Archive for November, 2008

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Parrot Skateboard

November 27, 2008

Notice the post title isn’t “skateboarding parrot”… that’s because we haven’t gotten to the part where he actually steps onto the board, BUT… he is beaking it, so at least he isn’t afraid anymore.

What’s going on? Well, I bought Stewie a little skateboard prop and I’m frickin excited! (Sorry for the poor quality pic, I’ll be replacing it as soon as I get a better shot of him.)

I’ve wanted a little Stewie-sized skateboard ever since I saw those adorable videos of skateboarding budiges – I just never could figure out where to find the prop.

Now that we have one we’re going to work on getting him to stand near it. The problem won’t be getting him used to the prop — he seems to be fine with it — the issue is that Stewie doesn’t like standing on flat surfaces (other than his cage top, which has bars).

So far we’ve been able to do all his tricks (retrieve, rings on peg, ball in cup, turn, wings up, etc) from a perch, but a skateboard is definitely going to require getting onto a table. This is where target training comes in. I’ve been asking him to step onto the table to touch the stick. Next I’ll be getting him to stay on the table longer and longer, as well as asking him to approach the skateboard and put his foot on it.

Stay tuned about our progress turning Stewie into a little feathered Tony Hawk.

I couldn’t find any photos under Creative Commons to include here, but there are some cute photos of skateboarding budgies/parakeets you can browse on Flickr , including a bunch by user Trieste Visier. Updated: Trieste Visier deleted the Flickr account, but photos of Trieste’s skateboarding budgies can now be found here: http://skateboardingbudgies.wordpress.com/

But you too can have a skateboarding parrot… err, parrot skateboard. Apparently they are pretty trendy toys. I saw a TON of them at Target, where I got Stewie’s, and they’ve got multipacks of the same Tech Deck miniature skateboards on Amazon. Buy one of these props for each of your small birds! 🙂

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5 Best Parrots for Families with Children

November 20, 2008
Image by TailspinT (via Flickr)

Image by TailspinT (via Flickr)

Very broadly speaking, most parrots and most children just don’t mix. Children tend to be far more boisterous, loud and quick moving for the liking of parrots, who are after all still just wild, prey animals.

That said, parrots can be a delightful addition to a family, so if you’re considering adding a bird to your flock, consider which species would be more likely to fit into your family. Parrots live a long time. If everything goes right, they’ll still be part of the family long after the kids go off to college, so take your time researching which species is best given the activity level, noise, schedules etc. of your particular household.

All parrots require patience, understanding and stability (as well as not being screamed or poked at), but some are less ideal than others in terms of being around children. The first step for setting up your family, and any pets, for success is understanding that different species have different temperaments and not all birds will be equally good at adapting to little humans.

IMPORTANT:
If you’re visiting this page because you’re looking for
a Christmas present for your child, please read this first:
Giving Pets as Xmas Gifts

But without further ado, here are our recommendations for the 5 Best Parrots for Families:

5. The Humble Budgie (aka Budgerigar) Parakeet

Nibbler by Lodigs

Nibbler by Lodigs

The budgie (short for budgerigar, and often simply called “a parakeet” in the United States) is probably the most underrated bird in the parrot family. Few people even properly recognize them as parrots. At an average weight of around 30 grams, these hookbills are tiny, but don’t let their small size fool you.

Did you know that the bird with the world’s largest recorded vocabulary was but a wee budgie parakeet? Just like their larger cousins, budgerigars can be trained to do tricks, talk and generally be fun members of your family. (To see an adorable, talkative budgie in action check out Li’l Babi Versailles’s YouTube channel.)

Because of their tiny size, however, they are much more delicate than their larger parrot brothers and sisters, so all family members need to respect that grabby hands are a no-no. Budgies can be flighty and expect an untame parakeet to be nippy — but as single birds they are not that difficult too tame and no one will lose an eye in the process.

4. Meyer’s Parrots

Petey by bcymet

Petey by bcymet

Meyer’s Parrots belong to the Poicephalus family of African hookbills. They tend to be quieter than many other types of parrots, making them appropriate for apartment dwellers or those who can’t handle loud, incessant screeching.

They can be acrobatic, affectionate and entertaining. At the same time, their beaks are not huge and intimidating.

One website wrote about the Meyer’s species: The Meyer’s is reputed by many to be the nicest of this very nice-to-be-around family.” Calm and steady by nature, the Meyer’s is a good choice for a homes that include children. [They] are likely to maintain balanced relationships with a number of people. They are unlikely to bite. It’s been my observation that Meyer’s have a certain demure quality about them that gives them a fresh and unique charm. They are sweet, but not shy. And they tend to truly like people, even strangers. One famous breeder put it this way: “Senegals loved being loved by you, but Meyer’s love loving you.”

3. Pionus – Sweet, Gentle and Quiet

Blue Headed Pionus by GrayGeek2008

Blue Headed Pionus by GrayGeek2008

The pionus is one of the most underrated parrots today, probably because they don’t have bright, colorful plummage like some parrots, nor are they known for being good talkers.

That’s too bad because Pionus have fantastic personalities that make them great family pets. Not only are Pionus gentle, compared to many species of parrot, but they aren’t noisy or needy either. While all parrots need interaction and out-of-cage playtime, a Pionus is often happy to sit on top of his cage, just observing what’s going on, without demanding lots of attention.

Xafsmom likes the Blue-Headed and Bronze Winged Pionus and calls these two species “beyond a doubt two of the best family birds ever. Quiet, friendly, playful… not very cuddly but will sit and be pet for hours. They also form strong flock bonds over a single person bond.”

One thing you’ll need to be aware of when considering a Pionus Parrot is that they have a slight musky odor that some people don’t enjoy. In addition, because they don’t have a preening gland, they produce some dust/dander so spend time with these guys to make sure it doesn’t bother you. Personally, I love the way my White Capped Pionus smells.

If you want to know about of the Pi personality, check out the Life of Pis blog, where my Mika girl occasionally shares her own thoughts on life in the Best in Flock household.

2. The Sweet and Smart Cockatiel

Ziggy by I GEMZ

Ziggy by I GEMZ

Cockatiels are one of the most, if not the most, common pet parrot in the United States, although few people think of ‘tiels as parrots. ‘Tiels are smart, sweet and delightful, while being less hyper and spastic as some of the other small birds.

Katie, who shares her life with 8 delightful cockatiels says this about the species:

“They usually don’t have the same behavioral or hormonal issues that other birds can have. Their hormones are generally easy to manage as well. They like to be with you but aren’t generally really needy and are generally pretty quiet. They don’t need as large of a cage that bigger birds do and they are just perfect.”

‘Tiels are friendly, have cute voices, usually learn to whistle well, don’t tend to overbond to a single person (as a rule), aren’t as expensive as larger birds, and come in a variety of beautiful mutations.

Cockatiels are great birds for families who may not be experienced parrot owners, but they aren’t disposable birds. Just like “real” parrots, they live a long time and require attention, proper care and training and lots of love.

1. The VERY Best Parrot for Children…. Squawkers McCaw

Squawkers meets every (unreasonable) requirement for best parrot I’ve ever been asked about:

– He’s NOT LOUD and won’t aggravate you or the neighbors

– But he is GUARANTEED TO TALK up a storm

– He doesn’t poop all over the place or make a mess

– He NEVER BITES

– He doesn’t demand attention and doesn’t need a large cage

– He won’t go through a hormonal phase

– He’s CUDDLY, even more so than a cockatoo

– No vet bills, no expensive food, no toys = cheapest parrot ever!

And when your children get bored with Squawkers, they can ignore him without any consequence. He’s my #1 choice for a children’s parrot – a recommendation echoed by several members of BirdBoard.

Remember, pets are not toys. If you’re looking for “something colorful that talks”, get Hasbro FurReal Friends Squawkers McCaw Parrot.

But if you’re looking for a lifelong friend, a loved and loving addition to the family that will give back as much as you put into your relationship, the bird species listed above are excellent candidates for further research on your part.

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Pionus Parrot Target Training

November 12, 2008

Here’s our most recent video of Mika demonstrating target training. As I’ve mentioned numerous times (as I learned from the Bird Click group), targeting is the best first prop trick to teach a parrot. It’s easy because it requires almost no chaining, and can be used to teach subsequent tricks.

To be honest, doing clicker training with Mika hasn’t been a high priority. I started clicker training Stewie a year ago mostly to tame him – he was pretty aggressive and I needed a fun, positive way to interact with him. In my mind, THE biggest benefit to training was that it turned him into a tame and loving bird. Since Mika came to me already tamed and affectionate, teaching her to do tricks never had the same urgency. Thank goodness Mika forgives me for being lazy. However, I do intend to get her caught up – at the very least she should be able to do the same tricks Stewie does. It’s only fair.

The next step is to keep working with Mika on fetching a big pink ring. We’ve done a couple of sessions and it never clicked with her what I wanted her to do, so my current tactic involves letting her watch Stewie as he demonstrates retrieve. (In interviews with Dr. Pepperberg, she describes this method of teaching Alex the African Grey as the “rivaling technique”.) Hopefully I’ll have some videos of Mika retrieving soon.

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Support Phoenix Landing by Becoming a Member

November 1, 2008

Phoenix Landing launched a membership program! Now, in addition to volunteering as a foster parront, shopping at the PL store, and contributing items to their charity auctions, you can also show your support by becoming a member. Membership benefits include a nice bit of schwag.

The membership program debuted today at the Peruvian Parrot Party event. I joined at the Conure Level; $100 bucks a year allows me to support Phoenix Landing, and got me a 2009 parrots of Phoenix Landing calendar, subscription to the newsletter, a pin, a PL member T-Shirt, a small discount on toy purchases, and a couple other things.

Membership starts at $25 and goes up to $1000, with member benefits increasing proportionately. Very soon, you should be able to join on the web, but for now you can do it in person at any upcoming lecture. Update: You can now become a member via the Phoenix Landing website.

Phoenix Landing T-shirt (member logo)

Phoenix Landing T-shirt (member logo)

In addition to my membership swag, I also bought a bunch of new toys, including another Barrel of Fun toy, an acrylic treat maze, and some pine and wicker chew toys. (Phoenix Landing events always feature a huge assortment of toys, but these are not available through their online store so I’m linking to my prefered online pet store: Drs. Foster & Smith – The Trusted Name in Pet Bird Supplies)

The event itself was also fascinating. Dr. Brightsmith, of the Tambopata Macaw Project, gave two lectures based on his research: one covering the reintroduction of captive bred macaws into the wild, and another about the diet of wild parrots compared to pet birds.

Like always, several foster birds were on hand for people to interact with. Today there were two vocal amazons, an affectionate sulfur crested cockatoo, several adorable cockatiels, a feisty green cheek conure, one noisy little sun conure, and a gorgeous but slightly cranky blue and gold macaw.

If you’re interested in learning more about parrots — whether it be adoption, fostering, diets and nutrition, socialization, training, species personalities, etc — and you live on the East Coast, I highly encourage to attend a Phoenix Landing event and consider becoming a member.

For more info and background on Phoenix Landing, a parrot adoption group based in North Carolina and Virginia, check out my interview with Founder Ann Brooks.

p.s. a BIG thanks to the volunteers who organized the “pot luck” (more like “feast”). I’ve never eaten so well or so varied at a lecture.