Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Out of his cage

This morning, as has been routine lately, Steve was on the perch on his cage door, so I opened it and he stayed. He got a lot of praise and treats for this!Including a wrapped pellet that I didn't make him forage for -- calmly staying on a perch outside his cage was reason enough!
I had to leave the room for a minute, and reminded Thomas to be very careful around Steve. Apparently he still got too close, as Steve fell to the floor. He doesn't hurt himself when he does this, but I'm worried it will make him less likely to want to come out of his cage, so from now on I will only do this when I am right there and can make sure nothing scares him. Otherwise, I will close the door.

Steve wanted to step up to the top of his cage after a few minutes of being on my arm, so he stayed here for the rest of the morning:
He was a bit tentative about exploring the top of his cage, though that will come in time. I wish he'd climbed out here on his own, but that's probably a milestone for him in his new home.

Minor bite

I got a minor bite again this morning. Like my last one, not sure if it really qualifies as a bite since no bandage was needed. Plus, it's in an inconspicuous spot, didn't really hurt when he did it, and doesn't really hurt now. And it kind of looks like an ice cream cone!Beeps was out this morning, like usual. Normally, I tell him to go to his cage; he flies over, enters his cage, I close the door, and then off to work. This is because he doesn't like going in his cage in the morning so he's more likely to bite. (He is very compliant -- none of my other birds do this! And I didn't even train him -- I just asked him to go in one day and he did, and has ever since!)

I don't know what came over me this morning, but he was so irresistibly cute, so I had him step up and I ferried him over to his cage. And got bit as I was putting him in his cage. I know better! I'll have a caique-beak print on my hand for a few days to remind me of my folly.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Our baby squirrels are running around, providing us with much entertainment. They wrestle each other, chase each other around and up our trees, and are such a pleasure to have around!

Can you see all 4 of them?There is one way off to the left, one in the lower right, one on the tree, and one at the base of the tree (tail only visible).

Steve's countdown to happiness: one month

One month from today, Steve will be en route to his new home; September 30, 2010 will be the first night he spends with his forever flock!

I had the chance to see his mutilation over the weekend. His cage door was open and Thomas walked by with a broom, scaring Steve out of his cage. He landed on the floor, but no scared growling! He stepped right up on my arm, and stayed there for a few minutes until he was ready to go back to his cage. (I offered him the chance to step up on his cage but he chose to stay on my arm.)

He still has sores under each wing, but they are much improved. His right wing was almost healed, and the sores under his left wing were mostly dried and just along the crease of his wing instead of his entire under-wing area! I am optimistic that he will completely heal, though this will probably be in his new home.

This morning, I gave him a little toy. He loves unwrapping things. You can see that his eyes are pinning -- he is very interested in his treasure! He gave me an excited "Wooooo!" when he saw it, then eagerly reached for it.When I got home from work today, he was perched on the perch that's on his cage door. I asked him if I could open the door, and he didn't run off to another perch! I gave him a pistachio to reward him for his bravery:
He stayed here for about 10 minutes before going back to his safe perch, even perching on one foot for a while! He didn't talk while he was here, but neither did he exhibit scared behavior, so this was very exciting!Into his favorite (falling apart) foraging toy, I jammed a bunch of paper strips and the remnants of his favorite toy, which he'd ripped off of its hook. You can see what's left of that toy here:and here:
He was busy while we were at work today!

Tomato chaos

Max and Stella do not even like tomatoes, though you would not know that by their recent behavior. We've been eating a lot of tomatoes, so they're frequently on the counter. Max had been hanging out by them; of course Stella had to join her. They were both just pretending to eat them.Later on, Thomas had a bunch of chopped tomatoes in a bowl. Max wasn't even pretending to eat these; she just liked perching on the bowl:She looks to her side; knowing that something's up:
Action shot of the escape...
...to the other side of the bowl, due to Stella's arrival:

Progressive preening

Max has been quite needy lately; demanding to be preened quite frequently. Over the weekend, Thomas was trying to read the paper; Max had an idea about what to do with his free hand:She's almost bent in half at the end!

I didn't get a picture of it, but at one point she was so relaxed the top of her head was pressing down on the table as Thomas preened her neck.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Strawberry celebration

For the past few days, whenever Steve realizes he's getting a treat, he lets out an excited "Wooo!" I was trying to get that on video, but instead he did a little grey dance. This is the first time I've seen this from him.

This is more movement out of him that we saw during his first week with us!

I'm not entirely sure what this dance means. Max will do this when she's excited about something, so maybe that's it? Only he didn't eat the strawberry! In any case, it's always fun to see more of his personality shine through.


Rocky's got new feathers coming in, so Thomas was preening him this morning. He reminds me of a lion with a mane when he does this:
(He's lifting his head feathers to give Thomas better access.)

This is usually a two-hand job, as Thomas will hold Rocky's beak with one hand and preen him with the other. This is for safety, as Rocky will occasionally nip.


Here's Max, helping herself to last night's appetizer:She had a cucumber beak to show for it:
Though this picture makes it appear as though she's just got a bump on her beak; she just didn't do a good job of cleaning her beak after eating, so had some vegetable debris stuck on.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


As I've observed over the past few weeks, Stella is obsessed with basil! Here she is with this week's take from the farmers' market:Thomas had chopped up a bunch of summer squash for last night's dinner. He'd placed a bowl on the counter and asked if I'd distribute it to the parrots. Max took care of some of that herself:
Though much of what she did involved throwing pieces of squash off of the counter and on to the ground. I believe she ate some, but I'm not sure how much!
A parrot perching with one foot up is relaxed, but this had to be about the laziest one foot up I've ever seen:
If you look at Steve's picture from yesterday, you can barely see his talons. Stella's foot is barely off of the ground!

This morning, the greys were perched on their stand (that's Calypso in the background on the other stand). Max was eating a pellet, so pellet crumbles were raining down on Stella. You'd think she'd have flown off, but instead just kept shaking the pellet crumbs off of her. It kind of looked like she was taking a dust bath (shower?)

I took this picture right after Max finished her pellet, and she's actually doing a quite lazy one foot up herself. Stella is still slightly crouched down, prepared for pellet crumbs to hit her.
Short Steve update: I showered with Max, Stella, and Calypso this morning. I left Steve's cage door open -- I really want him to see the world without bars obstructing his view and get used to us moving around without the cage to protect him. When I entered the kitchen after showering, he was hanging out with his head outside of the cage! He was upside down, hanging off the top of his cage, near his cage door opening. He looked like he was contemplating coming out and perching on his cage door, but my presence seemed to scare him a bit, so he retreated back into his cage.

Still, I am pleased with this progress. He's got about a month left with us until he goes to his forever home, and I'm really hoping he chooses to come out of his cage before then!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Steve goes home, what will I have to blog about?

I swear I am not neglecting my other parrots and focusing my actual attention just on Steve; it's just that he's the one making the most progress lately, so he's getting more attention here on the blog!

Yesterday, he was perched in the middle level of his cage, on one foot, indicating that he was relaxed:So I gave him a cherry, which he loved:
Then he went back up and played with his toys a bit. He destroyed one of these straw toys earlier in the week, so this was its replacement:
Rocky had to come over since I was taking pictures:
Last night, all of the parrots were in their cages, ready for bed, and I was doing my rounds saying good night to everyone. You can see that Steve's cage is already partially covered. Steve was on his high perch, and I said good night. He shocked me by climbing down to the perch on his door! I praised him and rubbed his beak a bit; he preened my fingers through the cage bars. He seemed very relaxed, so I gently opened the door for a minute or so, then closed it again. He stayed, so I opened the door again, praising him the entire time for being so brave. He delayed me going upstairs by about 10 minutes as I was so pleased with his progress!
I think my best chance of getting him to step up will be from this perch in his cage door.

This morning, I went to the farmers' market before work, and quickly stopped by my house to drop off the food. I picked up what my favorite farmer said would likely be the last strawberries of the season. I had just enough time to give one to Steve before going to work:
As I left, he yelled, "I'll be back!"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Still more Steve

Steve continues to progress. He's been with us almost two months now! His new owner was able to arrange things so she can pick him up at the end of September, so he's got about a month with us until he gets to go home. My hope is that during this next month, I can get him to no longer be cage-bound. It would be wonderful if he'd step up on my hand to come out of his cage, but that might be asking too much. I know his new owner is very patient and will work with him on these issues, but I really want things to go as easy as possible for her and for Steve during this transition, so the further I can get him, the better.

He has what amounts to three basic levels in his cage -- a high perch where he spends most of his time, middle perches near his food and water dishes, and the floor of the cage. Every time I visited him at the rescue, he was on his highest perch -- it's where he feels safe. At our house, he also spent the majority of his time on his highest perch -- especially in the beginning when he would venture down (usually when we weren't in the room) only for a quick drink or for some food. And then scramble back to his safe, high perch if we happened to enter the room when he was eating or drinking.

I put some of his favorite toys at different levels of his cage to entice him to explore, and it worked -- but only when we weren't there. He'd remain on his top perch in our presence, but I'd find evidence (through toy destruction) that he'd been all over his cage. Recently, he's been spending more and more of his time on the bottom and middle levels of his cage, even when we're there!

I am really excited about this! It shows that he's gaining confidence and isn't as scared of us. Perched on the middle level (you can see his top level rope perch to his upper left):In order to entice him down, I placed a perch on the inside of his cage door. Usually I don't like to do this, as my parrots frequently perch on their cage doors and then poop on this perch. Since Steve doesn't perch on his cage door as he is too afraid to exit his cage, I don't have to worry about that!

In my experience, it can be easier to get a parrot to step off of a perch that's attached to the inside of a cage door than from a perch that's deeper inside their cage. I'm hoping that if Steve gets used to perching here, it might make it easier for us to progress to him stepping up out of his cage.

In the foreground, his perch (which he is already destroying after less than 12 hours in his cage!); in the background, Steve:
I'm taking things very slowly, though. Right now, I'm praising him and giving him treats (frequently a wrapped pellet -- he just loves those!) just for staying calm on the middle level of his cage. I also hide wrapped pellets in his cage door perch, giving him an incentive for exploration when I'm not there.

Step one seems to be working, as he was perched here, even with me in the room!I do not yet want to open the door and risk freaking him out, but that will come in time, as he gets more comfortable, so it will not be so scary.

I do not cover my birds at night, but I do cover Steve halfway. This is because his cage is near a window, and my neighbors sometimes turn their back light on. I frequently get up early in the morning to run, and don't get the parrots up as they get to sleep until I return.

Steve normally greets me with a whistle but stays on his high, safe, sleeping perch. This morning, he surprised me, as he came down!
I gave him a pistachio, praised him for being so brave, told him to go back to bed, and went out for my run. When I returned, he was back on his high perch.

Max in flight

Thomas took a great picture of Max yesterday:I was (sadly) away at a meeting, so he was alone with the parrots again.

Everyone had been in the living room, then the greys flew into the kitchen. After a while, he realized that they were suspiciously quiet, so he went into the kitchen to check on them.

Max and Stella were hanging out on top of the fridge (where they are not allowed) behind the salad spinner. He said that they weren't fighting, so his first thought was to get a picture for me for the blog. He went to snap that picture, but Max had other (better) plans.

When she's on top of the fridge, she doesn't like us taking a picture, so she'll buzz us when she sees the camera, which is what she's about to do here. Thomas said that after taking this picture, she slammed into his head. Both of them were just fine.

If you look closely behind Max's right wing, you can see Stella's feet, still on top of the fridge.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Help requested; not received

I've mentioned before that Calypso is the best scab-remover I have ever encountered. He is very gentle, daily testing the scab until it's ready, and then pulling it painlessly off. I have been very lucky in that I have not had the occasion to need his talents recently. Here's a picture of Calypso, eating some sweet potato:Thomas is not as lucky, and had a scab on his arm. I found him trying to convince first Rocky:
and then Beeps:
to remove his scab, but they weren't interested. Calypso's not a huge fan of Thomas, so his scab-removing capabilities are limited to me.

I must add that I find this kind of gross, but he doesn't eat the scab or anything like that. He's just trying to keep me well-groomed and ready to fly off at a moment's notice!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Training jealousy 2

I'm training Steve today. The rest of the parrots are in their cages in the living room. When he does the trick, as always, I say "good boy!" Max, from the other room, started saying "Good girl!" each time I praised Steve.

Yes, she got to train when he was done. She put on quite the show today!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Training jealousy

When I train my parrots, I usually do so when everyone else is in their cage. This wasn't always necessary. In the beginning, I would train them when everyone was out, and they would watch what the other bird was doing and learn from it.

But, as training continued and everyone liked it so much, jealousy started to occur. If I was training Max, Beeps might fly over and attack me, or Stella might fly over and displace Max. If I was training Beeps, Max would buzz me. This is the opposite of the behavior that training is trying to encourage, so I arranged my environment to minimize these conflicts (i.e. keeping the rest of the birds in their cages!)

Yesterday after work, Thomas got home before me, so all of the parrots were already out when I got home. I needed to train Steve and didn't want to put everyone away as they'd just gotten out. I asked Thomas to secure Rocky and thought everyone else would be fine since there isn't any jealousy on their part with regard to Steve.

I was wrong.

As I'm training Steve, Max moves to the point closest to me on her stand and starts doing all of her tricks to get my attention. I praised her, but didn't stop training Steve to train her. She ramped up her cute tricks, even doing the more difficult ones that she rarely initiates. Finally, she buzzed me, which I ignored, and then she went back to her usual perching place and waited for her turn.

Rocky was the one who shocked me. He was on Thomas's lap, and started doing all of his tricks! He was really working hard to get the attention of someone that he doesn't even like (me).

I quickly finished up with Steve, briefly trained everyone else, and will hopefully beat Thomas home tonight to avoid this issue!

Unrelated picture of Max eating Thomas's food:Another Friday! I have another 20+ mile run scheduled for tomorrow. The last two have gone very well, so I just have to hope that I'm not peaking during training -- my race is still about 6 weeks away.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beginning clicker training with Steve

I've gotten some questions in the comments about clicker training, so I thought I would write about this in a new post instead of rambling on in the comments. First, I did try to get some video of me training Steve; however, I am unable to take the video myself (as both of my hands are busy with the training!) and he freezes up when Thomas gets too close with the camera. We will try again this weekend and if Steve still won't cooperate, I'll have Thomas take a video of me training Max, which will have mostly the same effect.

First, Breanne wrote:
I would love to do this with my parrot, Stormy, but if I were to give her a cashew or almond every time she followed directions, I wouldn't get to far because it takes her forever to eat just one (about 10 minutes of nibbling). Do you break up the nuts into pieces or give him a whole one? If you give him a whole one, don't you find sitting there waiting for him to eat it a bit time consuming? Thanks!
Let me apologize for not being more clear. Yes, you want to have something pretty tiny as a treat. The smallest thing they'll work for. The main reasons are you don't want the parrot getting full after doing just one or two repetitions and you don't want the parrot to lose interest if you're taking 10 minutes in between tricks. Yesterday, Max went through about 30 tricks in less than 3 minutes. We would have both lost interest if she took a long break after each one to eat!

I use safflower seeds with Max as they are quickly eaten. Steve was not interested in safflower seeds, so I'm using cashews instead. I grab out about one medium cashew; you can see how it compares to this dime:and then chop it up into small pieces. I got 13 treats out of that one cashew.
When choosing the treat, you want to figure out what the bird really values. If I tried to train Max with banana chips, she'd never learn anything as she hates banana chips! It may be helpful to remove the training treat from the bird's regular diet so that they have greater value to the parrot, though this depends on the parrot.

In the beginning, or for a more difficult trick, you may have to use a higher-value treat. For instance, when I trained Max to do retrieve, I had to use cheese as her reinforcer. Now, she'll do that trick just for praise, though she usually gets safflower seeds.

If a bird does not take food nicely from your hands, you have to get the treat to the bird in a different way. With smaller birds, maybe you hold a sprig of millet up and they get a bite. With larger birds, maybe you put some peanut butter on a spoon and they get a lick.

Which takes me to my next question, from E.R.:
OK, one more question, does clicker training work with lovebirds? Although for me I guess it doesn't really matter because I'm still working on not being chewed on by those rascals :) Still, I'm curious.
Yes! Clicker training can work with lovebirds! And it may help you to not get chewed on by them anymore! Those tiny guys can be amazingly smart. The key is finding something that will motivate them to want to train. I know people who have trained their lovebirds using springs of millet. That way they can get the treat to the bird while keeping their hands safe.

Also from E.R.:
As for the training, do you click and wait for him to beak the straw and then give him the treat?

Also, do you hold the straw or put it on the table?
With target training, I hold the straw in my hand. As soon as he beaks it, I click. Then I give him the treat as soon as I can after that. Most birds tend to automatically beak something that is in front of them. I'm obviously not poking him with the stick; just placing it near his beak. As soon as he beaks it, I click and then a treat. Then I move the stick a little bit so he has to move his head to beak it. As soon as he does, click and then treat.

I will try to get videos of this (probably with Max) over the weekend to post next week.

It does take some time to get used to holding everything. I keep the clicker and the target stick in my right hand and the treat in my left hand. When I work on a more elaborate trick, like retrieve, I frequently will have the treats off to the side so it takes a few seconds longer for the bird to get their treat.

The key is properly charging the clicker so that the bird knows click = treat. Even if you click accidentally, you still have to give the treat because that's a contract you've made with the bird. The bird comes to understand that the reason he's getting a treat is for what he did when you clicked. Therefore, it's important not to have too long of a gap in between the click and the treat, but a couple of seconds is just fine!

Michelle commented:
Since my adopted grey is cage bound, I am going to give this a try!
Michelle, I really think you should, and that you and Timothy will love it! Steve is also currently cage bound, and he is having a ball. We actually did two sessions this morning because he wanted more! And I'm hopeful that through clicker training, I'll get him to come out of his cage (or maybe his new owner will, depending on how long it takes!)

Before I start talking about training a cage bound bird, I wanted to list a couple of resources:
  • Bird-Click yahoo group. It's free to join. They have amazing files on how to get started and helpful experts willing to answer e-mail questions. This is how I got started several years ago.
  • The book Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson. This book is recommended by the above yahoo group, and I purchased it when I started and reread it about once a year.
  • Karen Pryor's site. Unfortunately, it now appears as though you have to register with the site (free) in order to read the articles. Much of the content on the site relates to training dogs and cats, but there are some bird-specific articles; plus the theory behind training is the same, no matter what kind of animal!
Now, on to Steve. He is so intelligent. I have already warned his new owner about how much stimulation he is going to need and she is up for the challenge!

Tuesday August 17, 2010 was the first day I started training him. I charged the clicker, then did some target training. One session -- after work.

Wednesday August 18, 2010: day 2 of training. Two sessions -- one before work and one after work. About 15 repetitions of target training.

Thursday August 19, 2010 (today!): only day 3. Two sessions in the morning -- one before I went running and one when I got home. He loves training! I could tell he was getting a little bored with just targeting, so I started in on retrieve. It just clicked with him, and in one session he got as far as it took Max about three weeks to get. We'll train again tonight.

This is all done in his cage so far. Training a cage bound bird really isn't that different than training a bird on a perch!

One of the things that I love about clicker training is that it doesn't require a large time commitment, especially for the return you get! Each session is generally less than 5 minutes long. You want to keep the bird wanting more, so it's important to keep it short, especially in the beginning!

If anyone else has any questions, I will do my best to answer. I am certainly no expert, just an amateur who learned through that yahoo group and reading that book. I make a ton of mistakes, but my parrots don't know any better, so it's still fun! More to come on this in the future, hopefully with videos and pictures!

Food thief

Last night, we were making dinner when Stella flew over to the garbage can. She made a perfect landing!I was squatting down to take her picture, so of course nosy Max had to fly over to see why my attention was diverted:
Our dinner was on the counter as we were herding the parrots back into the living room so we could eat. Max helped herself a little early:And again, this morning, even after all parrots had gobbled up (non-seasoned) eggs, Max had to come over for some more. We removed her right after taking this picture and gave her some that didn't yet have seasoning on them: