Negative Reinforcement: Leaving Your Bird Alone

Back in January 2006, we bought three macaws; two blue and gold macaws and one military macaw. They were all around the age of 6 months old and were shipped to us while in Henderson, Nevada. We were preparing for the show we would perform for 13 months straight on the island of Saipan with them entitled Magical Flight. Jersey and Chayko, the two blue and golds that were brother and sister, were quickly willing to spend every moment with us and wanted nothing more than to be close. Cash, the military macaw, on the other hand, was fast to be aggressive and wanted nothing to do with us. You would never be able to tell from the photo above. The shipping process proved hard on him and especially on his plummage. He seemed like he was handled roughly through the process as his tail came broken and his feathers ruffled. He had just been clipped by the breeder so the ends of his wings didn't look so pretty either. I remember my family thinking he wasn't a very handsome looking bird but boy are they taking that back now!

Because of my experience with Cash, it really bothers me when people say how they want to buy a "nice bird". Birds don't come as nice or mean - it's their owners who make them who they are. If you teach or reinforce aggressive behavior, you're going to raise an aggressive bird. Dave was the first person to ever put any time into working with Cash. We easily figured out that Cash did not care about food rewards and the only thing that acted as a reward to him at all was us leaving him alone. Because of this, we used negative reinforcement to tame him. His "reward" was Dave backing up and giving him his space.

After 15 minutes of clicker conditioning Cash and working what is also called "the power pause" shown here among other birds, Cash was in Dave's arms loving being showed affection and attention. He has been Dave's baby ever since and we have since trained him with his reward being Dave's love and attention. We have socialized him this way and flight trained him this way - with his reward being going to Dave. Amazing how much a bird's perspective, as well as ours, can change through some basic training.

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.

1 comment

Joanne Boyden

My caique suddenly decided he hated me about three years ago … he used to play with me, lay on his back, spin,hand upside down, everything that a fun bird does … then one day, I was snoozing on the couch and he was playing alongside me when all of a sudden he ATTACKED my right hand, drew blood, left scars … he will RUN at me or FLY at me now for no reason … I miss my playful sweet caique. I don’t understand how this power pause and clicker training would help, but I sure would love to know it can be done ….

Joanne Boyden

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