Perfectionism and Data’s adventures in retrieving

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Black Headed Caique / Data / Parrot Enrichment / Parrot Trick Training

I have a confession to make. I am a perfectionist. I have never kept up with writing in the past because it took me forever to get a “perfect” outcome.  First, I would spend hours writing something that seemed smart, funny, and interesting. Then, I would have a copy editor proof it. Don’t even get me started on how long it took me to edit videos, pictures, etc. The outcome? I never posted anything online that was more than a sentence or two.

That was 2016 me. 2017 me is letting go!!! I’m writing from the heart, showing my training sessions with warts and all, and just being kinder to myself in general. And, cue gasp, I am not using a copy editor. For me, that’s like jumping-out-of-a-plane-scary and I am terrified of heights. If you’re reading this horrified by my use commas, I’ll admit to using them like a seasoning when cooking. I just sprinkle some on towards the end and hope for the best. Please accept my sincerest apologies for my blatant abuse of the comma.

Okay, back to birds. Here’s my retrieve training session with the adorable Jazzy today. As you will see, he started out very unfocused. Normally I would edit that all out and only show our perfect, finished product. But that’s not a realistic picture of how training sessions go. I’m going to take what I learned today and come up with a plan to get better engagement from Jazz the next time we train. Stay tuned to learn how…

Special thanks to my dear friend Nancy who inspired me to post training videos even when they are not “perfect.”

Rueben’s goals

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Living with Parrots / Parrot Body Language / Parrot Enrichment / Parrot Foraging / Parrot Husbandry / Parrot Trick Training / Rueben / White Bellied Caique
White Bellied Caique lifts right foot to wave hello

Rue waves hello!

I’ve trained Rueben to do a lot of tricks but desperately needed help teaching him to hang out on play stands instead of my head. I don’t want to gloss over how much Rue likes to fly to and hang out on my head because it is a real problem. Is there a head-obsessed anonymous group he can join? When he wasn’t getting much out-of-his-cage-time because of this undesirable habit I decided to seek out help. Luckily my internet searches led me to the awesome, Pamela Clark. She started coaching me on how to improve not only Rue’s behavior but my own. The rest is history.

Rue has improved tremendously since we started working together but we always have goals we are working toward. And, since the one person who actually reads this blog is probably dying to know what they are, here you go:

  • Introduce him to his foster brother, Jazz so the two can spend time out of their cages together. If we reach this goal we’ll officially adopt Jazz!
  • Reduce his aggressive body language when I approach his cage. I’ve always ignored this problem because he usually goes all Mr. Hyde when in his cage and Dr. Jekyll when he is out. Recently, Mr. Hyde is starting to show his face a lot more when he is out of his cage, causing me to realize we need to work on this.
  • Continue building duration on how long he can stay out of his cage without flying onto my head. Right now he can go a good 45-minutes before he begins to look for my not-naturally-blonde-locks. I’d like for him to be able to stay out for 2-hour time-blocks without searching for my noggin. Not sure if this is reasonable.
  • Expand his trick repertoire to include: putting toys in a shopping cart and pushing it, birdie dart board, pulling a birdie wagon, color discrimination and painting.
  • Teach him husbandry behaviors like taking liquid from a syringe, being wrapped in a towel, stepping onto a scale, having his feet handled and his nails trimmed if necessary. I cringe every time I think about how long I have let this go because this is not a “sexy” area of training. Shout out to Laura Monaco Torelli who has done wonders bringing the concept of cooperative care to the field of dog training and for inspiring me to work on this with my feathered guys.

For the moment let’s focus on Rue’s aggressive body language when I approach his cage. My first step was to find a way to deliver a treat that did not cause aggression while protecting my fingers. Here’s some video of that process.

Epic fail #1: No salt, no sugar peanut butter on a tongue depressor.

Slightly-better-but-not-great fail #2: Safflower seed in a 1/4 teaspoon.

Success! Tiny piece of walnut in a 1/4 teaspoon.





Data’s goals

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Black Headed Caique / Data / Living with Parrots / Parrot Enrichment / Parrot Flight Training / Parrot Foraging / Parrot Husbandry / Parrot Trick Training
Data perched on Wingdow hanging gym attached to glass doors

Data hanging out on the Wingdow hanging gym

For the past 2 months we have been fostering a 13-year-old Black-Headed Caique named Jazz. We’re his 4th home in a 6-month period and he had a hard time transitioning when he first arrived. I wish I had started this blog back then because documenting his progress would have been really useful. The good news is we still have plenty to work on and blog about. In the interest of keeping myself on track here is a list of my goals:

  • Introduce him to our 7-year-old White-Bellied Caique Rueben so the two can spend time out of their cages together.
  • Encourage him to forage and self-entertain on various play stands instead of always wanting to be on me or near me.
  • Improve his flying abilities. Right now he isn’t very confident moving around on perches, etc. that are up high. He prefers walking around the floor or shuffling around counters.
  • Improve his confidence around new objects. This will help him feel more comfortable during our training sessions and in general.
  • Teach him tricks like retrieve, target, push a cart, wave and spin. I’ve been told he’s had previous training and I think someone taught him to wave because he seems to offer a foot lift a lot. However, we need to work on improving his focus and enjoyment of the process itself.
  • Teach him husbandry behaviors like taking liquid from a syringe, being wrapped in a towel, stepping onto a scale, having his feet handled and his nails trimmed if necessary.

Phew! That’s quite a list. Time to stop writing and start training. Here’s a video of our retrieve session from yesterday. I worked on teaching Jazz to pick the ball up with his beak. This is really hard for him because he has to move away from me (the treat source) to earn his reward. I love this video because you can really see when he has an internal struggle about which way to go (keep in mind you never want to make this too hard). I’m using a clicker to mark when he makes the right choice. To learn more about clicker training visit