Backstage during one of our shows about three weeks ago, our Congo african grey parrot, Cressi, who is about 8 years old now, said her name from her travel carrier. It was in an adorable little voice that called, “Cressi!” just like I say it.
I quickly said, “good!” and rushed over with a treat. I couldn’t find a clicker fast enough, and in the chaos of being backstage it really wasn’t going to happen. Many days passed without Cressi uttering her name again. Then the day of our bird show came around, and while on stage telling the story of Alex the Grey, Cressi murmured, “Cressi” just loud enough for Dave and I to hear.
Dave reacted quickly with a click, and I with a treat. She didn’t do it again on stage, so when her routine was over I placed her right in her travel carrier, and we moved onto the next bird and story. As I was answering a question from the audience, I heard it again… “Cressi!” her little voice came from stage right, and I rushed off to reward her. Dave took the time to explain to the audience why it was so crucial that I capture it as soon she offers it, because it really doesn’t happen often so I wanted to take full advantage of the progress I was able to make.
I must have ran off stage 4 times in the middle of whatever we were teaching about to continue to capture it. Ever since, Cressi has been saying her name more and more, but mostly when I walk away from her or am not looking directly at her. When she has my attention, she offers a kiss. It’s not the most interesting thing in the world, but this is what a capturing training session looks like:
Once she is offering her name consistently, I will be able to implement a cue. Implementing a cue is usually where people fail, because it gets tricky to do properly. A lot of the time the bird trains the person instead of the other way around. So I will show you exactly how to do it in my follow up post of this training.
Currently, I’ve been capturing this behavior for 4 weeks already, two days a week. Sometimes I keep treats in the area where I take care of the birds and am able to capture the word a few more times. Although mostly I forget to keep treats up there, and I miss it. But I still tell her “good” and give her attention as a reward when I don’t have treats around. (Cressi enjoys being pet on the head.)
Capturing a behavior goes as fast as you make time for it - if you’re around constantly to “capture”, then your bird can learn quite fast. If you aren’t around as often to capture (like my current situation) then it goes much slower. In the past when using this technique on client’s birds, I have spent the entire day around the bird and been able to progress quite quickly (like in the experience of Rasta, the Alexandrine parrot I trained from One Day Miracles.
You can view a FULL capturing session here;
You will see the “begging” phase where Cressi understands that saying her name = a treat, and it’s at that phase that I can then implement a cue. What the “begging phase” looks like:
The begging phase is often misunderstood as the bird being “trained”. The begging phase is simply the bird understanding that “this behavior” = treat. So the bird offers the behavior whenever it desires a treat. A “trained” behavior is when the bird offers a behavior for which you ask (with a cue) whenever YOU ask or give the cue. They are really very different. One is training the bird, the other is the bird training you.
And here is the behavior fully trained:
If your bird isn't already talking, you can use our talking course Flock Talk. Once you implement Flock Talk, your bird will be offering words on a regular basis that you can then capture to broaden your bird's vocabulary. Even if your bird is already talking, Flock Talk will accomplish the same thing in broadening your bird's vocabulary. It's a win-win!
Jamieleigh Womach has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.