Parrot Training – How Parrots Learn

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 23,097
    Parrot Expert Jenny Drummey discusses how parrots learn.

    Jenny Drummey: Hi, my name is Jenny, I am a volunteer with Phoenix Landing and today, we are going to be talking about how to train your parrot. In this particular segment, we are going to be doing some basic vocabulary building and talking about how birds learn. And I have my friend, Henry, here. She is a Congo African Grey, she is a very smart bird but we can see right from the beginning, I am over here, I have the reward, she is got her back to me. What does that say about how birds learn? Well, right now, this bird is not interested in learning. We are going to see if we can encourage her with some different techniques that I will show you as we step through the vocabulary of basic learning. One thing to know from the very start is that every bird is a unique individual learner and that the way my birds or the birds in these clips are going to learn is not going to be the way that your birds are going to learn; they may be faster, they may be a lot slower, but you are going to have to motivate them with what they really want. And what this whole positive reinforcement approach is, it's about motivating for having bird choose to do what you want them to do rather than forcing them to do it and we believe that positive reinforcement is definitely the best way to train because it doesn't force the bird. It has the bird choose to do what they want and not only does it help them to learn behaviors more quickly and more reliably, but it helps to build trust between the parrot and the caretaker.

    Just to get you started with some basic terminology, when you go to train the behavior, there are a few key terms that we are going to be talking about throughout the other segments. onOnoe of them is called the the cue and the cue is a verbal or a physical signal that tells the bird to perform a behavior. Following the cue is the bridge. The bridge could be a word like good, it could be a click with the clicker. It could be any particular sound that you want to make and it tells the bird that at that moment, they perform the behavior that you are looking for. And finally, the reinforcer of the reward, which is going to be unique to your bird, which is what the bird is working towards and for and when they have the cue, they hear the bridge, they know the reward is coming and that's how we train specific behaviors.

    Another thing that we will talk about is shaping behaviors because you can't go from a bird sitting on a perch to flying across the room to you in one step. It's all about approximations; small steps that can have you move from the first behavior to your targeted behavior, the behavior that you want the bird to gain. Now in this case, my parrot, Henry, is flighted and she is actually quite good at flying to perches when I ask her to. But we have bought her up here to try to demonstrate to you guys how you might train that if your bird is flighted. I have a little reinforcer for her. It is a tiny little piece of bacon and I wouldn't give it to her normally because it is not very healthy but sometimes when you are training, you find that one little thing that they want and you give them at itty-bitty piece. A part of the reason for that is because their crops are not very big, although training sessions are short and motivated bird will definitely go through food really fast.

    Now,Henry, as you can see, she is pretty comfortable. I am reading her body language. That's another pretty key part of the vocabulary to understand. She is looking around, she is wiping her beak, I noticed before she stretched, she is comfortable in this situation. When you bring your bird to a place where you are going to train him or her, you might notice that she stands very stiffly, feathers are down and she is darting about. Look at her eyes, look at the way her feet are held. Look to make sure that she is comfortable where she is going to be training. Henry looks pretty comfortable and I am just going to give her a little piece and then she is going to take it and she ate it. That's a good thing to do. If she dropped it then we'll know she is definitely not interested. So I am hoping that I can show you guys some approximations to get her started. So we are going to have her move from perch to perch on my start, with a big approximation, a big step where I might say, Hey Henry, step here and I will give you a piece of bacon. And you look at her and she looks at me and it ain't going anywhere. So you close that window. You want to make it short and sweet. If you keep asking, Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, do, do, do, then they learn that oh, if I wait 15 times then enough. If they have cue me 15 times then that's when I do it. So you do it once and then you stop and close the window.

    Now, another way to change your approximation is I am going to try moving this perch close to her and see if she will just step up on it for me. So, we are starting from the most basic thing that you'll notice she has got her back turned so she is probably not interested. Henry, what do you think? Can you step out? Come on. Good bird! Good parrot! So now she got her bacon and we started really small. So what I am going to do is I am going to go over here. Now she has turned around, that is a good sign. She is more engaged and interested in what I am doing. Henry, we are going to try, just see because she knows how to go from perch to perch. I am just going to see if she will fly from here to here. You want to come here? No? Okay, we are going to try again. Ready? Good girl! So that is some basic vocabulary and terminology that we are going to use throughout the rest of the clips and our next segment will be about getting started training.