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?

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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

Step Up Training, Consistent Foot/Wrist Contact: Slow and steady wins the race

We have foot-wrist contact! Consistently! Woohoo!

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Vi holding the remnants of her toast; she has two white toenails and two black ones!

Vi now knows exactly what she needs to do to get her tasty toast, and she did it several times–and she reminded me very clearly that it’s so important to continue going slowly with her.

I tried to entice her with a big piece when she repeated the gesture five times in a row, attempting to persuade her to put two feet on my wrist, but that was too much. She leaned far out, realized just what she was doing, and lowered her beak to my wrist in an attempted bite.

Not sure if it was a warning nibble, if she doesn’t know quite how to bite hard (I’m sure I’ll find the answer to this one out soon) or was unsteady on my wrist, but message received, miss Amazon: slow and steady.

She steadied herself, I backed off for a bit and continued to eat toast–when she looked longingly at it again, I offered my wrist again, but didn’t push her. Renewed that positive contact. =)

New Goal: Two more days of wrist-hand, maybe three depending on where she is, then go for full wrist contact. I’ll set her down immediately after (or let her hang out on my wrist up top on the cage if she’s comfortable, but will not move her)–by next Sunday.

Step Up Progress: Lifting a Foot

Progress! Eeee!

VI LIFTED HER FOOT TO STEP UP TODAY! I MADE MY GOAL!

…The reason I am so excited about this is because I didn’t think I was actually making any progress; she was comfortable leaning against my wrist to take a chip from me, but refused, refused to even try to move her foot closer to my wrist.

But today was the day of toast. She crawled alllll the way down her cage and was looking for a way to make it to the floor–apparently, she wants toast more than she wants chips.

On a hunch, I offered her my wrist, a tiny piece of toast, and voila, Viola! She lifted her foot to step up!

…Granted, she didn’t actually set it on my wrist, but hey, that’s HUGE step. Celebrate every little victory, right?

The other excellent news is that it will be MUCH easier to give Vi her medicines; when Louie got sick, we’d only had him a few months.

Giving Meds as a Positive Experience

We could either force him to hold still (which took two of us) twice a day to force-feed him something he hated, or we could saturate tiny pieces of bread with the medicine and feed it to him a little at a time.

The latter built trust (Louie LOVES bread–not exactly good for ekkies, but there are worse things we could do), made sure EVERY last drop of medicine made it into his system (don’t just leave it in a bowl), and was a nice little ritual we had every morning and evening.

To whomever came up with the mechanisms necessary to make tasty, tasty bread, I thank you–you’ve made my bird-owning life much easier!

Training Rescued Parrots: Setting Goals

Well, we’ve had Vi for a little over three and a half weeks now–things are going well.

Slow, but well.

Man oh man, unless your rehomed parrot is super well-socialized (which many aren’t–probably why she’s a rehome), this task is not for the impatient.

I’m following my mantra of “every experience a positive one” and it seems to be working, but as a woman who grew up in the world of instant gratification, it’s hard to wait for her to be ready to step up!

Thus, without further adieu, I detail my process!

Week One – Goal: Building the Beginnings of a Relationship – FOUNDATIONS

Since day one, she has consistently climbed out of her cage and hung out on top with her toys. Keep it positive–no chasing her back into her cage! Every day, we plan on spending at least an hour at a time sitting near her cage in the basement so she has the opportunity to go back into her cage on her own (and we tell her to “cage up!” when she does and praise her for being in her cage–hopefully this command will stick eventually We leave her food in there to encourage her to return home every now and then for a nibble so we don’t have to chase her back into the cage with a towel, something her former home did. If we’re in a rush, we’ll also put a pretzel, grape or two, or other favored treat in her food dish so that if she’s been out a bit, she’ll go right in!

So yeah, teaching her to trust us enough to step up looked (and still looks) a lot like sitting around our basement for hours on end while she makes decisions–I’ll coo at her, sing to her, etc. That first week, I offered her a variety of treats. On days one and two, she wouldn’t take them from my fingers and would only eat them out of her food bowl. By day three, she trusted me enough to take something from my fingertips!

Week Two – Goal: To Teach Her That We Will Respect Her Body Language

My goal this week was to continue to build that trusting relationship, but also one of showing her absolute respect; this was the week she would bend over, grab onto a bar, and shake all over while making these weird grumbly noises. After consulting my handy-dandy bird forums at Avian Avenue, it was determined she might want scritches. So, the next time she bent over, I came it low from the side where she could see–and she let me pet her! Woohoo!

The key to not being bitten before or during scritches is to pay careful attention to a parrot’s body language. The moment she starts to pull away, I slowly (don’t jerk!) remove my hand and coo to her. If she backs away when I approach, I freeze; if she changes her mind, she’ll lean back in. If she stays put, I’ll remove my hand. The goal this week was to continue to reinforce the idea that I will respect the signals she gives me, that she does not need to bite me to get her message across.

This is the first time I haven’t been bitten (EVER!) by a parrot. Fingers crossed that I can make it to one month! I’m learning!


Week Three – Goal: Figure Out Her Favorite Treat(s)

In addition to repeating everything mentioned above, this week was dedicated to finding Vi’s favorite treat… so that I could eventually deprive her of it so that she can only get it from me, and only if she does something for it.

Clearly, I’m a middle school teacher. xD

Vi is not particularly food-driven, so this was initially kind of a challenge–all the mentioned “favorite treats” made Vi happy-ish, but it wasn’t enough to entice her to even move from wherever she was perched.

Thus, I resorted to eating whatever next to her cage–it was thus that I discovered she ADORES Tostidos. Health food? No way. Key to her heart? Oh yeah. The only issue is that Louie also loves this food, but it’s made with corn and makes him wing-flap. Boo.

Moreover, this week taught me that my mantra is extremely important–every experience a positive one! It’s been pretty dry, so a few times I’ve approached a very affectionate Vi only to accidentally shock her with static electricity–she won’t let me touch her the rest of the evening when that happens.

 

Week Four – Goal: The Hokey-Pokey

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out…

It’s been four days since I started “Operation Hokey-Pokey.” Now that I have a treat Vi REALLY wants (one she’ll enthusiastically move towards when offered) I have my positive reward for behavior I want!

On Saturday and Sunday, I started by just holding the chip in FRONT of my wrist so she could see that my hand was there; she’d hesitate, but she’d eventually take it if I spoke gently to her. If I moved it over my wrist so any part of her head had to move over my hand, no way would she take it, and she’d move backwards. Patience–I only had to commit fifteen minutes to this process. Any more, and I’d be pushing it.

She took three small chip fragments each day from me this way–again, the key here was don’t pursue her. Let her come to me.

It was SO HARD to not just give it to her these two days, but she has to work for it–otherwise, this process will take even longer.

Yesterday, I held it over my wrist, a little further behind so she had to reach over my wrist to take it–she took five chips this way, pausing less and less every time!

Now today we had progress–I held the chip JUST out of reach, wrist in front of her coveted treat. If she wanted it (and boy, did she want it!) she had to lean against my hand to take it. She took FIVE CHIP FRAGMENTS! WOOHOO! PROGRESS!

Here she is, trying to be closer to me tonight–this is the first time she’s been trusting enough to hang out close to the floor to be near me! Meanwhile, of course, Louie was running all over the floor… That fella, I tell you what… But I digress.

Tonight, I realize: Oh my gosh. I’ve spent twenty-five days with this little girl and all I’ve accomplished is her leaning for all of two seconds against my hand… but progress is progress!

Patience is a virtue, right?

By Sunday, I am hoping that she will be comfortable putting one foot on my wrist in order for her to reach her treat… and by the end of week five, I’m hoping she’ll feel comfortable enough to step up and sit on my hand for thirty seconds… and then longer and longer.

By and large, I feel like I’m learning and enacting an important life lesson right here–1. Set a goal. 2. Set tiny, measurable steps to work toward it so that 3. every day, you are closer than before, even if it’s only a foot or two in a marathon. And of course, celebrate every bit of progress!

Rehomes – The Way to Go

Many people often ask the question:

Should we go with a baby bird, or look for an older bird who needs a new home?

Hubby and I have done both; each experience was fulfilling in its own way. The biggest benefit to a baby bird is that it allows you to learn to handle your parrot without fear early-on; but they grow up, they often change, and young birds are incredibly vulnerable to illness.

As far as older, rehomed birds go: there is nothing so touching as bonding with an older parrot. I have never met a more grateful creature in my life than a rehomed parrot.

sophie
This is Sophie, a goffin’s cockatoo with a plucking problem. She’s looking for her forever home in the Denver Area at Busy Beaks Bird Shop.

It may take patience, it may take some very deep understanding, and for some, it might just take lots of time. But winning the trust of a parrot neglected or formerly abused is one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced in my twenty-seven years of pet ownership.

Sure, they have a funny way of showing their gratitude–tearing up all the cardboard and wood we provide (and some that we don’t), singing, dancing, screaming their hearts out when I’m trying to work, making giant messes, destroying a student’s homework for funsies, chasing my feet around and trying to kiss my ankles while I cook dinner…

There is an element to a rehomed parrot that just doesn’t exist when you raise him or her from a baby. It is absolutely beautiful and indescribable.

Even Louie, who clearly hasn’t been neglected a day in his life, also has that extra element of thankfulness and joy that many home-raised babies I’ve met and/or raised do not: he is deeply, deeply attached to us now, not because he thinks we’re his parents, but because we have been excellent flock-mates. =) We have earned his trust.

I’m sure that people who adopt shelter dogs and cats experience this as well, but there’s something extra special about forming a bond with so long-lived a creature.

That trust can be hard-won, but once you have it, it’s incredible.

harry
This is Harry. He’s a little shy, and also looking for his new home in Denver!

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and take home a bird that clearly hates you (or is even indifferent about you.)

Before we adopted Louie, I visited:

-a goffin’s cockatoo who liked me just fine, but just wasn’t all that into me. I could just tell.

-an amazon I wasn’t comfortable handling, though he seemed to like me. A lot.

-another smaller amazon who bit the dickens out of me (with virtually no warning)–no way we were taking her home!

Finding the right ‘fit’ is essential; you have to know what you’re comfortable with, what your triggers are, examine your own experience.

And you may walk into a bird store one day, and a bird may fall in love with you. They may dance when they see you–they might let you pet them when no one else can touch them. They might sing you a lovely little song.

Louie met Fletcher and I and immediately began kissing us on the cheeks, over and over. His former owners were blown away–he NEVER does that. Now that we’ve had him for over a year, I can vouch for that!

If you’re struggling to decide what to do, my advice:

Pick the parrot that picks you.

It is beyond worth it.

If you’re really struggling with the idea–baby or adult?–I implore you:

Look for that right fit: Give a re-homed bird a chance. 

It may be the best thing you ever do.

Day Four: Free-Falling, but Forward!

Today, hubby came a little too fast down the stairs and startled the daylights out of Miss Vi–or, “Viola Valkyrie Waddlesworth”, as we’re now calling her.

Pretty sure her being dubbed with three names means we’re keeping her… But I digress.

Miss Vi went FLYING across the room (note to self: get wings clipped PRONTO), only to find herself trapped between our washer and dryer, wings spread wide and body twitching awkwardly.

This, it turns out, was a golden opportunity for trust building.

I, in my blind desperation to save her from a potentially harmful situation, forgot my fear of her beak, and she wanted nothing more than to be rescued–so without any fear on her part or mine, Viola stepped right on up; I spoke soothingly to her, walked her back to her cage, and returned her to her comfortable perch.

Our other fids seem perfectly content; Louie continues to obliviously court my foot, Ozone has discovered the bell on his stand, and the tiny ones have learned to tolerate each other–well, Winston really doesn’t have a choice.

All is well here at the Pampered Flock! =)

Thank you for saying goodbye.

Dear Former Parrot Owners–

Thank you for saying goodbye to your feathered friend.

Maybe the decision was easy; maybe he spent most of his time in a bedroom where his constant chirping (“Hello? Mom? Are you there? How about part of a verse of zippidee-doo-da?”) wouldn’t bother the rest of your family. It only made sense–it was only fair–to find him a new home.

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Q-Tip: Quentin Cortez Aztec Tipton

The first time he bopped his rosy cheeks along to music, we were thrilled. When his frantic chirps for attention as we left the room gradually waned, and then disappeared entirely, we celebrated. When he started playing with toys again, content on his own because of the blossoming knowledge that he will come out to be with his flock every day, we watched with happy hearts. When he joined our flock of little birds, with whom he plays every night, we were content.

Thank you for saying goodbye. He has the life you wanted for him!

Perhaps your decision was hard; perhaps your parrot was a beloved family member, cherished. As life changes threw you curveballs and you realized that, down the road, your feathered friend would need more from you than you would be able to provide, you said goodbye.

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Louie – Luigi Scout Turkleton

Now, he spends the holidays with a loving family who plays with him for hours on end. Now, he gives constant kisses, pigs out on all kinds of food (that he’s finally learned to love!), and is our jolly green man every day. He is spoiled rotten with treats, toys, and attention, and everyone agrees (usually when he’s hanging from our fingers like a bat) that he is the best bird in the world.

You made the decision before life became too crazy to care for him the way these sensitive parrots need. Because you found the courage to do so, he is still the epitome of an amazing parrot and treasured companion. So many people wait until it’s too late, until the once docile gentleman turns into the surliest of grouches.

Thank you for saying goodbye.

The hardest of all–maybe you were forced to give up your feathered friend due to age, illness, or the ill-will of other family members.

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Ozone – Odysseus Oedipus Ozymandias (O3)

 

I want you to know that your little man is very, very loved. Yes, he has a sharp little beak, but he loves to have his head scratched. He is stubborn and bald and loud, but we adore his gurgling chatter, and we’ve learned to work around his temper. Although he still bites, he lets go sooner, clamps down softer, and plays joyfully with his bells when we sit with him the evenings.

Thank you for saying goodbye to your feathered friend, and thank you for taking the time to find us, the people who will love and care for your friend forever. Thank you for not simply dumping your bird at an over-crowded shelter, or giving him to the highest bidder on Craiglist. Thank you for reaching out, for interviewing us, for finding the right home for him, rather than just any home.

I know parronts aren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I think you should know: your boys are our absolute favorites.

Thank you for entrusting us with their care.