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Training to Play

Rebecca K. O'Connor | May 14, 2007


In my home the most important thing a parrot can learn is how to use their “indoor voice”. I work all day in my home office, talk to clients on the phone, transcribe interviews and try to focus on figuring out the perfect word to use. This kind of work requires not silence—but definitely a lack of repetitious ear-drum busting noises. I simply can’t work with screaming parrots in the house. All three of my African parrots certainly vocalize all day, but on the other end of the phone people say, “You have parrots, really? Why can’t I hear them?” I’ve made a concerted effort to teach my parrots that they can get what they want (me to interact with them) without screaming. So they don’t.

Let’s define this though. All parrots vocalize. Some parrots normal vocalizations have a much higher decibel level than others. This isn’t “screaming”. In fact, in the way most of us define it, screaming is not a normal behavior. Screaming is learned. Screaming is an extremely loud, repetitious noise that goes on and on and on. I’m guessing this isn’t comfortable for any parrot. In fact, as Susan Freidman once said to me, “Imagine a screaming at the top of your lungs for a half an hour in order to get what you want.” Yikes!

Certainly I’ll talk more about this in another blog entry, but the point of this screaming discussion is that my little rescue mini-macaw can be loud. I don’t mind the little guy letting off a little steam now and then, but I’ve got to make sure it doesn’t become a learned behavior. This of course is my responsibility, but I should also make sure that he has more interesting things to do. I believe that parrots often scream as a means to control their environment. In other words, they’re bored! Big problem with this little guy because he hasn’t played with a single toy I’ve given him! Believe it or not, he has to learn to play. Quite possibly this will be the most important thing he learns while he lives with me. It is crucial for his mental and physical well-being.

So what have I tried to introduce to him? I’ve tried chewable wood toys, plastic chains, dispensing toys, shredding toys. No interest. It was time to get proactive. I had recently finished up a carton of eggs and after checking that there had been egg leaks on the carton, cut it up for a little parrot fun. My own guys are familiar with this toy so it went directly in their cages, but Tao is afraid of everything and had to be desensitized first. (More on that in another post) After I was certain he was confident with the odd purple contraption, I filled it with treats and zip-tied it to the cage.

This little guy doesn’t know yet that there is much to be gained by investigating new things in his cage. So he wasn’t too sure he wanted anything to do with the egg carton. A couple molluca nuts on the top of it gave him a chance to investigate and reward himself.  Still, he isn’t too sure about ripping it up to get to the goodies inside. So I’ll keep putting nuts on the top now and then throughout the day, in different places, shoved in the holes so he can pry them out etc. Every time he investigates and gets a little more adventuresome with his new toy he will get a reward. Let’s see if I can finally get him to play with something.