Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Athol, ID
Shown: Alexandrine Parakeet “Rasta” after a bath
I’ve had Rasta since 9pm on May 8th and I have to say – he threw everything I thought was going to work with him right out the window.
I prefer working with aggressive birds over terrified birds any day. Why? All you have to do is phase out the aggressive traits and triggers, but with terrified birds you have to work on the bird itself before you can really implement much training – because they’re too scared to be motivated to do anything. Their fear takes over everything and you are literally stuck there with your arms tied until you help the bird over its fear FIRST.
It took me a couple days to realize this with Rasta. I had always assumed he was aggressive based on what I saw of him with Karen and Liam. He would always advance them like he was going to bite and/or attack but really, he was faking it. He does the same thing to me. Then some things happened to point me in the right direction with Rasta’s training…
I decided I’d “train” Rasta to talk on cue, but the more I watched him the more I realized he mainly talks when he’s aggressive and I did not want to capture the emotion behind the talking. So I knew I couldn’t put his cute voice on cue (and really, if you think about it, it really is already on cue but the cue is people coming too close and making him feel threatened.)
So then I thought I would put something else on cue, how about calm? So whenever he was minding his own business I grabbed the clicker, clicked and walked over with an almond. The only thing was, it took about doing this TWICE before I caught on that he was getting PISSED every time he heard the clicker so by the time I got there with the treat he was like a cop car going off with tons of negative signals. Eye pinning, raised feathers and talking immediately. Crap. That’s a no-go too. In fact, using the clicker at all was a no go. The mere sound of it switched him into an aggressive mood.
My parents came over a night or two later… I’ve been so consumed in training and working in the show (ParrotFX) that I didn’t do much with Rasta but bathe him, let him out of his cage as often as possible and continue not to force him to do anything he didn’t want to. He watches the sun conures every day.
My dad walked in and picked Rasta right up before I even had a chance at introducing them. Both my dad and Rasta seemed stunned at the suddenly awkward eye-to-eye stance they were both in. They looked at one another as though to ask, “Now what?”
I quickly grabbed an almond and rewarded Rasta once my dad set him back down on the cage top. “He’s supposed to be mean?” my dad asked me. “Not mean exactly, just scared, untrusting.” I replied.
Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Athol, ID
Shown: Rasta and my mom meeting
As I watched Rasta’s body language around my dad, my mom and Dave I noticed him have a severe better liking for men over women. I wondered if Dave would be having faster progress than me if he were the one to be working with him. Hmm, that’s a thought. Then I recalled how much Rasta loved Eric, the husband of the household. It all made sense.
Rasta wanted nothing to do with my mom, but he didn’t try to bite anyone. He just scooted himself away from the situation but he wasn’t so scared that he flew away or even attempted to. I realized that he wasn’t confident enough to fly himself from one place to another and have the security that he’d make it there safely so he always chose not to do it unless he really had to (like when Karen used a towel to get him to step up, that was enough to get him to take off in a forced panic). That’s when I realized I needed to focus on building Rasta’s confidence in his flight skills so that in an uncomfortable situation, he could just fly away SAFELY. If he had the confidence to do that, he’d be much easier to work with.
As I began to work on encouraging flight, I realized how out of shape Rasta is!
Photo by Jamieleigh
Location: Athol, ID
Shown: Rasta on boxes in the laundry room
So we started with short flights. At first, he was flying super low to the ground, but eventually I began encouraging him to fly higher and up so he was ascending instead of descending (more work for the bird and builds muscle). Also, Rasta had flown about 3-4 times when no one was around to the laundry room and crash-landed on the boxes in there (I saw one of those flights for myself when I heard him take off). Each time someone had gone to get him. Once, we were getting ready to leave so Dave had went to get him and from there Rasta willingly steps up most of the time. I had done it maybe twice before and the last time I let him walk back out of it (video below):
I wanted him to learn to not only fly away from his cage, but to get back to it on his own so that we weren’t always ‘going to get him’. That’s why I encouraged him to walk back most of the way, step up and then fly the short distance back to the cage.
Next time, I encouraged him to fly from even further away and he was in way more control and quite pleased with his accomplishments. He seems surprised every time he gets rewarded with an almond for flying, as though he’s never been rewarded for flight before in the past. Which I believe is quite accurate.
Here’s a video of what that looked like:
Lately I’ve been trying to encourage him to fly FROM his cage TO me. He did it once when I was snacking on a string cheese – and he gets real interested in me any time I am eating human food as though he’s had his share of table scraps in the past. I called him and he took off towards me and then turned to miss me and landed on the ground a few days ago.
Yesterday he ALMOST flew to me, I was encouraging him A LOT, and Dave was watching but we had to get going for a PR we were doing in Post Falls, Idaho for Silverwood Theme Park so I couldn’t give him as much time as needed to follow through and build up the courage. But he was so close he was putting his wings up and doing that ‘almost jump’ thing that birds do when they want to fly but aren’t fully committed!
It gives me a lot of hope that he will get to that point soon enough and that way he will be choosing to come to me (whether he chooses or has enough to skill to land on me is a whole other thing to be seen) instead of me ever forcing myself on him. That way he feels completely in control of our relationship and as though he has made all the choices for interaction.
Also, Dave and I are working on training our budgie Visa a really cute Angry Birds routine and so Rasta is seeing us use the clicker and treats on other birds which I think will play a big role in getting him over the hatred of the clicker. A sneak peek at this routine here:
A huge advantage I feel I have with Rasta is that he is able to see and watch MY birds and learn from them. Observational learning is going to be a huge part of his personal growth. It’s one thing that Karen and Liam didn’t have the advantage of using that I do, that I feel will be making a huge difference in Rasta’s personality and mood towards people.
My main goals as of now with Rasta since I’m only able to give so much time are:
Goal #1: Give Rasta the opportunity to fly as much as possible, as well as to watch the other birds and have the chance to learn from them.
Goal #2: Encourage Rasta to fly to me, around the house, and to his cage safely and controlled.
Goal #3: Never ever trigger any negative emotional or physical responses from him (ie: raised head feathers, pinning eyes or aggressively based talking)
The more calm and relaxed I can keep Rasta, the better at this point. I want him to re-learn that humans won’t force him to do anything, and that they can be fun to interact with if he chooses to do so.
I will be updating on Rasta once a week here on the blog so stay tuned.