Teaching a Bird NOT to Scream: Reality

Screaming is one way birds get attention (positive, negative, it doesn’t matter!) Now, I can’t definitively say whether or not this was the case for Miss Viola Waddlesworth at her former home, however, her friend Sam, the African Grey who went to a neighbor’s house, frequently shouts, “Shut up, Waddles!”

…So yeah, we likely have a few years’ worth of bad habits to break with her.

One major purpose of this blog is to go beyond text and describe/show what bird training *really* looks like. Thus, a five minute vlog post was born.

May I present: What Teaching a Bird Not to Scream Really Looks Like: A Work in Progress

TL;DW/Oh my Gawd, I can’t take the screaming anymore – Skip to 4:05

Teaching a bird not to scream = massive, massive amounts of patience. It looks like a lot of:

  • Standing around out of sight of your bird and waiting for silence/a sound you don’t hate before you make your presence known again.
  • Making no movements that might indicate you might be coming within sight of your bird while he or she is screaming.
  • Responding to a sound you like with a happy call back/movement towards the birds–birds who are alone in a different room will “contact call“, which is natural and can’t really be turned off, so pick a sound you like/don’t hate and reinforce that.
  • Turning around/leaving the bird’s sight if they start screaming when you try to enter the room. They’re screaming for attention. Don’t give it to them!
  • Your spouse’s unwilling participation in the lack of movement/shouting at bird (shouting just reinforces the bad behavior and makes it continue longer. Spouses: Ignore it with every fiber of your being. Don’t even look at the bird.)

 

An Aside/Soap Box:

I feel like this video demonstrates why cockatoos (not Vi’s species–Vi is an Amazon) are only for the bravest, most tolerant of people. According to MyToos.com, Moluccan Cockatoos (and Umbrellas get close to this, too!) “Moluccans hold the record as the loudest bird on earth at 135 [decibels of sound]…A 747 Jumbo Jet produces as much as 140 decibels of noise.

My first-hand experience? Yes, they really are that loud. It is un.be.lievable.

Oh, and P.S.–A lot of the stuff you read at MyToos.com is NOT hyperbole regarding many, many, many Moluccan (and some Umbrella) cockatoos. We lived it. Not true of all cockatoos, but oh man… It was bad.

Step-Up Progress: Stepping Up for Bread!

…Because I have been busier than any person has a right to be, but we made more progress with Vi!

  1. She stepped up for Fletcher last night for a tasty piece of bread. She also let him pet her–exciting, because we were expecting her to be a one-person bird and merely tolerate him. Not so!
  2. She stepped up today from her cage to go upstairs. Granted, still bribing her with bread, but she really, really enjoys being upstairs. =)

Still reminding myself not to rush. Slow and steady, man. Slow and steady.

Day by day, we put her broken pieces back together. What a sweetheart!

And thus, Vi begins her singing career…

Twenty-four years young. XD

Somehow, Vi’s former owners taught her to say ‘Goodbye!’ or ‘Buh-bye!’ and shake her head whenever you wave at her.

suspect the way they did this was, whenever she said ‘Buh-Bye!’ they would wave at her, then rewarded her with LOTS of verbal praise, maybe some head-scritches, and possibly some treats. In this way, they trained her to associate them waving with the phrase ‘Buh-Bye!’

Here is the result:

Go Slow to Go Fast in Step Up Training: No Negative Experiences

In the “a stitch in time saves nine” quotes category, there’s a popular saying in education:

“Go slow to go fast.”

Essentially, if you don’t want to re-teach a skill multiple times over, it’s worth teaching it well  and thoroughly the first time. Which takes patience.

So, so much patience.

Shockingly, this is also true for bird training! Vi and I have been going agonizingly slowly in our developing relationship… But here we are–new successes!

Every day that I hang out in the basement, Vi now climbs down to come visit with me.

One week later, I’d guess this behavior is 60% food motivated rather than 95%. =) She’s starting to enjoy our company. Progress!

She still won’t step up from her cage (although she frequently says the phrase “Step up!” as if she wants to–contrary snot!) but we made another positive step forward today:

I brought her upstairs when she went after my flavored-bad-for-birdy popcorn, set her on our “big bird” stand as I made her some bird-safe popcorn, and she enjoyed herself in her new-found play area–so much so that she didn’t want to step up.

We were either going to break new ground in our training, or she was going to break skin (she postured to bite!)

I gently insisted she stepped up, promising her popcorn, which she didn’t actually want, anyway…

My hand remains intact. Up she went!

This is the longest I’ve gone without getting maimed by any parrot we’ve owned. =) Fingers crossed that I continue to have fingers to cross rather than losing a digit or two to her big, bad Amazon beak!

Just keep swimming, what do we do, we swim, swim, swim…

Step Up Training: Find a Treat They Love

Sometimes, just hanging out around your parrots and eating things will tell you all you need to know about what really matters to them.

“I got pizza love… (I got pizza love!) / I can’t stop / I just have to chew / when I see that cheesy goo-oo-oo / I can’t stop! And I think I’ll cry-aye-aye / if I find some onions on my pizza / pizza pie-aye-aye…”

Obnoxious fifth grade concert songs aside,  it looks like pizza crust is the key to Vi’s heart. And Louie’s, which is why he is my featured image–I hope to, through pizza, someday win Vi’s ultimate trust so I can do with her as I do with Lou. ❤

I decided to enjoy my dinner in the basement with Viola, and as I watched Nurse Jackie (our latest addiction), Vi crawled down from her perch, stared at me long and hard from the bottom of her cage for about ten minutes as I dined, then climbed down onto the floor, waddled over to me, and stepped up in order to eat her pizza crust.

She nommed it contentedly while sitting upon my hand, garbling in parrot-speak to me.

And here I thought we’d stopped making progress. So glad I didn’t push her!

I should take bets on how long it’ll be before she’ll step up without bribery and solely because she wants to be with me. I give it until Mid-July, personally.

If I’m right, I’m taking myself out to my favorite restaurant. =)

Grooming Helps Parrot Training: If at first you don’t succeed, redefine “success”!

…And then keep going until you match your initial definition!

Hit a bit of a road block with Vi (extremely limited progress…) until today. I was headed to my local bird shop (Busy Beaks Bird Shop if you’re interested–I volunteer for them by maintaining their website) and decided to see if I could coax her into her travel cage for a trim, as her nails and beak were getting quite long. Toast didn’t work to entice her, but she stepped up for me onto her pink towel after a bit! Woo! So… success? Sort of?

One way to strengthen a bond with a parrot (and get her to step up willingly without bribery!) is to “rescue” her after getting groomed… Oh grooming, you necessary evil you–still, there can be some good that comes from it if you do it correctly!

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At Busy Beaks Bird Store

Make sure you’re out of sight during the grooming–from capture with a towel to release, you don’t want your parrot to associate anything negative with you.

Be ready to “save” her as soon as she is released–she’ll look for the safest thing possible, and that’ll be you! Vi stepped right up for me; not only that, but she was comfortable stepping from hand to hand, and while I worked on the aforementioned website, she hung out on top of her travel cage… and she stepped up again!

It was a lovely bonding experience for the two of us; I hate the actual grooming process, but hey, progress is progress. She continued to step up like a good girl from her travel cage at home–now that she’s safely back in her cage, she is refusing (she bows down when I try, begging for scritches, the brat!), but I have my next game plan: give her a few preliminary scritches so she knows I still like her, then ask her to step up. If she bows down, I’ll back away, then try again later–if she steps up, she’ll get scritches.

Good luck to me. Watch me finally get bit. =) I’m sure I’ll deserve it!

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Vi and Mom in the living room for the first time. Mark it!

Step Up Training: One Full Step Up (The First Time!)

A leap of faith takes at LEAST the Holy Grail… of toast!

More progress today! …But at what cost?

viwithgianttoast
Behold: The Holy Grail of Toast

I think this is a mistake that a lot of novice bird trainers (i.e. me) make–we don’t provide a reluctant feathered friend with enough incentive to take a biiiiiig leap of faith. Sure, Wa-Wa-Waddles adores toast… but even Indiana Jones wouldn’t make that leap of faith for a measly sack full of gold.

It’s gotta be big. A relic of epic proportions. Something so tempting that it is worth the risk to closer her eyes, take a deep breath, and LEAP into the unknown with both talons forward.

Thus, I give you: Behemoth Toast.

It’s at least as big as her face. xD

After another five days of feeling like we’d hit a stall, I decided to up the pay-out.

Every day she wouldn’t dare lift a toe of her second foot, my toast offerings got bigger and bigger as I moved the toast farther and farther up my arm.

Finally, today, it proved too big a temptation. I WON!

Tomorrow, hopefully, it will require less, especially since some sound or another upstairs startled her and she took another flight around the basement. Once she’s off her cage, she’s more than happy to step onto more familiar ground–my wrist. She stepped right up for me, and I held her and cooed to her, making sure she wasn’t too nervous or uncomfortable.

Several beak-grinds later, and she’d had yet another positive experience with Mom. ❤

Every experience a positive one!

Achievement Unlocked: Full Step-Up