Model Rival Training Technique Video

I decided to do another video blog on the how we use modeling to trick train our birds.

Modeling works well for us because not only is the second bird watching the first bird and seeing that responding to a command in a particular way gains a treat, it also gives the bird a rival to compete against for the attention of the trainer.

Modeling can also work if you have only one bird.  You just need a willing human who doesn’t mind acting as he second bird.

Birds are very watchful and learn a lot just from watching what is going on around them.  Miles has even learned how to ask for a treat simply by watching Bella do it so many times.  Miles has never been trained to ask for some food, yet he knows how!

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The Benefits of Friends with Birds

Let’s be realistic.  People who own birds are predominantly a little crazy.  Bird lovers spend ridiculously large sums of money to purchase and care for an animal that is loud, messy, destructive, and in some species, has the ability to send you to the hospital.  They give up their non stick cookware, strong scented cleaners, in exchange for an animal that may choose to adore their bratty teenage kid instead of them.  And then after they have compromised their lifestyle to fit their birds needs, they are still met with comments from non bird friends, asking why they care so much when it is ‘just a bird’. 

At least we can all breathe easy and know we are not alone.

Aside from providing the support to know we aren’t crazy, our bird crazy friends can also benefit us in other ways.  Here are some new things to think about the next time you get coffee with the owner of the macaw or the lovebird breeder.

  • bird socialization
  • combining orders from online for free shipping
  • brainstorming for bird solutions
  • bird outings and playdates
  • reviews for bird products/vets/groomers/stores/toys
  • swapping different magazines and books
  • mutual bird sitting
  • bird shopping buddy.  Who else wants to spend a day at petco examining different perches?
  • But mostly, just to have someone who understands the frustration when your bird chews your baseboards, and your joy when he masters a trick

I have been truely blessed with having not only a boyfriend that loves birds as much as I do, but a friend who does as well!   My friend Meg owns two beautiful birds, a ringneck named Tiki and a cockatiel named Harley, posts bird related links on my facebook wall, and doesn’t mind discussing the pros and cons of different brands of pellets.  Sounds like a bird friend out for my heart.  She was also iFeathers very first follower, and in some ways, are responsible for getting us through our first year of blogging.  Its a lot easier to write consistantly when you know someone actually cares about it 🙂 

Just the other day we went on a bird outing to buy pellets with Bella and Harley.  We stopped at Panaras to eat dinner, as Panaras is one of the few places that offers outdoor seating so pet people can dine with their pets.  We take turns going in to order, one of us bird sitting and the other getting food.  After going in to get my food, I came out to Bella straining in her harness, begging to be picked up, and screaming.  We had a small group of people congregating around our table drawn by our interesting choice in pets and Bella’s excessive screams, and Meg was explaining to everyone that she wasn’t dying, just upset that her mother walked into the store without her.  How many of your other, non bird owning friends would be cool with that?

So, if you don’t have any bird friends, consider joining a bird club, a message board, or just asking people if they have parrots.  Its really a great thing!

New Tattoos!

Today Lance and I went and got our tattoos!  We’d been wanting to go now since he turned 18 and we finally had the opportunity today!

We went to In The Blood Tattoo in the Southside.  It was an awesome experience.  The staff was friendly and welcoming, the atmosphere was laid back and fun, and the whole thing was great.  Which is good, because Lance was a total ball of nerves for his first tattoo.

Erin’s Sucess Story

I think I can finally say that Erin has made it through her rut as a picker and is essentially back to being a normal bird!  Its taken from March until now to get her to stop picking and to let her feathers grow back in, but as long as we don’t have any huge setbacks I believe we are in the clear. 

For those who do not know, Erin is my 6 year old handicapped cockatiel.  She was not my first bird, but she was my first handicapped parrot and she was my inspiration to get involved with handicapped animals.  Her whole story is in the ‘About Our Flock’ section.

Anyways, out of all my birds, Erin was the one that I felt was least likely to start picking.  I thought for sure it would be Bella.  After all, Erin was well adjusted, friendly, loving, and happy with everyone.  She seemed, in general, like a happy, easy bird.  However, after I went away to school, Erin wasn’t recieving as much attention as she was used to.  She rarely got out of her cage because Bella was so demanding of time and attention that my family didn’t have time to play with the smaller ones as much.  The other two birds played with their toys and entertained themselves, but apparently that wasn’t enough for Erin. 

The straw that broke the camel back was when my well meaning mother attempted to change Erin from being bedded on Carefresh to being bedded on diced newspaper.  Erin flipped out and began pulling her feathers out.

When I came home for spring break, my mom announced on the car ride home that we had a problem with Erin that everyone had apparently been keeping a secret from me.  She had a patch the size of  a dime cleared on her chest.  I was mortified as well as completely furious that no one had told me.  I made a vets appointment and took her later that week.

Erin’s test came back clean and she was deemed a neurotic cockatiel.  They gave her anti-anxiety medication.  However, the medication was too strong and Erin soon began not eating while on the medication.  I pulled her off the medicine and her plucking became worse.  I bought her all new perches and toys and totally outfitted her cage.  I attempted to change her diet, which she thorougly hated, to a new rice based diet, incase she was allergic to wheat.  Nothing seemed to slow her down.

By the middle of April, Erin had completely balded her chest.  I bought her a no pick vest.  Erin began picking under her wings and progressed to self mutilation.  At this point, I wanted to take her to a vet yet again, but I had no money and finals and no support.  Poor Erin had to wait.  Taylor also got sick and needed veterinary care, so I was completely wrung dry of all funds.

By the middle of May, Erin was so caked with goo from sprays and aloe that she looked like she had been involved in an oil spill.  She was miserable.  Every waking moment was spent pulling out the pins of the feathers that had been coming in.  She would squeak pitifully everytime she pulled on another feather.  There were some nights that I would just put her to bed early just so I didn’t have to hear her pulling her feathers out.

At this point, I was home regularly, so I was beginning to think her plucking had become a habit and she was continuing because the pins coming in were itchy.  So, in a last attempt, I cut the toe off a sock and put holes for her head and her wings and made her wear the sock.  The sock didn’t allow her access to under her wings, her back, her belly, or any part in between.  At first I was doubtful about whether it would work or not.  I figured she would chew through it or shred it apart to get at the pins.

Within a week I was seeing new pins.  At first, Erin did try to take the sock off and shred it.  But she couldn’t.  I could tell she was itchy, but as the pins sprouted into new feathers and less pins needed to grow in, she got more comfortable.  She began to seem happier and cleaned all the grease off her feathers.  She started to look like a bird again!

Today, Erin still wears her sock when she is in the cage and to sleep.  However, she is gradually being weaned off of it.  She no longer needs it while she is out of the cage and will happily play, eat, and preen without pulling out any of her feathers.  She is almost fully feathered, only having a small bald spot in her wing pit, which is quickly being filled, and on the very top of her one knee.  She no longer mutilates at all.  In the future, I plan to decrease Erin’s time in the sock while in the cage until she no longer needs it at all.  She is also going to move down to school with me when I go in August, so she can recieve more one on one attention and hopefully not revert back to picking.  She’s going to have a whole suite of girls to love on her, so hopefully that will be enough to make her happy!

Although Erin will always be prone to picking now, I am confident that with close monitoring she will not revert back as badly as she has been in the past.

This is Erin, taken today, July 15th 2011

My Future!!!

Hey all, I thought I should bring everyone up to date on what I have been doing this past year. I have been very busy, which I hope you could tell from my lack of posts, and I think a lot of it is important to one of my main subjects: MY FUTURE.

So for anyone who doesn’t know I am attending Duquesne University for Biology/Environmental science. I want to work as a conservation biologist someday which means I want to be the guy zoos send to study endangered animals in the wild so the can protect them and improve their care of them in captivity. since I plan to work in this field I must have as many internships as I can and as much experience in this field as possible. Well, great news this past year i had to apprenticeships through my school. One was Avian Care and Training at the National Aviary, and the Second was Zoo Animal Care and Training at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Avian Care and Training.

   My time at the aviary was fun and exciting. I did so many things while I was there but I’ll try to recount as much as I can remember.

Everyday at the aviary I was in a different section of work. One day I would be in the wetland exhibit and the ext they  would have me in commissary. Everyday was great. My first day I started in the wetlands room with the main keeper/trainer Dave. We did simple little tasks like flushing the filter for the rooms huge marsh and change food pans for the birds, but he also allowed us do many hands on jobs too. He let each of my group members train a different bird. I got to train Boris the hammerkop. Now Boris is solitary in the wetlands room because he didn’t get along with the other the other hammerkop in the tropical forest room Now im not saying he was mean but he was indeed moody, and as I found out later extremely hard to train. Dave taught me that proper body language and positioning as well as technique is needed to train birds. He showed me to let them see the food and don’t be afraid to take the chance away to make them see it’s not an indefinite offer. After a few frustrating attempts I was able to point train him to fly around the room. Then I finally finished training him Dave told I did a great job, and let me know he never trained Boris before. When my group mates finished training their birds Dave took us for a real treat, he allowed us to interact with flamingoes, The program that he took us to do is a 25 dollar charge for a normal guest and last half as long as what we got to do. He took us down on to the “shore” and told us to squat down and lower our eyes, which I knew (but he explained anyway) made us seem like we weren’t predators because they couldn’t see our forward facing eyes. Then, they slowly and warily came over and started bumping us. They seemed to be ignoring me, but Dave explained that my glasses were setting them off-balance because they didn’t know what they were and had me take them off. After I took them off the flamingos came over and cuddle all of us. It was great! Another day I was in the tropical rainforest exhibit. We did lots of hard work including moving large cages, and even cleaning a pond. Even doing maintenance work at the aviary was fun after we finished all of the physical labor we were directed to go around with a check list of all the birds in the exhibit and find them and my instructor was surprised and impressed at how good I am at spotting animals. Another great day was in commissary where I got to learn about nutrition and diet of each bird. It was fun and I got a very unique view on feeding and the dietary needs of birds now. My favorite day by far was the finally day when the head educator had us present on one bird in the aviary. After everyone was through presenting she allowed us to do to things like  pet one of the penguins, Simon. I also flew a black vulture!  It was an amazing feeling to have a vulture flying on and of your arm and it was my first time holding a raptor. I was so excited. Everyday I would come home from the aviary with a happy heart and itching to get into my future. It made me want to work with animals and most of all birds for the rest of my life.

Zoo Animal Care and Training.

Ahh, the zoo. I enjoyed my time at the zoo almost as much as I did my time at the aviary. It was much less hands-on and more educational which was great because I got to learn more random facts that I can spew at people. Did you the three banded armadillo is the only armadillo that can completely roll into a ball? Every day we spent an hour in the class room learning about how a zoo operates and then we would go for a tour of the various facilities. I learned about conservation and how zoos trade animals and many other things. In the tours I got to see the reptile winter house where I got to pet and play with No Name the Komodo Dragon ( he’s like a big dog not a fearsome predator), The large cat facilities, the water edge facilities, and many more places. In the last two weeks everyone made a project. we all had to design an exhibit for an animal. I did mine on the ring tailed lemur and won the best enrichment award which got me two free passes to the zoo, some posters, and a nice hat and drawstring bag. The judges really enjoyed my knowledge of primate enrichment like swing poles and complex puzzle feeders as well as my concern for natural enrichment like a place of rocks where they could sun themselves.

Overall, my time at my apprenticeships where great and I wouldn’t trade for anything. If I could go back to work at either facility I would in an instant. I would come home everyday just like I did from my apprenticeships and think My Future looks bright.

The Dollar Store: The Ultimate House of Bird Toys

Today Lance and I decided to go around to some of the local dollar stores and see what we could find to make our own bird toys.  With Bella being an avid shredder and Jules easily figuring out toys, Erin being a plucker and Taylor being afraid or uninterested in most toys, our toy bill can be astranomical.  Early on, I started trying to copy some of the more common toy designs and build them myself or design my own toys, particularly for the handicapped birds to help alleviate large bills.  I’d read online that a lot of other toy builders go to dollar stores to find good bird building materials, so we figured it was worth a shot.  We went to two different dollar stores and this is what we found:

Dollar stores are the ultimate bird toy store!

All of those awkward little pieces that you’d never know where you can go can be found at the local dollar store for pennies.  Plus, there is so much awkward things crammed into a dollar store, its hard to not get further inspiration for different toys just by looking around. 

Here is a list of everything we walked out with:

  • 1 crate for storing bird toy materials
  • 2 sleeves of cotton rounds (80 count each) for bird diaper liners
  • 1 sewing kit for threading bird toys
  • 1 2pk of ice cube tray for making frozen bird desserts
  • 1 rope loop dog pull toy
  • 3 packs of multiple colored tissue papers
  • 2 packs of solid color tissue paper
  • 3 packs of 12 wiffle golf balls
  • 1 pack of 4 large wiffle ball
  • 2 bags of pony beads
  • 1 pack of wooden beads
  • 1 pack of 200 count straws
  • 1 pack of 100 count paper cup cake liners
  • 2 spools of all natural twine
  • 4 bags of basket/bag shreds
  • 2 decks of playing cards
  • 1 150 count of coffee filters
  • 1 set 60 count kraft sticks

All this plus a bamboo butterfly net for Lance for $30!  Thats a lot of bird toys for the price of one, literally.  I’ve already gone through and started making toys.  So far, I’ve made 14 pinatas for Bella to shred out of old toliet paper rolls, news paper, and tissue paper.  I also recreated a rope swing that I bought for $16 for a dollar.  Its amazing what a little creativity and dollar store items can do lol.