It can be extraordinarily frustrating watching others successfully train their birds while you can’t even get your bird to look at the obvious types of treats available. Not all of us have a bird that is happy to take a sunflower seed or something similar as a reward for training. I’ve seen many people give up on training for this reason.
Most birds will happily work for some sort of nut (favourites at my house include almonds and walnuts), a banana chip, a sunflower seed or even a grape. Failing that, a smaller parrot might prefer a nibble at a millet spray and some people have said that cereal can be a fantastic alternative for fussier birds. These treats combined with a training diet produce amazing results for most birds.
Lorikeets however, often won’t cooperate with that style of reward and exceptions can occur in other species of birds too. Lorikeets have a different diet from most parrots, so it makes sense that they would prefer different treats. Personally, I found myself with half a flock of trained birds (my galahs were exceptional), and the other half of my flock were hyperactive little monsters that loved to ignore training attempts in favour of zooming around and around my head.
I did my homework and found that the general consensus was that lorikeets would work for honey. From what I’ve seen, that’s pretty accurate – lorikeets LOVE honey. I’d liken it to giving a hyperactive 5 year-old child raspberry cordial. In other words, it might make them happy but it’s not such a great idea.
Lorikeets are naturally fast moving and if you give them honey, the word ‘fast’ doesn’t even begin to describe them! Mine were interested in training for honey, but their attention span was appalling and I had to admit that I was worried about the health risks associated with using it. I also found that the birds would inevitably become VERY sticky. Sticky birds that like to land on your head and play with your hair? Well I have long hair and it wasn’t pretty!!!
I began to explore some alternatives. The most successful alternative that I found was using flowers. Lorikeets will literally flip over backwards for fresh flowers. The best part is that you can have fresh flowers and foliage available in their cage at all times and yet they’ll still work for whatever fresh flowers you present them with, when you’re in your training space. My guys will always want the flower that’s just out of reach or that I just gave to another bird more than the one I have just given them. It’s like they’re convinced that it must taste better. ANY of my birds will work for flowers, not just the lorikeets.
A warning with flowers – some can be toxic, so make sure it isn’t a poisonous variety that you’re using. I use a lot of Australian native flowers and I have also found that roses are a particular favourite.
Beware of flowers that have been exposed to pesticides. Pesticides are banned from my garden, so I know that the flowers that I get from there are safe. Commercially available bunches of flowers are quite likely to have the residue of fertilizers or pesticides on them which may be toxic for your bird. If cutting fresh flowers watch out for any spiders or insects that may bite your bird.
My lorikeet’s next favourite treat is a grass seed stem. I have found that my lorikeets prefer the seed when it is still green. I’ve basically used these in the same way that you will see people train birds with a millet spray. Similarly, I’ve found that my lorikeets prefer millet sprays when they’re green – so I try to grow my own. I’ve found that my guys prefer the French millet spray variety of millet, while the budgies that I have worked with have preferred the standard spray.
I have also found that my guys love smaller fruits and vegetables – particularly anything that comes in a kernel. For example, my guys love corn kernels. Weirdly they seem to prefer the frozen variety rather than fresh. I’ll rinse frozen corn kernels in hot water and then they’re ready to use almost immediately. Pomegranate kernels are their next favourite followed by peas. Very finely diced apple is also a favourite.
Finally, some people have told me that their favourite training treats are the dry nectar pellets that you can buy or alternatively some sort of berry or grape. I personally haven’t found that these work well in a training situation but strangely my birds really love pulling them out of foraging toys – so I can’t rule them out entirely. It’s actually a good idea to have a different range of treats in mind for foraging activities so that your training treats remain special to your bird.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.