Anyone who has spent time at Parrot Island has witnessed one of Lt. Columbo's "moments to shine." In a previous article titled Parrots and Noise I discussed the trick training we have done with Columbo in order to control noise. Columbo has learned that he will get a lot of positive response from us and customers by doing his tricks. Screaming on the other hand will get him nothing. It has been amazing watching Lt. Columbo perform for customers and his ability to make clapping sounds and tell himself "good job" or "good parrot." Lt. Columbo has always been very observant of things going on around him.
For instance, each morning when we clean cages and take babies out using step up commands Lt. Columbo will tell the babies to step up also. He will even go as far as to say "What A Good Bird" once they have "stepped up." I always have thought Lt. Columbo was more aware of his surroundings than most. It was about then that our Black Capped Caique, Scooter, decided to show us her stuff.
One morning as we were going about our regular cleaning Lt. Columbo began to do his tricks. Of course we stopped to clap and praise him. Scooter was on another perch in the store and began to do the same trick. We initially were not sure if this was an intentional plea for praise or something she just happened to have done. We praised her anyway and went on with the day. As the days and weeks went by we noticed Scooter doing Lt. Columbo's trick solely to get the attention herself that she saw Columbo receive.
I began working with Scooter on some tricks of her own such as her favorite hopping dance. She has also picked up various sounds that I had made directly to Lt. Columbo. These are sounds that I never worked directly with Scooter to learn. It is very clear that she has watched the positive response that Lt. Columbo has received from certain behaviors and has begun to do them herself.
Last week Lt. Columbo was doing his favorite trick of hanging upside down by one foot -- then alternating feet and several of us were clapping for him and praising him. It was then that I heard Scooter call out her usual "Scooter Dooter" and I looked to see her hanging by one foot waiting for us to go and clap for her. We then of course went over and clapped and praised Scooter.
This experience reminded me of a discussion I had recently with Dr. Tammy Jenkins. Tammy mentioned how important it is for our companion parrots to have a job. These creatures are so intelligent that it is imperative for them to have things to do.
Dr. Jenkins related to me the story of a young boy who brought his cockatoo in for an examination. Tammy was so impressed by the bird's comfort level in the exam room and the obviously comfortable relationship the bird had with the young boy. Unknowingly this boy "played with his bird" as if it was another child and taught him many tricks and praised him extensively. With cockatoos being one of the most difficult of the parrot species it amazes me that a little boy was able to do what many others have failed to do. This cockatoo was well adjusted, happy, and seemed to forget somewhere along the line to manipulate his owner. Dr. Jenkins has come to highly recommend the "Parrot Training Handbook" by Jennifer Hubbard. This book is available at Parrot Island and has several fun techniques to teach your bird various tricks.
I have absolutely no doubt that Scooter learned from Lt. Columbo how to receive a certain type of attention. The best part is that these behaviors make both parrot owners and parrots happier. We are praising the good behaviors that we can live with and discouraging unpleasant behaviors. Whether you have one bird or an entire flock, spend some time praising them for things you like and watch them learn from one another.