Archive for May, 2008


Free Issue of Good Bird Magazine

May 28, 2008

Updated November 2009: Link has been fixed. The new download is of the Fall 2008 issue.

Parrot trainer Barbara Heidenreich is generously offering a free issue of Good Bird Magazine to readers of the Best in Flock blog. Just click here, enter your information and you’ll receive the free copy via a link in an email.

For this free issue of the GoodBird parrot magazine, click here.

The issue is chock full of great reading, including:

  • The ABC’s of Behavior By Susan G. Friedman, PhD
  • Enrichment (Part Two) Foraging Opportunity:
    An Integral Component of Environmental Enrichment By Jim McKendry
  • Training your Parrot to Talk on Cue By Barbara Heidenreich
  • What Is Your Bird Saying? Learn to Read Bird Body Language
  • Flighted Parrots in the Home By Barbara Heidenreich
  • The Avian Brain and Intelligence (Part Two) By Diane Starnes
  • Pickin’ Parrots: Scientific Studies and Feather Picking By Natasha Laity Snyder
  • And more!

This free issue contains 90 pages of great parrot training and behavior info, including articles on:

  • When your Parrot Loves you Too Much
  • Wrap-N-Roll Enrichment
  • Simpler Steps to Step up
  • My Summer Internship at a Parrot Sanctuary
  • Teaching your Parrot to Drop an Item on Cue
  • Constructs: Putting Labels on Bird Behavior
  • Enrichment Solutions to Behavior Problems
  • Making the Connection: From Parrots to Children

Read the free issue of GoodBird magazine by clicking here. Then, if you like it, subscribe to the magazine to the new issues when they roll off the presses.

p.s. Also check out my interview with Barbara Heidenreich.


Barbara Heidenrich, Parrot Trainer – Interview

May 28, 2008

Barbara HeidenreichWhat a treat! Today I got to interview Barbara Heidenreich, one of the country’s top parrot training experts. She’s been in the field of animal training since 1990, has consulted with zoos around the country, and publishes resources for owners of companion birds, including Good Bird Magazine (a free download of which is available here), books, videos, and training/behavior workshops.

She is the author of Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots and also The Parrot Problem Solver.

Barbara Heidenreich is the past president of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (

Best in Flock: How did you get into training parrots and how long have you been doing it?

Barbara Heidenreich: I had budgies as a child and acquired my Amazon parrot Tarah 21 years ago. At that time I did not know too much about training parrots. I just knew I relay enjoyed having animals in my life and knew I would make a career with animals.

After working a number of animal related in jobs in high school and college, I decided to become a zookeeper. My first zoo keeping job was at Marine World Africa USA. My role was to work with the animals in the education department so that they would be comfortable going to school programs. It was here that I first got my feet wet training. I soon moved over to the bird show and stuck with free flighted bird shows for years. These shows featured many bird species…hawks, owls, eagles, cranes, vultures, hornbills and of course parrots.

After many years of presenting shows, I started consulting. My focus was on teaching zoo professionals how to train different types of animals for shows as well as husbandry and medical behaviors.

My work with companion parrots was starting during this time also. I often gave presentations to bird clubs and organizations. But this really expanded after I wrote a book for companion parrot owners called “Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots.” It was inspired by all the questions I would receive from guests after I presented a bird show.

At the time I did not know how many people were seeking information. Things really evolved from there. I really felt it would make a big difference in the lives of many pet parrots to get the information we used to train birds for show available to everyone. And I am really happy to see positive reinforcement training catching on with parrot owners. It can make such a huge impact for them and their birds.

More after the jump…


Read reviews or buy your copy of Good Bird! A Guide to Solving Behavior Problems in Companion Parrots at

Parrot Problem Solver



Best in Flock: What’s changed about how people perceive bird ownership and parrot training since you started?

Heidenreich: A great question! I think interest has grown tremendously in finding kinder and gentler ways to interact with your bird. The message seems to be getting out there that there is no need to dominate a bird to get good behavior. There is no need to be a flock leader or force birds to comply. People have learned positive reinforcement strategies build trust and biting does not have to be part of life with a parrot. It is a huge change. Now it is just a matter of getting this message to more people. That way more people and parrots can have a better relationship. My goal all along has been for people to treat animals with as much kindness as possible. I think teaching positive reinforcement training is the path to reaching this goal.

Best in Flock: What sorts of mistakes do you feel people often make when they first bring a parrot home?

Heidenreich: I think we sometimes have certain expectations of what we should be able to do right away with a new parrot. A big thing for me is to teach people to read and respond to bird body language. Rather than focusing on the end result you would like (like having the bird step up) the real path to success is to focus on how the bird is responding to you. If the bird indicates it is uncomfortable, backing off is a wise choice. Take things a bit slower and use positive reinforcement so that the bird becomes an eager participant.

Best in Flock: Can you share any anecdotes about the worst cases of parrot behavior you’ve ever had to deal with? What provided the breakthrough in that case?

Heidenreich: I don’t know if it is the worst thing, but I love sharing the story of Toby and Joseph. Toby a Meyer’s parrot had developed some serious aggressive behavior towards his owner Joseph. It was to the point that Joseph no longer interacted with his bird. After a few in home consultations Joseph totally embraced a positive reinforcement approach to working with Toby and this bird is now just amazing!

Joseph and Toby are featured in my first DVD and a new one that is coming out soon. (I think people will be especially impressed with what Toby has learned in the new one) They can also be seen on my youtube site at

Best in Flock: Do you have any tips for new parrot owners just getting started with training?

Heidenreich: I always suggest starting out with a hands off behavior first. Something simple like targeting or turning around on cue, or even a retrieve. Save step up for later, after your bird has learned how to learn.

These behaviors build trust and you don’t have to worry about whether your bird might bite since the behaviors are hands off.

Joseph did 6 months of hands off behaviors until he felt confident again to work on step up. Now step up is as easy as any behavior and Toby no longer presents aggressive behavior with Joseph.

I would like to add that training really can be so much fun once you get the hang of it. It can be a bit addicting! There is something about that moment when your bird understands what you are trying to teach. It is almost a rush for the trainer. Next thing you know you want to teach another behavior…and another! And the good news is your bird will be addicted too. That is the beauty of positive reinforcement training. It is fun for you and your bird.


Life with a Flighted Parrot: 3 Concerns

May 26, 2008

Updated: I just read a really heartbreaking story about someone who was pressured into free flying their parrot before he was ready, a move that ended in tragedy. I want to make it extra super clear that I’m not advocating that you free fly your birds (i.e., let it fly outside without a harness) or even that you leave your bird unclipped if you know that circumstances make it too risky. You alone have to decide whether you can leave your bird flighted and do so safely. All I wanted to do in this post is bring up some common objections, show how I solved those problems (or not) and inject a little humor into the subject. Use common sense and keep your birds safe, please!!

Flying ParrotConcern #1: It’s Easier for an Un-Clipped Bird to Escape

Solution: I don’t know the stats, but clipped birds probably escape as much as flighted birds (this is a guess, based on anecdotal evidence – don’t quote me!). Too many people believe that their clipped bird can’t fly – that is simply not true! Add a bit of adrenaline or a small breeze to an unfamiliar environment, and even a clipped bird can take off and not touch down again for miles. Don’t count on clipping to be enough to keep your bird safe.

Whether your bird is clipped, partially clipped or fully flighted, don’t leave doors or windows open, make sure your parrot is in his cage if people are coming and going, and keep him on a harness or in a cage if you’re going outside.

(Recall training can be a life saver, literally, but don’t get overconfident about your parrot’s recall abilities in unfamiliar environments.)

Eclectus photo by Looking Glass

Concern #2: A Flighted Bird Can Fly into Windows and Hurt Itself

Solution: Parrots generally don’t fly into things if they know the lay of the land. I frequently reintroduce the windows to Stewie by holding him up close, tapping on the glass and letting him touch it. I don’t believe I’m overestimating him when I say that he understands that it’s solid.

There are also safe places for him to land in case he spooks and takes to the air (which happens a lot). As a flighted bird, when he takes off, he simply flies in a circle and lands back where he started instead of falling to the floor and then being helplessly “trapped” there. Stewie has several landing spots he seeks out when he’s airborne in the living room: his cage, his playstand, the back of my computer chair and me.

A newly fledging parrot, or one who is learning to fly as an adult, might be a little clumsy, but don’t let one minor mishap send you running to the pruning shears. Like toddlers learning to walk, birds may need a little practice before they get the hang of it.

Concern #3: Bird Flies Circles Around Your Head to Get Your Attention, Hitting You in the Face with His Wings as He Sees How Close He Can Get Before You Stop Ignoring Him.

Solution: If you know of a remedy to this problem that doesn’t involve a recipe for parrot pot pie, please let me know, because I haven’t figured out how to discourage it.

But seriously, some people complain about a bird getting “attitude problems” when flighted, and it’s true that a flighted parrot might demonstrate an increase in confidence. Just like a toddler starts getting into things they shouldn’t once they’re mobile, a bird who can fly probably won’t stay put if there are more interesting things to do elsewhere. The best way to deal with a confident flying bird is to channel that energy into training; training is even more important with flying birds because they are are self-determined. A flighted parrot shouldn’t be any more difficult to handle than one that can’t fly if the parrot (and the owner) are well-trained. Obviously that’s easier said than done.

Now about that parrot pot pie recipe…


Parrot Props and Trick Training Toys

May 21, 2008

When clicker training your bird, you should teach at least three prop behaviors before you work on non-prop behaviors (to avoid having the bird use his first and strongest behavior as way to beg for treats or attention). A training prop could be anything, it doesn’t have to be expensive, but sometimes it’s just easier to buy a prop specifically designed for bird training.

Since finding parrot training props isn’t as easy as it should be, I’ve gathered together various links I’ve bookmarked where you can find trick training toys for birds. If you know of other good sources for clicker training props, please leave a comment and and I’ll add it to the list. If you’d like to share your shopping experience with any of the parrot supply stores below, I’d welcome that as well since I haven’t tried all these sites out myself.

Parrot Clicker Training Kit

Birdie Basketball

Ring Toss Toys and Props

Scooters/Skateboards for Cockatiels and Bigger Birds

Bird-Sized Roller Skates

And if money is no object for your feathered genius, check out this bicycle built for parrots.

Obviously some of these parrot tricks are much harder to teach than others, and your bird would have to be macaw-sized to operate anything as complicated as a bicycle, but don’t get discouraged — some of the behaviors are actually not that complicated to teach! Ring toss and basketball are only one step removed from retrieve (teaching your bird to fetch), which is one the first prop tricks to teach a beginner bird anyway. (Stewie’s first real trick was to put a ball in a cup, and I’m a terrible trainer. If we can do it, anyone with a little patience and a lot of humor can do the same.)

The obvious disclaimer: buy from these online parrot toy stores at your own risk. I’m not vouching for them.

Should-be-obvious statement #2: “Because they do cool tricks” is not a good reason to run out and buy a parrot. Tigers jump through hoops of fire – doesn’t mean you just run out and get one because of that. Ok, enough preaching.

For your viewing pleasure: A Macaw Parrot Riding a Bicycle, among other things:



What You Don’t See in Parrot Training Videos

May 16, 2008

Sometimes you can get discouraged watching parrot training videos. Those birds always seem to do all the tricks perfectly (despite the trainer’s claim they’re not even tame… yeah right) while our own training efforts make us wonder if there’s something wrong with our birds… or us.

The truth is, that no bird knows how to do every trick the first time we try to teach it. And even a fairly well trained parrot can have an off day. What’s important to remember is that that’s perfectly okay. We’re not dealing with matters of life or death; we’re just working on some fun tricks. So if your parrot isn’t in the mood to practice his tricks, try again some other time.

Just to show you what happens “behind the scenes” of parrot training videos, here’s what you usually don’t see (because it gets edited out):

We did clicker training for 3 minutes. The first minute went well, then something set Stewie off and I spent the next 2 minutes (the part shown in the above video) trying to get his attention back on training. Eventually I decided to end the session and let him do his own thing.

Just as I don’t force him to train when he’s not in the mood, I also don’t bother training when I’m not in the mood. Remember, training is supposed to be fun! Your training sessions will be much more rewarding if it’s something you do because you both want to, not because you think you should stick to some sort of schedule.


On a related subject, please check out this blog post about unscrupulous marketing tactics by some parrot trainers.


Teaching My Parrot to Wave

May 16, 2008

The latest trick we’re working on is waving. This is usually one of the earlier non-prop behaviors parrot trainers teach their birds, but I started with behaviors I could capture instead of ones I’d have to shape. I finally felt we were both ready to work on this trick, and once I knew my plan of attack, Stewie picked up on it quickly. At least half the energy of teaching Stewie new tricks is me simply mapping out what the steps are going to be (creating a lesson plan, so to speak).

The video below is of our 4th session working on wave. Below the jump I describe how we got to this point.

Here’s How I Shaped Waving
In session one, I offer him my finger as if asking him to step up. I click and treat when he lifts his foot onto my finger. In session two, I hold my finger higher, closer to his head, and point it down a little more so it no longer looks like I’m asking for a step up. He uses his beak to hold onto my finger while he lifts his foot high enough to grab it. I c/t all foot lifts, even if they don’t reach my finger.

In the third session I start moving my finger away when he reaches for it with his beak . This was probably the most difficult session since he really wanted to hold onto my finger with both his beak and his foot. I was surprised how determined he was to grab hold of it, even though I was rewarding him just for foot lifts.

About half the reps during the first half of the third training session had me trying to pull me finger out of his reach. During the second half I hold my finger further away and wave it at him while giving the verbal cue. This resulted in him offering several behaviors including the desired foot lift, but also “wings up” and “turn around.”

This video is of session four. I was surprised that he only did foot lifts during this session, completely forgoing attempts to grab my finger.

The first two sessions were probably 3-4 minutes each. The third session took maybe closer to 5 minutes. This particular clip, as you can see, lasts about one minute. The original recording was 3 minutes long, but he spends the last 2 minutes just screaming and being distracted so I cut it.


Thanks for the Support

May 14, 2008

Best in Flock was included on the Pets page of, Guy Kawasaki’s project to aggregate all the best feeds on particular topics! And if that wasn’t cool enough, Barbara Heidenreich has added us to her blogroll as well. Stewie and I are honored by the attention and recognition! Thanks so much!!