Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Parrot Feeding Strategies - Part 1: Free Feed

I was reflecting on my recent workshop day and probably the session that generates the most interest is when I discuss diet management for enrichment and training. One thing I love about this time of year is the abundance of seasonal fruits and vegies on offer for the birds. I thought this might be a good time share a few images and insights into how I feed my flock of birds. Basically I look at managing the daily food intake of my parrots in three different contexts...
  1. Free Feed: Where food is freely available in bowls. This feed strategy represents `low behavioural criteria' for access.
  2. Enrichment Feed: Where food is presented away from bowls and in contexts such as foraging toys, F&V kebabs, or scatter feed throughout the enclosure. This feed strategy represents `high behavioural criteria' for access.
  3. Training Feed: Where food that is isolated from free feed access is offered during hands-on training or handling sessions.

For this post I just wanted to touch on my `Free Feed' approach. A few tips to share...
  • I cut all of my fruit and vegetables that are delivered as free feed into pieces no larger than pea size. This is very successful in not only getting the birds to feed for longer durations (rather than the `taste and waste' result when feeding large chunks) but also in being better able to work out exactly how much F&V they are consuming and to work their daily intake down to the point where I am not wasting large amounts of fresh food.
  • Chillis are great for parrots! A lot of parrot owners aren't aware that parrots lack the capsaicin receptors in their tongue therefore they feel no heat sensation from eating peppers. Packed with Vitamin A - these are a great addition to the feed out.
  • I `shave' the head of broccoli and mix it through the salad as I find it's the only way to get some consumption of broccoli. Most parrots ignore it if you place it in as a chunk with the stem.
  • The peas and corn are just from a frozen pack - I thaw them out with warm water for a few seconds and they're good to go.

To make free feed a little more variable always place 4 to 6 different bowl holders in the enclosure to give you options each day to change the position of where they need to go to access their food bowl.

Basically my aim is for my parrots (non-lorikeets) to be consuming about 50% fresh produce, 30% formulated pellets and 20% seeds and nuts as their daily food intake.

The selection for today - Mango, Banana, Kiwi Fruit, Apple, Pear, Pomegranate, Rockmelon, HoneyDew Melon, Watermelon, Lychee, Snow Peas, Brocolli, Chillis, Peas & Corn. My parrots pretty much get this mix each day as part of their Free Feed.

My fruit and vegetable mix is always cut up into `pea' size portions and mixed into a salad for their Free Feed. This helps with monitoring intake, increasing feeding duration and reducing waste.

CWS Companion Parrot Workshop 2011

Long time no post!!! Well - I've been kinda too busy to get some posts up but hopefully over the summer months I'll have time to resume the ramblings here :-) To re-start things I just wanted to give a big thankyou to the participants at the 2011 Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Companion Parrot Workshop. This is an annual experience that I coordinate each year and last Saturday our 2011 class had an absolutely fantastic day of bird nerd immersion in all things parrot related. This particular class seemed to really take up the opportunity to acquire some enrichment products that we have available on the day courtesy of The Parrot Rescue Centre (www.parrotrescuecentre.com). I took home a few things myself (thanks Zarita ;-) and I think I've finally found the ultimate `lasting' chewable toy for my Macaws. Zarita's partner Jamie Carpenter is the man behind the tools behind the `Natural Toys' that are made by PRC and one particular product - the `Natural Boing Large' has been a hit with Bonita and Maya since I placed it in their aviary on Monday. Nothing overly special about the Macaws getting something to chew up - the difference here is that it's Wednesday and it's still there! My Macaws generally work on the principle of `the more expensive it is - the quicker we can destroy it'. I sometimes kinda feel like I may as well open up my wallet and just give them a few 50's to chew up and get it over and done with (not that I ever really have 50's in my wallet these days). The Natural Boing though has been a winner - both for maintaining their destructive perseverance (a good thing!) and it's longevity thus far. Compared to the $25 bag of various foot toys that they turned into wood chip in less than an hour (seriously) these boings are better bang for the buck. If you are keen to get your parrots some enrichment products for Christmas then definitely go and check out the PRC Shop - they've got everything a parrot wants to see under their tree. Thanks to Zarita and Bella for the set up of the enrichment stand at the workshop!!!
Bonita getting stuck into her PRC Natural Boing Large - a ripper of an enrichment item for large macaws!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Tender Lovin’ Towel Hold

I was going to start this post off with `It never ceases to amaze me…’ but ya know what? When it comes to hearing about really outdated and downright destructive advice given to parrot owners it really doesn’t amaze me - I've heard it all and keep hearing it.  The tragedy is that bad advice is common advice – good advice is still the exception. The following is an excerpt from a recent e-mail I received that demonstrates the point I make fairly regularly here about the perpetuation of bad behaviour management information and improper handling techniques with parrots. The context is a 10-year-old Galah that has completely lost trust in human hands…

`We took him to (location removed – as tempting as it is to name and shame) and the handler there advised that this can be normal behaviour in male birds preferring a female owner. We were also shown how to use a towel to handle him properly and to scratch him on his head while holding him. Unfortunately he won't even let (name removed) scratch him then - he just keeps trying to bite him.’

Ahhh – the good old fashioned `Towel Hold’. That old chestnut. Love the way the parrot owner referred to the person giving the advice (and demonstration!) as the `handler’. Anyone getting visions of a burly kaki clad lion `tamer’/`bird whisperer'. I bet he had a multi-tool in a leather pouch on his belt too. Ahh... maybe that’s just my colourful imagination. Anyways - nothing like a relationship building session that entails wrapping your petrified polly in a towel like a big old carpet python and giving him some tender lovin’ strokes on the head to let him know that it’s all good in the hood eh? And all involved are still surprised at why such a strategy resulted in a parrot that wanted to bite them and still won’t go near them? I’m all for a good cuddle every now and then but I’m pretty sure if that involved being straight-jacketed and patted on the head repeatedly I’d probably develop a wee bit of an aversion to that experience after a while. Wouldn’t matter how many sweet nothings were being whispered in my ear. The above excerpt isn’t unusual. Last month I had another client who had purchased an Alexandrine from a pet store in Logan (Brisbane south) under the assertion that it was eating food fine and only give it some formula if it’s hungry (Huh? It was a 10 week old Alex!) and it would make a fine `friend’ for their existing pet Green-cheeked Conure (Wha?). No prizes for guessing the outcome there.

I want to note that not all bird stores fail in properly educating their staff on non-invasive, trust building approaches to behaviour management and sound husbandry information. Indeed, at my recent seminar day in Sydney, a prominent Brisbane bird retailer had basically their whole bird department team in attendance! Such a commitment to the professional development of retail staff is to be applauded (three cheers to Pet City Mt Gravatt and the staff in attendance – inspirational stuff! I’ll spend my hard earned there thanks). The problem is that proper staff training at bird retailers simply doesn’t happen outside of a few exceptional stores. The retailers can cry all they like about not being able to afford PD for their staff but I’m not sympathetic. It doesn’t cost anything to tell staff that instead of giving crap advice on behaviour and training they should instead refer the client to properly qualified sources. They stand to gain more from that person seeking out and obtaining information that actually `works’ and improves their relationship with their bird than potentially lose that client as a result of them implementing damaging advice and making the situation worse rather than better. With resources such as those produced by Barbara Heidenreich (www.goodbirdinc.com) easily available through multiple sources in Australia there’s a perfect opportunity to sell products that have sound advice rather than attempting to be the source of solutions that are a bad reflection of our past approaches to parrot care. That for my mind is a win-win approach – income generated for the retailer and a sense of responsibility for self-education placed back on the bird owner. 

Got a similar tale to tell? E-mail it to me - keeps me inspired to keep doing what I do.

Regaining trust with parrots - more about relationship building, reinforcement and respect - less about UFC towel holds.

Next ABK – New Series Starting

After 34 issues of ABK magazine featuring the Pet Parrot Pointers column I have covered an immense amount of ground in regards to foundational thinking for change in the way we manage the behaviour of our companion parrots. Reflecting on that scope of information sharing, I decided to put together a series of articles for the next 6 issues that take a specific species or species group focus based on my first-hand experiences in the behaviour clinic. In this series I discuss some of the common problems presented by the focus species and offer some practical advice on why those problems are seen and how to best develop some strategies to help manage them.  The pre-print copy I received this week of the graphic layout for the new series looks fantastic!!! I’m hoping that these are well-received and, over time, build a small library of species-specific information on companion parrot behaviour management. The first focus species is Rainbow Lorikeets. I’ll be looking at Eclectus Parrots for the second, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos for the third and Aratinga Conures for the fourth. Not sure about the 5th and 6th – that’s a long way off! You can subscribe at http://www.birdkeeper.com.au 

The above image is a snapshot of how each specific species discussion will be summarised in the form of a clinical `case study'. Looks pretty neat! In good news agencies second week of October.

Latest ABK – Correction

If you grabbed the latest issue of Australian Birdkeeper magazine you hopefully had the chance to read my latest Pet Parrot Pointers article. The article compares and contrasts the `Traditional’ model of companion parrot keeping with what I consider to be the `21st Century’ model that we all need to start advocating. It’s the first time (anywhere) that such a clear comparison has been made and I’m hopeful that the underlying philosophical approach to our keeping of parrots as companions within the framework of the 21st Century model will replace the traditional approach set that unfortunately is the most common and persistent mind set applied today. One problem with the final print version in the latest issue of ABK is a significant error in the final summary note on each of the visual models. Each model flows into an `outcome’ – a critical statement. Unfortunately, the same `outcome’ statement was printed for each model – they should be different. For those of you who may have read the article, please consider the following as the `correct’ way it should have been presented…

The `Traditional’ model (built on dominance based approaches and limited application of positive reinforcement based learning) should culminate in the outcome statement `Establishing conditions that lead to dysfunctional behaviour and challenge’. Conversely, The `21st Century’ model culminates in the outcome statement `Establishing conditions that lead to functional behaviour and success’.

If anyone would like a PDF copy of the two models then please e-mail me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Workshop for Sydney - September 11th

I had planned to only present the one workshop in 2011 - my annual gathering at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in December. However, I received a call a few weeks ago from Dr Stacey Gelis at the new Animal Referral Hospital in Sydney with the offer to put on a set of lectures as part of some opening events for the new clinic. It was too good an opportunity to pass up and we have scheduled a really great set of presentation for the delegates to experience. Registrations will be limited so I would recommend that if anyone is thinking about going to get in touch with ARH asap via seminar@arhvets.com to ensure that you don't miss out. Cost is $95 pp (includes morning tea, lunch and the opportunity to tour the new Hospital). The scope of the day will be as follows...

  • A 21st Century Approach to Companion Parrot Keeping
  • Diet Management for Training & Enrichment of Companion Parrots
  • Behaviour Analysis 101 - An Introduction to How Best to Understand Behaviour and Establish Lifelong Relationships with your Companion Parrot
  • Non-behavioural Causes of Feather Plucking
There will also be a focused Q&A opportunity at the end of the day. Lunch and coffee break included!

Look forward to seeing you there :-) 

Friday, July 1, 2011

New FIlm on WA Black Cockatoo Conservation

This is going to be a really important film for generating awareness of the plight of Black Cockatoos in Western Australia. Looking forward to it being released...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Latest ABK Magazine - Managing Return to Cage Behaviour

If you haven’t tracked down a copy of the latest (June/July) edition of Australian Birdkeeper Magazine then I would really encourage you to do so. In this issue we have a guest writer for the `Pet Parrot Pointers’ column – Chris Wyness from New Zealand. Chris and his wife Paula are very dedicated birdkeepers who have established a large flock of parrots with whom they interact with each day. Most of their parrots are kept as pairs or within a small species group and they benefit from an excellent 21st Century approach to their management and care. Some time ago Chris got in touch with me to discuss issues he was having with his Red-tailed Black Cockatoo `Zulu'. Over time, Zulu had become reluctant to return to his enclosure after the late afternoon/early evening communal flight time. Chris and I workshopped some behaviour theory, training philosophies and strategy approaches to help get Zulu back on track. Thanks entirely to the reflective, considered and positive reinforcement based approaches that Chris put in place he now has Zulu keen and eager to return to his enclosure each night. It's a really valuable read for all parrot owners (particularly with flighted parrots) and one that I am indebted to Chris and his wife Paula for sharing. If you have a good story to share about managing the behaviour of your companion parrot then I would love to hear about it. It may just end up helping others learn through your experience in the pages of ABK Magazine!

Aviary `Re-scaping'

It’s been a busy time over the past week with some major re-perching happening around the aviaries as well as an overdue re-substrating of the Macaw flight. I have a preference for `Decomposed Granite’ as an aviary flooring. It’s earthy in colour and texture, compacts hard, drains well, easy to surface rake and maintain and is perfectly safe for birds. Our only problem up here is limited supply and relatively high cost. The alternative, and one that I have used for many years (and many other aviculturists), is crusher dust. It has many of the same qualities as decomposed granite but in its normal form is a blue-grey colour and isn’t as aesthetically natural looking as decomposed granite. Needing to go with whatever was available I ordered a couple of cubic metres of crusher dust to be delivered and much to my surprise was greeted with a sensational looking `red’ variety.  It looks fantastic in the aviaries and is just the same as regular crusher dust but its source material is a different type of rock. The images below show the difference. The top image is the new aviary flooring with the red variety and the bottom image is another aviary with the regular blue variety.

Macaw flight with `red' variation of crusher dust for aviary floor

Amazon flight with normal `blue' colour crusher dust for aviary floor 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Yellow... Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

I've posted previously about a red mutation African Grey breeding in South Africa - now it's time for an Australian example. Whilst I'm not a keeper of mutation parrots myself, pure bred (non-hybridised) examples of colour mutations in parrots are certainly fascinating from a genetics study. A buddy of mine recently bred a particularly stunning example of what happens when those alleles throw out something out of the ordinary. The image below is of a mutation Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus funereus). First bred in captivity in Australia? I'm not sure - I forgot ask! Too busy getting over how completely off the richter this thing looks compared to a `normal' version...

Friday, March 18, 2011

So...How far have we come?

At the Parrots 2008 Convention I gave a presentation titled `Taking the Next Step: Perspectives on the Keeping of Parrots as Pets’. Pretty darn good presentation I thought. It was one of two presentations being given as concurrent sessions and a few punters stuck around to hear what it was all about. Either that or the other session just happened to lack the after lunch appeal of the worst timeslot of the day so they stayed put to ruminate and catch a few Z’s on the marginally better seating on offer in my room. Besides - why move when staying put means a shorter walk if you win something at the end of day raffle draws? If you ever get asked to do that post-cheap buffet lunch timeslot at a speaking convention do yourself a favour and make up some excuse as to why you can’t do it. It really is a killer. I’ve been stuck there a few times at aviculture conventions that I’ve presented at and I now feel I’ve paid my dues. I want to be upgraded to the post-jam scones and dry biscuits morning tea timeslot if I ever get asked again. At least at that time most of the delegates are looking at you with eyes like a possum caught in headlights thanks to the caffeine hit from the ubiquitous Caterer’s Blend International Roast on offer. Gives you the impression that they’re `into it’ even if they aren’t. Anyway, in that presentation I had a slide that used the question `How far have we come?’ in reference to our management of companion parrots. The slide featured a quote on parrot keeping from one of the early 20th century works on aviculture written by the Marquess of Tavistock, a British aviculturist who was undoubtedly ahead of his time. I have an original printing of his 1929 reference `Parrots and Parrot-like Birds in Aviculture’. It makes for a fascinating read when you consider that it was written almost 100 years ago – particularly when you read it in light of that simple question - `How far have we come?’ The answer, as I tried to give it during my presentation in 2008, is… probably not as far as we think we have. The following might serve as a 2011 example of how/why I think that’s still true.

About two or three times a year I find some time to check out various online parrot discussion forums to see what’s happening out there in the companion bird community – what’s topical, and what advice is being given for working on managing behaviour problems. I always assume that some quantum leaps will have been made concerning the way that both behaviour and the consequences being applied by parrot owners for their bird’s behaviour are being understood, and how the discussion community is approaching/supporting problem issues raised. There has definitely been some really uplifting integration of a lot of `positive reinforcement’ centered advice, thanks largely to the work of people such as Barbara Heidenreich. You can also come across some decent cracks at using behaviour science and operant conditioning terminology – no doubt as part of that wonderful cultural shift generated by the inspirational Dr. Susan Friedman. 

Unfortunately, there is also a lingering lack of progress in either department. That in itself doesn’t usually concern me. Usually the most offensive posts on chat boards come from the person who simply lacks the education and foundational understandings to begin with. Can’t blame them – usually. What does bother me is when posts that demonstrate a very clear lack of understanding about behaviour and how to best manage the behaviour of our parrots following a least intrusive, most positive hierarchy of strategies go unchecked by fellow forum members who are indeed reasonably well-educated and up-to-date with the latest information and teachings. I realize that for the sake of world peace, love, bed-ins etc that we’re all a little hesitant to start our own Middle Eastern conflict at `chataboutyourparrotproblems.com’. But sometimes ya really do shake your head at how some of the absolute crap that some people post is received and responded to. That brings me to the subject of this here Blog post. Here’s a little dialogue I came across from my most recent excursion into the land of such luminaries as `parrotluva78’, `ownedbyaparrot81’ and `IluvConures4eva’ (God I hate aliases. Just use your darn name people. Your parents thought it was a good one and besides, we all know you’ll only `luv’ conures until you become `ekkiegirl4eva’. Sheesh). For the following excerpts the bird name has been removed to protect the innocent parrot. Everything else appears as it was posted (I did fix some of the punctuation and grammar – couldn’t help it folks, teacher thing).

  • Post: `My parrot will NOT stop screaming!! He’s been doing it for the past 6 weeks!! We’ve squirted him, screamed at him, comforted him, loved him, gave him food, flicked his beak, said no, covered him up, put him outside, we've tried everything!!! He starts at 8am and doesn't stop till 8pm. I’m going to either throw him out the darn front door or sell the bastard!!!’

Reply: `Well for a start you have reinforced his bad behaviour by doing everything you said you did. When he screamed you did something. To you it was punishment, to him it was attention.

My suggestion would be to put ear plugs in for a while and make your whole family do it and maybe put him somewhere a little out of the way so everytime you come into sight it is not necessarily a reward to him. It might take a few weeks to curb this but honestly you have been reinforcing him without knowing it.

Also if you can ignore him and literally not go near him when he is screaming then when he is quiet you rush over and praise him and give him treats, really lavish him, but you must totally ignore him when he is screaming. If you can do this you will also find his screaming will probably get worse for a while, possibly a few weeks, because he is not getting the attention of you or someone coming to his cage to do something exciting to him. He will almost certainly scream more and louder because it is not working anymore. But really try hard to lavish praise and treats when he is quiet even for a few seconds to start off with. You need to start in small steps and being quiet for say 5 seconds might be your first step and then gradually lengthen the time. It can work but it is going to take some time and patience and it will take for everyone in your house to work together.

Another thing to think about... Has anything new happened, anything?? A new pet?? New furniture? New hair colour?? New nail colour?? Changed furniture around?? New toy/s in his cage?? Look back to when it started. Maybe there is a clue there as to what might have started it off.

But honestly squirting him or yelling at him, or covering his cage, or putting him outside all of these things is "someone coming to him and giving him some sort of attention". Even if to you it is punishment, to him it is attention and it is exciting and he "thinks" his screaming is working. Did that make sense at all???

Well… not to me it didn’t. Obviously the person who wrote the initial post could probably do with some quality time away in rehab if they think that screaming at, flicking, squirting, covering up and sending the bird outside are reasonable responses to an unwanted change in their bird’s behaviour – regardless of how annoying it might be. Actually, rehab’s probably a reasonable proposition for anyone who would type that initial post for everyone on the internet to get a bird’s eye view of their insanity. Sure is a weird world we live in. 

But how is this person supposed to learn just how potentially damaging those consequences for behaviour can be when the responses to such posts fail to properly explain the differences between reinforcement and punishment? Or the critical importance of the trust account between a parrot owner and their bird? Or how behaviour modification strategies with an antecedent arrangement focus are exponentially more effective than those that are too focused on consequences when it comes to our parrots? Or simply that being squirted, flicked, covered and yelled at is actually not the sort of attention a parrot is looking for at all! Can’t imagine I’d get too `excited’ about copping a flick or a squirt to the face every time I opened my mouth. Think I might actually end up pretty pissed off at the person delivering those little `punishers’. Whilst I’m sure the responder had every good intention – they really need to revisit `reinforcement vs punishment 101’. I'm kinda thinking that if I was that parrot that the `out the front door option' would be about the best one on offer. Says parrot to human... `Just make sure you shut it behind you when you crawl back inside won't ya!'

I won’t bother re-inventing the wheel here by going over all the alternative pathways that should be considered by someone dealing with an extreme noise issue with their bird. My advice on how discussion board users can better support one another in these situations was given in an older post (Feb 2010). This time around I really just want us all to reflect on how we can achieve better behaviour management outcomes with our birds when we put aside our culturally ingrained compulsion to solely consider the consequences for unwanted behaviour as our magic, quick-fix strategy and instead really empower ourselves with some reflection on careful antecedent arrangement for achieving alternative behaviour first. Hopefully if the discussion board junkies start chatting in those terms I’ll fell a little better about the answer to that question - `How far have we come?’ 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Stranger than fiction...

About a year ago I added a Nanday Conure to our flock, primarily with a view to having `Nandy' (yep - that's her name, full marks to me for creativity) provide some stimulation in our large flight for our Green-winged Macaw `Maya'. We obviously plan on pairing Maya up with a `real' Macaw sometime in the future (rather than a parrot that `thinks' it's a Macaw) but knowing that the two species groups - Aratinga Conures and Ara Macaws share many behavioural and biological similarities I took a punt on a little Nanday filling a social/stimulation gap for the big girl. I should qualify that the only reason such a plan was even feasible was the size of the enclosure. Integration of mixed species flocks can be loaded with problems but the ultimate variable that can set up success or failure is the enclosure size and the level of opportunity for the inhabitants to establish their own spatial comfort and access to their own resources. Sure enough, we observed plenty of aggression from the Macaw towards the Nanday initially but in every circumstance the Nanday was simply able to fly to an alternative perching area and the aggression didn't extend beyond displays and the odd squawk from the Macaw to let Nandy know that she wasn't welcome on the same perch. Over time we saw the spatial distance between the birds lessen and the level of tolerance on Maya's part increase. We also observed `mirroring' of behaviour between the birds. When one would feed, the other would do likewise - same for browsing, preening, drinking etc. All signs of comfort and acceptance of other birds in the environment. 

Over the past 6 months the relationship between the birds took on another dimension. I walked out to the aviaries one day and caught a little `mutual' preening going on. Well, maybe not `mutual' - more a case of a Green-winged Macaw kicking back and being `serviced' by her Nanday slave. I've caught them a few times since and as soon as they see me they stop, move apart and start rearranging themselves like two sheepish teenagers caught in the act. It's very amusing to watch and although such situations are not uncommon in captive parrots it still seems to look completely ridiculous! Another variable was added to the equation about 3 months ago with the addition of a male Nanday Conure that we acquired with a view to pairing up with Nanday. That didn't go so well initially as both Maya and Nandy ganged up on the poor little guy. I removed Nandy from the enclosure as she was the main instigator in the aggression. We kept them separated for two weeks while the new guy gained his flight confidence and learnt the boundaries of life with a Macaw. We re-introduced Nandy and although she went back to being aggressive towards her `arranged' partner, she seemed less persistent and he was more confident in handling the situations. Over the past 4 weeks the Nandays have actually formed a very tight pair bond, interrupted only by a few daily `excursions' on the side when Nandy is summonsed by Maya for her daily grooming session. I took a quick snapshot of the two of them today. Unfortunately, as soon as I appear they separate but imagine that little green Nanday in the pic above up on the wire at head level with Maya giving her a going over - hilarious! Stranger than fiction? not really - this stuff does indeed happen fairly commonly in captivity. Pretty captivating nonetheless.

Our dilemma now is that we have a pair of Nandays blatantly trying to breed (even without a nestbox). Hopefully we can work something out for Maya to have a replacement buddy now that her preening mate has found `greener' pastures elsewhere. Anyone interested in Nandays? I may have some babies this time next year!

The WIld Cafe

We have a resident flock of around 15 Sulphur-crested Cockatoos that divide their day between 5 or 6 properties adjoining ours. The primary reason why they have become permanent residents is simple - they have plenty of access to every resource they need. Food, water and nesting sites. It doesn't hurt that a neighbour of ours supplementary feeds them every day but they still partake is accessing plenty of natural foods - and the occasional dessert of non-indigenous cuisine on offer, thanks to what we've planted. In the most recent example, they decided that the time was right to hit our passionfruit vine. I was alerted to this via the sound of loud banging on the roof of our aviaries. When I ventured out to investigate I was confronted by at least a dozen Sulphurs gleefully extracting the choicest passionfruits from the vine, getting stuck into the contents, and then doing their best to annoy my birds by discarding the casings on top of them. 

What I found interesting was the stage of development of the passionfruit they were taking. It wasn't the nice ripe yellow ones, but the fruit that was probably a week or two away from being fit for human consumption. Like most examples of parrots eating fruits in the wild, the optimum stage of development that is preferred by the birds is quite different from what we tend to deliver to our pets. If you're struggling with getting your parrots to sample some healthier food alternatives to seed then it's worth trying slightly unripe produce (providing it is known to be non-toxic of course). You might find that whilst it doesn't exactly suit your palate it might just be relished by your birds!

New ABK Magazine - Get it!

Hey - I missed February! Well, I didn't really - it just kinda went by and every time I thought about doing some blog entries I was hijacked by my kids. Happens when you have three of them - all still in nappies. Anyways - if there's one thing you shouldn't miss it's the latest Australian Birdkeeper magazine. Why?... Hmmm - plenty of great articles - including a really cool `Part 1' article in the Pet Parrot Pointers column. I discussed it in one of my January blog entries but I got the release date all wrong. The current issues featuring the first part of the article is out now - Feb/Mar. It will be followed by Part Two (which I just finished penning today - finally beat a deadline) in Apr/May. If you keep forgetting to get to the newsagent then subscribe - that way it comes in the mail and you get before everyone else! Check it out at http://www.birdkeeper.com.au/subscribe

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Think… Before asking

I recently did a photo session with ABK photographer Peter Odekerken for an upcoming addition to the ABK `A Guide to…’ series that will focus on the Amazon Parrot group. The Amazona are my favourite genus of psittacines so I’m really looking forward to the arrival of the book – hopefully mid year some time. Looking back at some of the photos that Peter took I pulled out two that show reasonably well the importance of body positioning when making the `step up’ request with our parrots. Watching yourself handle your parrots is an excellent eye opener. I remember when I was first at university studying teaching and we had to video tape ourselves and critique our teaching style. I was horrified at all the things I was completely unaware of that I was doing that were really poor examples of how to communicate effectively with a group of students. If you can get someone to video you working with your birds you really should do it - and sit back and watch objectively to see where you can improve your communication skills. 

For me, `step up’ is always a request – one that my parrots have the choice to respond to. Antecedent arrangement (setting the environment up so that the behaviour you are keen to capture is best able to be achieved) is critical in facilitating the desired response to the request. Before asking a parrot to `step up’ (by presenting established visual and verbal cues) consider the following mental `checklist’ to make sure you’re setting yourself and the parrot up to succeed…

  • What do your observations of his body language tell you? Consider his level of observable acceptance of your presence, receptiveness towards your hands, and interest in any reinforcer that you may be presenting. If the body language indicators aren't suggesting that he's keen to interact with you then it's right here that you take a step back and re-evaluate how you have arranged your antecedents.
  • Are you asking him to step up or down from a position that is uncomfortable for him and therefore resulting in him needing to use his beak to assist with balance or increasing his level of hesitancy in movement? Consider your hand positioning and the simple mechanics of how a parrot most comfortably moves. You might be more successful if you shift the parrot to a different perch or position before asking him to step onto your hand.
  • Are your hands positioned too close to his body inadvertently resulting in negative reinforcement to achieve the step up? Hesitancy (or latent response to the cue) can often prompt an impatient trainer to move in closer to the bird and place their hand onto the abdomen to coerce a step up. This can result in a loss of trust between parrot and handler and should be avoided.

Have a look at the following two photos that illustrate some of the points above…

Lola is being asked to step down from a perch with poor hand positioning that is resulting in her being hesitant to move from a safe, secure and predictable platform to an uneven and moving one. It's all wrong - she's unbalanced, uncomfortable, the hand is too close to her body and the mechanics of an easy forward motion are actually being impeded - not assisted. She resorts to leading with her beak – which can often result in a bite occurring due to fear and uncertainty. At this point a poor handler resorts to thinking about `height dominance' and `Oh.. she's being stubborn'. Uh-uh - this is an uncomfortable and uncertain bird - nothing to do with `dominance' peoples ;-)

I've moved to a different position in the aviary and given her time to come over to me at a different perch. Here you can see hand positioning that perfectly facilitates the best and most comfortable bio-mechanical movement of the parrot, and therefore the position that is most likely to result in a positive response to the cue.

Companion Parrot Workshops… Anything in 2011?

2010 was a huge year for me – both personally and professionally. The Companion Parrot Workshop went on the `road’ again and with the help of a very dedicated Lisa Kearney from Tasmania we had some fantastic days of learning in both Hobart and Melbourne. My sincerest thanks to Lisa and everyone who attended those workshops – you were brilliant! In May I presented a series of lectures as special break out workshops at the Pan-Pacific Veterinary Conference held at the Brisbane Convention Centre. The lectures were followed by a two-hour hands-on workshop with some birds of mine. Working with veterinarians was a lot of fun and hopefully there will be more opportunities to continue supporting them in learning about progressive methodologies for working with parrot behaviour. These workshops were followed up mid-year with the organisation of the Behaviour, Training and Enrichment stream of the Parrots 2010 Program. I presented two lectures at that event, which was really a culmination of over 10 years of involvement with the `Parrots’ convention concept. I’ll look forward to being a delegate at the next one – time to move on from being an organiser. I was due to then present at the AAVAC Veterinary Conference in Hobart in October. Unfortunately this was a date I couldn’t make thanks to the (very premature) arrival of my twin boys – Will and Archie in late August. An instant life changer right there. Since their arrival I have had very little time to do much beyond my monthly clinic consultation work at Brisbane Bird & Exotics Veterinary Service – another achievement that I’m particularly proud of. Most months are now booking out and it’s just a fantastic opportunity for parrot owners to access advice and support that can really make a difference.

I did however manage to get a leave pass in December to present my annual workshop at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. We were fully booked and unfortunately had to close off registrations even though we had additional people wanting to attend. Heading into it’s 7th year in 2011, the CWS Companion Parrot Workshop is definitely like nothing else in Australia and we’ve refined the program to such a degree that it perfectly caters for absolutely anyone with an interest, at any level, in parrot behaviour, enrichment and training. It’s really a true immersion in everything parrot related for full day. We have set a date for 2011 – Saturday December 10th. This will be the only workshop that I will be presenting this year. I have decided to take a rest and focus on my young family – Darcy, Will & Archie. Registration forms for the December workshop are available. We cap the registrations at 20 people and as 2010 was fully booked more than a month in advance I would strongly recommend that people register early to avoid missing out!!!

April/May ABK Magazine

Looking ahead to the next two editions of Australian Birdkeeper Magazine… I have written a two-part article titled `When the honeymoon is over… Preventing problem behaviour development in companion parrots’. The first part will appear in the April/May issue of ABK and will focus on getting over the inherent problems of assuming behaviour change in our parrots is due to hormonal/physiological changes as they mature. In the article I discuss how my own diet management practices and reinforcement schedule with my birds can provide me with a much clearer understanding of the association between their observable behaviour and the state of their environment. In Part Two we’ll discuss a whole range of other key issues and mistakes that companion parrot owners make in the first year of owning a parrot that inadvertently create the perfect set of conditions for problem behaviours to develop and why such changes really aren’t just about `hormones’. I’ve pulled out two really critical thought bubbles that you’ll encounter in Part One…

Interpreting Behaviour Change: `What serves us best is to look at behaviour change not as a result of an internal state that we don’t understand but as a combination of the natural biological tendencies of our birds, the environmental conditions the behaviour presents itself within, and as a consequence of the reinforcement history the parrot has experienced’

Importance of Diet Management: `We need to manage the choices and options available to them to ensure that their primary source of nutrition is one that sets them up with the healthiest food intake whilst maintaining motivation to interact with us for additional positive reinforcement treats’

To make sure you don’t miss out on ABK Magazine head on over to their website and consider subscribing – http://www.birdkeeper.com.au

Here’s an idea of the daily food intake of Maya – my Green-winged Macaw. The level of seeds and nuts are regulated daily depending on whether or not all of the fresh food and formulated food are consumed. The only food component missing here are Harrison’s pellets, which I also offer but was out of at the time I took the pic.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pet Parrot Pointers `Guest' Writers...

A new year - and hopefully a little time every now and then to get some blog posts out there! I hope everyone had a safe and festive Christmas/New Year period.

Just a quick mention of the latest Australian Birdkeeper Magazine issue. It's been out for a while now and features a fantastic shot of a Sun Conure on the cover. As some blog readers may know, I contribute a regular column to ABK Magazine titled `Pet Parrot Pointers'. The column has received some great feedback over the years and I think it's a wonderful education access point for Australian parrot owners. In the latest issue we have a guest writer stepping in - Ann-Louise Allen. Ann is a long-time friend who has some wonderful insights into life with a trio of African Grey companions. I would really encourage everyone to go and pick up this issue and read Ann's story. I would also like to encourage everyone to consider contributing their own insights and learnings to the Pet Parrot Pointers column. My goal is to write three columns each year and to have the other three filled by guest writers. Our aim is to provide information on the husbandry, general care, enrichment, training and behaviour management of companion parrots. If you would like to get in touch with me to find out what some of our article guidelines are for a PPP contribution then please do! My e-mail address is jim@pbec.com.au