Thursday, February 4, 2010

Answering a comment

I received this comment on a post from earlier this year:

Hi Even tho this is a macaw page i would to have some advise on my 15 month oh thinmen african grey. i am trying to train her to let me strok her wings let me stroke her head out of the cage as she onli alows this if she is in the cage with the door closed she also bites when you get her to step up of her cage or on somwhere where she has gone her self, i have tried rewarding her but when i give her the food she just throws it i've also tried a high pitched exited voice to praise which she just looks at me funny. basically i would like to get tips on how to make her tame where i can stroke her anywhere as you can tell she is dying for the attension, sadly she cannot be out of her cage throughout the day as we have three dogs that would like her for dinner but she comes up to my room when i get home from schools for about too hours a night and when i clean her cage but she has got toys to play with thank you too any one who relpies really need advice thanks

I have a timneh grey and a congo grey also, so hopefully some things that I write can be applicable to your situation.

1.My first question is: why do you want to stroke her wings? In general, this is a bad idea. Since she's so young, you probably won't see breeding behavior yet, but you want to do everything you can to not send her mixed signals, which might save you from hormone-related issues down the road. Touching/stroking on the wings is something that parrots save for their mates. Since, no matter how hard you try, you can never be a true mate to her, you don't want to confuse her. Keep your petting to the head area.

Greys in general do not tolerate touching. Of course, there are always exceptions, but your grey does not appear to be one! I've had my timneh for almost 8 years; she is extremely bonded to both my husband and me. She loves getting her head scratched, but does not like any touching below her neck. If I were to go up and try to pet her wings, I'd likely get bit -- and with good reason. I need to respect her boundaries. You wouldn't like it if people came up to you and started shoving their fingers in your ears; it's basically the same thing with her.

Watch her body language closely. If you insist on trying to touch her wings, she will likely have to become more aggressive to keep you away. This will serve only to make her a better biter, and for her to not want to be around you. You don't want this!

It's hard sometimes to remember that greys are wild animals. They are not little people. As people, we like to cuddle and hug -- it's our way of showing affection. But for prey animals like grey parrots, that can be terrifying. If my grey's wings are constricted by me petting her, that means she can't make an escape if a dangerous situation arises. My greys show their affection for me by perching on my arm, preening my fingers, and verbally (like mimicking what I do or when we whistle back and forth).

2. Does she always bite you after she steps up? If it's only sometimes, can you see a pattern? Long-term, you need to figure out a way to make her want to be near you. My parrots love stepping up for us because they like to be near us. Maybe we'll dance, or I'll whistle to them, or we'll take a shower. You want to make stepping up something that she wants to do.

You say you've tried feeding her but she just throws the food on the ground. Maybe you're not feeding her the right kind of food? I don't like cupcakes, so if someone was trying to reward me with cupcakes, it wouldn't work! But promise me pie and I'll do whatever you want!

Here's something to try: give her a bowl of seed and see what she eats first. Do this for several days to find a pattern and see what her favorite foods really are. My timneh LOVES cashews. She will do almost anything for one. She hates almonds. Therefore, if I tried to train her with almonds, we wouldn't get anywhere!

Once you know what your grey's favorite foods are, remove them from her daily diet. Let's say her favorite food is also cashews, for this example. If you feed her a seed mix, go through it and take out all of the cashews before you put it in her cage. If she wants her favorite food, she has to work for it! There is no incentive for her to work for you if she can get cashews in her cage.

Going back to the step-up issue, one thing you can try is to show her a cashew (or her favorite food, which I'm pretending is cashews, for simplicity's sake). Then ask her to step up. As soon as she steps up, immediately give her the cashew. This serves two purposes. First, she comes to associate stepping up on you with her favorite food! Second, she can't bite you if her mouth is full of cashew. She's less likely to throw it on the ground if she only gets them occasionally (as opposed to always having them available).

If she continues to bite, you may want to consider stick-training her. This is what we did with our macaw. He'd rather bite me than step up, and will bite Thomas in certain circumstances (like if he's in a particular hallway in our house).

3. As I've mentioned, parrots are prey animals and can become very stressed out by having predators looking at them. Even if she is safe in her cage, she may not feel safe if the dogs are staring at her. Can you move her cage to a room where the dogs are not allowed? It may also help to put some big toys up or cover half of her cage so that she has somewhere safe to retreat to if she feels scared. When parrots are scared, they will often lash out by biting. You want her to feel safe with you. I will try to take pictures of this tonight so you can see what I mean.

4. I mention this frequently, but I think you guys would be wonderful candidates for clicker training. Here is a link to a free yahoo group. In their files, you can learn how to do this. Using these methods, my timneh grey has learned several dozen tricks, like wave, take a bow, shake hands, fly to me, putting a bead in a cup, etc. Greys are very, very smart, and I'm sure she'd love the opportunity to learn new things and show off for you!

Clicker training is a wonderful way to create and cement a bond between you and your parrot. It's also a wonderful way to learn her body language. Even though most parrots can talk, the vast majority of their communication is done via body language. They are very expressive once you learn to listen to them!

I hope some of what I've written may be helpful to you. It is very good to hear that you are worried about her and are trying to provide her with a good home! Please let me know if you have any other questions, and if anyone else has any suggestions/comments, please put them in the comments!


laura said...

thank you very much for answering, my name is laura but i had problems trying to get that onto my post so i just clicked anoymus, now i no about the wing stroking i will stop trying to get her to let me, my friends parrakeet lets her so i thought i would give it a try. as for finding her favourite we know they are monkey nuts and sunflower seed but she will still throw them no matter what we do yesterday i tried fresh vegtables, at the moment i am trying to find the clicker we used for our dogs if that will work,
we have considered moving her into my room and leaving my telly on but that is still to secluded,but the dogs do not have access all through the day as the liveingroom room door is closed but boo(the parrot) can still c and hear us as we have glass windows. she isnt afraid of dogs as the owner before had a jackrussel apparently she was fine also if they sniff boo's cage she will go down to them. she always tries to bite and back away when you try and get her off or in her cage and if she os on my shoulder she will go to bite me if i try and get her down it is not a hard bite i think just a warning so now when she bites me i do not backaway i keep my finger there and push a little bit as she does not like it. all in all i think she is very nervous. also after yesterdays lesson when she went back on the cage she dived to bite me i think it was ment to be hard so it took me a while to get her back inside her cage, as again thankyou for the response.

Mary said...

Hi Laura,

Yes, the clicker you have for your dog will work, or even the click of a loud ballpoint pen. There is nothing magical about the click -- it's just a consistent noise that the bird begins to associate with treats. If you want to do this, really read the files in that yahoo group -- that's how I learned.

It's not the healthiest option, but you may want to try using tiny bits of cheese to train her if she isn't motivated using her normal favorite foods. Don't overdo it, though!

You may want to do some thinking about whether she should ever be allowed on your shoulder. In our house, parrots are not allowed on our shoulders. First, because we can't see their body language, so if they're warning us they're going to bite, we won't see the warning until it's too late! Second, because I really don't want a face bite. If one of our parrots flies over to try to land on a shoulder, we just duck and the parrot lands on a playstand or perch somewhere.

When you pick her up, does she bite hard, or is she just putting her beak on your finger? Both of my greys will put their beak around my finger after picking them up -- it's seems to be more of a check that my hand is stable rather than anything meant to hurt me, and now it's routine.

She probably is nervous. Even though she's in your house, she's not domesticated like a dog or cat. Her parents or grandparents probably came from the wild, and she is still very much a wild animal, and a prey animal at that.

In the wild, they have to be constantly on alert, because a parrot that isn't won't live very long. You need to make her feel safe. Try not to take her biting personally. She doesn't have anything against you -- it's just the way she knows how to communicate. By clicker training her and watching her body language, you can teach her a new way to communicate!

Please keep me updated!

laura said...

thank you very much i will start the clicker training on sunday. i know it's bad to have them on your shoulder as she will feel that she is higher ranking than but when we have her on our hand she climbs up and when we try to stop her she will cling onto the jacket with her claws and feet. at the moment she is not a safe flyer as she has had her wings clipped but we have left them grow as apparently wing flapping and flying helps there lungs, and no it's not a hard bite i think it's more of a warning but sometimes she does just nipple which i am used to i will definatley keep u updated thankyou very much.