Look what I got in the mail today! I’ll be doing a review of the film (and talking to some of the people involved in the making of this documentary) very soon. Watch this space for updates.
Archive for the ‘Parrot Books & Resources’ Category
Independent Lens is re-airing the popular documentary, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, tonight. Check your local TV schedules to see when your local PBS station is carrying it.
If you’re a parrot lover and haven’t seen this film yet, set your DVRs! This is a must-see story of a man and his relationship with a feral flock of conures in San Francisco. You may not agree with his choices, but it’s an incredible story — not only about how a flock of feral parrots is surviving/thriving in an urban environment, but about how one man found meaning in his life by getting to know them.
Watch a preview:
More info about The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill can be found on the Independent Lens (PBS) website.
Mark Bittner, the central (human) character in this documentary, also wrote a book about his experience. Both the book and the DVD are available on Amazon and other stores.
Update: There’s a live chat scheduled with Mark Bittner for tomorrow. Visit the Independent Lens site at 10 am PST to ask him your questions! What a great opportunity.
I recently read the new Karen Pryor book “Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals” and would like to recommend it to anyone who has an interest in training and how learning takes place.
I’m a huge of Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” — the book that brought clicker training to the masses (no, it’s actually not about dogs or dog training). Pryor is often credited for inspiring a revolution in animal behavior modification and making positive reinforcement the favored teaching method for most animal trainers; it also created the groundwork for other training books, including Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson. So I was definitely interested in what Pryor had to say about her experiences and observations about how animals learn.
Reaching the Animal Mind is probably not the best *intro* into clicker training as it’s not a how-to book; rather, Pryor shares a lot of really fun stories and anecdotes from her many decades of being a trainer (which includes stories of training and observing all types of animals from dolphins to wolves), which all support some points that she argues about what makes clicker training different from traditional training methods. She even makes a very strong case that clicker training is significantly different from 100% positive-reinforcement training that doesn’t use a clicker.
While she does talk a little bit about science (how data travels through the brain, etc), the whole thing is very accessible and fun… and hopefully it’ll inspire more people to use these principles in dealing with all animals (including fellow humans).
I particularly liked the chapters about how cues can act as reinforcers on their own and how to address the extinction curve so that the training subject doesn’t get frustrated. This was material that was new to me.
Also noteworthy is that every chapter includes a note about where on her website you can find videos of the examples/stories she talked about. I haven’t watched them yet, but you can find them on the official Reaching the Animal Mind website. (Navigate to more videos using the “chapter” links along the top).
The book is a lot more entertaining than one would think based on the subject matter, and I definitely encourage anyone interested in behavior and training to at least flip through for new insights and inspiration.
> Read more reviews of Karen Pryor’s Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us About All Animals
Recently I was at the doctor’s office and noticed an Audubon magazine with the most gorgeous pair of parrots on the cover. I didn’t recognize the species, but quickly learned it was the rare Spix macaw. But even more fascinating than the Spix macaw was the photography and I made a note to Google this Andrew Zuckerman, who struck me as a truly original artist.
As someone who loves both parrots and photography, I’m chagrined to find out he already has quite the reputation for his bird photography, and I am late to the game in “discovering” him. In addition to several books, he also has some great videos that go “behind the scenes” of how he photographs his subjects:
The intro on his website also has a gorgeous video montage of the birds he shot (in the photographic sense).
Then go buy it at Amazon. Bird by Andrew Zuckerman would be a great Christmas present for anyone who loves photography books or birds
Early last year, Barbara Heidenreich was nice enough to offer readers of Best in Flock a free e-copy of her wonderful Good Bird Magazine. She redesigned her site recently and not only is she continuing to offer a free digital sample to followers of this blog, but she’s offering a newer issue. So even if you took advantage of the offer previously, you can now follow the updated link here to grab another free sample.
If you’ve never seen Good Bird Magazine, you’ll be impressed with the sheer volume of great info on parrot behavior and parrot training in each issue. Please check it out, and if you like it, be sure to subscribe to the print magazine.
To grab your copy of this free digital sample of GoodBird, please visit my previous post and follow the instructions on how to request your copy.
I have to admit that one of the best byproducts of sharing my life with parrots, and starting this blog, is the relationships I’ve been able to build with other bird lovers. One of the people who I’ve been particularly happy to “meet” is Rebecca O’Connor, who writes the Heckled by Parrots blog and is probably best known to parrot owners as the author of the acclaimed book: A Parrot for Life: Raising and Training the Perfect Parrot Companion.
So when Rebecca sent me a review copy of her new memoir LIFT, I was beyond thrilled. Not only do I love books about birds, but I love books.
It turns out that her African Grey parrot only makes very brief appearances in LIFT, but I barely minded. You see, LIFT is an incredibly moving memoir combining wonderful story-telling with strong, personal writing. In fact, it’s so personal that I find it really difficult to write about it in any detail – this isn’t the kind of book that is well served by a plot summary.
It’s about falconry, but it’s not about falconry. It’s also about being a woman, having faults, learning to forgive, learning to trust and coming to grips with one’s past.
The author’s relationship with the bird is an allegory, as Rebecca learns to fly her peregrine and learns to let go of old hurts and inner demons; but it’s not just an allegory. For those who want more than introspection, there’s enough detail and building anticipation to really get you interested in the world of falconry. There were a few falconry terms and concepts here and there that could have been explained more clearly to a non-falconer myself, but overall I definitely enjoyed this glimpse into a world I never gave much thought before.
(As a bird owner myself, the passages where O’Connor describes losing and subsequently chasing her falcon across the landscape was particularly unnerving.)
O’Connor does an excellent job building tension, releasing it just a little at a time as her story of working with her first peregrine unfolds … all the while you can almost imagine yourself as a falcon chasing a lure, following it as the author spins it away from you again and again, until its time to resolve the conflict and you can devour your prize.
This is a book that can appeal to men, women, falconers, bird lovers, anyone who’s ever struggled to overcome a difficult childhood, anyone who’s ever struggled to master a new challenge, and people who like being afforded a glimpse into someone else’s life and passion. I finished this book in two long sittings — reading late, late into the night, much to the detriment of my functioning the next day. It was just that hard to put down.
In other words, I enjoyed LIFT and think my readers may too. Get LIFT at Amazon
Sally Blanchard’s Companion Parrot Magazine, Issue #72, is available as a FREE download. This 62-page, full-color online issue is chock-full of information, stories and pictures dedicated to the topic of parrot playtime.
Visit the Companion Parrot website and scroll down to the bottom of the page to get this free issue or click here. (At 8.8MB, it may take a while.)
To learn more about Companion Parrot Magazine, please visit Sally Blanchard’s website.
When I started this blog, I added a bunch of links to my sidebar in order to share other great parrot resources. Since then I’ve added a few links here and there, but quite a few more parrot blogs have either sprung up in the mean time or come to my attention; and quite a few others seem to have fallen inactive or been pulled down.
So it’s time to update the Best in Flock blogroll – I’ll be going through my links and evaluating the bird blogs I already know about, but would love some input from the community on other parrot sites I should consider. I’ll also be dropping a bunch of links – so if you think I should keep something, make sure to let me know.
What I’m looking for in blogroll suggestions:
- The blog is primarily/exclusively about (or “by”) parrots.
- Blog should be at least several months old. This will help weed out that huge percentage of blogs that gets started and abandoned almost immediately.
- Blog should be currently active and updated at least once or twice a month.
Here’s what I probably won’t link to:
- Blogs that offer what I consider to be bad advice or poor examples of how to care for a companion animal.
- Blogs that may mention parrots every once in a while but aren’t primarily about birds.
- Thin affiliate blogs whose sole purpose is peddling crappy parrot training DVDs. These are a dime a dozen, offering nothing original, and very often written by the owners of said DVD program and/or people who don’t even appear to have parrots, but create blogs with recycled content and fake testimonials in hopes of making a quick buck off of affiliate commissions.
I do consider the blogroll to be my recommendations (aka, a de facto quasi-endorsement to a small degree), so I think it’s important to have these criteria — I’m not trying to be snobby or judgmental, just making sure I only link to the best stuff. (The blog doesn’t need to be “professional looking” or self-hosted – it’s the content I care about.)
So, what’s your favorite parrot blog? Who do you read?
Here are some of my (new and old) favorites to inspire your creative juices:
- Likambo.com – Carly Lu’s Flight Blog
- Good Bird Inc.’s blog – authored by Barbara Heidenreich
- Life of Pis – where I, ahem, Mika is a co-contributer
- Heckled by Parrots
- Parrot Musings
- Parrot Nation – by Patricia Sund
Ok, your turn… what parrot blogs do you recommend?
p.s. If you like Best in Flock, please feel free to link to it from your site as well.
I’ve probably mentioned that I recently read Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor, a book that popularized clicker training among pet owners in the United States, and which spawned a whole industry — including clicker training books like Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson, which talks specifically about how to train parrots.
Since I just reviewed that clicker training book on this site, I decided to post my book review of Don’t Shoot the Dog to PetKnows.com, where I thought the topic could appeal to a broader (read: non-bird) audience.
But if you already own Clicker Training for Birds and want to get a broader understanding of the clicker training philosophy or just want to know what inspired Melinda Johnson’s how-to guide for birds, please check out my latest post on PetKnows: Don’t Shoot the Dog – Book Review.
(Or, if you trust my judgment implicitly and don’t want to bother reading the review first just go straight to Amazon.com to pick up your own copy of Karen Pryor’s book.)
Getting Started: Clicker Training for Birds by Melinda Johnson is my bible for anything related to parrot ownership, including taming or training my parrots. If you read my blog or read the Bird Board forum, you’ll notice that I mention it frequently — both to people who have problems with their birds (e.g. “my bird bites me”, “how do I teach my bird not to scream so much”, “my new parrot is scared of me”) as well as bird owners who have great relationships with their pets and are interested in teaching their parrots to do some cool tricks to show off.
Can clicker training solve every parrot problem? No. But it’s a fantastic place to start. And I bet it’ll help way more than you expect it to. Can I guarantee your bird will be the next Alex the African Grey? Probably not. But you and your bird will have a ton of fun learning and impressing everyone with what he can learn.
Clicker Training My First Bird
I belonged to the former camp when I discovered the concept of clicker training birds. In the summer of 2007 I adopted a sun conure from the local animal shelter. The name I chose for him was Stewie, after the Family Guy character because that Stewie was also a misanthrope who especially hated his mom. But as a baby, no one could understand what Stewie was saying so they all thought he was just being cute and babbling when he was really saying “Louis must die!!” and plotting her demise.
That’s what I thought my little orange ball of feathers was thinking about me.
After several months of trying to make friends with a bird who enjoyed nothing more than biting me, I started doing research on taming an unfriendly parrot and stumbled across the Bird Click group, moderated by Melinda Johnson.
There I learned that clicker training is a great way to improve your relationship with your bird because it teaches you to communicate with your parrot, so I gave it a try. The process of training helped me to tame Stewie by building trust. I showed him that I was the source of yummy treats and that it wasn’t that hard for him to manipulate me into giving them to him. Because of the training he eventually stopped biting. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen faster than I thought it would.
Today, Stewie still has a nippy moment every now and then but he’s no longer out for blood. He’s an affectionate bird who enjoys hanging out on my shoulder, preening my face or trying to climb into my shirt.
Check out the Clicker Training for Birds Starter Kit:
- Clicker Training for Birds, 150 page book of complete training and care
- i-Click Bird Clicker
- Target Stick
- Sample Treats
Or just click on the banner and browse the site to buy any of the items individually or check out related bird clicker training resources.
The Best Book for Training Birds
The thing to understand about Melinda Johnson’s Getting Started: Clicker Training for Birds is that it doesn’t focus on step-by-step guides to individual tricks. Clicker training, as I see it, isn’t really about the tricks. It’s about learning a common language, about teaching trust, about establishing a rapport, about learning how to teach and learning how to learn. One Amazon reviewer only gave the book a so-so review saying:
“This book is mostly about behavior in parrots. There is a lot of good information on that subject but not enough on the clicker training which is the reason I bought the book. Still, there’s enough to give you the idea of how and why it works to make it worthwhile reading. What I would rather have seen is a book that concentrated on just the clicker training aspect.”
But I think this review misses the point of the book. It’s not a cook book with a bunch of recipes to follow. Melinda Johnson’s approach is about learning how to train your bird as much as it’s about your bird learning how to learn. A book that only focuses on the step-by-step of how to teach a particular trick, might show you how to teach that one trick… and then you have a bird who might know one trick. But a book that explains the whys and hows of positive reinforcement training and the principles of training, gives you the resources you need to teach any trick you can think of and a parrot who understands the joys and rewards of figuring out what you want, and then trying different ways to please you.
Chapter 1: Clicker Training Is for the Birds! explains that training can add “a special dimension to a bird’s life” because birds in captivity tend not to have use their minds the way their wild counterparts do. Training stimulates their creativity and resourcefulness. When they figure out that you’re trying to communicate and play with them in new ways, it sets the foundation for a great new, multi-dimensional relationship. Chapter 1 gives a brief overview of what “clicker training” is, the role of the clicker, why this type of training works so well, what types of birds can be trained, what kinds of tricks can be taught and who makes a good clicker trainer (hint: it’s you!) From there, we go backwards a bit to set a foundation to make sure you and your birds are set up for success.
Chapter 2: Birdie Basics explains the importance of diet, exercise, sleep, lighting, parrot health, wing trimming, and toys.
Chapter 3: Getting Ready covers things like when you should start training, how you train multiple birds, where to train, how to train cage-bound or aggressive birds, how long training sessions last and who makes a good parrot trainer (hint: it’s you!)
Chapter 4: How Learning Takes Place is, in my opinion, the money chapter. This is where Melinda introduces concepts like classical and operant conditioning (and explains positive reinforcement, punishment and non-consequence). You learn the purpose of an “extinction burst”. You learn why punishment is not effective at behavior modification — not just that you shouldn’t use punishment, but why it doesn’t really work. Basic concepts like dominance, flooding, systematic desensitization and the “ABCs of behavior” are also discussed. If you understand how learning happens, you’re already armed with some amazing relationship-changing tools.
Chapter 5: Treats is about… you guess it: treats! What’s a good training treat, what’s not, how do you deliver a treat reward, what’s the difference between a bribe and a treat, using praise, how to work with a bird who doesn’t want treats, etc.
Chapter 6: All About the Clicker explains everything there is to know about the device that makes the clicking sound. What is a clicker, how does it work, why does a clicker work better than no clicker, why is timing important and how can I improve mine, when do you click, what do you do afterward, and lots of other clicker FAQs.
Chapter 7: Clicker Training Basics is about putting into practice what we learned in earlier chapters. It helps you create your training plan and goes into specifics of how to train: capturing a behavior, modeling a behavior, luring, shaping/refining behavior. It gives specific examples of how to chain a behavior. We also learn about begging in this chapter, how to deal with blocks, learning how to observe carefully and, importantly, how to deal with unwanted behaviors.
Chapter 8: Prop Behaviors is where we get into the nitty gritty of teaching specific behaviors. Start inside the cage if you have a cage-bound or aggressive parrot or outside if you have a friendly bird. Either way, you should start with targeting to a target stick. Chapter 8 teaches you how to do that. The book then covers various aspects of stepping up (that’s right, step up isn’t the first trick to teach) and gives some suggestions on half a dozen or so prop behaviors you can start with. At this point, it’s pretty much up to you to teach whatever you’re comfortable with – the book gives some tips on how to start. Find parrot training props here.
Chapter 9: Non-Prop Behaviors goes into a lot of fun tricks that don’t require props or toys. Ever want to teach a bird to dance on cue, take a bow, nod, flap, wave, shake hands or roll over and play dead? These are things you can learn in Chapter 9.
Chapter 10: Star-Spangled Manners answers questions like: how can I get my bird to go back in his cage? How do I potty train my parrot? How can I get my birds to stop chewing on my furniture or encourage them to stay on their playgym? Can I teach my parrot to enjoy showers? Come to me when I call? Stop using foul language? How can I get my bird to cooperate with a wing trim or nail clip? How do I teach my bird to accept a harness? Take medicine from a syringe? In other words, how can I teach my bird to behave? By now, at this point in the book, you probably already have some ideas about how reinforcement works – it’s just time to apply it.
Chapter 11: Screaming: The Call of the Wild. Birds vocalize to communicate and express themselves. This chapter talks a bit about parrot vocalization to put everything into perspective and gives some tips and tools for curbing and coping with yelling. How to stop a screaming parrot isn’t really a major focus of this book, but luckily there are plenty of other resources on the Web that teach you how to curb excessive screaming.
Chapter 12: To Chomp, Or Not to Chomp discusses biting and what you can do about it. The first trick to discourage your bird from biting is — ready for this? — to not get bitten. First and foremost Avoid the Bite! That’s right, avoid getting bitten. You’ll notice this runs counter to a lot of advice you find on the web, which says to “ignore the bite.” When I first learned about avoiding the bite (and how counterproductive ignoring the bite really is) in the Bird Click group, it was the most profound and best advice I’ve ever gotten.
In this section of Melinda Johnson’s book, we also learn how to discourage biting before it becomes a problem (among young birds), how to give your words meaning, dealing with learned aggression. We learn why we need to observe body language, how to change motivation, about height dominance, laddering, shouldering, fear, cage possessiveness and how to get creative.
Chapter 13: ‘Fraidy Birds discusses how to clicker train phobic birds and gives an example in Melinda’s own life dealing with an extremely fearful Goffins. The concept of systematic desensitization (covered in chapter 4) is detailed in practice as the author explains step by step how she got her Goffins to slowly accept and then welcome her. We also learn how we need to change how we approach a scared bird to earn its trust, how to build confidence, the importance of cage placement, how to educate family members about respecting the bird’s space, the effects illness can have, fear of falling and more.
Chapter 14: Resources is a short chapter with some additional resources for clicker training birds, including the Bird Click Yahoo group. Too bad this site here isn’t on that list!
Silly Parrot Tricks
I started clicker training with Stewie over a year ago and it has been an amazing journey. I’ve learned so much and I feel like I’m doing better by my birds because of it.
Today, between the two of them, my birds know several tricks, including prop tricks: targeting to a target stick, how to fetch various objects, put a ball in a cup, deposit coins in a piggy bank, fit a puzzle piece into a slot, put rings on a peg. And perform non-prop tricks on cue, such as: step-up, wave, turn, flighted recall, wings up. Best of all, I think they are much happier and smarter birds because of the mental stimulation they get.
Other cool bird tricks you can teach include: basketball, bowling, flighted retrieve, obstacle courses, play dead, roll over, potty training, nodding yes on cue, riding a scooter, and on and on. The list is practically endless, limited only by your imagination and your parrot’s physical limitations. All these things can be relatively easily with clicker training.
What are you waiting for? Resolve to improve your relationship with your birds by teaching them some fun tricks (or just interact with them more). Buy Getting Started: Clicker Training for Birds from the publisher (Karen Pryor, the clicker training guru) or from Amazon.