Training Parrots in 30 Seconds or Less

Esteban, Hahn's Macaw

You may already have a set time when you have a ‘training session’ with your bird, but if you struggle to make time for a training session, this should be a useful post! If you want to train your parrot or other bird to do something new, or you’re refining/tidying up a trick they can sort of do already, you don’t necessarily have to spend tonnes of time to achieve your goal.

Little and often! That’s basically the message here; a quick attempt at the new trick/behaviour and finishing on a positive note with a reward when they do it correctly, and that’s it. Let me explain in more detail…

We’re currently training Ché and Esteban, our Hahn’s Macaw brothers, to drop coins into a metal dish. The behaviour we’re building up to for our show is taking coins from members of the audience and flying back to drop them in a metal dish (just to clarify, we are not training them to be professional parrot pick-pockets! The audience members will be offered the opportunity to make a donation to go towards native habitat developments at the centre or a chosen charity, so they will hold out a coin voluntarily for the parrots to take). So, for now, we’re just getting them to take the coin from our fingertips, and drop it in the bowl, once that’s sorted we will introduce flying to us to retrieve the coin, and flying back to place it in the bowl.

Ché, Hahn's Macaw (photo by Ben Coulson)

The training sessions for this are around 30 seconds long and repeated 5-7 times a day. This is basically how it goes:

Hold the coin above the edge of the bowl, parrot grabs coin with beak and drops into bowl, bridge the moment coin lands in the bowl (verbal ‘good’ or other bridge word or clicker if you use one), reward. Repeat either once or twice more and finish the training session.

A short training session like this (or whatever you are training) can work really well because your bird doesn’t have time to get bored with what you’re trying to teach them. I made the mistake of dragging out the training sessions to around 5-10 minutes long when we first started doing this and Ché and Este became less attentive the longer I spent attempting to train them. They would drop the coin in the bowl and get a reward, then they would miss the bowl and not get rewarded, then after doing it correctly a couple of times, I would try moving the coin further from the bowl to get them to carry it and then drop it, they would totally fail and just drop it on the floor… back to the beginning, etc etc you get the idea! They were losing focus due to getting a bit bored, but also getting full up of treats and losing the motivation for food.

Esteban, Hahn's Macaw (photo by Ben Coulson)

Changing to a 30 second training session has brought noticeable improvements – now, when they see the bowl, they excitedly run over to it and are eager to have a go. Progress like moving the coin further from the bowl or moving the bowl further from them is introduced gradually at each session. The training session is always ended after a successful attempt.

Not all birds will get bored after 5 minutes, of course; Ruby pictured below, will stay focused for 15-20 minutes sometimes! So use your judgement as to whether you’re making progress based on your bird’s behaviour and your own observations. Keeping a diary of your training sessions can be very useful as you can then look back on what’s working and what isn’t, and from this you can figure out if shorter sessions more often are right for you and your bird.

Ruby, Green-winged Macaw, practising playing the Xylophone (photo by Ben Coulson)


To learn how to teach your bird tricks like the retrieve, dunking a basketball, fetch and much much more… check out our step by step video instruction on how to train your bird 24 tricks!

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