Monday, May 31, 2010

Good Bird Magazine - New Format!

You have to hand it to Barbara Heidenreich. She just continues to come up with great initiatives and products for the companion parrot owner that just nail it in terms of quality of content and accessibility. Barbara has now taken her `Good Bird' magazine to the next level and future editions of the magazine will offer a fully electronic, multimedia experience for subscribers. You can check out a preview version of the new magazine at the link via her website. I've e-mailed Barbara to see if the new format will work on iPads - hopefully it will as I've been looking for an excuse to get one ;-) Check out the new stuff from Barbara and Good Bird Magazine at

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Enrichment Aviary Project - Update 2

Big day at work here at El Rancho Jimbo with some good progress made on the Enrichment Aviary Project. This project is in preparation for a presentation that I will be delivering at the Parrots 2010 Convention in Brisbane on July 3-4. That means there's only 5 weeks left for me to get these darn enclosures finished - Agghh!!!

The positive news is that the painting is complete and today we were able to bolt together the three enclosure frames to the central walkway frame. The next set of `build' stages will involve securing the corner footings, putting on the roof sheeting, and hanging the doors. I'm confident that I can pull that off in a weekend and then it's on to the `good' stuff - landscaping, perching and fit out. With just 5 weeks to go I'm going to post about the progress weekly so you guys will see if I get it done in time! Otherwise... It'll be a short lecture at Parrots 2010 :-) Check out some updated images below.

Front two enclosures - each will be home to our Amazon Parrots. We have used solid colorbond 1.6mm sheets as wall partitions for the back wall and a 1/3 screen along the walkway.

A view looking into the walkway. The walkway is actually a separate frame that the three enclosures are bolted onto. It's part of a design method I came up with when we built the original three enclosures and gives a bit more flexibility down the track if we decide to change the layout of the complexes.

A view from the pathway leading to the complex. Landscaping will be completed around the outside of aviaries to provide natural screening for the birds.

Pan-Pac Veterinary Conference

Last week I gave a series of lecture presentations, followed by a practical parrot training workshop, at the Pan Pacific Veterinary Conference that was held in Brisbane. Lecturing to veterinarians from a variety of interest groups within that profession can be a challenging task - particularly when it comes to discussing approaches and methodologies of behaviour consulting with parrots. I suspect that many of the traditional paradigms of thinking for the behaviour management of pet birds persist within the veterinary field. However, the group I lectured to really did seem to be wonderfully receptive to a more progressive approach that embraced Applied Behaviour Analysis and Functional Assessment of behaviour. I noticed quite a few `light bulb' moments occur throughout the day that served as great positive reinforcement for me.

Whilst I am certain that the vet group came away from the day with a lot of great, practical, information and advice - I certainly came away with a deeper appreciation for some of the time constraints that our veterinarians face in their clinic consultation work. What blew me away was that for many of the vets I spoke to informally during the day, a standard consult time allocation was just 15 minutes. Not a lot of ground you can cover in that amount of time if we're talking about the complexities of parrot behaviour! There was a strong sense that dealing with discussions on parrot behaviour with clients was too overwhelming and time consuming. It challenged me to come up with ways to support the vets in being able to deliver small, but potent, pieces of information on behaviour to their clients. For most of them, I think the criteria for what they might consider success in working with a client on parrot behaviour issues was too high. Just as we see when we raise the criteria for our birds too high, too soon, with our own expectations of ourselves we often see a loss of behavioural momentum and a diminishing of opportunities for learning if we fail to recognise the small approximations of achievement that we make before the end `goal' is reached. It truly was a great opportunity for me, particularly coming from outside of the veterinary community, to work with such a great group of professionals. My sincere thanks to Dr. Deborah Monks for organising the opportunity and to Dr. Melinda Cowan and Dr. Kim (Sorry Kim - I didn't get your surname!), for helping with all my `gear' and birds. A very special thanks, to Phil Ghamraoui who helped as a second trainer for the practical session. Finally - thanks to my `teachers' for the day - PJ my Black-headed Caique, Lola my Yellow-crowned Amazon, and a gorgeous little Meyer's Parrot that I will talk about in a future post.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

`What is `Browse'???

I remember a few years back at the Parrots 2006 Convention when an audience member asked one of the presenters `What is browse?' when the presenter was talking about the term in the context of enrichment for parrots. Basically, the term comes from the Zoo industry and was probably first used to describe the bunches of eucalypt leaf that are provided daily for Koalas. If you watch the behaviour of Koalas when they receive their gum branches they get straight into `browsing' through the fresh `tip' to find the juiciest, newest shoots to eat. Parrots do much the same with fresh, leafy, native branches - browse through it in search of something to chew on. Hence the term `browse' in reference to the provision of leafy branches for our birds. Leafy browse on its own though can sometimes have limited value for our parrots as the leaf isn't normally edible and what we usually observe is some interest in snipping off the leaves and chewing up the bark. That in itself is great behavioural redirection away from undesirable behaviours, such as overpreening. However, to increase the motivation value of browse in the aviary or enclosure then consider integrating some highly valued food items. Check the example below with the Black Lories accessing their watermelon chunk that has been skewered onto a branch of their browse. Here are a few other tips for increasing the value and interaction time associated with browse:
  • If you have a parrot that is a reluctant bather and you are concerned about a low humidity environment then soak the leafy browse in water before placing it in the enclosure or aviary. Many parrots will rub through the wet leaf to access the moisture and in an indoor environment the additional damp on the leaves can help to increase the surrounding humidity.
  • If your parrots naturally have a terrestrial feeding tendency then consider creating a `foraging pit' and use the laves, bits of branch, seeding cones etc at ground level. Sprinkle some budgie seed amongst it all with just a few sunflower seeds for an occasional jackpot reward for the foraging behaviour and you will keep them entertained for hours.

Fresh, leafy eucalypt branches can provide a valuable distraction for parrots during the day.

Increasing the motivation to forage and explore through browse can be achieved by integrating their feeding experience into the browse itself

Terrestrial feeders, such as these Galahs, benefit more from having their browse provided in the form of a ground foraging pit

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Parrots with Gambling Problems...

Undoubtedly the greatest frustration I encounter in working as a behaviour consultant with parrot owners is that when it comes to accessing support and advice, I’m most often seen as the `last resort’ rather than the `first resort’. It’s difficult to explain to people what the potential consequences are when the response pathway for working on problem behaviours follows a whole bunch of old school thinking, homespun remedies, or intervention programs that completely fail to appreciate exactly what behaviour and learning are all about. Let’s be honest though – we live in a society that demands `quick fix’ solutions. I often use the `drive-through, take-away’ approach as the analogy of choice as it encapsulates well how we tend to go through life looking for the most convenient, least hassle, quickest, and cheapest solution to our problems. Hence why the popularity of a range of well-marketed online behaviour and training products and `solutions’ can be so appealing. It’s also why there is a proliferation of chat boards, discussion groups, and online forums for parrot owners – all providing a quick, convenient, and most importantly `free’ access point for the struggling parrot owner to find answers to questions that can be super complex at times. The dilemma for someone like me is that by the time I see the client in the consult room or in their home, I’m trying to clean up a dropped meat pie – it’s just a darn mess! I have a tendency to use a little saying that I learnt from Avian Trainer, Steve Martin - `Set Up for Success’ - in my approach to working with birds and their owners. Problem is, I’m usually the one who is the least set up to succeed. What got me really thinking about this was an article in the latest issue of the IAATE magazine `The Flyer’. The article is titled `Behaviour Fundamentals: Filling the Behaviour Change Toolkit’. It’s an absolute gem, written by one of my great mentors – Susan Friedman PhD. Here’s the final paragraph to ruminate on…

`One mystery that often surrounds problem behaviour is its very persistence. People may have a litany of failed behaviour-change programs by the time they turn to behaviour analysis for help. As they wade through the personal recipes of one Internet charlatan after another, people don’t realise that, with each failed attempt at behaviour change, the window of opportunity closes a little bit more because the problem behaviour is intermittently reinforced. Intermittent schedules of reinforcement build persistent gamblers, willing to behave again and again, without reinforcement, for that one jackpot that inevitably occurs. There should be nothing casual about intervening on an animal’s functional `misbehaviour’. Each intervention should start with a careful functional assessment, and the intervention should be designed to meet the needs of the animal, using the most positive, least intrusive methods. The greater our knowledge of the scientific principles and procedures of learning and behaviour, the more effectively we will meet the needs of the animals in our care.’

Don’t feed your parrot’s gambling habit. When problems start to surface, get support, advice, and a behaviour change plan worked out that uses an approach based on the science of learning, and the art of building a lasting relationship with your bird. Quick fix solutions are for gamblers – effective behaviour change takes work, commitment, and consistency of reinforcement schedules. Most importantly of all - it requires partnerships, between you and your bird, and sometimes, a consultant willing to walk the journey with you - not just serve you at the drive through.