Photo from www.drsfostersandsmith.com
The easiest treats to train with are things that already come in small sizes such as sunflower seeds, pine nuts and spray millet. It's easy to hand your bird a single seed for a job well done or give them a quick bite of a millet stick. Other treats, such as peanuts or almonds, are more time consuming to prepare since you have to break them into small pieces for your bird.
Sunflower seeds, millet and peanut pieces are the most commonly used foods for treats and rewards. But if your bird doesn't like those, there are ways of finding what your bird does like! Also, some birds react negatively to peanuts so it's a good idea to try to stay away from them if you can avoid them.
Gather all the known treats that most parrot owners use such as sunflower seeds, pine nuts, millet, almonds, pumpkin seeds, safflower seeds, and even banana chips make some parrots go crazy! Make sure you aren't using something like cheese or any type of dairy product as a reward for your bird as they are much harder for the bird to digest.
Once you've compiled a variety of "treat" foods in "treat sizes" for your bird (for example, a single almond can be broken into 8 pieces) simply put them out on a counter and allow your bird to inspect them all and decide what it likes. Your bird will eat them in order of how much it enjoys them - which will tell you which treats you can use!
I've never known a bird to not have a favorite treat - even people have favorite treats so make an effort to find our your bird's preference so you two can work together to make things more fun and move onto some ambitious training sessions!
I've used pine nuts, pieces of almonds, black oil sunflower seeds and even dried pieces of papaya as treats for my own birds in training. I've even gone so far as to use fresh foods like blueberries and pieces of apple. One of my birds goes crazy for juice (watch out, too much fruit gives runny stools) so I've even used that periodically. Just experiment and see what works for your bird, and of course, the healthier the better if you can manage that!
If you have a bird that will only work for unhealthy treats (such as cheese), you can use very small pieces at first and wean your bird off of receiving cheese as a reward. I did this with an alexandrine parakeet by broadening his diet while also training. Eventually, cheese became the "jackpot" reward only, or was used randomly which made the bird try even harder in training sessions hoping for that really tasty reward of cheese. By the end of my training time with him, I was able to phase out cheese completely and replace it with almond pieces and a whole almond as the jackpot reward.
If you need help preparing healthier versions of unhealthy snack foods your bird is already accustomed to consuming, you can get our recipes for things like home made bird safe potato chips, mac and cheese and much more here.
Remember, the treat you use should NOT be part of your bird's daily diet and it should only be something your bird receives for training. This makes it special and much more worth working for.
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She 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.