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
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 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 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

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.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Training Update 01/10/2009

I plan on using this blog to track training so here's what happened since yesterday.

With one more session Marnie has learned to turn around to a verbal cue "Marnie Turn". She is still offering it without the cue, but I am not rewarding her for it unless it is done after the cue.

Since she's so interested in learning now we have done one session on learning "Wave".
I started by putting a single finger out as if to ask for a step up and giving the cue "Marnie Wave". She started by lifting her foot to touch it to my finger which I bridged "Good bird" and reinforced her with some pecan. After a couple of repetitions she was quickly moving her foot to touch my finger as soon as I gave the cue. The next approximation was to move my finger an inch higher. She quickly targeted her foot to my finger, so I moved my finger up to her eye level. Again, she quickly targeted her foot to my finger. So for the next approximation I moved my finger slightly away from her head so that she could not reach it with her foot and again gave the cue "Marnie Wave". This time it took a few hesitant lifts before she lifted her foot to her wing level and slightly dropped and raised it again. For this I gave her a jackpot, as she had lifted her foot high, without touching it to my finger and had moved it up and down slightly. I asked for one more repetition which she repeated the last approximation before she started rubbing her beak.
Because I wanted to end on a positive before she got full, I ended the session there.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Meet The Flock: Marnie

Next up to meet is my grey bundle of joy Marnie.

Marnie came to me just before turning 4 years old.
Marnie was born in a pet shop in Dallas, TX and her owner bought her from there. She had been given a good life with good quality food, plenty of toys and love. But her owner suffered terribly from allergies to her dust, which got to the point where she could not hold Marnie or be in the same room as her for long periods of time.
This was not fair to her or Marnie, so she came to live with me.

Marnie is now 7 years old and a healthy, well adjusted grey. She loves to lie with me on the couch under a blanket and to go out into the world. Because she is so accepting to handling, I took the time to harness train her (using the Aviator Harness, the only one I would recommend). I have taken her to a number of restaurants around Austin (we sit on the patio) and have visited local events such as the Sunset Valley Farmers Market. While she may not always be 100% comfortable out and about, the presence of food will quickly overcome fears. I find this to be a great opportunity to educate people about proper parrot care and have been able to share websites and tips with people who are having problems with their birds.

Although Marnie is harness trained, she is not flighted. When I got her I was told she often knocked out incoming feathers on one wing. I didin't think anything of it and waited patiently for the flight feathers to grow out so we could begin harnessed flight training... Well the one wing came back, but the other side kept being knocked out. After two full moults, she was still flight featherless on one wing. Since it was time for her annual veterinary exam, I took along a couple of recently knocked out feathers for Dr Davis to look at. The feathers that came in on that wing were always ratty and had stress bars, while all her other feathers came in beautifully. After a thorough physical exam, Dr Davis could not find a reason for her feathers to come in this way. The only possible explanations was that at some point she had some soft tissue damage to the wing, which lead to her being unable to grow healthy feathers. This reminded me of a story her first owner had told me of when Marnie was playing when she was less than a year old, she fell from the top of her cage and landed on her back with both wings stuck in the grate. We theorized that this was a probably source of the soft tissue injury.
Even though she cannot fly (she does a spiraling crash) I still use a harness on her when out and about. This is not only for her own safety, should that perfect combination of breeze, angle and lift come, but also as an example to other parrot owners that it is not safe to take a bird outside without either a cage or a properly fitted harness.

Marnie loves to forage for her food and gets all her main dry diet from her many foraging toys. She loves to hang out on the large playscape in my living room which she shares with Lucha, and forage in the many foraging toys I provide there.

While Marnie is no stranger to positive reinforcement, she is new to food rewards. Until last week she had no interest in food rewards. So I would wait till she performed a desired behavior and then immediately bridge "good bird" and reward her with a head scratch.
Then last week I was giving Lucha an impromptu turn around training on the playscape (instead of the training T-Stand) and Marnie decided that if the green bird was getting treats (pecans) that she wanted in on it too. So I started teaching her the turn around. She has progressed very quickly and will now turn around for a hand signal which is close to my body. I am hoping to be able to phase out the hand signal and leave the cue "Marnie Turn". Interestingly Lucha is still a few approximations behind her, even though he has had more training sessions. It just goes to show that different birds learn at different paces... or maybe there is something that I am not giving Lucha that he needs to help him learn.
Using positive reinforcement, Marnie has learned how to step down onto a scale, wear the aviator harness, turn around, have her nails trimmed and flip on her back. I plan on teaching her to wave soon and we are going to work on accepting towelling better.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Meet The Flock: Lucha

Here's a little bit about the green man whose name graces this blog... Lucha
Lucha came to me in December 2006 and was not in the best of condition.
He had been living in a tiny cage which was best suited for a single lovebird. His only amusement was a dirt encrusted mirror, a concrete swing and a single wooden perch which he had chewed all the way through. For the past 25 years he had been fed a diet of chicken scratch, sunflower seeds, oranges and the occasional handful of bird seed. His nails were grown almost into a circle and his feathers were very dirty. He was terrified of hands and was generally a not very happy birdy, which given his history was completely justified.

Lucha was bought out of the back of a van in South Texas 28 years ago as a mature adult. Apparently the man who sold him was very proud of the fact that his birds were smuggled in from the wild in Mexico and therefore would not have been exposed to to sick birds in quarantine. The only thing was, Lucha was already sick. The lady who bought him took him to a vet who gave him some meds. Lucha then lived with her for 25 years until she died. He then lived with her daughter for a year before he came to me.

His health is an ongoing concern though. Thankfully, until he moved away recently, my Avian Vet was Dr Scott Echols who has helped so much in working out his health issues. Although after a lot of hard work on his diet all his blood tests now come back whithin normal ranges, but he still has polyuria/polydypsia. Numerous tests have been done inlcuding water deprivation and blood pressure, but there is still not an obvious cause. But as the next step is an endoscope we have decided that as long as his bloodwork keeps coming back good, we will hold off on such invasive tests. Since Dr Echols left town, Dr Ginger Davis (also of Westgate Pet and Bird) has taken over the veterinary care of my flock, and she does a wonderfull job.

Lucha has come along leaps and bounds since he first came into my house as a scared bird by making his own choices about his life. He now steps up, allows touching on the head as far down as the base of his neck, and he loves his beak rubs.
After much encouragement, and some teaching by my African Grey Marnie, he now actively forages for all his food (except the spoilable stuff) and will move heaven, hell and clear acrylic foraging toys for an almond in the shell.

Lucha also loves to train with positive reinforcement!
His favorite training treat is pecan pieces with an almond in the shell as his final jackpot reward.
So far he has learned to step down onto a scale for weighing, take liquid from a syringe (this behavior was started at a Barbara Heidenreich workshop) and we are working on a turnaround. This is of course in addition to step ups and learning to trust hands enough to be touched.
In the future I would love to work on his acceptance of touching on parts of the body other than his head and from there to more readily accept a physical exam.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Why Lucha's Choice?

Welcome to the blog!

This blog is called Lucha's Choice, because Lucha (that's the handsome Lilac Crowned Amazon in the picture at the head of the page) came to me scared of pretty much everything. He has had a hard life, so I made the decision early on that he would live out the rest of his life in a way in which he makes his own choices in what he wants to do (with the small exception if he's in a dangerous situation). To do this, I have relied heavily on the Positive Reinforcement methods used by Barbara Heidenreich and a lot of looking at the world from his perspective.
The result has been well worth it. He is now a contented amazon who happily lives his life and has the decency to allow me to be a part of it. While I may not be able to flip him over in my hands like my African Grey Marnie, he does actively seek out my attention... and that will do for me!

I plan to use this blog to not only document the life I live with my flock. But to comment on parrot care, training etc as I see it, and to track my own ambition to become a Parrot Behaviorist.