Are You Training Your Bird or Is He Training You?

I wonder how many of you have done the following:

You give a spoken or visual command for your bird to do something you have trained them to do and they don’t do it. So then you SHOW them that tasty treat you will give them if they do it and give the command again – and guess what? They do it!

This is a great example of the trainer being trained. Parrots are very clever and, if they can make you show them the treat before they will wave, say hello, roll over, whatever it might be, then they will – I always think it’s like a promise that you will give them something!

Ruby, Green-winged Macaw (photo by Ben Coulson)

It’s very easy to get into the habit doing it, I know because I have done it – and even still sometimes fall into the trap when I am presenting a show and I really need the parrot to do that thing I’m asking them to do because otherwise the audience will be disappointed (and I will look a bit silly!).

A great example of this is Flint, the Harris Hawk I work with. He can be VERY stubborn! He is around 18 years old and since his very first days of flying to a glove, has been used to seeing the reward (a tasty chunk of meat) on top of the glove before he takes off. He wants to know it’s there! This just means he is flying to me because he can see the food and wants it, not so much because he is trained to do it.

Flint, Harris Hawk (photo by Laura Martin)

Here’s something new to try – training for HIDDEN rewards. Our Barn Owl has been trained successfully in this way and I’m currently working on this with our Harris Hawk. It’s something you can do with your bird too! So I call Flint to my glove with the piece of food visible on the glove and repeat this several times, then gradually start reducing the amount of food on show until it is completely hidden – when Flint reaches the stage where he is flying to me without knowing 100% that there is food there EVERY TIME, that’s when I will have succeeded.

Flint, Harris Hawk (photo by Ben Coulson)

So translating this to your parrot training, just try making sure your bird completes the desired behaviour before seeing the reward – this makes it more of a reward for doing it rather than a bribe to do it. This also means you can try RANDOM REWARDING (or variable rewarding) – this is how it sounds – you just vary the reward, it makes it exciting! For a simple wave that your parrot will do willingly all the time, sometimes they might get a pine nut, sometimes a whole walnut (obviously depending on species!) – but if it is hidden, your parrot doesn’t know what they will get as a reward and will therefore be more excited to do it. For more on this topic of training, check out

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