Archive for May, 2009

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Conure Cuteness Overload

May 19, 2009

You couldn’t get any cuter if you tried!

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2009 Endangered Species Day

May 15, 2009

“Happy” Endangered Species Day? Well, there isn’t a lot that’s happy about disappearing biodiversity, but in 2006, the U.S. Congress created Endangered Species Day to celebrate wildlife – and we should certainly celebrate increased awareness about endangered species. Endangered Species Day falls on the third Friday of every May.

So, today would be a good day to get involved with the World Parrot Trust’s work to save endangered parrots around the world. Click the banner below to see what you can do to make a difference.

World Parrot Trust

p.s. Since a lot of captive parrot species are actually endangered in the wild, let’s also remind our legislators that banning the breeding and transfer of non-native animals is a pretty dumb idea too.

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How to Get a Parrot to Go Back Inside His Cage

May 13, 2009

I frequently see people struggling with getting their bird back in its cage. I adapted one of my recent BirdBoard responses into a blog post.

How do you get your bird to go in its cage? My parrot always puts up a fuss and runs/flies away when it’s time for him to go back in.

Look at the situation from your bird’s point of view.

You really have to make it worth it to them if you want them to go inside without a fuss. Imagine it was you being locked up… wouldn’t you fight to stay out if being inside your cage meant no more attention, no more playtime, no more fun?

Mika Playing in Her Cage

Mika Playing in Her Cage

A quick digression: The most important thing you need to do (regardless of whether you have trouble getting your bird to go back inside) is to make sure the cage is a fun and safe place.

The cage is your parrot’s home and probably where he spends a good part of his day — it should go without saying that your pet parrot should have as much out-of-cage time as possible (at least a few hours a day), but inside the cage is the safest place for him when he can’t be supervised (when you’re at work) or it’s not safe for him to be out (for example, when you’re cooking). In addition to food and fresh water, the cage should have plenty of space to move around in, plus a variety of toys, perches and enrichment activities.

Your bird’s cage should be situated near where the family activity is, but in a location where he can feel safe (e.g., against a wall, not directly in front of a window). Being inside the cage should never feel like punishment.

But even if your parrot’s cage is the birdie equivalent of Disneyland, being outside — with YOU — is still going to be much more appealing to most pet birds.

So, there are a couple things I do to insure I don’t have to fight with my birds to get them to go inside:

1) Reinforce random step-ups. I give them a treat for stepping up and then put them back down. I do this repeatedly throughout the day. The purpose is to pair step-ups with treats (reward) and show them that a step-up doesn’t necessarily interrupt whatever they were doing before. If they get to step right back off, it costs them nothing and they even get a treat. Only rarely does “step up” equal going inside the cage.

2) Have them go inside and then let them come back out a few seconds later. This teaches them that going inside doesn’t mean that the fun ends right away. Neither does going in the cage mean that I’m leaving. I think a lot of birds don’t like going inside because they know it means their person is leaving them for the next few hours, so I make sure they get a bit of inside the cage time when I’m sitting right there next to them, still paying attention to them. That way inside-time doesn’t equal me being gone or them not getting any attention.

3) Put a very special treat inside their cage that they ONLY get when it’s time to go inside. Sometimes they can come back out when they’re done, but they only get to eat it inside their cage. Nutriberries work like magic in our house. In fact, 99% of the time, I put the treat in their cage and they run inside by themselves. I don’t even have to put them inside; I only have to close the door behind them. Being inside the cage might not be the best thing ever, but neither is it a terrible thing since they get to associate it with a very special treat.

Magic ———->

The important thing, as far as my approach, is that they get to choose to go inside. Having the choice makes it much more palatable for them. Also, I make sure that for them doing what I want isn’t always followed by something not nice. Otherwise I know they’d stop cooperating. (Think about it this way: if every time your boss said “can you come in here?” you got yelled at, wouldn’t you be much more reluctant to go over there? But if going into his office usually meant something nice, you’d be much more eager, right?)

FWIW, they didn’t start off being this cooperative. It took some training, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work right away. You might also want to try target training to help the process along.

p.s. Mika blogged about why she goes back inside her cage a few months ago. She doesn’t realize that she’s constantly taking part in training, and that’s part of the trick: she thinks it’s all her idea. Shhhh 😉

p.p.s. Slightly off topic, but not really: Below a great video of someone using clicker training to introduce their  African Grey to a new travel carrier. Notice how the trainer doesn’t rush the CAG and lets her explore the cage on her own terms. They also do a great job “treating for position” (You always want to click for the behavior, but place the treat in a position that reinforces continuation of that behavior.)

Want detailed instructions on how to train your parrot to get in his travel cage? I recommend Barbara Heidenreich’s short training video for details on how to teach your parrot to enter and exit a carrier.

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The Work of the Alex Foundation Continues – Please Help

May 4, 2009

In Irene Pepperberg’s book Alex & Me — Pepperberg’s story of how a small bundle of feathers humbled a scientific community and showed everyone just how smart parrots really are — she writes: “How much impact could a one-pound ball of feathers have on the world? It took death for me to find out.”

When he died in 2007, his obituary in the world’s most esteemed news publications showed how far avian research has come — this was a bird eulogized alongside political leaders and celebrities. He broke all the preconceptions the world had about what happened inside a bird’s brain, and his death broke our hearts.

But Dr. Pepperberg’s work continued. After all, theirs was a partnership; while Alex was a media darling, it was Irene and Alex together who made those breakthroughs. And their research is not done. You may not know Griffin and Arthur, but they are continuing Alex’s important work, making new breakthroughs in avian language studies.

Check out this TV special featuring Dr. Pepperberg and Griffin:

Extraordinary Animals: Genius Birds

That’s why The Alex Foundation still needs your support. And right now, your donation to The Alex Foundation can count double! A generous donor is offering a matching gift for all donations of over $50 to Dr. Pepperberg’s foundation to support their continued research.

Visit http://www.alexfoundation.org/index2.html for details and to make your donation. The Alex Foundation also asks that you help spread the word about the matching gift, so please feel free to link to this post, to their website directly, and to blog, tweet or email the parrot lovers in your network.

Please donate today (the matching gift expires June 30).

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Parrots at the National Zoo

May 3, 2009

Of course there are parrots at the National Zoo, but yesterday you could also have found a sun conure named Stewie and a White Capped Pionus named Mika at the zoo in DC. That’s because the Smithsonian was hosting a Bird Fest this weekend that included games, performances and exhibitors — including a booth by Phoenix Landing.

At the booth, Phoenix Landing volunteers LeighAnn and Carl showed off their African Greys Pepper and Franco and talked to passers-by about the good work our nonprofit parrot adoption and welfare organization does. I think I also gave variations on my spiel several dozen times, passed out literature and told everyone who came up to Stewie and said “Oh, how beautiful!” that they’re looking at “pound-for-pound, the loudest thing you’ll ever meet.” And if Stewie was being cooperative, he’d let out the same loud shriek they’d been hearing from all across the fair. Almost all the kids would literally flinch or jump the first time they heard it up close. 🙂

Some of the best questions/comments from the day included:

Man pointing at Stewie authoritatively: He looks like a cross between a parrot and a parakeet.

Several people, noticing Pepper’s tail: I saw this bird last year, but she didn’t have that red tail. I would’ve noticed that.

Teenage girl, looking directly at the birds from 6 inches away: Are they real? (No, they’re robots)

Like a total dolt, I forgot to bring my camera, so I can’t show off any pictures of the birds at the zoo (or the Orangutan who climbed overhead), but it was a fun outing. If Phoenix Landing invites me to join them again next year, I’ll be sure to post photos of Bird Fest 2010 next time around.