Sunday, December 20, 2009

Variety is the Spice of Life




I just spent the past couple of days doing a deep clean of the cages and a major rearranging of perches and toys.
This is one of my favorite things to do as it allows me to be creative with enriching my birds.
Each of my birds have very specific likes and dislikes. Some of it is health related, some based on natural wild behavior and other just the personal preference of the bird.

Marnie is an African Grey and loves to go down to the bottom of the cage to chicken scratch just like the wild CAGs. Because of this I like to give her extra layers of newspaper, so she can shred it up scratching, and get through to the tray.
She also does not really care for chewing on wood; She prefers to take care of her beak on her perches. Therefore I do not give her much in the way of wooden toys.
Her favorite toys a bright acrylic ones, which she loves to beat the snot out of.

Lucha on the other hand LOVES to shred up wood. I normally give him at least two or three different wooden toys, of different colours and woods, in various spots around his cage. Lucha could not care less about acrylic toys, unless they are for foraging.

Puff loves to shred! Nothing seems to make him happier than hanging out on the bottom of his cage and turning cardboard into confetti. I save all my cardboard from groceries and shipping and toss it in his cage.

On top of their usual toys, I also include lots of foraging toys of different types. I have a number of them which are made of tough plastic or acrylic. All the birds love getting their pellets out of these, and I rotate them between cages to change up the methods they have to use to get to their foods.
I also like to make foraging toys out of destructible materials like coffee filters.

Over the years I have put together a large selection of various perches. I have multiple thicknesses, lengths and kinds of weed, along with perches made of acrylic, rope, boings, flat perches and concrete. When doing a change up I like to not only change the type of perches, but also the locations.

The combination of changing up toys and perches gives my birds the opportunity to use their brains to adapt to their new cage environment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Training with Positive Reinforcement is Positive Reinforcement to Me!


I really love working with my animals using positive reinforcement.
Although working out how to reinforce my leopard geckos in such a way that they associate the behavior with the food is a challenge, it's still a lot of fun. I'm working on training my fat boy leo Samir to walk onto a scale at the moment. So far I've been concentrating on desensitizing him to the scale in his tank, but eventually I plan to feed his mealworms only on the scales surface, so he associates going on the tank with yummy, wiggly mealies.


Today I was working again with my African Grey Marnie. I have been slowly working on recall with her as she has finally grown in some primaries on the damaged wing. She normally picks up behaviors quickly, but for her this behavior has been a challenge. She normally only flies because she's spooking at something, so the concept of flying because she wants too is foreign to her. Still we have slowly been working on her stepping out onto my palm and gradually increasing the distance my palm is from the training perch. Now she is leaning forward and catching her beak on my thumb and helping herself over to the hand with a little flap of the wings.
Marnie works best with a lot of excited verbal encouragement when she is hesitating, so my neighbours quite often hear me through the screen on my patio saying "Hi Baby! Marnie Baby! Ready!! Come Here!!!!!" in a high pitched squeaky voice.


Lucha was already put up for the night when I was working with Marnie (he's an old man who likes to go to sleep with the sun), Puff ended up alone on the playscape. It was interesting to see him with his eyes glued on Marnie and I.
When he first came he was fascinated by Marnie interacting with me, and I credit this version of the Model/Rival method with teaching him to trust me and to step up.
He's been a little disinterested for a while, and has been a little sticky in training. For example he has been holding out for an almond in the shell before he would step up from the playscape.
Tonight however I put Marnie up for the night after our training session and heard repeated "step up?" coming from the playscape. Without getting any treat, I walked over to the playscape. Puff rushed over to where I was standing and presented his foot, stepped up and went back to his cage with zero clicking or eye pinning!

All in all today has been hugely rewarding for me, and yet another reason why I will continue to work with my animals using positive reinforcement.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Patience With Parrots Is A Virtue


Puff is my foster African Grey from Wings of Love Bird Haven.
He has been with me for around 4 months now and has made a lot of improvements.
He now plays with toys, forages and loves being out on the play gym with Marnie and Lucha.
Now his interaction with humans has been slow to build on. His fear based aggression has been so successful in the past, he automatically reverts to in in any kind of nervous situation.
But with patience and using Marnie as a model he has now gotten to the stage where he steps up every time without biting. Along the way we had some bumps in the training road, such as when I had surgery and became the evil head bandage monster and when I was away with work for a month... but now even when I am away for a week on a puppy mill bust he steps up.

Part of his training success has been allowing him to have the cage as his safe place. I don't go into his cage to move toys or clean while he is in it and I don't ask him to step up from inside it. Instead I have a perch on the door which he targets to, then I open the door and ask for the step up.
Most days when I get the birds out on the play gym he comes out last, so when I approach his cage with a visible pine nut (Puff kryptonite) he normally rushes to his door perch.
This morning was something different. When I approached the cage he was on one of the higher perches... I showed him the pine nut and asked him to go to the door perch... he headed down to it and then continued past and beat on one of his toys. "Okay" I thought "I'll come back in a bit).
Four more times when I approached the cage he went from being quiet and calm to full puffed up feathers, pinned eyes, double clicking (a warning noise he makes) and attacking whatever toy was closest. Each time I approached I had the pine nut visible and asked him if he wanted to come out and play... each time he gave me the above reaction I put the pine nut away and walked past him.
Finally 5 hours later I walked up and he ran straight to his door perch, stepped up and took his pine nut reinforcement without any drama.

Now I could have shoved my hand in the cage and asked for the step up, or made him step up on the hand perch, but instead I decided to use my patience and the reward was obvious. Rather than reinforce or react negatively to his behavior, I let him work it out of his system. This meant that instead he got a positive experience and a desired behavior reinforced... even if it was a few hours later than planned.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Videos!

Well, I'm back after being gone for nearly 6 weeks, first on the Kaufman Puppy Mill deployment with UAN, and then with my regular work I was in Granbury helping to manage wildfire response across Texas.
I missed my animals hugely and was sought of worried about how Puff was going to react to me being gone so long.
But... while I was away I learned a bit more about the video function of my camera.... so here are a couple of videos of Marnie doing some of her behaviors.

Turn, wave and shake


Go to her door perch

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Puppy Mill Deployment

I just spent the past week deployed with the United Animal Nations during the seizure and emergency shelter of 543 dogs and cats from a puppy mill.
Although I am not ready to really put my thoughts down on paper, I wanted to share these videos in the hope that it will spread awareness as to the HORROR of these "businesses".
Please folks, if you know of a suspected puppy mill report it to your local SPCA/Humane Society, law enforcement and to the HSUS Puppy Mill Task Force.
In less than two weeks this puppy mill was discovered, investigated, raided, animals seized and a court held a disposition hearing, awarding the animals to the HSUS. Now over 500 animals can know true love and kindness and many puppies born since the raid will never have to know the hell their parents and older siblings endured.

THEY CAN BE STOPPED IF ONLY PEOPLE STAND UP AND MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD



Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Introductions and Updates

Well, I must apologise for how long it's taken for me to get back posting here.
For nearly two months I have barely been online due to a very nasty ear infection that due to my medications, health issues and history, I was not able to overcome.
I had surgery a couple of weeks ago to hopefully fix the problem. This means I can now get online without getting nauseous! WOOHOO!

Sooooo here are some updates on the birds and their training... I will admit that training took a back burner when I was sick as I noticed that my observation and reaction skills were poor and I was hampering new behavior training efforts.

Marnie
Marnie has been maintaining her already learned behaviors well and is always ready to offer a wave if there is a pecan in sight.
She's been doing well with learning veterinary behaviors and was recently used as demo bird at a meeting of the Austin Parrot Society which concentrated on avian emergency care.
She has also been getting better about stepping up for other people.


Lucha
Lucha is still the King of the Puffy Dance. Training sessions with him have to be very short as after any more than 5 minutes the feathers start fluffing and the whining starts and within a few seconds I am being displayed at.

We have made some small handling breakthroughs though! Lucha has never allowed me to touch him below the neck without a warning growl followed by a bite. But recently he has been tolerating quick, gentle touches of the back without giving any warnings.

Darwin
Darwin is one hot mess of a bird.
After having weekly seizures of varying severity and lots of testing he has been officially diagnosed as having idiopathic epilepsy. Normal treatment is phenobarbitol, but we are trying to steer clear of that for as long as possible.
Close observation helped me realise that the seizures were normally following a stressful situation like the big birds squabbling, a loud noise or a blood draw. So, I have been trying to maintain a calm, stress free environment in the home to prevent the seizures. So far I have been somewhat successful, although it's hard to do as Darwin can be an instigator of stress a lot of the time.
Training new behaviors has become a challenge. If he gets to that point where he is not sure what you are asking of him and starts throwing out behaviors to see what gets him reinforced, it seems like he overloads his brain and he will have a small seizure. Established behaviors are not an issue and Darwin still recalls like a champ if there is a treat available.

And introducing...

Pip
Pip is a Black Capped Caique that I am fostering for Wings of Love Bird Haven. He came to me because he allegedly hated men... but I have not seen this at all! Infact Pip is one of the most social birds I have ever met. He happily steps up to everyone (male or female) with a cheery "Heeelooo".
Good news is that since being with me he has stopped the over preening and is slowely filling in his feathers.
A typical Caique he is very active and loves to hair surf... he also eats ANYTHING you offer him.
Pip is available for adoption through Bird Haven.

Puff
Puff was originally adopted from Bird Haven to a home in Austin last year. Unfortunately a combination of his fear, some bad advice and health problems in the family meant that he was returned to the Haven.
I picked him up about 6 weeks ago and have been slowly working with him since.
I first met Puff at Barbara Heidenreichs Workshop in Austin last year and he was already avoiding being handled. He responded well to Barbara targeting him around the cage though... so I was confident that he would learn to step up and have more trust in humans.
For the first couple of weeks I let him relax in his new big cage and get used to foraging and toys. Every time I entered the room I would walk over and offer him a treat. I then started leaving the door open so he could climb out... at first every time I came in the room he would run back in the cage, but after a couple of days he would stay on his door to get his treat.
A real breakthrough happened when I moved him into the bird room opposite Marnie... He was FASCINATED! Every interaction with Marnie was closely studied. I soon noticed this and thought here was a chance to use an adapted model/rival technique.
I started by offering them the same foraging toys. I would carefully load up Marnie's toy and then Puff's. He would watch her closely as she got out the treats and then use the same method to get into his own toy.
Normally I don't reinforce Marnie with a treat every time she steps up (because petting and spending time with me is also reinforcing for her), but with Puff watching I consitently cued, bridged and reinforced her (with his fav treat) for stepping up and down, making sure he could see well. I would then go to him and attempt the same. If he gave me his warning double click I would remove my hand and replace it with a perch (he showed no fear to this perch from the start), then repeat the cue. With in a couple of days he was jumping up on the perch on cue and from there we repeated the process onto my arm. He then went to spend the day on the play gym with Marnie and Lucha, carefully watching what Marnie was doing and eating. After about a week I started asking him to step up straight onto my arm from the play gym with immediate sucess.
Then surgery happened and Puff decided I was terrifying again (I did have a bandage around my head).
So for the past two weeks we have been slowely working back to where we were and this week he has been stepping up from the cage.
He's gradually regaining his confidence and I hope to be able to give him scritches in the future

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hurricane Season Is Here... Is Your Bird Ready?


This room is full of birds and other exotic animals that were rescued from Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike

Hurricane Season is officially here for the Atlantic Basin and the first Tropical Low has formed.
What does this mean for bird owners like myself?
It means it's time to double check your preparations and put the finishing touches on training the behaviors that will help you in the event of an emergency.
But don't panic... if you are not prepared with an emergency kit and have not thought about what behaviors will be helpful in an emergency, it's not too late!

Here is a parrot disaster kit list that I put together with Code 3 Associates:

Food and Water

Food; two weeks supply – pelleted diets, seeds, dried fruits/veggies and nuts – in airtight container, rotated every 3 months

Small tubs of fruit salad in own juice is great as they provide fresh fruit and fluids but keep a long time.

Certain Baby foods are also good as they are mushy which is a comfort food for birds. Be careful as to vitamin and mineral supplementation which may be too high for a bird

Your birds favorite teats – rotated every 3 mo

Water; two week supply – estimate 1 to 2 quarts per day for drinking, bathing and cleaning

Food and water dishes – have extra and non breakable

Restraint and ID

ID - band number or microchip – have this information on your paperwork

Towels - wrap the avian in

Portable cage with perches - marked with your contact info

Recent photographs - including you or family member in picture

Wire, pliers, and duct tape – to repair portable cage

Wire cutters - to remove a stuck bird in an emergency

Sanitation

Newspapers for lining the cage

Paper towels

Dish soap

Disinfectant

Garbage bags


Care and Comfort

Blanket or sheet to cover cage

Toys

Hot water bottle

Flashlight w/extra batteries

Grooming supplies

Spray bottle for misting

Battery Powered fan - a small one can be attached to the cage and make the difference on a hot day

Records and medications

Vet phone number

Copies of proof of ownership papers

Copies of medical records

Medication – two week supply of any medication the bird is on

First aid Kit –

First aid book for Birds

3 X 5 conforming bandages

4 X 4 gauze pads

Graze rolls

Antiseptic wipes

Triple antibiotic cream

Q-tips

Scissors

Tweezers

Instant cold pack

Disposable gloves

Two rolls of vet wrap

Items in addition to basic kit

Pedialyte

Blunt nose scissors

Styptic powder

Cornflower – to stop bleeding on wings or soft tissue

Hemostat - for pulling broken blood feathers

Cotton swabs

Feeding syringes - incase hand feeding is needed)

NOTE: Birds are better being transported in the plastic animal kennels with a low perch, however this is not suitable for any longer than a day at the very most as most birds can chew through the plastic in short order.

Similarly cages (either small regular ones or collapsible travel ones) are dangerous for travel as the bird can easily panic and break wings or get them stuck in the bars.

Two cages are best, a travel cage and a collapsible wire one for when the destination has been reached.

Keep the disaster kit in an easy to grab and go bag or tub that is in a central location. If there the entrance that you keep the kit at is blocked it won't be of much use.

Make sure you know the best way to pack your car with people, animals, and supplies for both. Then be sure to plan at least 3 different routes out of town to your intended destinations (have more than one of these too!).

Finally make sure everyone in the family knows the plan.


If you must leave without your animals make sure you leave some indication on your house that you have animals and how many of each species. Inside the home in an obvious position leave basic care instructions, your emergency contact number, your out of state contact number and your vets number. This will allow emergency responders to care for your animals and get in contact with you.





Next post I will cover some behaviors which you can train to help you and emergency responders in an emergency.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Global Warming A Threat To Parrots

As this article on Tree Hugger shows, the threat to wild parrots is not only from direct human destruction of habitat and trapping, but also from our influence on Global Warming.

The islanders are evacuating their island to head for higher ground after the rise in sea levels have made their agricultural existence impossible.

They predict that the island will be under water by 2015 (that's only 6 years from now!). But while the humans have made it to safety, what of the wildlife that's left behind.
Many of our beloved birds are island dwellers in the Southern Pacific, so in 50 years, with sea levels rising the way they are, where will they be?

Please do your bit to end Global Warming (a lot of it will save you money over time too! Think of all the extra bird toys you can buy), and help to save our birds native habitat.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Has Your Bird Got Rhythm?

According to scientist who studied the parrot celebrities Snowball and Alex, parrots are the first creatures apart from humans to be found to have rhythm.

They watched Snowball dancing to the Backstreet Boys played at different tempos and found that he adjusted his movements to match.

Now my birds are not really dancers... no matter how much I turn up the music and dance around like a fool. But every now and then Marnie will get into it and I have noticed she has close to perfect rhythm.

All in all, I think this is just another bit scientific proof that our birds are as intelligent and cognizant as we know they are

BBC Article on Dancing Birds

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Loss of a Friend and the Terror of Fingerless Gloves


Well it's been a while since I updated on here (note to self... must get better about that), and a lot has happened. Some good, some bad and some kinda average.

In bad news, Inyoni, the spitfire 1 legged female lovebird has passed on to the rainbow bridge. Her energy and fire will be missed.
Her mate Ndeke was very quiet for a week after her death, but after a cage move around and he realised that he now gets all these awesome things like bird bread and warm mushy foods, and a happy hut because I no longer have to worry about these things triggering a laying session. So he's acting normally now... perhaps even a little more content now she is not demanding feedings and nagging him.
A necropsy was performed (I cannot stress the importance of this for any bird owning home) and no contagious cause of death was found. I had her cremated and am waiting for a nice day to take her ashes out to the greenbelt so she can fly free.

Darwin has been a cause for concern as he had a seizure last week (possibly he had one in January too). I stepped him up to put him in the travel cage to go to the vet for a nail trim (he's squirmy and I have not trained the nail trimming behavior with him yet), as he came out of the cage he just dropped from my hand and was seizing on the floor. I scooped him up and into the travel cage and hit the road to the vet (calling them to let them know I was bringing in an emergency). After about half an hour he came back from the far away gaze and was his normal self.
Gram stains showed nothing and we pulled blood for CBC and Chlamydiosis on Monday... everything came back normal with the slight exception of his Calcium which was on the low end of normal... so we are going to up his calcium intake and retest in a month... hopefully this will be the cause.

I think it important here to share some of the foods I will be adding to his diet (remember, he's on the allergy diet of rice pellets... he just recently started getting an organic allergen free sprout mix).
So, now I am hanging fresh organic dandelion leaves in his cage (he is unimpressed), offering a small bite of cheese every day, and almonds.

I also finally bought full spectrum lighting, after much research about the issue of CRI, Kelvin and flickering. My research identified the minimum CRI and Kelvin and informed me that the issue of flickering was all down to the base. Older bases were not designed to keep the flicker rate down, but that there should not be any problems with flicker with newer bases.
So I bought two full spectrum bulbs from featherbrite and a clamp light with a cage over the bulb (this is found in the reptile section). The stronger watt bulb is in the overhead light in the bird room, and the clamp light shines the other one direct on his cage... I really like how it turned out and am already planning on getting a second clamp light and bulb to brighten up Ndeke's lower cage.

And then there is Marnie.
I recently tried wearing elasticated fingerless gloves to help with my arthritis, and Marnie was not impressed!
Although she would take food from my gloved hand, and allowed me to scritch her with it, she would not step up on it... I'm not sure if it was the look or it or the feel, but she was having none of it.
So desensitization started.
I started by having her on my lap and slowly brought the gloved hand closer and closer, consistently reinforcing calm behavior. Eventually I had my gloved hand right next to her feet and from there I slowly began to touch them with the fabric, and finally I put my gloved hand flat on my leg and used the treat to persuade her to step on to it. Once onto the gloved hand I reinforced her for that and staying on there... and now she steps up onto the gloved hand without hesitation!

Finally, check out the Austin Parrot Society for info on our next meeting, a foraging toy workshop, and let me know if you want to be added to the mailing list!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Training Update 03/08/2009

Time for a training update... it's been long enough!

Lucha is still in his hormonal amazon season and is very difficult to work with. I was lucky to get a few repetitions in of the taking liquid from a syringe behavior the other day before the eyes and tail flashed and the whining started.

Darwin is still working on his recall... he's still a little hesitant, but I am happy to say that with patience and a few repetitions of the request he is coming down from the very top of the playscape every time. I will of course be continuing to work on recall, but would like to add specific areas to cue him to.

Marnie surprised me today. Normally when I attempt to target with her she gives me the "why?" look. So when I decided to start the taking liquid from a syringe behavior with her I was unsure of how well we'd progress.
So I showed her the syringe, she touched it with her beak, I bridged and reinforced. After a couple of slow repetitions I decided to add liquid to the syringe (some lukewarm chamomile tea, one of her favs). Well that turned out to be great for Marnie. The first time she touched the syringe tip with the liquid, she lost all interest in the chopped almonds in my hand and proceeded to drink the whole 1cc of chamomile tea in one go! I refilled with water and got exactly the same reaction :)
Thinking back this should have been obvious, as Marnie often demands a taste of whatever I am drinking and hissy fits are thrown if I am drinking something like coffee and deny her request. So even though the liquid was in a syringe and not a cup, it was still hugely reinforcing for her to get the contents...
... but with sucess comes failure. I asked her for a turnaround and she stared at me...

Marnie giving her patented "Why?" look

Monday, February 23, 2009

Catching Up on Things

Well it has been hectic here and I haven't posted in a while, but I feel sufficiently guilty and promise to work harder on it in the future... honest!

Training News
Training is on hold for breeding season for Lucha. Although I was having problems with focusing when we were working on crate training on the floor (my toes are a high value reinforcer apparently), he has now gotten to the point where any attention quickly leads to eye pinning, cheek puffing and tail fanning, quickly followed by a display illustrating just what a handsome amazon he is. I am lucky in that for the most part, I can still get him to step up when in this mode and move him back and forward from cage to playscape... but training is just way to overstimulating and he gets focused on displaying and not training.

Marnie is still a little smarty pants know it all... she has been a little fussy about stepping up to go to bed (after all, she's 7 now and can stay up late and watch horror movies or so she tells me), but I have been working on that by getting the treat and doing a short (1 minute) run through of turns, waves and shakes, before asking for the step up and giving it to her on the way to the cage for bed.

Darwin is still an adorable little snot, still looking for his forever home and still recalling.
He still hesitates a little when I am asking him to come down from the top of the playscape, but time, patience and consistency will approve his reaction time after the cue. Next up I think I will start teaching him some silly parrot tricks such as turn around and wave.

Austin Parrot Society
We had our first meeting yesterday and I have to say I was very happy and impressed with the folks that came. 16 of us in total, but we all seemed to have the same goals and concerns for our parrots. I am really looking forward to developing the society as a focal point for the parrot community in Austin... more details on the meeting can be found at the Austin Parrot Society Blog

Wings of Love Bird Haven
I spent valentines weekend up at Bird Haven with my friend and Partner In Crime Emily. I spent the time educating the volunteers and the birds on positive reinforcement. I was really wonderfull to see almost every bird really get into the training and improve with just two short sessions. I will do a proper write up about this weekend soon.

From Beaks to Barks
Speaking of Emily, she is my pet sitter as well as my friend, and she has featured my birds as February's Pet of the Month on her Blog.
Check it out Here

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Weatherford Parrots Update

I would like to thank everyone who responded to my original post with offers of help and/or donations. Much has happened since then, and I wanted to give everyone an update so that you can direct your energies and assistance in the most productive way possible with minimal confusion or wasted time.

GREAT NEWS: Parker County Animal Shelter has talked the city out of auctioning off or euthanizing any of the birds! All birds that are considered “unadoptable” are being sent to reputable sanctuaries, where they can live out their days in ease. As for the rest of the birds, they are either being adopted directly out of the shelter itself, or passed on to a few reputable rescue groups. Last time I spoke with the shelter director, they were still sorting out which rescues were getting birds. For right now, they are going to try to keep as many in-house as possible. *If you do not live in Parker County, they will not adopt a bird out to you.* So, contrary to my last post, most of you are not eligible to adopt birds through them. This may change, but for now they want to keep their birds within the county. I will not keep posting updates about the shelter. To keep up with the latest news yourself, or to make a donation to them, please visit their website: http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/TX54.html

Having said all of that, Wings of Love Bird Haven took in another two birds this week, one of which is a macaw in very poor condition. So, while much of the immediate crisis of auctions has been averted, Bird Haven is still in desperate need of help. These are their specific needs (anyone who makes a donation can get a receipt for tax purposes):

* Monetary donations to cover medical expenses, purchase food, cages, and other supplies.
* Large cages that will house Greys and Eclectus all the way up to Macaws and Cockatoos
* Organic, dye-free pelleted food and/or fresh, organic produce
* Sprout seeds
* Newspapers

My friend and I are still heading up to Bird-Haven this weekend, so if you want to make donations in kind (sprouts, veggies, newspaper, pellets etc) then please let me know and I will come and pick up this week.

They do not need toys or smaller cages right now, although they might in the future.

And of course, as always, they are in need of good foster or permanent adoptive homes.

To make a donation, contact Bird Haven directly with any questions, or to fill out foster or adoption applications, please visit: www.bird-haven.org

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Parrots in Need: Weatherford Hoarding Case

I have swiped the text of this post from my good friend Emily. She's already written everything I want to say, so it's easier than writing a completely different set of text which says the same thing.

A little over a month ago, over 100 parrots of all sizes and species were seized from a home in Weatherford, TX, where they had been found in squalid conditions. These birds were all taken to a local county shelter which has little funding and even less experience with birds. This shelter is simply not equipped to properly handle and rehome all of these birds. A nearby avian rescue, Wings of Love Bird Haven, is doing everything they can to help alleviate the burden and provide these birds with proper living conditions, medical attention, and forever homes. However, their resources are limited as well. Anything you can do to help will be greatly appreciated.

How You Can Help:

*Donate cages, playgyms, and/or toys. My friend and I are going up to Bird Haven on the 14th, so if you have anything to donate, we can take it up there for you and bring you back a receipt for tax purposes.

*Donate money directly to Bird Haven


*Sign up to attend Barbara Heidenreich’s workshop at Bird Haven in March

*Apply to Bird Haven to adopt or foster a bird

*Apply directly to the Parker County Shelter to adopt or foster a bird - or call: (817) 598-4111

If you do adopt or foster a bird from this situation and need help with any behavioral issues, I will be happy to help you for free.

If they are not able to find suitable homes for these birds through adoption, Weatherford’s City Manager has stated that they will probably auction the birds off with minimum bids. This would be detrimental, as many of those birds would likely end up in unethical breeding situations or in homes similar to the one they came from. Please help if you can, and spread the word to anyone you know who might be able to help.

I would like to also encourage everyone to contact the City Manager and tell him exactly why an auction is in the worst interests of the birds. With no possible way to screen bidders for safety, ensure that birds go to homes suitable for their individual needs or ensure that they will not immediately go into an unethical breeding situation or a home just like the one they are seized from. We parrot owners know that just because you can afford a bird, does not mean you are capable of giving it a good home.
Here are his details:

Jerry Blaisdell - Weatherford City Manager
817-598-4100
jblaisdell@weatherfordtx.gov

UPDATE: I contacted the City Managers office via phone today and was told the City Manager was off sick and they would ask him to return my call when he comes in. I made it clear that I was calling to discuss the potential auction of the birds and how I felt it was detrimental to the birds future health and safety. Maybe if we all leave messages asking to talk to him in objection to the auction it will send a strong indication of public feeling on the matter

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Training During Breeding Season

It's that time of year again and last week marked the first puffy dance of the season for my Lilac Crowned Amazon Lucha. The recipient was my African Grey Marnie, who as usual looked blankly at this dancing amazon and walked away when he started regurgitating for her.
Of course Marnie is not the only recipient of puffy dances. Toes and feet are also displayed for regularly if he can get close enough, no matter if you have socks on or are hiding your feet in your pants leg, Lucha dances away before giving them a present.

With Lucha's crate up training this is causing a problem. I don't have a dining table (the birds cages take up the dining area), so I had been setting the crate on the floor (tile, he has problems walking on carpet or bedding) and sitting on the floor to target Lucha into the crate... which worked well until last week. Unfortunately I have not worked out a way of sitting on the floor which completely hides my feet. So now while I am attempting to target Lucha, he is far more interested in serenading my feet... and as reinforcement is in the eye of the bird, he finds my feet of infinitely higher value than even an almond in the shell.

So how does everyone else deal with training their hormonal bird?

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of an Amazon puffy dance then I have a little photo story below. You'll have to imagine the growling, clucking whine he makes.

First you puff up all over, but paying special attention to the cheeks and trousers. Begin flipping wings and waddling back and forwards...


With a flip of the head change direction...


And the other way...


One more repetition...


And REGURGITATE!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Training Update 01/31/2009

Well daily life has been interfering with daily training recently. I got called back to my seasonal position with the IRS (yay money), but I work nights there, so getting back into a night schedule has been hard... that said, I have still been getting some training done with the cutest little greencheek conure in South Austin!

Darwin's recall training has come on leaps and bounds. The past week I have been concentrating on our training sessions being different distances and directions to expose him to all sorts of potential problems. Though he still does hesitate on occasion, he always comes eventually for that smooch and taste of pecan.
Today I decided to introduce new starting locations. Up until today his take off point was always the training T-stand, so today I walked around the house, putting him down on various things (spare play gym, my bed etc) and recalled him before putting him back down on yet another object. The final recall was done from Marnie's cage (Darwin loves to hang out on top of it) to my arm across the bird room and the living room with only one cue of "Darwin come here!". Needless to say he received a jackpot reinforcement of a whole pecan to take back to the cage with him.... But what happened later was even more impressive.
I have posted a picture of my birds playscape a couple of weeks ago. The chain across the top of it is well out of reach for me and Darwin likes to hang out up there... the only problem is when I need him down to put him away to open the door safely. Now since recall training started, I have always at least tried to recall him before going for the step ladder, but despite a lot of posturing and squeaking he's never taken flight... until today. I grabbed a pecan and gave the cue "Darwin come here!" only twice before down he flew! Another jackpot of a whole pecan was welcomed as he went back into his cage... I think the Jackpot from the earlier behavior was well remembered... although I'll have to be careful that he won't expect a whole pecan for every recall!

Interestingly it seems like his aggression problems in and near the cage have calmed a little since starting the recall training. Could it be that by stretching his mind and body with training, it is taking away the angry possessiveness? I'm not sure, but it is certainly positive reinforcement for me to have him a little sweeter around the cage!

Another of Darwin's favorite spots is the curtain rod... and the next place he'll need to recall from

Monday, January 26, 2009

Everyone Should Give Back and Reach Out

Last Saturday Emily and I headed up to the Wings of Love Bird Haven Rescue in Red Oak, TX for their work day.
It was a great opportunity to meet the caring people who created and run this rescue, and help the birds in their care.
Upon arrival we were quickly walked through a disinfecting foot bath, before being put to work cleaning up. We helped to sweep and mop, change newspapers and get the cages hosed off and clean. When that was done, we spent a few minutes helping to insulate one of the rooms, before moving on to my favorite part of the day... toy making.

A group of 5 of us sat around two tables full of toy making materials and combined making toys with discussing various aspects of parrot care. There was a great balance of people from the trainee vet assistant who came to learn about birds, to the experienced owners of many years. I think we discussed every topic from training, to nutrition to toys to foraging to vet care and everything in between. A lot of valuable information was shared for the benefit of all our birds.
So all in all a very productive day was had by all, which benefited not only the surrendered birds at Bird-Haven, but also our own birds.

Good quality bird rescue organizations are vital for the companion parrot community.
There will always be occasions when no matter how well we plan ahead, things can go wrong and our birds need to find new homes. By surrendering them to a good rescue you can rest assured that they will not only give the bird the best of care while with them, but also that they will carefully screen not only potential adoptive homes, but also those who do home checks, foster or just volunteer at the facility.
A good rescue will also try and work with you before surrender to help you make changes to your routine and lifestyle in order to keep the bird in your home. Often with a little work, the problem which was causing the surrender can be solved.

Unfortunately there are also bad rescues out there. So if you are considering surrendering your bird it is important that you do a check on the rescue itself. Discuss the diet, foraging opportunities, enrichment, caging, which vet they use and what kind of vet care they provide, ask for a tour of the facility, discuss their adoption process. You should leave the bird there knowing that it will be cared for to the highest standards, and that the rescue is ultimately putting the birds interests first and foremost above all else. If for any reason you do not feel comfortable leaving your bird there, then don't. There are a number of rescue facilities in Texas and world wide, if the first one does not meet the interests of your bird, then look to the next one.

Unfortunately the best rescues are often underfunded and understaffed. That is because giving high quality lives for their birds and the best care is not cheap. Think about how much you spend in a year on your beloved pet bird. Now times that by 10 or 20 birds and factor in problems like birds who have never had vet care and have severe health issues, multiple birds who are surrendered without suitable caging and you'll come out to a huge figure and these facilities rely on donations from the public. Think about how long you spend preparing food, cleaning cages, making enrichment opportunities. Now scale that up to the size of a rescue and you'll realize why volunteers are so vital to the success of the rescue and the welfare of the birds in their care.

If you are looking to add another bird to your home, you could do far worse than opening your heart and home to a bird from a rescue. Yes, some come with behavioral problems which may not be suitable for everyone. But there are also birds who are wonderful companions who just need a loving, caring home.
The adoption process may be long, but that is only because the rescue wants to place the bird in the best possible home with the best possible owner. But the rewards when that bird settles down with you is hugely rewarding.
If you are in Texas you could do far worse than one of the birds currently living at Bird-Haven. They currently have available for adoption Amazons, Cockatoos, Macaws and a Quaker. Check out their website for more information on adoptable birds and their adoption process.

So I guess what today's' blog post is about is reaching out. Reach out to your local rescue to volunteer, to adopt, to donate and if needed to surrender your bird. Whichever path you choose to help you will not only get great satisfaction from seeing happy birds, but your Karma will also get a boost.

Before I finish I would also like to mention for those interested in positive reinforcement training methods, that Barbara Heidenreich will be doing a workshop hosted by Wings Of Love Bird Haven on March 14th:

Saturday, March 14, 2009 10:00-5:00
4515 LBJ Freeway
Dallas, TX
Registration is 65.00 per person/115.00 for 2 family members in the same household
After February 1st price increases to 75.00/125.00
Please sign up at http://www.bird-haven.org/clickertraining.html
Lunch provided
Live Demonstrations with several birds provided by
Wings of Love Bird Haven, Inc.
(no guest is allowed to bring any birds)
Seating is limited
Contact info@bird-haven.org for more information


I highly recommend attending this workshop as it will provide a huge amount of information on positive reinforcement and give you the chance to support a rescue!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Training Update 01/20/2009

Training has been a little slow the past couple of days, but there are still updates!

Marnie has been learning to target to an acrylic wand. I have been bridging and rewarding her for touching the target and so far she's doing pretty good. She does have a few moments where she fixes me with one eye and stares for a second before touching the target... I think she's just trying to work out why I want her to touch the target. The targeting behavior is going to be step one of teaching her to "Crate Up"

Lucha has also been learning to target. He has learned to target to the syringe for his last medical behavior, but now I have replaced the syringe with the acrylic wand. Lucha really gets into this behavior and will move all along the T-stand to touch the target. Interestingly during the last target session I failed to notice I was holding the pecan (from which I was breaking his reinforcer) in plain view, in the hand with the target wand and within reach of his beak. But Lucha being a good boy who loves to train would glance at the pecan, before reaching out and touching the target anyway. So rather than go straight for the pecan, he preferred to perform the behavior for a smaller reinforcer!
Yesterday I introduced the carrier. Lucha has been in this carrier before to the vet, so is familiar with it. Handily it has a door on the top as well as the end, so I was able to to open that to get a better angle. Lucha was happy to follow the target as far as perching in the open doorway before he showed signs of nervousness in his body language. So a good start from which to build on.

Darwin has been working well on his recall and has recalled from across the room on a number of occasions. I will continue to work on recalling from a variety of locations around the house. Although we may have a problem in the future as I have recently heard Marnie saying "Come Here" in my voice, which is Darwin's recall cue LOL

On a slight aside: Things are still moving forwards for the Austin Parrot Society. We now have a blog set up at http://www.austinparrotsociety.blogspot.com for updates on the planning processes and for information on meetings.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Entertainment and Enrichment is in the Eye of the Bird not the Bird Holder

Today was one of those days where I woke up coughing (remains of a chest infection and vindictive asthma) and decided to do as little as possible. After a quick trip to the store I set about doing some work on enrichment.

It had occurred to me the night before that it had been a while since I had moved the toys on the playscape around, so I set about taking them all down, cleaning and refilling foraging toys and coming up with new places to hang them. I make up a mix for my out of cage foraging toys which covers a number of different enrichment areas including tactile, olfactory, visual and taste. Because my GCC Darwin has access to these I have to be careful of ingredients (he's on an allergy diet at the moment) so my mix is made up for the following:
2 pounds Avian Naturals House Select Cage Mix
1-2 oz organic dried German Chamomile flowers
1-2 oz organic dried hibiscus flowers
1-2 oz organic dried red leaf raspberry
1-2 oz organic star anise
1-2 oz dried spearmint
I find most of my birds will search out the star anise, with the other herbs being picked at.
In my foraging toys I also like to include organic dried chili peppers which are especially popular with Lucha (just make sure to double wash your hands!) and organic almonds in the shell.
To enrich the birds aurally while I worked, I put on the Pollyvision II: Parrots of the Americas DVD which Lucha really enjoys. He will usually stop whatever he is doing and chatter at the wild amazons in the first section of the DVD.

As soon as I finished putting up the newly filled foraging toys I sat down for a quick cup of coffee and observed my birds.
Lucha, normally a simple forager, headed straight for the furthest away foraging toy which was hung at the top of a boing, which was hung from the ceiling. For some reason it was more enriching for him to climb up the play stand and then precariously inch his way up the boing (remember, he has poor balance) to reach the foraging toy at the top, than to climb down one level to a much closer and easier to access foraging toy.
Marnie also decided to do things a little differently. I had one toy I had hung near a mid level perch to encourage Lucha, which Marnie headed for. But instead of going to the mid level perch, she went to the ring and ladder part of the play gym and hung upside down from one foot to reach the same toy.
Now both of these birds could have taken the easy route with their search for food, but instead they went the most difficult way. Contra freeloading at it's best!

A few days ago a new bunch of toys arrived, with a foot toy I had gotten especially for Marnie. It was a SS ring with acrylic stars on it (she loves acrylic). After training time I brought her to the couch and presented her with her new toy... which she promptly dropped on the floor and then legged it along the couch and grabbed what then became her new favorite toy... a clicker. A few years ago I had bought a clicker to use as a bridge for training, but after a couple of tries I found that it was one too many things in my hands and that for me a verbal bridge was more effective. So Marnie has had one lesson with the clicker as a bridge, a couple of years ago, but today she seemed to remember exactly what it was for.
After playing with it for a few minutes she worked out how to make it click. A couple of clicks later I heard her say "Marnie goo pretty bird?" she then clicked the clicker and said "Goo pretty!".

So what did I learn this week from my birds?
That the easiest food is not always the "best" even when the bird is foraging for all it's food already. This is true for me too, waiting a few minutes to get take away salad with fresh organic veggies from a good restaurant is better for me than going through the drive through window, even if it does take longer.
I also learned that just because I don't think it's a parrot toy, does not mean that it can't be in the beak of an interested parrot.

The playscape today after it's move around

Friday, January 16, 2009

Austin Parrot Society and More

After much procrastination a lot of things are happening... this is an exciting time to be a parrot owner in Austin!

For starters, due to the apparent lack of real organization amongst the Austin parrot community I (with the support of my close friend Emily) am trying to form the Austin Parrot Society. This will be a group that will meet monthly and focus on improving the lives of companion parrots in the Austin area by learning and discussing the very latest on husbandry, veterinary advances, behavior and training (to name just a few topics).
It has always seemed a pity to me that we have so many parrot resources in the area (Barbara Heidenreich is an Austin native, there's the Schubot Center at Texas A&M), that we have not really tapped into them. Take a look at speaker schedules for parrot related topics and you'll find dates in DFW, Houston and San Antonio, but rarely Austin. So I thought it was about time to get organized, get together and work to build a group that will be able to bring these insightful, experienced professionals to Austin for the benefit of our birds.
I also feel there is a hugely untapped source for learning from each other. Personally, I work in the disaster management field and would love to share information about disaster response and preparedness as it relates to parrots with the community, this group will provide a forum for that too.
And it's also the opportunity to meet regularly with other people who like to smell their Amazon parrots (you amazon owners know what I mean!) without the rest of the group looking at you like you just sprouted antenna.

There are a couple of people who have volunteered to put up flyers around town to generate more interest, and I have started in South Austin, so far response has been enthusiastic. If you are interested in receiving more information about the Austin Parrot Society (and especially if you would like to put up flyers) please send an email to austinparrotsociety@gmail.com

More huge news is that my fellow parrot enthusiast (and great pet sitter) Emily Strong of From Beaks to Barks Pet Sitting
is going to be teaching free (yup, that's right, free) parrot ownership classes at Gallery of Pets (Duval and 183), starting Friday January 30th at 7pm. These are going to be comprehensive classes which will hopefully teach prospective, new and experienced bird owners an overview of parrot care, from cage selection to diet to training and everything in between. There is even a downloadable PDF ebook covering all the topics in the class available at her site. I highly recommend downloading and reading through the book, even experienced parrot owners may learn something new.
Sign ups for the class are via email. More details (and the ebook) can be found HERE

So as you can tell, there's a lot of potential for great things in the Austin parrot community in the coming months... I hope you will join us for the ride!

This was Inyoni the freezing night she was left on my doorstep. Please consider taking the parrot ownership class and joining the Austin Parrot Society, so that we can reduce the number of birds abandoned like her

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Training Update 01/15/09

Things have been going well on the training front in my flock :)

Marnie has had two sessions learning "Shake" and had gotten the hang of it quickly.
I started off by offering my right index finger pointed at her left leg at a 45 degree angle and gave the cue "Shake". I bridged and rewarded her first for lifting the leg
Then for touching her foot to my finger
Then for touching the base of her foot on top of my finger
Then for touching it a little longer
Then wrapping her toes around it slightly
Then for wrapping them all the way around.
The last approximation we worked on today was holding onto my finger for 10 seconds.
Tomorrow I plan to work on holding on to my finger while I move it up and down.

Lucha is now willing to drink almost a whole 1 cc of water before looking for his reinforcer. Tomorrow I plan to start on training him to crate up. While he is okay with me putting him into the crate. It would be great to be able to train him to walk in on his own.

Darwin was in a very friendly mood today and stepped up from his door perch quickly so I decided to start recall training with huge success. I put him on the training T-stand and used chopped pecans as his reinforcer (my birds are really into pecans at the moment). The closest approximation he already new was step up.
I first held my finger a few inches from him, about an inch above his feet, held the pecan behind my hand and gave the cue "come here". He stepped up immediately and I bridged and reinforced him. I repeated the same distance and cue, and again immediately bridged and reinforced him.
I then moved my finger another inch away and each time he stretched out on the cue "come here". I increased the distance slowly till I was 6 inches away and then the big test came. He could no longer reach out with a foot or beak to get to me. He would have to fly. For extra encouragement I showed him the whole pecan and he ran up and down the T-stand a few times, squeeking as he does when he wants something, he also bobbed up and down and opened his wings slightly. After a minute of trying to work it out he flew to my wrist, I bridged and gave him a jackpot of a big bite out of the pecan and returned him to the T-stand. Again I offered my finger and the cue "Come here", this time there was less hesitation and again he landed on my wrist. From this I deduced that he preferred my arm as a landing spot, maybe because it's a broader platform? So I stopped offering the finger and offered my arm again.
I continued approximations of moving my arm slightly further away from the T-stand each repetition. The final repetition was made with my arm two feet away from the perch.
On the whole I am very happy with his progress today both in his behavior around the cage and in his recall training. Tomorrow I hope to continue the recall training with further approximations regarding distance. I also hope to continue to work on his aggression around the cage.
It occurs to me that the recall training may be of aid to this as I can give him the recal cue "Come here" when he is being aggressive around his cage and I need to get in it for house keeping purposes, to remove him from the cage, without triggering an aggressive act.

Darwin hanging around

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Importance of Humidity for Companion Parrots

In Texas this winter the weather has been imitating a yoyo, with a rotating change between warm weather with relative humidity (RH) around 50% and cold with RH dropping into the twenties and teens. As one who works in the wildland fire business I am used to keeping an eye on RH as it relates to fire danger, but this recently I started playing close attention as to how it effected my parrots.

It all started when I was taking care of a friend’s male Eclectus, Bayu. He would sneeze on occasion without an obvious reason. He had a clean vet work up and there were no environmental triggers which we could put our fingers on. Because of my parrots and my own chemical sensitivities there are no chemical cleaners or other such allergen or irritant products in my house. When he went back to his home his diet was changed to remove potential allergens such as wheat and soy. But still the sneezing continued. The only thing that seemed to help was having his nares flushed with saline solution, but that only lasted a couple of hours.
Months rolled on and one day a happy coincidence led me to explore further the importance of RH.
It was the first cold snap of the year and I was at home surfing the internet when my Lilac Crowned Amazon, Lucha, sneezed… an hour later he sneezed again, but this time out of the corner of my eye I noticed my digital temperature/hygrometer that I had been using to check my leopard geckos tanks. The temperature was 65 F and the RH was 23%. I then sneezed hard and an idea formed. What if the reason for Bayu, Lucha and myself sneezing was the dry air stimulating our olfactory system?
A couple of days later, warm air moved up from the Gulf of Mexico and fog set in bringing the RH up to 90%. Low and behold both Lucha and I stopped sneezing.
Wanting to confirm my theory with a third case, I took my thermometer/hygrometer to my friend’s house and waited for the next cold front to pass through the state. Sure enough I got a phone call telling me that when the cold front passed, the RH in the room dropped into the thirties and Bayu started sneezing.

Consider the tropics and sub tropics where the majority of parrot species evolved. The average relative humidity is 50% or higher, year round, often with extended periods in the 90s. So it is not surprising that periods of lower humidity can cause problems such as itchy dry skin, increased dust in species which produce it and irritation of the olfactory system. This can also aggravate those who already have related health problems such as birds who pluck and in some cases cause the plucking to start. In our homes we can unknowingly increase the problem by using central heating which dries the air even further. I would encourage all parrot owners to pick up a cheap hygrometer and check the RH of their house, with particular attention to the bird area. I think most owners would be surprised to see it's reading. From there they can take steps to increase the RH to a more suitable number and should note the differences in their birds condition from before and after the changes in RH (a couple of weeks should be given for changes to happen of course, nothing is instant).

Fortunately the solution is simple. Humidifiers can be purchased for a reasonable amount in most home stores. Models range from simple ones with a small tank and an on/off button to larger ones with washable filters, large water tanks and humidistat to turn the machine on and off automatically to keep the RH at a set level.
For those who heat their home through radiators a cheap and easy method is to use the wall radiators to dry wet clothes. As the clothes dry the water that evaporates will raise the humidity in the house.

Since purchasing a humidifier (I went for one with a humidistat) I have kept my house at a constant 55% RH or higher. The change in my birds has been quick and obvious. My Lilac Crowned Amazon has not sneezed in a month; his feet which were getting slightly flakey are smoother and his feathers in better condition. My African Grey is significantly less dusty and is spending less time aggressively preening. As keeping the humidity constant was the only change made during this time, I feel that these improvements in condition are as a result of maintaining a minimum RH of 55%.
Interestingly, since the humidifier was set up near the play scape, on days where the RH is low outside, Lucha will spend most of the day on the part of the play scape closest to the humidifier.

Humidity levels are just as important to feather health as a good soaking bath

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Training Update 01/13/2009

I am continuing to work on getting Marnie to pay closer attention to the specific behavior I am asking for as opposed to just offering the first one she thinks of.
Doing two 10 minute sessions a day she is improving greatly, and getting the correct behavior 90% of the time. She seems to be favoring the Wave behavior at the moment, and will occasionally shift her weight as if to start the Wave, before turning.
I plan a few more days of this sharpening of skills before moving on to a new behavior.

Darwin is going through an increase in aggressive behavior around his cage at the moment, although he is still very sweet out of the cage. This increase in aggressive body language and behavior means I am going back to basics with him and working on targeting around the cage. Although I am not sure exactly why he has changed his behavior, I am determined to work through this by using positive reinforcement, at the same time as examining his environment for any differences which could have set him back. I am giving him 3 short sessions a day of targeting around the cage at the moment.

Lucha is still a little on the hormonal lovey side. In an effort to get by this I returned to working on the Taking Liquid from a Syringe behavior, which he already knows fairly well, to see if he would focus better on this than the new behavior (the Turaround).
Lucha is pretty good at this behavior and quickly targets the tip of the syringe when he sees it. However, I had gotten poor results when water was added to the syringe. So this time I thought a little more about setting him up for success. Because Lucha consumes more water than the average bird, I decided to remove water from his play gym a few hours before the planned session. Sure enough as soon as he realised that water was in the syringe he started drinking it from the tip and in essence receiving reinforcement from the water as well as the verbal and pecans. Next time I plan on doing the same, but take the water away an hour before training, with the end view of not needing to remove the water at all in a few more sessions as I will be able reinforce when he takes the water now.
I have also been thinking more about his difficulty with the Turnaround. I am wondering if part of the reason why he's slow in picking up this behavior, is that he really does not want to do it because his balance is poor. He has been a little unsteady since I have had him, and often walks using his beak first or has problems maintaining balance while climbing... and here I am asking him to turn in a circle on a perch. This hardly seems like setting him up for success.
So I think maybe the best option with Lucha is to examine the behavior from his point of view before deciding whether or not to teach it to him, and to work on something that is more focused on improving his daily life.


Lucha takes a well deserved post training session nap

This blog is turning out to be a very useful way of working through my thoughts and making sense out of them for the benefit of my birds:)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Meet The Flock: Inyoni and Ndeke

The final part of my flock is made up of my two Peachfaced Lovebirds Inyoni and Ndeke

Both are 4 years old and both came to me in less than ideal circumstances.
First was Inyoni (a Zulu word meaning "bird") who was left out in the cold with nowhere to call home after her mate died and she became "too loud".
I took her in and moved her on up to a big cage with lots of toys and good foods.
She was not tame, and I pretty much let her carry on in that way as she was a happy, spunky lovebird who did not need human interaction to enjoy life.
Unfortunately 6 months after she came into my home she got into a fight with a toy and the toy won. Her leg was too damaged to save and it was amputated at the body so as not to leave a stump to get damaged. Inyoni hasn't let this hold her back and still loves to run around the house bossing the big birds around.

A year after Inyoni came along I was asked to take another lovebird. As his other option was to be released to fend for himself in winter, I of course took him in on a temporary basis, with the plan on finding him a forever home. He is a slate mutation Peachfaced Lovebird and goes by Ndeke (a Bembe word for "bird". Sensing a theme here?). Unfortunately, although I had planned on finding a forever home, Inyoni had decided that she was ready for a partner and put scupper to my plans. Half way through Ndeke's quarantine Inyoni got into his room and they took off. After 5 hours of trying to catch and separate them, I gave up and they have lived together ever since.

Inyoni and Ndeke have a very typical husband and wife relationship. Inyoni hangs out on her platform perch and nags Ndeke about how he's playing with the wrong toy, or getting her the wrong food, or he's not sticking the shredded paper into his rump feathers the right way.
Eggs are almost an inevitability when it comes to lovebirds. Inyoni laid one clutch before Ndeke came along, but since then I have managed to get it down to one single egg, every now and then. This has been achieved by carefully adjusting their diet so they get all their nutritional needs, but without them getting that abundance of food trigger for breeding. I am also careful about not putting toys in their cage which could be shredded to make a nest. However, they are birds and love to shred, so I do occasionally give them shreddable toys, but I remove the broken up pieces daily. So far this is working well for me and I have no lovebird chicks.

I have not done positive reinforcement training with the lovebirds yet. However I would like to teach them to target so I can transfer them into a travel cage for their yearly veterinary exams more easily.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Meet The Flock: Darwin

Darwin is the Greencheek Conure I am currently rehabbing.


Darwin is three years old now and was bred by Rick Jordan at Hill Country Aviary before ending up in a home that admitted they did not know what they were taking on in a companion parrot. So Darwin was given to me after being advertised for free on Craigslist. I was worried about who would take him, so I contacted the owners to offer advice about finding the right home. After a couple of days chatting about his problems the family asked me to take him to work on his behavioral issues and find him a home.
When I picked him up he was plucking his contour feathers and was aggressive.


The first thing I did was improve his diet from a very poor quality seed mix to a varied diet based on Harrisons pellets, a cage mix, fresh fruit, veggies etc and some cooked foods. Then I filled his cage with toys toys toys!
Much of his aggressive behavior disappeared with the introduction of toys to take out some of his energy and plenty of out of cage time. He still occasionally displays aggression, but through positive reinforcement I hope to reduce it even further.
His plucking is still something I am working on. This last summer he started removing his down feathers in places, so after a trip to the vet to rule out medical issues, Dr Davis and I decided to remove potential allergens from his diet. He was already on a preservative, colour, peanut, pesticide etc free diet, so I removed all wheat, sunflower and soy from his diet as well. The good news is that he seems to have stopped plucking his down feathers, all though he still removes his contours... he's a work in progress.

Darwin is quite the smart bird, and loves to use his moulted feathers as tools to scratch his pin feathers on his head.


He is also one of the cuddliest birds I have ever met and really loves to snuggle up to a human whenever he can.


I hope to find a forever home for Darwin who will love him and work with his plucking and aggression issues. Through positive reinforcement he knows how to step up, allows me to feel him all over, lift his wings and flip him upside down. As he is flighted (and loves to fly around my house) I am getting ready to start recall training with him, in hopes that his future home will make every effort to keep him flighted.
If someone happens to be reading this blog in the Austin, TX area who feels they would be a good match for a forever home for Darwin then please let me know.

Training Update 01/11/2009

Well having a chest infection is getting a lot done at my house. Not only have I finally got this blog up and running (I've only been putting it off for 6 months), but I have been able to do a lot of little training sessions.

Lucha is headed into hormonal mode, so training is getting harder with him. He would much rather get some beaky rubs and do some puffy dancing than learn how to turn around. Because of this I am going to try and go back to some behaviors he already knows like taking liquid from a syringe and improve the quality of that behavior as opposed to attemtping to teach him something new. I'm not sure whether this will help or not, but it's worth a try.

As for Marnie, well she's coming along leaps and bounds.
Yesterday evening we did another training session focusing on the "Wave" behavior. I introduced a visual cue in the form of my index finger, paralell to my body and waggled from side to side along with the verbal cue "Marnie Wave". She picked this up straight away :) So in response to using the verbal and visual cues she will lift her left leg and waggle it up and down.
This mornings session started with a recap of the Turnaround behavior. It took a few goes to get her back into it as she would offer the Wave behavior instead. However, with consistent ignoring of the Wave behavior and reinforcing the Turnaround behavior when paired with the verbal and visual cues for Turnaround, she soon got the idea.
This made me realise that I needed to work on getting her to differentiate between behaviors, so that she learned that she had to offer a specific behavior for a specific cue to get the reward. To do this I switched up which behavior I asked for and only reinforced the correct one. First I would ask for a turnaround, then a wave, then a turnaround twice in a row, followed by a set of waves. By the end of the session she was watching my hand closely for the cue and was performing the correct behavior with only the occasional slight hesitation.
This is obviously something that needs to be worked on. So for the next few days I plan on doing the same kind of mixing it up session as this morning, before moving on to another behavior.