Article Archives

Posts Tagged ‘training’

Indoor Recall Training

Indoor Recall Training A Young Bird

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

When starting with a baby parrot (6-8 weeks old), the first task is to just let the baby grow and feel secure. During most of the infant phase it will mostly sleep, eat and poop. During this phase we are spending some time everyday just holding the baby or letting it rest on a towel on our chest as we recline in a chair. This helps the young bird develop a sense of security in your presence. This is similar to what the parents are doing, just being there with the baby. We have never had any of our babies have clingy social issues later in their lives as some people claim will happen if you give them "too much human attention" at this age. I believe that allowing them to fledge and fly at this early age elicits a host of natural and instinctive behavior, such as independent thinking, that directly counters clingy behavior. Our babies have each gone through a dispersal stage, somewhat similar to human teenager phase, and in some cases, if we do not pay them enough attention, they more resemble wild birds than pets as they mature. As thee babies body starts to become more covered with feathers the baby will start becoming more active and become more interested in observing the surroundings. At this stage they can become playful for short bursts but quickly tire and if they feel secure will often just fall asleep where ever they are and in some of the most humorous positions. If they do not feel secure, like if in a different room, they may attempt to find something to hide under - we supply an upside down cardboard box with a suitable sized doorway cut in the side for them to enter the box as they feel the need. The ability to retreat from scary objects or conditions and then advance again to further investigate as they feel comfortable is critically important to their development. At this age they are usually partially feathered and hand-feeding several times a day. They will often start wing-flapping exercises even before they have any wing feathers. At about the time their bodies are becoming fully covered by feathers they will become much more active and eager to spend time with you out of the nest. Notice the wing feathers because as the wing feathers grow to the point that the outer flights start to cross behind their backs, these little birds are about ready to start making flights. Within a week or two, depending on the size of the bird, there will be a noticeable change and the bird will suddenly start making flights in the room. It is much like a switch has been turned on and once it starts there is no stopping it. Watch the shaft of the flight feather as they will turn from filled with dark fluid to clear as the feather matures. The process of natural selection has designed the baby bird to bring both the flight feathers and sufficient mental facilities to maturity at the same time in order to be ready to make those first flights from the nest. Once the flight feather shafts turn clear, the baby has mature feathers and can and will fly. Initially the bird will make flights to get to some place it desperately wants to reach, usually not very far away. Often these are flights to or toward you. Sometimes they may be hops across the floor or short flights up to a higher perch. A lot depends on where you let them spend time playing. We often have them supervised on the floor with an assortment of toys. At this point we are not doing any training, only continued socializing and confidence building. We select the room to be fairly small so should they become startled and take off suddenly they cannot build up enough speed to hurt themselves should they hit a wall or window. Usually we do not have such troubles with a bird that feels secure in the room it is playing in. Within a few days the bird will gain enough confidence to start making exploratory flights just for the joy and practice of making flights. These flights will usually have no easily identified destination and often result in the bird circling around the room and landing where it started. They have now demonstrated a level of self-confidence that I feel is sufficient to start teaching them some cause and effect relationships. In the wild these birds would now be following mom and dad around being shown how to be a parrot. This would include finding and identifying food and water sources, how to identify and react to dangerous conditions such as predators, flying as part of a flock, communicating with other flock members, etc.. To me this seems the appropriate time to start my formal training with them. At this stage I start "capturing" the first behavior elements of recall - flying to me. Recall is coming to you when called. At first though, every time the bird flies to you, it gets something it wants, be it food, snuggling, head scratch or just plain being with you. Initially you will not have established a cued response - the cue is you signaling (calling and/or raised arm) the bird to come to you. At this stage you should reinforce the bird every time it flies to you, even the non-cued flights to you. The primary goal of recall is establishing a way to get the bird to come to you when you ask. At this age and stage in development getting the bird to come to you should be fairly simple. Getting it to recognize it should do so when you call it may take a little work but should happen fairly quickly. As the training progresses we raise the criteria so the bird must come when cued to get goodies for doing so. But initially, all flights to you count and should be encouraged and followed by a reinforcement of some kind. I encourage you to read more about stimulus control. I then turn this captured recall behavior into a fun game of flying back and forth from me to a perch on cue. I will slowly start to ask the bird to fly to me in places where I am partially visible and then not visible, like around a corner in another room or through a door. In doing all this you are teaching the bird to come to the sound of your voice (not just respond to your raised arm) so should you have a problem with the bird when it gets outside it will already know how to find you even if it cannot see you. "At this stage, what else should I be doing?" I start clicker training the bird just as soon as it will eat solid foods. I start with targeting, touch the end of a target stick.
  • √ First they must just touch it,
  • √ then they must move their head in a different direction to reach over and touch the end of the stick,
  • √ then they must move their feet a bit to come touch the target stick,
  • √ then they must walk the length of the perch to come touch the target stick,
  • √ then they must walk the length of the perch and step across from the perch onto my arm (held against the perch) to touch the stick,
  • √ then they must step across a small gap between my arm and the perch to get to my arm to touch the stick,
  • √ then they must hop across a slightly larger gap to get to my arm to touch the stick,
  • √ then across a little larger gap,
  • √ then two foot gap to get to my arm,
  • √ then four foot, etc.
and at some point they only need to land on my arm and no longer need to touch the target stick. You now have a lured recall. Start adding a cue to signal that you want them to fly to your arm before showing them the target stick over your arm. At some point you can fade out the target stick and only use the cue to get them to fly to your arm. You now have the start of a cued recall. Next you will start NOT reinforcing for every recall response. You will start being selective of which recall responses were not cued or too slow - depending on your birds responses you may want to work on these two issues one at a time. Those are the ones you occasionally do not reinforce. Note that I am not saying that you suddenly stop reinforcing all non cued or slow recall response. You will not reinforce the non cued or slow responses to keep the reinforcement rate at about 80% (4 out of 5) though so try to keep track of how many recall responses out of 5 were reinforced. I highly encourage teaching the bird to fly to a perch and then back to you. In most baby birds that I have raised and trained the fly to me part was super easy to get started. The fly to a perch took only slightly more work. At this stage the bird is probably starting to eat solid foods and still eating hand feeding formula or softened pellets also. Find a solid food the bird really likes and then offer that when they fly to you and then send them back a short distance to the perch to eat the item. This way they learn that flying to you gets them goodies and then they have a reason to fly back to the perch: to eat the goody. Build this into a fun game starting short distance (whatever it will do initially) and expand that distance as the bird is capable until you are fully using the indoor space you have available. Then start calling the bird when you are just visible partially around a corner or just inside a doorway. Do this a few times then try it when you are completely behind the corner where the bird cannot see you. At first you may need to let the bird see an arm or your face to help them learn this step - this is called object permanence, the ability to track an object once it disappears behind another object. Expand this game until the bird is responding to your calls and is finding you in various places in the house. When you have all this done then we can start thinking about what is needed to go outside and start this all over again. I would also encourage giving an indoor flyer time in a cage outdoors near your home. You never know when the bird will escape out a door or window and it greatly increases the chances of the bird staying close to home, and thus being easier to recover, if the bird is calm, comfortable and familiar with the area it is loose in.
Parrots: more than pets, friends for life. Chris Biro

Stimulus Control

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

Often people have problems with training one behavior because they have not yet finished training the previous behaviors they think they have already "trained". Recall is just such a behavior that often gets only partially trained. Whether a behavior is fully trained or not is a question of how well you have established stimulus control. Stimulus control has several levels and each level is trained through its own step. Step 1) Getting the animal to do the desired behavior at all. This is usually trained by any method necessary to get the bird to initially do the behavior. For recall training that would start out with getting the bird to fly to you for any reason. Step 2) Getting the desired behavior to occur after being cued. Usually trained by offering the cue immediately prior to when you KNOW the behavior will occur. For recall this means that some time after you call the bird it will come to you. Step 3) Getting a quick response to the cue. This is usually taught by a shaping routine where the quicker responses are always reinforced and/or more heavily and the really slow responses are not reinforced (or reinforced only occasionally) but the intermediate responses are still lightly reinforced. For recall the bird should immediately begin heading in your direction. I understand Steve Martin is really big on a "window of opportunity" to perform the behavior. The animal is offered the cue and has a certain amount of time to respond and earn the reinforcement. After that time expires, no reinforcement is offered for the behavior. And the cue is not offered again until some time later. This way the animal learns to offer the behavior immediately upon receiving the cue. Step 4) The animal does the desired behavior only when properly cued and at no other time. This is usually trained by tightening the criteria so that ONLY correct responses are reinforced. This is one that I personally have for some time been uncomfortable with training my flighted birds. However, I am beginning to see that not training this step leads to confusion and overall poor performance. I always enjoyed that my birds often fly to me on their own volition and I would like them to continue to be able to do so. But what I think I need to do is to train them to have a "free time" cue that means they are free to do what ever they wish. The idea is to establish a clear "working mode" and a "free time mode". I have had some trouble with Cosmo (B&G) at the fairs with this issue and can see how this would really help things out a lot. Cosmo has this tendency to want to fly to me constantly during the show but if I work to stop her during the show, she then feels uncomfortable flying to me at all. She does not understand that there are times flying to me uncued is ok and other times when it is not ok. Training a free time mode should help this. For some people 100% recall means to them that they can get their bird back every time. They may be good at adjusting the antecedents to get the bird to do what they want but may not actually have good stimulus control. This is really more how I have worked with my birds. I am very good at manipulating the antecedents and as such have been bit lazy on establishing good stimulus control. After watching some good dog training I am convinced I need to get more serious about good stimulus control. I believe that such is equally trainable with our birds and is as immensely valuable to us owners of freeflighted birds as it is to owners of competitive dogs. If your bird doesn't understand the one cue/one response concept, placing them into a new environment will cause confusion over what is acceptable and what is not. Which time when you call do you really mean to come? What other conditions have to be met before you really mean it? Do you need to have treats visible, do you have to have the special target stick visible, have you been clicking other behaviors? This is like when people train their dogs to sit, and say "sit fido, sit, sit, sit" and then can not figure out why when they take their dog to a party, the dog will not sit when they say "sit fido". Fido doesn't understand 'sit fido' as a cue to sit (he probably has not generalized 'sit' to other locations yet either), he knows "sit fido, sit, sit, sit" (and only in certain familiar locations). Training an animal to full stimulus control can be a lot of fun and it has many rewards. And the more often you do this, the easier it becomes. Not only will the trainer get better with his/her training skills but the animal will generalize the behavior of "Learning Stimulus Control" and "get it" more quickly.
Parrots: More Than Pets, Friends For Life Chris Biro

Basic Flight Training

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

Success training parrots to fly out doors depends largely on your ability to set the animal up to change its behavior. Before attempting to flight train a parrot outdoors I recommend you master basic training skills. There are several articles on this site about clicker training. I also recommend you watch this short video by Behavior Works. For the safest, fastest and I think most fun way to reach the goal of having a fully flight trained bird, I highly recommend training a baby bird at the natural age of fledgling. I believe it is best, especially for a new trainer, to select the candidate that will offer the trainer (and trainee) the least degree of difficulty and thus the highest chances of success. No other selection criteria will be of as great an impact as is the age at which the bird is trained for flight. I personally like to start my time with the new flight student prior to it being weaned; if they are partially to mostly feathered and still hand feeding it gives us the time to adjust to each other prior to the actual flying starting. I personally think this time before actual training starts is very valuable both from a training stand point and from a very enjoyable experience stand point. Also I see behavior differences in the birds started and flown rigorously at the youngest age even when compared to baby birds that we took our time to get them flying outdoors. A few weeks seems to make a difference in the birds personality and attitude toward flying. The basic steps are fairly simple. There are several "Tasks" you will be working on at the same time: 1) letting the bird develop all the flight skills it can while indoors; 2) learning a routine of flying back and forth to you from a perch on cue; 3) getting the bird comfortable being outdoors in the intended outdoor flying area; 4) developing a strong relationship between you and the bird. 1) Letting the bird develop all the flight skills it can while indoors is important because obviously the more skills it can master without the risk of getting lost, the less likely it will be to get lost once going outdoors where getting lost is added to the equation. Taking any bird outdoors that CAN fly and that is NOT trained is quite simply asking for disaster. Baby birds are FAR easier to train for flight but that does NOT mean that they cannot get lost at this stage. In the wild the first flights may be much longer than you and I could possibly keep up with and only other birds, like their parents, could follow on the wing. Their parents fly with them where they lead. We cannot. So we must take a different approach to this initial training. We start indoors and develop as many skills as we can before moving outdoors. The bird will start out making 'desperation flights' from its cage or perch to get to places it REALLY wants to get to (I like to house them in a card board box on the top of a cage with play gym top - this functions as their base/nest). As its ability and confidence in doing these kinds of flights improves, it will soon start making 'exploratory flights'. These are flights that let it go check things out and may include flights that circle back without actually landing. There is a notable difference in that the desperation flights are clearly motivated by a strong drive to get to something really important whereas the exploratory flights are far more casual. This shows me the bird has reached a comfort level with its flying in this indoor environment and that we are ready to start working on formal training sessions. I am also working to see solid foods being eaten at this time. These are the two issues I look for to start my formal clicker training sessions. I start with targeting the end of a target stick. The bird learns to touch the target stick; then move or turn its head to reach over to touch the target stick; then walk across the cage top to touch the target stick; then walk across the cage top and step onto my arm to touch the target stick; then walk across the cage top and step onto my arm and walk down my arm to touch the target stick; then hop from cage top across 2 inch gap to get to my arm to walk down my arm to touch the target stick; then increase the distance in small steps until the bird is flying across several feet to come land on my arm to touch the target stick. At about this point I am adding a recall cue and fading out the target stick. We then work on flying back to the cage top to eat the goody. This quickly becomes a game of "fly to me and return to the perch". We then fully develop this game into fly from any place in the room to me and fly back to the perch; fly to me even when I am standing just inside a doorway (slightly visible to the bird), then fly to me inside that same door but when the bird cannot see me, and fly back to the perch (this is developing Object Permanence - ability to track moving objects after they move out of sight); find me in different rooms is fun also - this develops problem solving skills. The goal here is to develop the birds skills to the maximum level achievable while still working in this indoor setting. At some point you will probably start to see the bird doing some "jinking" or Predator Evasion Maneuvers - rapid twisting and dodging while flying. This to me is a sign that the bird has reached a basic level of skill comparable to the size of the space and is expanding those flights skills on its own. If the other 3 Tasks are accomplished also then at this point I am ready to start the same training process over outdoors. 2) Learning a routine of flying back and forth to you from a perch on cue is to me VERY important because this helps them know what they are expected to do when we do venture outdoors. I believe it is important for them to have a task, not just have the freedom to fly in any direction as far as they want. I obviously do NOT want them to fly in any direction as far as they want so to prevent this I like to assign them a task that they not only understand but have already demonstrated that they are fully capable of doing. This gives me confidence and security in taking them outdoors and I suspect it gives them confidence and security during their first outdoor flights. This also makes this training process into a really fun experience that the two of you share. I also believe that such training is important to this process because it helps them develop critical thinking processes by not only stimulating their physical growth but also stimulating their mental processes. This game also helps develop Task #4. 3) Getting the bird comfortable being outdoors in the intended outdoor flying area is critical before attempting to fly the bird outdoors. For such a young bird this step is very easy. The bird simply is placed in a cage outdoors in the area you are expecting to do your outdoor training. The main idea here is simple: the bird needs to be calm and comfortable in the environment it is flown in. If the bird is NOT comfortable or calm in that environment, it will act differently than what you may be expecting. For those first outdoor flights you want as few NEW or different stimuli involved as possible. As the bird does its first outdoor flights of "fly from perch to me and back again", as much as possible, everything should be the same as what the bird is already used to. If the bird is fearful or apprehensive of anything, you will not be able to accurately predict what it will do and that is a good way to lose an inexperienced bird. Outdoors has a lot of different elements from your home and many of those elements can be scary when first encountered. Just having the bird outdoors in a cage for some hours for a few days can help the bird become comfortable with what is normal outdoors. They quickly learn what normal "stuff" is not to be worried about. That means that when you are ready to do those first outdoor flights, the bird can be focused on you and your "games" and not focused on a thousand other distractions. 4) Developing a strong relationship between you and the bird is central to all of the above. I find that having a close bond with the bird helps me better do formal training sessions and helps the bird be more calm in new environments we work in. Freeflight training is about developing a set of skills in your pet bird that will enhance the experience you and your bird have with each other. Though birds of any age can develop a bond with a human, none do so as easily, completely and quickly as does a baby parrot at about the age of fledging. And at this age nature has their bodies and brains primed to learn flight skills without getting lost from "mom". So IF you establish yourself as the "mom" character then the bird is especially focused on staying near you as it learns to fly. Obviously this is a very useful tool for flight training parrots to fly outdoors. This also means that the outdoor flight training needs to happen during the time frame that nature would have the baby bird being ultra attentive to the location of "mom". Delay flight training outdoors too long and this advantage could disappear. Also failing to develop a good bond between the young bird and the trainer could cause this advantage to not be present. I personally very much enjoy the close bond with my birds so that aspect is enough for me to want to develop a close bond with the young bird. I enjoy the entire process of watching them grow from ball of pin feathers to mature fully skilled flyers. In watching such an amazing process develop it would be hard for any reasonably caring person not to develop such a close bond with such a wonderful little creature. I believe it is not only fun for them but I think it also is very healthy for them to from day one have a good relationship with the trainer. I have raised and trained many baby parrots and they all have turned out to be fabulous flyers and well socialized healthy pets. "Did you spend a long time indoors on recall?" This process normally does not take very long to train with a baby. Obee (Patagonian) I started flying indoors and about two weeks later was flying outdoors at a fair. The larger macaws can take longer to develop and I have taken them outdoors within a month but have also delayed three months or so. "Did you train for excellent flight skills (flying down, difficult landing, etc.) before going outside?" With a baby bird I do not. I train fly back and forth to a perch. That is my main goal. They will start to expand their own skills within the available space. And outdoors they learn to fly down VERY quickly, as in within a few minutes if at the right age. "Did you fly the baby in the aviary before outside?" If you have an aviary, by all means use it for training. The main idea is to develop as many of their basic flight skills to the maximum level before taking them outdoors. So yes, I use the aviary now that I have one. In the old days I did not do much training in the outdoor cages simply because they were no larger than my living room. But as described above, I do want them spending several days worth of time in a cage outdoors, getting comfortable in the outdoor environment. "Did you train a lot of other responses (tricks) before going outside?" Just the main targeting, recall, and recall game. With a baby bird at this age, they are normally ready to start with this initial indoor flights before they have all their mental skills developed. Object permanence must be learned, as does general cause and affect relationships. So training targeting is all I need to get them working on recall. I will work on other "trick" behaviors either as a side issue for our non flying time together during this process or at a later date. I do not find it critical to train a variety of tricks before flight training a baby bird to fly. But with an adult bird starting this process I most certainly would work on several other tricks prior to doing any flight training to help better establish how this learning process works, including stimulus control issues. "When do you allow the 2 birds to fly together (what criteria need to be met first)?" Training a new bird to fly with the other(s) is pretty simple. The first thing is to train each bird to fly solo. If they are hanging out and flying together indoors, then moving outdoors will not be easier. If they are not close buddies then facing a common threat will often help genet the flocking mentality. We often see more flocking behavior after a chase by a crow, seagull or hawk. Babies do seem to be well accepted by adults, the younger the adult the more easily accepted the babies it seems. You do need to watch the adult to make sure it truly is accepting the baby. I have had several young adult parrots immediately want to help feed the baby. I should note though that they do not have to be buddies to fly together. I don't think Janet's Lyndall and Chloe were particularly friendly before their flyoff. But if they will be helping each other any, it helps if they are close buddies. For flying together all they seem to need to be contact calling each other when separated. As to how to allow them to fly together outdoors, I have done this several different ways. I have taken a more slow approach where I trained each bird to fly outdoors myself and then later let them fly outdoors together with another trained bird. I have also taken an experienced outdoor flyer (to act as mentor) and a baby flyer (who had mastered indoor skills and was ready for outdoor training) who were close friends indoors and then released them out the front door. This later method resulted in an initial very long first flight that was a bit stressful at first but within 20 minutes or so the baby looked like an old pro. Red Claw (Mitred) trained Frisbee, Flash, and Kiwi (Mitreds) this way. All I had to do was continue the recall training the same as I had been doing indoors, Red Claw did all the skill expansion. That first flight lasted longer than I had ever seen any of them fly in one flight. That is when I came to believe that nature has them primed for full physical fitness at fledging age. So to answer your question, the only actual criteria issues I can think of are contact calling between the two and working on one new bird at a time. If you are going to rely on the older to help with some of training then the two should be well bonded. Flying together in formation is a whole set of skills that will develop with practice but there is not much we as trainers contribute to that process other than giving them the time to practice. Introducing several new birds at once is not recommended. Once flying in a flock there is no actual leader so any of the new birds can pull the flock in any direction, including out of the area the others are familiar with. It is best to introduce one new flyer to the flock at a time and allow that new bird to become highly proficient before adding the next new bird. If you have 4 new baby birds, take them all to the flying location but only let one out at time. There should never to two new flyers out at the same time. Fly the first new flyer for a while then put it back into a carrier and let the next new flyer out. Repeat until each has had some flying time. Do this several days before attempting to fly two of the new birds at the same time. Your goal is that the new bird learns what is expected when going out flying like this before you complicate the rules by adding another bird who does not know the rules yet.
Parrots: more than pets, friends for life. Chris Biro