Making New Things Fun for Your Parrot

Making New Things Fun for Your Parrot

Barbara talks about Making New Things Fun for Your Parrot you

Making New Things Fun for Your Parrot

My Parrots just blow me away sometimes. Or perhaps it is better to say that training with positive reinforcement blows me away. I recently brought Delbert, my yellow naped Amazon Parrot to a new location for a photo shoot. He is fully flighted and an extremely competent flyer.

Before letting him out, I made sure the room was safe for a flighted Parrot. Windows and mirrors were all covered, dogs were outside and no one was allowed to open a door unless he was safe in his travel cage.

New environments can sometimes be pretty frightening to Parrots. Delbert has been around a number of new places, but not near as much as I would like him too. So I was going to have to really observe his body language and see how he responded.

What I wanted to avoid was my bird flying around the space in a panic.

My first signal that things were probably going to be OK was when he started chatting away while we were doing the final set preparations. He watched from his travel cage and starting asking “Ya wanna come out?”, “Are ya ready?”, “Here we goooooo”

Letting him look at the space for about 20 minutes was a great opportunity for him to acclimate. There are some things that usually evoke a fear response in Parrots such as things moving overhead, quick movement nearby…but sometimes it’s the things you don’t expect that you have to watch out for.

This is when reading your bird’s body language becomes super important. Although he had been looking at it for some time, a long narrow cardboard box was simply unacceptable. Any steps too close to that would send Delbert circling around the room.

Fortunately because of all his recall training he would land on my hand after a few laps. We opted to remove that box while Delbert was far away from it.

Another thing that proved a challenge was the backdrop. The coloured drape would occasionally move. This especially happened the moment Delbert would launch off of my hand for a cued flight.

Although it took him a bit of time, the way he gradually got past this challenge was by doing simple behaviours and getting reinforced. Delbert loves flying to new people.

So for some of our photos he got to fly back and forth between me and new people. This meant treats and attention that he loves.

Pairing doing simple A to B flights and getting reinforced made the background fade into …well, the background!

Delbert presented excellent flights on cue, posed like the super model he is for his close ups and enjoyed preening the hair on every head there. He also ended the day snoozing on the photographer’s shoulder, beak grinding away.

I suppose technically a photo shoot is “work” but I have to admit it sure felt like fun to me….and I think for Delbert too. (I think we were done shooting way before he decided it was time to wrap it up.) What made it fun was reading his body language and remembering to use positive reinforcement to make sure the experience was a good one for him too.

Hmmmm, maybe he has a future in modeling. Look out Zoolander… comes Delbert!

Find the newest products for your Parrot here.

This article was originally published on Good Bird’s blog in April 2010.

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training ( provides animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara works with the companion animal community and also consults on animal training in zoos.

Reflections on Parrot Behaviour

Parrot Behaviour

Reflections on Parrot Behaviour

Parrot BehaviourWhen we look in the mirror, we know who looks back. Children learn that a mirror image is not a real person by the age of two. It takes them another year or so to recognise their reflection as themselves. Humans take this ability for granted, but it is in fact quite rare in the animal kingdom. So, what does your pet bird see in the mirror?

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

The vast majority of animals will respond to a mirror as though it is another animal, at least at first. Some will attack their reflection, which of course fights back. Many birds fall in this category. Others will try to make friends and may even court the mirror image.

Most animals will soon realise that the reflection is not real. In experiments with African Grey parrots, the birds will at first try to talk to the mirror, but give up when it doesn’t respond. They then start to look behind the mirror; some of us have seen cats do the same. The image has no scent and makes no sound, reducing its credibility.

An animal needs to have a certain sense of self before it can recognise itself. Researchers test this by applying a mark to the animal in a place that is only visible in a mirror. The animal is unaware of the marking process. When it sees itself in the mirror, a self-aware animal will immediately touch the mark on its own body. Think of it as that moment in the bathroom when you spot the cappuccino foam on your nose.

The only mammals, other than humans, that can do this are the great apes, elephants and dolphins. Monkeys do not recognise themselves. In the bird world, some members of the crow family show self-recognition. A magpie will remove a coloured sticker from its body when it spots the offending mark in the mirror, and so will pigeons. However, most birds, including parrots, don’t show this behaviour.

Smoke and Mirrors

Dr Irene Pepperberg has spent a lifetime working with African Grey parrots. She studies learning and language as part of the Harvard Animal Studies Project. Experiments in her laboratory looked at mirror use in parrots, with intriguing results.

The researchers placed either a treat or a scary object in a small box. The open side of the box faced a mirror. Alo and Kyaaro, both African Grey parrots, took turns to approach the box from behind. The birds were quick to check the reflection in the mirror; and if the mirror showed a scary object in the box, they retreated, but if they spotted a treat, they retrieved it. Neither parrot ever mistook the reflection for the real thing – they looked at the reflection, but went straight for the hidden treat inside the box.

In a second set of experiments, the researchers used a series of up to four boxes. They placed a treat in one of these. Alo and Kyaaro couldn’t see into the boxes, but they could view the contents in a mirror angled near the boxes. The birds were able to use the mirror to identify the correct box, containing a treat. Without a mirror, they couldn’t find the right box.

This research shows that birds can use mirrors to solve problems. They somehow know that the reflection represents the real world. At the same time, one wonders how they explain the aloof but handsome stranger in the mirror.

Budgerigars and Mirrors

Budgerigars are not able to recognise themselves in a mirror. Not only do they seem to think the mirror is another bird, they also want to get to know it better. Budgies may even prefer a mirror to a real bird. Experiments have shown that, far from familiarity breeding contempt, this affection increases over time.

Before cutting screen time for your pet, take heart in some positive effects of mirrors. Researchers at Saint Joseph’s University put mirrors with colonies of budgies. Birds who spent more time with their reflection also had stronger bonds with their mates. It seems that these individuals are more gregarious in general. For them, a mirror is good company when their mate is not in the mood.

The intelligence of birds is well recognised. Pet birds often become bored, especially when housed alone. Cage enrichment by providing toys, including mirrors, is an excellent way to provide stimulation and in some cases may help prevent abnormal behaviour such as feather plucking. Mirrors may be even more effective with added sound, such as a bell.

We may never know what our feathered friends are thinking as they look in the mirror.
You are the fairest of them all, perhaps?

With thanks to for this revealing look into how birds and other members of the animal kingdom react to mirrors.

To equip your bird cage with mirrors and keep your pet parrot enriches visit

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys


In this blog post Barbara Heidenreich talks about How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys and the different techniques you can use to encourage the acceptance of new toys in the cage or playstand.

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I have been inspired by a question posted to my yahoo group. The question was asked how do you get a parrot used to a new toy? I think that is a marvelous question. All too often we assume because it is a toy, our parrots should automatically be eagerly interacting with it. In general parrots tend to show hesitancy around new items or situations. As positive reinforcement enthusiasts, most of us know that we can train our birds to be calm and confident with change. But it does take some investment on our part. Not a financial investment, but a commitment to teaching your bird via positive reinforcement training strategies. But if in this moment your bird has clearly demonstrated new toys create a fear response, what can you do?

How to Get Your Parrot to Play with Toys

I usually start with systematic desensitization. This means I place the toy a distance away from the parrot. I also make sure the bird is presenting calm relaxed body language. I then leave the toy there for a period of time, maybe even days. Over time I gradually place the toy closer and closer to the cage. Again making sure the parrot is relaxed and comfortable. Eventually I may hang the toy on the outside of the cage, but near the bottom of the cage. I can gradually move it higher. When the parrot is ready, I can try moving the toy to inside the cage. I usually put it away from food and water bowls and preferred perches. This is because if the bird has any concerns with the toy that I failed to notice, it will not be a hindrance to his physical needs and comfort.
Once the parrot is comfortable with the toy in his cage, now I can consider some of my other positive reinforcement tools of the trade. I can use a target to help encourage the parrot to move closer to the toy. I could pair positive reinforcers with the toy, by placing them near or on the toy. I could also “free shape” the behavior.
How to Get Your Parrot to Play with ToysTo free shape, rather than use a target or a food prompt, I would just wait until the bird presents an approximation I can reinforce. For example if the bird looks at the toy I can reinforce that. After several repetitions the bird may move in the direction he has been looking. I can reinforce that. Eventually the parrot may move closer, and over time try to touch the toy. This is all shaped by looking for the slightest approximation towards the desired goal behavior of interacting with the toy.
I recently used this strategy to help my puppy get past a fear response he had with a new vacuum cleaner. First I reinforced him for looking at the vacuum from far away and then reinforced him for approximations he took moving closer to the thing. He then sniffed it and eventually touched it with his nose and paws, and even moved it. The entire process took about twenty minutes. I have promised my yahoo group I would get the video clip on my YouTube site. I will notify everyone once it is up!

Hope this gives readers some ideas for ways to get your parrots playing!

This article was first published in Good Bird Inc Blog

Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Barbara’s Force Free Animal Training ( provides animal training DVDs, books, webinars and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in over twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara works with the companion animal community and also consults on animal training in zoos.

How To Tell If Your Parrot Is Stressed

Yellow Faced Parrot

Stressed ParrotReading up on parrots and how to look after them before you bring them home in their bird cages is so important, as they’re not easy pets to keep – especially if you’ve never had a bird before.

Stress is not uncommon in parrots and you need to know what signs to look out for, as well as any potential causes of stress that you can keep to a minimum to ensure your bird stays in peak condition.

Stress bars are one sign that your parrot is unhappy. These are horizontal lines that run across the feathers, so keep a look out for any feathers they shed that you can check over just to be on the safe side.

A lack of appetite is also a key signifier, as is destructive or aggressive behaviour, or fear and nervousness.

So what can trigger stress in birds? A bored parrot can become stressed quite easily, while traumatic events, loud environments, sudden noises, lack of exercise, poor health, a dirty bird cage, loneliness, moving house, changes to diet and daily routine or being too hot or cold can all contribute to the development of stress.

You need to know before you buy a parrot that they are quite sensitive birds and should be treated as such. Parrots have even been known to die because of their stress and anxiety levels so do all you can to keep your new pet happy. If you’re concerned about the welfare of your bird, make sure you book an appointment with the vet as soon as possible.

Keep your parrot stimulated and happy with a range of Parrot Toys and Parrot Health Supplements from Parrot Essentials.


preening macaw parrot

Parrots try to communicate with humans through body language, actions and vocalizations. Here are some basic parrot behaviours to give you the ability to understand what parrots are trying to communicate to humans. Knowing these behaviours will give you a better understanding in order to have a successful communicative relationship with your feathered companion.

Parrot Behaviours:


beak baby parrot parrot behaviourBaby parrots go through a nibbling stage. They are checking out their environment. Everything has different textures. In this nibbling stage do not let your bird use your fingers or other parts of your body. Give your bird something more appropriate like a toy or other acceptable object.

Beak grinding

A sign that your bird is relaxed, very secure and content with its environment. Your bird is just about to go to sleep.

Beak wiping

To clean debris off its beak after eating. It will also keep the beak in condition.

Biting or nipping

Your bird uses this as a last resort for communication with you as you have not responded to previous communication attempts. There is always a reason. It could be anger or frustration (displaced aggression), cornered, displaying, dominance, excessive petting or fondling from the owner, hunger, jealousy, scared, startled, threatened or tired. If an intruder is near by, your bird may bite you to get you to flee. Sometimes during the mating season, parrots may bite. When your parrot is in this mood, it is best to leave it alone at the time, until your bird is out of this mood.

Bottom of the cage hiding under paper

Your bird may be sleeping there. It could be nesting parrot behaviour. It may be frightened. Or could indicate that your bird is ill, especially if it is lethargic and feathers are puffed up. In this case, an avian veterinarian should be seen, pronto.

Bouncing up and down

Your bird is very happy. Your bird is trying to get your attention and wants to come out of its cage.

Chattering loudly

Chattering loudly can happen when your home is noisier than normal. If the loud noises quieted down, so will your bird.


chewing macaw parrotMost parrots just love to chew! It is a stimulating activity for your bird. Chewing helps keep your bird’s beak in excellent condition and helps to burn off excess energy.

We offer a great selection of chewable parrot toys.

Crouching low and holding fluttering wings slightly away from the body

Your bird is begging you to pet it.


A sign of aggression. A strutting parrot exhibiting a fanned tail, strutting, ruffled nape and back feathers with head feathers held tight against the head with pupil dilation and crouching very low and the beak open. Sometimes there are also vocal sounds accompanying this parrot behaviour. Some birds will also wipe the beak on a perch. When your bird is exhibiting this type of behaviour, it is recommended not to pick up your bird, as this is a good way to get bitten. Your bird does this to attract a potential mate which may be you or to frighten off an intruder or rival.

Drooping wings

After a bath or misting, your bird will do this to dry off. Your bird may be hot and this would be a way to cool itself. Also, it can mean that your bird is not feeling well.

Eyes pinning or flashing

ringneck parrot eyePinning – eyes dilate, contract and the process keeps repeating. Your bird may pin its eyes when it is aggressive, excited, frighten, pleasure, sexually excited or upset. Watch out! If you pick up your bird, your bird will bite. Leave the bird alone. Wait until your bird is out of this mood before picking your bird up.


Is often done after a good preening session. This releases the shed keratin (bird dust) into the air and realigns the feathers to their proper place.


This may be a warning signal that your bird is upset. Leave your bird alone for the moment and approach your bird later when your bird has calmed down. Or your bird has learned this sound from your dog.

Hanging on the cage wall

Your bird may be resting there or playing. Or the perches may have fallen. Your bird could also be frightened.

Hanging upside down

A lot of birds enjoy doing this activity. Your bird may walk across the ceiling of the cage, hang by one toe or even swing upside down. Your bird is just having fun.

Head down below feet, stretched out in front of it

Your bird is just about ready to take off and fly.

Head cocking to one side

parrotYour bird is looking intently and focusing on an object or if near its favourite person listening intently to what the person is saying. This is an excellent time to teach it to talk. The parrot has a short attention span, so keep the lesson to five to ten minutes, several times a day.

Heavy breathing

Could be signs of respiratory illness due to air sac mites, a cold, etc. Should consult an avian veterinarian.

Laying upside down on cage bottom

This is a popular activity with young chicks in several species. Your bird could be sleeping. A lot of birds also have toys in their foot or feet. Which means your bird is playing. Or if no discernible movement at all, means you need to see an avian veterinarian right away.


macaw parrot moltingYour bird will lose some feathers throughout the year or will lose some feathers over a period of a few months. Each species is different. It also depends on the environment. Your bird will remove loose, old feathers that are being pushed out by the new ones coming in. Your bird will have pin feathers (feathers covered in a white keratin – hard plastic coating). The coating will come off when preened and a new feather will emerge. The keratin coating is protecting the new feather as it is growing which is filled with blood.

Muttering softly

If you hear your bird muttering quietly to itself. This is an indication that all is great in its world. Your bird is feeling very safe and content. Also, your bird is practicing new words and sounds that it has been learning. One day when your bird is confident that it has it right, this soft muttering will turn into a loud word, phrase, song or whistle.

Neck and body stretching outward or upward

Feathers are tight against the body. Not moving, staying very still. Your bird sees something dangerous.

Panting and wing lifting

Your bird is uncomfortable and has excess heat. Your bird does not have sweat glands. This is a way to cool off.

Perching on one foot

sleeping amazon parrot on perchYour bird is happy with its life. It is feeling content and secure. When the head is tucked into the back feathers. This means that your bird is feeling relaxed and secure and is ready to go to sleep or is sleeping.

Perching on two feet

Your bird may not be comfortable with its environment or may not be feeling well.

Sitting low on the perch

If the tail bobs, eyes, squinting, watery or sleepy and or puffy. Your bird may be ill or stressed out. Should consult an avian veterinarian. Also, if your bird’s feathers are fanned out over the feet. Your bird is keeping its feet warm and this is a sign of contentment.

Picking at its feet

Your bird is grooming its feet and picking off pieces of food, faecal matter or tiny flakes of dead skin.


This could be a sign of a medical problem (internal disease, endocrine imbalance problems, parasites, bacterial, viral or fungal), improper diet (malnutrition), mutilation syndrome, external lesions
(skin tumours, feather cysts, cuts or bruises, faecal matting of feathers and broken blood feathers), stressful environment, toxins (nicotine on their feathers, etc.), boredom, sexual and/or reproductive problems. Should consult an avian veterinarian to rule out a medical problem. Then consult an avian behaviourist.

Check out the product we offer for birds who feather pluck Pluck No More – Natural Homeopathic Remedy


preening macaw parrotThis keeps your bird’s feathers in tip top condition. Most parrots will solicit you to preen them or they will preen you. This is a gesture of affection and trust.


This could be a sign of illness, if your bird does this after eating or when your bird is by itself. Should consult an avian veterinarian. Also, if your bird does this in your presence. It is a sign of affection and love for you. Your bird has chosen you as its mate. This is an honour. Your bird might also do this parrot behaviour to its favourite object or toy.

Running back and forth inside its cage

This means that your bird is ready to come out and your bird wants you to come and open the door to let him out.


This could be a sign that your bird has very dry, flaky skin and feels itchy. Increase bathing activity. If bathing does not help. Consult an avian veterinarian. May be your bird has red mites. If your bird is a recent purchase or a new bird was recently added to the flock, may be your bird has red mites. Throw a white sheet over the cage in the evening, leaving enough open for air flow. In the morning, if you see dark brownish red little dots. You have mites. Consult an avian veterinarian.


Gloucester fan and parrot Severiano Ballesteros Picture by Daniel Martino News - Cit Date: 14-04-09

This could be anger, boredom, fear, greeting a flock member, hunger, in pain, jealousy, feels threatened or wants attention.

Shaking its head

Your cologne, freshly washed hair (shampoo), hair spray and fumes will irritate the nostrils. There may be an ear infection. Restrain your bird properly in a towel, lightly blow the ear covers aside and look in the ear canal. Look for abnormal redness, discharge or protrusions. Smell the ear. If it has a strong, unpleasant odour, like popcorn or rotting cheese, you have an infection. Take your bird to an avian veterinarian. In African Greys, this can mean a calcium deficiency in their diet. Your bird could be responding to a sound that it hears. Also could be a behavioural problem or a mental problem. Your avian veterinarian might prescribe a mood altering drug.


Your bird may be allergic to some sort of dust or irritant in the air. It may have some water, dust or a feather up its nacres. If your bird has nasal discharge and its nares are wet, you need to see an avian veterinarian.


This parrot behaviour can show itself in different forms such as rapid breathing, diarrhoea, trembling, holding feathers tight against the body, feather picking, loss of appetite, wing and tail fanning, screaming and standing tall on its perch and becoming really skinny.


stretching parrotYour bird will take a wing and leg on one side of its body and stretch them out to the side or your bird will take both of its wings and raised them into the air. Your bird is relaxing and getting the kinks out of its muscles.

Tail bobbing

Could be signs of illness, especially if there are other signs like puffiness or sitting low on the perch with heavy breathing. Should consult an avian veterinarian.

Tail wagging

Your bird is straightening out its tail feathers during a grooming session. It also could be a sign of happiness at the sight of its owner.


This could be a sign of anticipation, excitement, insecurity or nervousness.

Vent rubbing

This tends to happen on the onslaught of spring. Male or female birds will do this as their hormones start to rage. Females will rub up against favourite toys, humans and flat surfaces. Males will rub themselves on perches, favourite toys and humans. This is a natural urge for them. It feels good. It does not mean that you need to go out and buy a new companion bird for your bird. It does not mean that your bird needs a mate or to sell your bird to a breeder to make it happy. Just ignore the incident and it will eventually will work itself out of your bird’s system as the mating season comes to an end. Occasionally, this becomes a behavioural problem. Sometimes it can stem from a medical problem as well. Like for instance a tumour on the brain. If this is the case, consult an avian veterinarian and then an avian behaviour consultant.


When you leave the room. Your bird is wanting to know where you are going. Answer your bird back. When you arrive home or back into the room. Your bird is greeting you. Greet your bird back. This is what they do in nature, in the flock. Sometimes in the morning or evening your bird will vocalize. This is normal as your bird is greeting the day or settling down for the night.

Walking along the branch with head up

Your bird is showing his delight in being in close proximity of you.

Walking along the branch with head down

This is a sign of your bird being vexed, irritated, agitated and or displeased. Leave your bird alone when in this mood.

Wanting attention

Your bird will softly vocalize to you, start shaking its toys, bouncing up and down or running back and forth in its cage.

Wing flapping

Your bird is exercising.

Wing flicking

Your bird does this when a feather is out of place and trying to realign it. It could also mean annoyance or displeasure.

Won’t come out of its cage

Your bird may be scared with what you are wearing. Or there is something new in its area. Your bird is in a mood or may be tired and needs its privacy. May not be feeling well.


yawning parrotYour bird may simply be tired or stretching its muscles. Occasionally, it may mean your bird needs more oxygen in its environment. The room that it is housed in might be stuffy. Let in a little fresh air (make sure that all door and window screens are secure).

If you have parrot behaviour questions or are having behavioural problems with your parrot, please consult an avian parrot behavioural consultant and or acquire parrot behaviour books, listed below.



Barbara Heidenreich –

Dr. Larry Lachman –

Greg Glendell –

Jessie James –

Joanne Olivia-Purdy –

Michelle Karras –

Pamela Clark –

Phoebe Green Linden –

Sally Blanchard –

Shari Beaudoin –