which they live.

We do know that Lorikeets have some special dietary requirements such as a food regimen that is low in iron and not excessively high in vitamin A or vitamin C. To meet these needs in captivity a specialized diet is critical. A diet that isn't too high in iron and also doesn't contain excessive amounts of vitamin A is needed. A safe way to provide vitamin A is through beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Spirulina, in the correct amount, works well. The diet should also be diverse, including fresh fruits, a vegetable slurry, and a Lorikeet powder, Lorikeet pellet, or both. If offering Lorikeet pellets they can be left in a bowl all day. Also during the day a few whole foods, such as a whole berry hidden in a flower can be offered for foraging activity. Wildlife nutrition specialist from Australia, Debra McDonald, Ph.D., studied wild Lorikeet diet. Her product, Dr. Mac's formulated Lorikeet diet, may be available in your area. For more information, go to

Lorikeet slurry can be offered by combining some of the foods that are listed below with a blender. Slurries not only add fresh food to the diet, but they also provide phyto-nutrients and antioxidants, which formulated foods lack. Fruit also provides energy via natural sugars.

Fruits to consider for lorikeet slurry are as follows: papaya (include daily), mango, melon (several varieties to choose from), kiwi, apple, berries, lychees guavas, plum, peach, or apricot.

Vegetables you might include in the slurry: Sweet potato, carrot, beets, zucchini, squash. Always include some dark leafy greens, e.g., kale, mustard greens, collards, and dark leafy lettuces.

For some Lorikeet foraging enrichment, you can offer green beans, corn, and fresh flower blossoms such as nasturtiums, pansy, hibiscus, roses, sunflowers, zucchini flowers and dandelion.

Sprouted seeds can also be part of a healthy Lorikeet diet, and their addition will enhance overall nutrition by adding easy to digest protein, B- complex vitamins, and other nutrients.

Lory's can be fed twice a day such as offering a formulated Lory food next to a bowl of fresh water, some sprouted seeds in the morning, professionally formulated Lory food in the afternoon (next to fresh water again), and about 2 Tablespoons of slurry (mixed fruit and greens from a blender).

Foods to never offer are: honey, corn syrup or other refined syrups, molasses or table sugar. Refined sugars are not the same as plant sugars. Plants contain raffinose sugar, which act similarly to fiber and slows digestion time down. Refined sugars may negatively effect beneficial gut flora where as raffinose may be beneficial to gut flora. Also molasses is high in iron so not recommended for Lorikeets.

This is the diet protocol used at The Gabriel Foundation (TGF, a US parrot welfare organization). If you are able to offer Dr. Mac's Organic Lory Nectar then you should follow instructions for that product, which may be slightly different than what we do at TGF. All diet suggestions above are a combination of what has been used successfully at TGF and information shared by Dr. McDonald.

As with any diet change have a good scale on hand to keep an eye on Friend's weight. Be sure to get weights at the same time each day. An ideal time would be in the morning before breakfast, if that works with your schedule. Also be sure to discuss diet choices and changes with Friend's veterinarian.

All the very best,

Hi Michaela,

Billie here! I’m also teacher from the LLP team. First of all, thank you for coming to WPT for help with your problem. It sounds like you are willing to do whatever is needed to give Friend a life-long home. With that willingness, you will succeed. While we can’t cover all the information in one short email, we can certainly give you more “food” for thought about how behavior works, and some resources to consider.

Your main behavior concern is that Friend flies to your face and bites your lips. I do not blame you for not wanting to get bitten -- especially in the face. Biting is not a necessary part of having a companion parrots by any means. At the same time, we don’t blame friend for biting because from his point of view, it works – or he wouldn’t continue to do it! Our plan for behavior change requires that we redesign the environment, including what you do, to reduce the signals to bite and to remove reinforcers for biting.

It’s very astute of you to recognize his body language just before flying at your face. You described that his eyes pin, he stares at your face, and he shifts his body. Those are excellent observations, which we can use as predictors or warning signs. What you can predict, you can usually redirect or prevent.

Let’s start with the most basic foundation of behavior: Behavior that is repeated always serves a function the behaving individual. If you can observe what that is you may be able to provide that reinforcer for an acceptable, alternative behavior. For example, if the most immediate consequence for biting is that you move away, than try to move away at the first warning sign, when his eyes pin. This empowers your bird to use his behavior for an effect; that’s what behavior is for! It is a separate learning objective to teach your bird to approach you willingly and with enthusiasm. You can teach that by reinforcing small steps toward your hand. Again, give coming to you more function (value) for Friend and he will do it more often.

Even if we can’t figure out what reinforces a behavior, we can often reduce it by reinforcing a different behavior, the behavior you want to see more often. This approach, differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, is usually paired with ignoring the problem behavior at the same time. The problem with biting is that it really can’t be ignored. When you are bitten, you are going to have some kind of reaction to it. No matter what your reaction is, whether screaming, ducking, or you turning away, it is most likely the bird has already been reinforced for biting you. The feel of your skin on his beak, or on his tongue could well be a reinforcer for his behavior. Flight is another reinforcer to consider. It is also entirely possible, since this is a young bird, that Friend is testing the limits in his environment, i.e., learning how to gain valued outcomes and escape unpleasant ones. Another consideration is the number of times he has been captured, which you wisely note is more intrusive than other methods available.

It is essential that you completely avoid getting bitten since anything your bird has an opportunity to practice improves! Even a small bird can do serious damage, especially when flying to your face. And it probably reduces the quality of Friend’s life too, to have a biting relationship with his companion.

When we want to change a behavior, we need to change what happens just prior to the behavior, what happens just after the behavior, or both. We never want any bird to get the opportunity to practice biting so let’s focus on what happens immediately before the behavior that sets the occasion for the behavior to occur. We should also be aware of what any consequences might be that would be maintaining and escalating the behavior.

If possible, try to remember the 6 times that Friend flew at you to bite you. Some possibilities might be:

1. How long has Friend been out of his cage?
2. What activity was he engaged in at the time? Was it interrupted?
3. Who was in the room? Were people talking loudly or interacting in particular ways?
4. Were you talking animatedly or waving your hands?
5. Was your attention directed elsewhere?
6. What does the bird escape/avoid by flying and biting your the face? Was Friend returned to the cage? Medication time? Capture time?
7. What does he gain by flying and biting your face?

These details can be key. For example, if Friend is most likely to bite when he has been out an hour and has not had much to do, you could put him in his cage before the hour is up. Leave him out for 45 minutes and put him away. Or, you can give him toys to play with while he is out of his cage so he has plenty to do, which may increase the value of going back into the cage when he’s tired of playing.

In the wild, birds are on the move a lot of the time foraging for food, building nests, flying to different places. In our homes, we need to take care to provide some of these activities. Make sure Friend has lots of toys in his cage that he plays with and toys on the outside of his cage. You will learn what toys he likes best as you try different types. You can make a lot of toys yourself to keep the cost down. Craft stores have a lot of supplies you can use. Just make sure that any wood parts aren’t painted and that you don’t give him anything toxic. If he doesn’t play with them when first introduced, that can be a great training activity.

It is also important that they have down time hanging out, relaxing, preening and napping. They should also get adequate rest each night. It might take some detective work on your part to figure out what sets the occasion for the behavior to occur, but the effort is certainly worth it.

As you suggest in your email, positive reinforcement is the way to go. To that end, we would suggest getting some information on bird behavior. At there are some excellent articles. Once you get to the web site, go to “Written Works” and then “Learning and Behavior.” I would suggest you start with the article “He Said - She Said, Science says.” The others are excellent as well. Check out the articles in “The Success Files” area under “Written Works” that deal specifically with biting that might give you some useful information. Also you could start training some basic behaviors, such as stationing, turnaround, and targeting, as they are easy to train. You could then move to step up and step down, and recall. All the time respecting the body language that says, “No thanks!” There are some wonderful articles at and great videos on training your companion bird available at Barbara Heidenreich’s website. Her web site is

We know you will succeed! Have fun; teach and learn together!
Good luck!

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hello, I took in a Yellow Collared macaw about 18 months ago. He is now about 18 years old and has spent most of his life being neglected, mistreated and passed from home to home. I know that he has been flicked and hit on the beak, had his cage hit to stop him screaming and at one stage was left in a back room for years because he was so loud. (there is more bad treatment in his past, but exactly what it was I don't know). When I first saw him he would lash out at the cage bars when anyone came near his cage. He also hadn't been out of his cage in years or been able to bath in that time (he could only get his head into his tiny water bowl). He is doing a lot better now, I have gotten rid of his swearing, he whistles for attention instead of screaming (most of the time), he gets out, wanders around exploring, and will usually end up sitting on my foot playing with my shoe laces and preening, i have also got him to step on and off a dowel so i can move him around.

The problem is you cannot get a hand close to him without him biting a finger right to the bone (can't blame him considering what hands have done to him in the past). On a few occasions he has stepped from the dowel onto my hand and for a second he seems relaxed, then suddenly his eyes pin, the feathers on his neck stand up and he latches onto a finger. Occasionally he will let you scratch his head through the cage bars, but only for a few seconds and then, eyes pin, neck feathers up and he lashes out. he is always showing he wants attention, but when you get close with a hand it is almost like he has a "flashback" to his previous experiences with hands.

Whenever possible I try reinforce when he is relaxed around hands. the question now is, is there hope that he will get over his fear of hands,or is it possible his fear is just too deep and he will always have a problem with hands? Will he be better off if i find him a partner and build an aviary for them, or possibly even send him to a sanctuary where he wont need to interact with people? I have to admit that I am a little wary of him after nearly needing stitches a few times, but i am happy to put in more time and effort if that is what is needed. In the end it is about what is best for him. Some advice would really be appreciated.


Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hi Bruce, My name is Melissa Williams, and I am one of the trainers with Natural Encounters, Inc.

It is so awesome of you to take this bird on and give it the kind of home it deserves! Working with animals always has its challenges, but when you bring a history of mistreatment and neglect into the picture a whole other set of challenges arise. The good news, however, is that with patience (which you seem to have a lot of) and positive reinforcement you have the opportunity to rebuild trust and continually work on the relationship! It's great that you have already taken so many steps in the right direction: making sure he has the opportunity to bathe, giving him enough space, and giving him attention on a level that he is comfortable with. Because of the negative experiences he’s had in the past, it may take a longer period of smaller progressions until he is comfortable stepping up and spending time on your hand, but I do believe it is possible, especially with the progress you have made so far. One thing to keep in mind is to only move forward as fast as the bird is comfortable. The other thing to consider is if and how the bird would benefit from learning to step onto and spend time on your hand to begin with. While it may seem like a simple behavior to us, it is a big step to ask a bird to step onto what, for them, is probably a much less stable surface than a perch or dowel, and one that will likely bring them into much closer proximity to the body of the person doing the handling.

One of the goals is to keep every interaction positive, even if that means keeping interactions short and having more of them throughout the day. Because you mentioned he has a history of biting, he has likely learned to bite when he gets uncomfortable in order to go home and be left alone. Your goal will be to continue to be sensitive to smaller changes in his body language that occur before biting to allow the bird to let you know when he is uncomfortable, so that you can avoid having to get into a biting situation in the first place. By keeping each interaction short, you put him home or give him the space he likes to feel comfortable before he feels the need to practice biting. This also allows you to reinforce each positive interaction you have since it ends when he is still comfortable. As time goes on and your relationship builds, you will be able to slowly increase the amount of time you spend giving him attention, but it will have to be very slowly.

It's also great that you are working on reinforcing him for being calm when hands are around. Another great way to actively desensitize him to hands would be to start with your hands at a distance where the bird is comfortable and reinforce his successively smaller movements closer and closer to them, instead of bringing the hands closer and waiting to see when the bird becomes uncomfortable; this empowers the bird to use his body language to determine what distance is acceptable. You can start by placing your hands several feet away from him (or the closest point that he is completely comfortable with) and having some of his favorite treats a few steps towards your hands in front of him so that he has to take a step or two towards your hand to get them. Because he has an aversive history of hands approaching him, this gives him the power of choice as to whether to approach your hand or not. Once he seems completely confident approaching your hand at that distance, you can begin to move the reinforcements slightly closer to your hand, keeping in mind to keep your hand very still and not make any sudden movements that could make him nervous. Eventually, the end goal would be him walking up to you, stepping onto your hand, and taking the reinforcement nicely out of your fingers. It is important to help build his confidence by giving him the opportunity to approach an object or person whenever possible instead of them approaching him.

I think he has found a wonderful home with you and your immense amounts of patience. All of the negative experiences he has had in the past will have to be slowly and surely replaced with positive reinforcement and positive interactions that will build the trust necessary for a good relationship with him, but I believe it can be done! We wish you the best of luck, and look forward to hearing about your successes in the future.

Melissa Williams
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

My Question: Regarding a rescued 7 yr old male African Grey. I obtained "Steve" from a friend who works at an avian rescue. She was fostering him, and I felt I could offer Steve a lot of patience. His first owner got him young, as a talking novelty but neglected him, never gave him destructible toys, and never noticed that he was mutilating under his wings after he had escaped outside for 5 days and been rescued. The mutilation was discovered when she surrendered him. He was in the rescue for 2 years and basically was extremely fearful and nearly motionless. He was to be euthanized because his mutilation wounds wouldn't heal, but I've now had him for 9 months. He had already stopped mutilating when he was fostered, and except for picking at his neck feathers slightly, he's looking very healthy and is starting to have a bit of spark in his eyes.

He has learned to target beads from my hand, which he drops into a cup, and then gets a small nut reward. He does move around his cage to forage for wrapped pellets, but basically sits all day and doesn't want to come out.

I think he has bonded to me - he solicits head rubs nightly, and calls to me when I've left the room, but he won't come out. I have to stick my hand in, and it's as if we start all over: he's nervous, then gradually relaxes. (Because of his mutilation wounds, the rescue workers would remove him from his cage by his neck for vet visits! No wonder he's paranoid about hands.)

I provide tons of toys, leave his cage door open daily - sometimes he comes out on a perch on the door, but only if I'm sitting or lying down, and he returns immediately to his cage if I get up. He has the company of a mature Jardine's parrot and 2 cockatiels (all in separate cages). All ignore him and he ignores them.

Steve is a very fearful guy. For practical reasons (like vet visits) and for his own growth and life enjoyment, I'd like to be able to eventually get him used to my hands outside of head scritching time, but that may take quite a while. He's extremely sensitive to emotions and thoughts like a finely tuned radar!

Do you have any advice to help Steve rehabilitate and lessen his fear response - a fear basically about everything (even the placement of old and new toys). He does chew hanging toys, but mostly when he's nervous, rather than for play or exploration. It's as if he doesn't have a clue how to play, which makes sense, given his history.

My other birds are quite normal and I've been hoping that Steve watching them be normal might help.

Thanks for your kind perusal of my case! I love the guy and want him to be as happy as he can be, under the circumstances.

Shannon Ryan

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Shannon, My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. Thank you for taking the time to seek out information that will help you to provide Steve with the best care and welfare possible. I have several thoughts that I'd like to share about your situation, as well as some ideas on where to go from here.

In the work that we do with our animals, we discipline ourselves to focus on the observable behaviors that an animal exhibits. Since we can't know what's going on in their heads, looking at changes in their body language and behaviors in response to stimuli in their environment and responding in kind is the best way that we can communicate with them. Good two-way communication is the goal in all our interactions: being able to interpret whether or not the stimuli in a given situation (toys, objects, environmental distractions, an animal’s caretakers, etc) are something that the animal wants or something that the animal wants to get away from. You've provided some great examples of observable behaviors that occur in conjunction with discrete environmental events: putting down his head to solicit scratches from you when you are in proximity to his cage, and avoidance behaviors when a hand is presented inside his cage. Our goal is to try to find a way to take the behaviors that you want to see more of and make them things that Steve actively seeks to be a part of.

It is quite possible that in Steve's past he was subjected to a fair amount of punishment and negative reinforcement. Forcing a bird to step up by pushing your hand up against their chest, grabbing them by the neck to get them out of a cage, or chasing them around a room to get them to go back home are all things that might be done to a bird with no intention of causing them harm or discomfort. In the animal's mind, though, these are likely very negative experiences, and he will do everything he can to avoid or minimize his exposure to these events in the future. It is very likely that Steve has had a variety of negative experiences involving people's hands, maybe even for the entirety of his life. The amazing thing about behavior, though, is that it is ready-made to be flexible and respond to new information in the environment - every day is a chance for Steve to start building a brand new outlook on the humans that he spends his time with.

If the behavior that he are hoping to see is stepping willingly onto the hand, we first have to ask why the animal would want to perform the behavior. If we ask the question "What's in it for me?" from the animal's perspective when considering a behavior, we can begin to form a plan about how to take steps towards making this behavior something the animal will look forward to doing. This is in contrast to forcing an animal to be compliant. If you present your hand into the cage and Steve shows nervous body language (feathers slicked tight, moving to the other side of the cage, lunging/biting at the hand) but then calms down and submits, he may have learned in the past that this is something that he simply can't get away from, and therefore has no choice but to submit to. Our goal, however, is to create a bird that is not only willing but eager to step up because of a long, strong history of positive experiences being associated with stepping up. If a step onto the hand is always paired with praise, a favorite toy, a scratch on the head, or preferred foods treat, it is highly likely that Steve will look forward to being able to step up again in the future.

Of course, the execution of this plan requires discipline and patience, both qualities that it seems that you've already demonstrated with your bird. If I was in your shoes, my first step would probably be to take my hand out of the picture completely for the time being. With a bird that's nervous stepping up or being on the hand, I first try to build a solid relationship of trust through repetitions of simple behaviors that the bird can perform inside the cage. Target training – teaching an animal to touch a particular object to earn a reward – is an excellent place to start because it keeps the animal actively scanning the environment to figure out where it needs to go or what it needs to do to in order to earn reinforcement. Using good positive reinforcement techniques – keeping approximations small at first and moving ahead at the bird’s pace, offering a treat every time the bird performs the right behavior, taking a step back when the animal seems confused or frustrated, ending sessions when the animal demonstrates that it no longer wants to participate – will help not only by teaching Steve a variety of new behaviors, but each and every positive experience you are a part of helps to strengthen your relationship with him, a crucial component of all human-animal interactions.

Since playing with new toys is also one of your goals, you can train him to interact with new objects in the same way that you trained him to target to the beads in your hand: reward him for looking at the object, then for making a small move towards it, then for touching it for a moment, then for interacting with it for extended periods of time. If each step is paired with something Steve likes, the act of interacting with the object will likely become reinforcing in and of itself just because of the long history he has built up of good things happening in conjunction with doing this behavior. Not only will interacting with new objects help to get Steve to be more active, but it is very likely that it will have a beneficial effect on his feather plucking behavior as well.

As to the specific behavior of Steve stepping onto the hand, I would start with a behavior that he is already doing, walking out onto a perch on the open door of the cage. This starts by offering reinforcement for maintaining calm, comfortable body posture first for allowing the door to be opened a bit, then a bit more, and eventually for coming to the perch on the door. Each time he gets a little closer to this, I would praise him verbally and drop a small treat in one of his bowls. Even if he will take a treat from your hand through the walls of his cage, I think it would do more harm than good at this point to try to offer him a treat right through the open door. He may be fine with this, though – paying close attention to his body language throughout this process will be the key to making progress. Any time he leans or walks away or demonstrates what you would interpret as “nervous” behaviors, that is your cue to move back (both physically and to an earlier step where Steve was having progress). Through time and repetition, Steve will stay comfortable while a hand is presented at a distance, then slightly closer, then closer still, until it is near the perch on the door. When you get to a point when he is approaching the hand, you can try to present the treat in such a way that he was to lean across your hand to get it. If he does that, then you can see if he’ll put one foot on it, then eventually two feet, and finally stepping up and being moved slowly and steadily away from the perch. If done correctly, Steve will always have the power to say “no thank you” simply by choosing to walk away from the training session, and if he seems nervous while on the hand he should be set back down on his perch straightaway. Respecting his comfort level and trying again later is another critical component to good communication, and will only make him that much more likely to want to participate the next time a training session comes along.

Having respect for the bird by honoring their right to say no, keeping a close eye on his body language at all times, consistently striving to present positive consequences for desired behaviors, and seeking to avoid the use of aversive stimuli whenever possible will open your relationship with Steve to a world of nearly limitless behavioral possibilities. Always make sure to work at the bird’s pace, though, and be mindful that setbacks will occur. Instead of getting frustrated, just know that every mistake or setback is just an opportunity to start again with new information. Indeed, quite often our mistakes teach us more than our successes, and if we learn from them they most definitely will become less frequent as time passes and we gain increased experience, insight, and sensitivity.

I hope that you’ve found this information to be useful, as these tools have proven to be invaluable to the work that we do with our animals each and every day. If you haven’t done so already, I would also encourage you to check out the articles that we have posted on our website,, as they contain great information about bird behavior, training, and enrichment.

We wish you the best of luck, and we hope that you and Steve have many years of great interactions ahead of you!


Chris Jenkins
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi Eb, you helped us about 11 years ago (when we were living in Flagstaff AZ) to teach our macaw, Cyrano (then 2-3 yrs old, now 14 years old) to land by dropping her onto the bed. This was so she wouldn't crash since as a clipped fledgling she never learned to fly or land and also to encourage her to flap her wings for exercise.

Fast-forward to now. We have a 4 year old Red-fronted macaw (Sorata) who fledged as a baby, is an adept flyer & loves to fly! And does throughout the house. Cyrano has continued to dislike it and never initiates flight. Seeing Sorata's joy and fitness, we've been working with Cyrano the last 5 mo to fly short distances to us, and while she gets excited and has gotten better & lands on us, it still seems to scare her. She used to flap her wings while gripping onto us after baths but now doesn't do that. She also used to flap to exhaust herself before Tom has to towel her for wing/beak clippings, but the other day she flew off him & crashed & hid under the chair, very scared. She seems nervous in our large bedroom where we fly her. We're realizing it's not worth it, that the whole flying thing stresses her, and that we'll just quit & try to get her back to flapping while holding on to us. Do you agree - if so how do we get her back to just flapping? Or have any thoughts on if and how we can gently help her learn to like flying. We're in a bit of a conundrum & just want her to be happy & healthy. As the alpha female, we're also wondering if it's stressful watching her kid sister fly all around so easily - but maybe that's just fine for all. Thank you!

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Linda, The one thing about flight training for fearful and never-fledged parrots is that it never really ends. At least not until they are totally skilled and strong and confident. For Cyrano to develop this type of flying, it will take lots of further progress from just the initial drop-and-flap training two or three feet off the bed with which you begin.

Every time he takes off in flight and/or crashes is essentially a step backward in his development. Hence these situations are to be avoided at all costs.

Yes, flapping exercise on the hand is good and will strengthen his torso, but much of landing has to do with technique and that just takes practice.

It would be best to analyze the WAY Cyrano flies. Does he always go straight ahead and end up going too fast to actually land well, hence falling forward on his face? Does he always fly down? Upwards? Parrots, especially large macaws, who over flap once taking off may gain too much speed and do not always have the skill to feather their wings, brake in the air, look downwards, put out their feet, and land on an object. In a household these things are even harder since macaws are evolved to fly hundred of yards at a time if they flap strongly. That's why three and four and six-foot flap and lands are great indoor training.

If Cyrano is over-speeding, I would advise trimming the first two (sometimes later a third) strongest thick-ribbed flight feathers on each wing to slow his power down about 15%. This will not affect the landing progress.

You need to make this process as easy as possible for Cyrano, so that he does it time and again until it becomes second nature. One goes about this by establishing a comfortable and stable "landing site." April and I use large handle baskets with our fledglings. They have the advantage of being able to be moved around the room to change flight patterns and visuals--but never change the recognizable landing site so that the bird begins to grow in confidence. Other such sites would be the back of a recliner draped with a large stable bath towel, or the wood on a portable perch (which does not shake 1) and can also be covered with the strong towel. Top of the cage with the towel, humans arm wrapped in the towel, etc, etc.

Get the point? Some 75% of correct landing for inexperienced birds is the mental aspect. That means that before taking off, the parrot that already KNOWS where he is going to try and land will have a singularly better chance of doing it smoothly. After fifty or a hundred such proper landings, you will notice that Cyrano begins to make an instantaneous decision WHILE AIRBORNE on where to land--say, by taking off, deciding to turn around in mid air, spotting his towel takeoff spot (obviously the more large towels of the same color around the room the better!) and returning to land on the same place.

This, by the way, illustrates the number on failure in most hand-feeding nursery fledging methods: the keepers do not control the mental side of the initial flights by establishing clear recognizable landing spots; instead they just let baby birds take off and go wherever they will and they end up with panicked chaotic crashes, impacts on windows, grabbing on door frames or picture frames or curtains, etc., instead of precise hop and flap landings on easily recognizable objects.

Regarding Sorata's flying. I would venture that its always a bit stressful for a macaw that has been living alone to all-of-the-sudden be confronted with another large parrot flying around the room---certainly if the Red Front flits by Cyrano or lands nearby or such. A parrot taking wing is a grand inducement for the nearby parrot to take off immediately also. Your Blue Throat (I believe it was...) would surely be drawn to fly in tandem on impulse, but being unable or fearful, would experience some fretfulness. Incidentally, an "alpha" bird as you termed it, is often the one that is the best flyer in the home. This might explain Cyrano's increased nervousness or wish to avoid things by hiding under a chair.

It might be possible to devise some "games with treats" that prompt Sorata to fly from point A basket or soft spot to point B and back and forth, giving Cyrano a turn each time and a treat reward for joining in the game of practice flying.

Whatever you do, don't give up! You have a golden opportunity here to improve the life of both your macaws. Just a little imagination and a lot of perseverance, and you will be quite pleased with the outcome.

With aloha, EB

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Susan, I have two Monk parakeets that will be one year old in June. They are active and appear to be in good health, but I have been reading everywhere that parrots should be brought for an yearly veterinary visit to ensure they health condition. Can you confirm to me if this is necessary or if it would be a useless stress for them? Thank you for your consideration and have a good day.

[Editor's note: Original question received in Italian, English translation provided above]
Ho 2 parrocchetti monaci che hanno 1 anno a giugno, sono vispi e apparentemente in salute ma leggo ovunque che bisognerebbe far fare una visita annuale per essere più sicuri sul loro stato di salute. mi conferma se è proprio necessario o se potrebbe essere un inutile stress per loro? grazie dell'attenzione e buona giornta

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Giulia, Thank you for asking your question. My area of expertise is behavior change, not avian veterinary medicine; however I found your question about yearly health exams interesting from a behavioral point of view.

It is commonly recommended that parrots have a yearly veterinary exam to ensure their heath condition, although not all possible tests need to be run routinely every year. The final decision on what tests should be included yearly varies, and is usually based on the veterinarian direct observation of the bird and the caregiver’s report. This information establishes a baseline from which changes in your bird’s physiology and behavior can be monitored for the earliest possible detection and treatment of any problems, both visible and invisible to caregivers, which may arise.

The behavioral part of your question is so important: You asked if yearly health visits would be a useless stress for our parrots. The subject of patient stress is important to consider one two levels -1) the bird’s discomfort, and 2) the potential for stress to invalidate medical data. This means that reducing patient stress is a number one priority for our birds during all activities related to accomplishing yearly exams including preparation for the visit at home, transport to and from the exam, and during the exam.

From a behavioral point of view, we need to consider what stress looks like in observable terms. How will you know if your bird is stressed? Or, more to the point: What does an unstressed bird look like? The body language and behavior we consider representative of stress can vary by species and individuals. Observe carefully your bird’s feather positions, body posture, and the position of the legs, wings, eyes, beak, and head during times when your bird is alert but calm. To the greatest extent possible, that’s what we want our bird to display throughout exam day.

The best way to meet this goal is to do a task analysis of every activity that will occur during exam day and then teach your bird how to do each activity using our best teaching strategies, for example shaping new behaviors with positive reinforcement. The time to teach a bird calm transport and exam behavior is not the day of the appointment! Plan ahead and start teaching one behavior at a time, now. Teach your bird to willingly enter and exit a carrier, remain relaxed during transport, step on and off a scale, relax while held in a towel.

You don’t need to have all the behaviors mastered before the exam. Each behavior you do successfully teach your bird to do, will strengthen your relationship and help your bird be resilient to a temporary withdrawal from your “trust account”. There are stressors in every animal’s life that can be easily overcome when they live an empowered lifestyle in general.

[Editor's note: Original question received in Italian, English translation provided above]
Cara Giulia, Grazie per aver inviato la tua domanda al Forum di Esperti del WPT.
La mia area di competenza è la modifica del comportamento, non la medicina veterinaria. Tuttavia, ho trovato interessante dal punto di vista comportamentale la tua domanda sulle visite veterinarie annuali.

Generalmente, si raccomanda di far svolgere una visita veterinaria annuale ai pappagalli per verificare il loro stato di salute, anche se non è necessario sottoporli annualmente a tutte le analisi disponibili. La decisone finale sulle analisi da svolgere ogni anno può variare, e generalmente si basa sulle osservazioni da parte del veterinario e su quanto gli viene riferito dal proprietario. Queste informazioni rappresentano le basi dalle quali i cambiamenti della fisiologia e del comportamento dei pappagalli possono essere monitorati per poter individuare e curare il prima possibile qualsiasi problema che possa emergere, sia visibile che invisibile ai proprietari.

L'aspetto comportamentale della tua domanda è molto importante: chiedi se queste visite annuali possono provocare uno stress inutile ai nostri pappagalli. Vi sono due aspetti importanti da considerare nello stress nei pazienti: 1) il disagio del pappagallo, e 2) la possibilità che lo stress alteri i risultati medici. Questo significa che la riduzione dello stress nei pazienti è la priorità più importante per i nostri pappagalli durante tutte le attività relative alle visite veterinarie annuali, come la preparazione a casa per la visita, il trasporto per e dal veterinario, e durante la visita stessa.

Dal punto di vista comportamentale è necessario considerare come appare lo stress in termini osservabili. Come farete a sapere se il vostro pappagallo è stressato? Più precisamente: Come appare un pappagallo non stressato? Il linguaggio corporeo e il comportamento che riteniamo sia rappresentativo dello stress varia tre le diverse specie e i singoli esemplari. Osservate attentamente la posizione delle penne del vostro pappagallo, la posizione del corpo, e quella dalle zampe, delle ali, degli occhi, del becco, e della testa, quando il vostro pappagallo è vigile ma calmo. E' così che vorremmo che il nostro pappagallo si sentisse il più possibile nel giorno della visita veterinaria.

Il modo migliore per raggiungere questo obiettivo è di analizzare gli interventi necessari per ogni attività che si verificherà durante la giornata della visita veterinaria, e poi di insegnare al pappagallo come svolgere ogni attività usando i nostri metodi migliori per l'insegnamento, per esempio lo 'shaping' di nuovi comportamenti usando il rinforzo positivo.
Il momento per insegnare al vostro pappagallo ad essere calmo durante il trasporto e la visita, non è il giorno dell'appuntamento! Pianificate in anticipo e iniziate ad insegnare un comportamento alla volta, da subito.
Insegnate al vostro pappagallo ad entrare e ad uscire volontariamente dal trasportino, a sentirsi tranquillo durante il trasporto, a salire e a scendere da una bilancia, a rilassarsi quando è avvolto in un asciugamano, ecc.

Non avrete bisogno di perfezionare ogni comportamento prima della visita. Ogni comportamento che insegnerete con successo al vostro pappagallo rinforzerà il vostro rapporto, e lo aiuterà a resistere temporaneamente a un prelievo dal “conto fiduciario”. Vi sono degli stressor nelle vite di ogni animale che possono essere superati facilmente quando le loro vite sono generalmente stimolanti e gratificanti.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi Jim,
I recently read an article on the top dangers associated with injury and death in parrots. High on the list was not clipping your bird’s wings. Examples given were the risks of flying into windows, mirrors, hot pots and escape. They recommended that all pet birds be clipped. Another article I came across a while back said that more than half of all birds lost were clipped and that fully flighted birds had a higher retrieval rate due to being better able to escape predators and often survive for long enough to be retrieved. I personally have had a few very close calls when my birds were clipped and stopped clipping about 2 years ago (I think having clipped birds made me complacent and gave me a false sense of security. With flighted birds I am far more aware of possible dangers). I have five dogs and my neighbours all have dogs and cats so a clipped bird would not last very long if it got out. A flighted bird would at least stand a chance of surviving long enough to be retrieved so I think flighted is a better option for me. The ultimate solution would be an outdoor flight and flight training. There are a lot of contradictory opinions on the matter. While both clipped and unclipped have risks attached, is one necessarily a much less risky option than the other? I would like to get some more thoughts on the subject. Thanks, Bruce.

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day Bruce.
Thanks so much for accessing WPT for some advice and additional food for thought on what is, in my opinion, one of the most significant issues surrounding the keeping of parrots as companion animals. I am a major advocate of maintaining full flight capability of all parrots kept in captivity and I strongly feel that we need to make a fundamental shift away from 19th and 20th century paradigms of thinking about what is acceptable and not acceptable in regards to our expectations of companion parrots and develop a 21st century approach towards their care, training and management. Simply – parrots are `built to behave’ in a range of specific biologically functional ways. The foundation of that functional behaviour is the capability of flight. Indeed, it is when we start to attempt to modify the anatomy of our parrots or create expectations of them that are completely incompatible with the expression of their natural biological tendencies that we then experience `behaviour problems’. It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that when we keep parrots in contexts that afford them opportunities to socialize, fly, vocalize, establish territories, forage, breed and behave in biologically functional ways that we experience very few difficulties with their care. In my nearly 20 years of keeping parrots, and over 10 years of consulting with owners, wing clipping is, from my own anecdotal experience, perhaps the number one precursor to many of the most significant behavioural health issues I encounter and subsequent reasons for their failure in pet homes. I don’t subscribe to the common thought that wing clipping is `a personal choice’. A personal choice for the bird or the owner? If we are genuine and authentic about promoting relationships with parrots as pets built on a foundation of respect, trust and appreciation for accommodating them to the best of our abilities then such decisions should be made in the primary interest of what is ultimately the best for the bird – not simply to cater for the limitations of the owner’s environmental circumstance. A 21st century approach to companion parrot care embraces their flight capability and challenges owners to develop both the appropriate training skills to manage that successfully and to create an appropriate environment to ensure that flight is catered for safely. Ultimately – it’s our expectations of our parrots as pets and the environment that we provide for them that need to be modified – not their wings. The justifications and rationale presented for wing clipping really don’t maintain validity today. Flying into windows, getting stuck in the toilet or the frying pan, escaping out the door are all examples of problems with the management of the flighted bird – not the capability of flight itself. I often use the analogy that if your pet dog ran out of the gate and bit the postman on the leg would you tie his legs up to prevent that from happening again or would you just make sure the gate is locked? Parrots, unfortunately, are just about the last of our companion animals that are subject to socially endorsed physical modification. We no longer tail dock or ear trim dogs (at least not here in Australia) and educated people would consider de-fanging of a captive venomous snake to be safely kept as a pet inhumane. These are practices that were once accepted but are no longer. It’s a shame that some members of the veterinary community still seem to endorse wing-clipping and continue to promote dominance hierarchy based approaches to their handling and training, hence providing much of the social validity for their practice. What we really need to be advocating and striving for is improved education for a modern approach to the keeping of a parrot as a pet and being progressive about our approaches to parrot care.

I wrote a three-part article for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine back in 2008 that provided a very thorough overview of the keeping of flighted parrots. You can access this material via backorder of the Aug/Sep 2008, Oct/Nov 2008 & Dec/Jan 2009 issues of Australian Birdkeeper Magazine at The second and third articles provide insights into the training and management of flighted companion parrots – definitely well worth reading. Much of the following rationale for maintaining flight in companion parrots is excerpted from the first article in the series…

Let’s Define the Boundaries
Any discussion of `flight’ and `companion parrots’ really needs prefacing with a clear distinction between the concepts of a `flighted parrot’ and a `free-flighted parrot’. The focus of this article is strictly on the philosophy, training and management of `flighted’ parrots, birds allowed full flight capabilities but kept indoors or within a suitable flight enclosure. It is critical for parrot owners to realise that successful and ethical keepers of flighted companion parrots know their limitations, their bird’s limitations, and have a conscious awareness of controlling as many of the potential variables that come into play with the keeping of flighted birds. This is only achieved through the implementation of proper training and the provision of suitable and safe housing. When we choose to keep a flighted parrot we must also accept an essential set of responsibilities and obligations. These are...
• Ensuring the safety and welfare of our birds at all times through careful arrangement of their flight environment and;
• Protecting the biodiversity and biosecurity of our surrounding natural environment by not allowing a flighted parrot outside of a flight enclosure or secure indoor flight space
Adhering to the above will ensure that risks associated with flight are minimised or completely negated.

Why have a flighted pet parrot?
In my experiences as a keeper of flighted companion parrots for many years, working professionally with free-flighted birds at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and through consulting with pet parrot owners on behaviour management, I have been able to identify and validate the following reasons why maintaining flight is so important for our parrots...

Increase in functional behaviours: Parrots that have retained their flight capabilities can be observed functionally engaging with their environment at higher levels than parrots deprived of flight. We often perceive this enhanced level of engagement as an increase in `confidence’ and I would certainly agree with that. Functional behaviours, such as foraging and exploratory behaviour provide the foundation for improved behavioural outcomes in companion parrots. Flight facilitates a significant enhancement in a parrot’s control over its environment through providing additional scope for decision-making and choice. When empowered with these opportunities, parrots can be seen to cope better and adapt more successfully to the limitations of the captive environment.

Reduction in development of stereotypical behaviours: As an increase in exploration and engagement with their environment is observed, often there is a corresponding decrease in the development of stereotypical behaviour. Whilst flight is not the magic cure for removal of behaviours such as feather picking and other significant behavioural health issues, it is often a critical component of a management plan to avoid their development or reduce their occurrence once established.

Reduction in level of dependency: The next step along a continuum of behavioural development that is supported through flight is a reduction in the level of dependency on the human carer. Parrots deprived of flight often become almost totally reliant upon the human carer for movement around their environment. We can acknowledge that flight is important to a parrot in supporting an enhanced level of physical engagement with its environment. It is reasonable then to suggest that with that comes a degree of independence that may potentially reduce behavioural problems associated with an over-reliance on human carers for social and environmental stimulation.

Enhancement of relationship with owner through improved training and reinforcement schedules: Keeping a parrot that can fly challenges the companion parrot owner to develop their own skills in the training and management of a pet that is empowered with independence and options for greater influence over its environment. In my experience this sets up wonderful learning and relationship development experiences for both the companion parrot and the owner. The relationship that an owner of a flighted pet parrot has with their bird is one that demands a foundation of trust and positive reinforcement history. It can be wonderfully rewarding and enriching to take that next step in supporting a reduction in over-dependence and an increase in your role as a teacher and positively reinforcing presence in your parrots environment.

Therapeutic benefits for behavioural recovery and rehabilitation: I first started working with other companion parrot owners on supporting the behavioural and enrichment needs of their birds back in 1999. Reflecting on the depth of that first-hand experience I can suggest that flight has been critical in the behavioural recovery of many birds I have worked with, particularly those that have developed feather-picking behaviours. Often there has been a need to establish outdoor flight enclosures to further enhance the environmental scope and opportunity for functional behaviour. Outdoor flight space offers immense benefits in reducing or completely avoiding behavioural health issues. I would certainly encourage parrot owners to consider constructing a safe and secure outdoor flight enclosure for their pet parrot. I have worked with a small number of dedicated clients on the design of such enclosures and the shift in experience scope that their parrots now have access has been brilliant to be a part of.

Earlier diagnosis of change in state of physical health: Early diagnosis of the state of health of a pet parrot can be absolutely critical in ensuring that potentially life-threatening illness is treated quickly. There is no argument that a parrot that engages in flight as part of its daily behavioural repertoire will offer a more overt and observable indication of a change in state of health than a wing-clipped or flightless parrot. Parrots that do not fly already present low rates of functional behaviour and may tend to be inactive for longer periods of the day than a flighted bird. Daily food intake may also be less in wing-clipped birds than observed in flighted parrots. Observable resting durations are often longer in wing-clipped birds and some may even present less functional vocal behaviours than might be expected from flighted birds. This can result in a keeper failing to recognise early symptoms of illness that we normally associate with lack of activity, lack of engagement in enrichment, and lack of interest in novel objects in their environment. My morning walk around my aviaries will quickly inform me if one of my parrots is not 100%, simply based on my observations of their activity level, keenness to fly to the hand, and general mobility around their enclosure.

Bruce – the above is really only scratching the surface of developing a full argument for maintaining flight in our pet parrots but it’s hopefully offered a reasonable alternative to much of what you have read elsewhere on the internet. I would encourage all WPT members to access the article series I put together for ABK Magazine to develop a full picture of my own philosophy and approach. A flighted companion is indeed a challenging one. The 21st century companion parrot keeper will embrace that challenge and hopefully leave a legacy for future generations of companion parrot carers that respects and caters for flight in their birds.

Kind Regards, Jim McKendry

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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