Teaching a Parrot to Step-Up: Recommended Steps

As a first-time bird owner, I found many online parrot training guides to be… rather vague. It was hard to figure out how to create a tangible training process for my parrots out of abstract ideas.

Fortunately, I had a ton of guidance from the bird rescue where I used to volunteer, and now several years of the hands-on experience of rescuing five different parrots from varying walks of life.

Thus, I’ve created a list of suggested milestones for training parrots who are hand-shy to step up. Links on this page refer to stories from training Vi so you have some point of reference from a real-life story. 

This timeline assumes you spend several hours of ambient quality time with your bird every day (time spent around your parrot where you go about your business and speak frequently to your bird–generally large amounts of time in the same room, not necessarily one-on-one) and that you work with your parrot a minimum of twice a day for 10/15 minutes at a time.

Note that training sessions are best done in short bursts (no more than fifteen to twenty minutes) several times a day rather than all at once in one big chunk; this prevents you and your parrot from getting tired, irritable, or impatient! 

Step-Up Training Milestones: Usually in order, but not always!

Milestone #1: Getting comfortable around you and your family.

Expected Timeline: One Day to Two Weeks

The first lesson your parrot needs to learn is that you are its flock; you will provide for it, keep it company, keep its living area clean, and that you will talk with it and interact. You’re a friend–especially with abused birds, this one is enormously important.

Hanging out, singing to your parrot, whistling, reading the newspaper aloud to him or her, or generally just being around and friendly will help build this initial bond. Feeding favored treats here and there helps as well! 

Milestone #2: Finding treats he or she really likes.

Expected Timeline: One Day to Several Weeks (especially if the bird hasn’t been exposed to lots of different foods–teaching them to try new things can be a challenge.)

Take the time to try different foods with your parrot to discover what he or she likes. Keep a running list of likes, loves, mediocres, and hates. This will help with basic training later, and help build a solid foundation as your parrot learns that you are the source of tasty nom-noms.

 

Milestone #3: Choosing to come out of her cage on her own.

Expected Timeline: One day to several weeks.

Make sure all dogs, cats, and other creatures that can cause harm are out of the room, and leave the cage door open for at least one hour (more if you can swing it).

If your bird is brave (like Vi was), he may come out on day two – if not, this can take a few weeks. Eventually your bird will grow curious (especially if there is a treat or two [and no more] on top of their cage or a fascinating toy to explore.)

Caveat on Milestone #3 – You parrot also needs to learn to go back INTO their cage, so make sure you have a plan for how to help them return to the cage BEFORE you let them come out. Your options for this are to 1. wait until they choose to do so on their own (so make sure you actually have all day–really) – it helps to keep food/water only in their cage for this, or 2. finding a specific treat they absolutely LOVE and tend to do pretty much anything for.

I also recommend teaching your parrot a command word to help them learn this (Vi’s is “Cage Up!”) – if you say this any time they choose to go back in their cage and reward them with a treat when they do, they’ll catch on relatively quickly. Make sure to reward them with a treat any time you say the command and they go in, even if they’re already on their way!

Milestone # 3 Rule: Do NOT chase your bird back into their cage. Fear is the opposite of what you want.

Milestone #4: Teaching your bird you will respect his or her body language.

Expected Timeline: One to two months. More if you experience setbacks, like a bite or fear response.

Rule # 1 – If the new parrot backs away from your hand, let her! Show her you’ll pay attention to her body language. If she wants you to leave her alone, learn to read those signs and do so. Think partnership over dictatorship and save the forced ‘step-ups’ for when it’s actually necessary.

Rule # 2 – If your parrot postures to bite you as you try to teach it to step up, freeze. Wait until he backs away, then remove your hand. 

I find that most parrots bite because they want you to stop doing something. Your job is to learn your parrots other subtle indicators that mean “Stop” and respect them. 

A Note: Your parrot needs to learn that biting will not get them what they want. They need to learn that something else will make the change they need. Pay attention to what that “something else” might be (Vi, for example, will shuffle away if she doesn’t want to be picked up, and we honor that most of the time).

If your parrot goes AFTER you to bite you aggressively (rather than when you reach out to try and get them to step up), that’s a whole different can of worms that needs different responses.

Rule # 3 – If your parrot *does* manage to bite you, do. not. react. Wait until they are done–yes, even if you’re bleeding and they’re grinding down hard. Stay stone-faced, make no sound. Don’t flinch, don’t pull your hand away. Just. Wait. Then slowly pull your hand away once the parrot releases its grip. 

Parrots who learn that they can do something other than biting to get what they need (you to stop trying to get them to step up, in this case) generally stop biting eventually. Respect must come before stepping up.

Milestone #5: Find the holy grail of treats; the one thing your parrot will risk pretty much everything for. (Vi’s is pizza crust; Louie’s is peanuts.)

Expected Timeline: Day one to someday.

This is training GOLD. Find it, use it to the best of your advantage. You can move on to step six if you’ve just reached milestones 1-4, but this one will significantly speed up the training process.

Milestone #6: Choosing to get close to you to take a treat.

Expected Timeline: A day to one or two weeks after achieving Milestone #5. If you’ve only hit Milestone #4, it can take a few weeks to a few months depending on how food-driven (or not) your parrot is.

This is best done when the bird is outside of the cage already rather than inside it (to prevent cage-aggression – some birds are territorial of their space. Having them outside the cage can help avoid a painful bite.)

Practice two or three times a day for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, no more. Hold the treat just above your wrist; every time they take a new treat, move the next one infinitesimally slowly, a quarter of an inch at a time, until they get to the point where they are comfortable reaching over your wrist to take a treat.

Milestone #7: Toe/Wrist Contact for a Bribe

Expected Timeline: A day to a week after Milestone #6.

This milestone is not necessarily stepping up (do NOT force it at this point).

Hold your hand out with a treat on the other side so your bird has to slightly step on you in order to reach the treat. If they make any kind of contact, no matter how brief it is, praise and reward with a treat. Repeat. Eventually, they will get comfortable touching you more and more until…

Milestone #8: Full Foot/Wrist Contact

Follow the directions in Milestone #7 until they put their entire foot on your wrist to take their favored treat.

If your bird chooses to tentatively put one claw on you in order to reach a favorite treat, that is HUGE progress. DO NOT PUSH IT FURTHER YET. They need to consistently feel comfortable stepping briefly onto your hand (give it at least two days) before you try to push it further.

Expected Timeline: A day to several days after Milestone # 7.

Milestone # 9: Full Step-Up for a Treat

Expected Timeline: A day to a week after Milestone #8.

The bird will step all the way up to reach their preferred treat. They will likely immediately step right back down. That’s okay! Reward and praise. Do not try to keep them on your hand, especially not the first day or so they will step up. Let the bird choose how long they want to stand on you.

Once they feel comfortable on you, you can move your wrist slightly away from the cage. If the parrot indicates

Mommy and Vi, snuggling.

Milestone # 10: Stepping up because they want to. 

Expected Timeline: Several weeks to several months after Milestone #9.

If a bird steps up and just hangs out on your wrist, this. is. huge.

Note that I’ve now had Vi going on two years; sometimes, she regresses and won’t step up at all, sometimes she needs a bribe, and sometimes she’s happy to do whatever. Recently, she’s been really consistent in trusting me enough to always step up, even out of her cage. I pay attention to her body language and what she wants (so she’ll step up if I notice she wants up higher somewhere or down off something) and make sure I honor what she wants as much as possible. If I have to put her down somewhere she isn’t a fan, I make sure she always has treats. Every experience a positive one takes time and patience, but it pays off!

Training Set-Backs:

1. Getting Bitten

If a bird bites you, that is 100% your fault. Sorry, but it’s true; it’s your job to appropriately react to, anticipate, and respect a parrot’s body language. A parrot is a companion; they should only be expected to be subservient to you when absolutely necessary (like, say, if there’s a fire).

2. Scaring your bird.

Every experience needs to be a positive one.

3. Even one instance of not respecting their body language.

4. Yelling at your bird.

 

Excelsior: Things That Help Milestones Along

Getting Groomed: Rescue that birdy! If you take your bird to get their wings trimmed or anything else, make sure you’re not around when this happens; usually, a vet or groomer will towel your bird. As soon as they finish, be ready to ‘rescue’ your bird and give him or her all kinds of love. This helps a TON!

Rescuing your Bird: your bird is scared by somethingIf and sees you as a source of safety and comfort, being able to carefully and lovingly rescue your parrot comes hugely in handy!

Boarding: Your bird will be suuuuuper happy to see you again. This can cause setbacks in Milestones 7-10 for some birds, but for others, they will be so thrilled you’re back that they will happily step up for you.

There you have it! Step-up training in bite-sized chunks. 🙂

“OMG, I want a parrot!”

Do you? Do you really?

Let’s face it; most birds, were they dogs, would be put down.

Louie’s grandfather (or at least great-grandfather) likely flew the canopies of the Solomon Islands. And Ozone’s father is probably still terrorizing some local somewhere in Africa.

At no point should you assume birds are domesticated; they are feathered dinosaurs.

They *will* bite you. End of story.

And our bites are mild in comparison to some species, like cockatoos…

How to (reliably) find the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

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Oh, the famous Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill–cool enough to have their own Yelp Page, yet elusive enough that, in spite of having been in and out of San Francisco repeatedly, I’ve never seen them before. Even Mark Bitters, the man who made them famous through his book and documentary, isn’t quite sure how to consistently see them in spite of studying them for years.

Good news for bird watchers, though:

Follow this guide and I bet I can get you pretty darn close.

Naturally, my status of ‘crazy bird lady’ meant that I just had to find them on a recent impromptu trip to San Francisco. Knowing a thing or two about parrots helped; I spent the day looking for them, knowing all along certain things would help. Shockingly, if I’d paid attention to my own wisdom, I could’ve spent the majority of the day doing something else… fortunately, you get to learn from my mistakes. 😀

Locals suggested wandering up and down the steps between Greenwich Road, Levi’s Plaza, and Coit Tower, but “no guarantees”.

Parrots are pretty active during the day; they travel in flocks, moving frequently, meaning you’re way less likely to see them randomly when you’re not looking. When you are looking to bird watch, how do you find them?

How to Find the Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Guide in Videos and Pictures

  1. Time of day matters. 

2. Location, location, location!

Start at Levi’s Plaza and work your way up the steps to Coit Tower.

Or, you know, just drive and park at Coit Tower. I just think the hike up is lovely, and you’re more likely to catch the parrots if you walk.

Levi’s Plaza is a great place to start–the starting point is too low for the birds to consistently appear (in my opinion), but head up the stairs towards Coit tower, and you’re in for a gorgeous hike, and a great way to get oriented to the surrounding area!

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Take the stairs you see here. Make your way up to Coit tower.

Once at Coit Tower, you’ll want to locate the side paths that are about fifteen-twenty feet off the main parking area; I started by heading toward Green Street and circling that pathway.

3. Follow your ears. Parrots are LOUD. You will hear them (and some crows and/or ravens) long before you see them.

4. Be patient and keep walking. If you follow your ears, you’ll eventually find them!

In a Nutshell:

-Make sure wander the paths around Coit Tower about an hour before sundown, or shortly after sunrise!

-Where there are ravens roosting, so too will you likely find parrots. Ravens are the kings and queens of Coit Tower, so they’ll be chilling in the trees around the center; the parrots will be flying the side paths ten to fifteen feet from the center.

-Be patient and be ready to walk. The parrots will only stay in the trees for a few minutes before darting away.

-Bring binoculars. They’re hard to see, especially if you’re blind like I am!

If all else fails, locals are correct about finding parrots at/around Embarcadero park; there seems to be a popular roost at sundown in a tree at the intersection at Clay & Davis, which I stumbled upon quite by happy accident as I wandered back to my hotel. Visit at sundown (after the sun has dipped below the horizon, but before it’s totally dark), and you will probably get lucky!

A cat wanted to be petted during my hike!
Check out the local wildlife.

Allergies Don’t Disappear: Mild Toe-Tapping

Oh, the holidays–friendship, cheer, the season of giving…

What more could a bird want than a bit of pizza crust?

Unfortunately, Louie acquired a mild case of toe-tapping to go with it. 😦

I gave Louie a tiny bit of pizza crust (standard practice when we feel like spoiling our birds.)

This particular pizza crust came from Old Chicagos, where they apparently add cornmeal to their tasty, tasty dough. And any type of corn product will set him off tapping.

This time, at least, I got a video. Ekkie toe-tapping:

Louie’s feet started that dreaded spasm approximately fifteen minutes after receiving a tiny piece of crust (no bigger than the size of a dime.) It only lasted maybe half an hour,

Flock of ROCK!

I’m on the writing committee for a local charity, and this is one of the songs we might be using/rewriting for our musical. Tippy clearly likes it as much as I do. XD

…Sorry it’s a little blairwitchy. I was dancing with him.

#birdpeople

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.

Eclectus Mojo Moult: A Picture of Pinfeathers

Is he sick? Does he have scabies? Is he dying?!!

No, no, and no.

Mr. Lou is going through the most intense mojo moult of his life right now, coupled also with a hard moult. He has to be beyond uncomfortable, but he’s still our cheerful little Lou! Our handsome boy is not so handsome.

Warning: Graphics of intense Mojo Moult beyond this point!

Continue reading Eclectus Mojo Moult: A Picture of Pinfeathers