How Not to Tame a Bird

Posted by Raz on Dec 3rd, 2008
2008
Dec 3
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Sid Price just posted on his blog about the practice of “flooding” as a training technique. It is is response to the Birdtricks people posting recently about the so-called success of the method (which they call “perching”) with a blue and gold macaw. In this instance, the person put the bird on a chair back in between a wall and a refrigerator, so it could not escape, and forced it to be petted with a stick until it complied. This is a classic case of teaching by force, and through learned helplessness. They claim this method is good because it can be done by beginners who are not good at reading parrot body language. They also fall into the old, old trap of thinking that parrots must be dominated, and not allowed to make their own choices. In this antiquated training philosophy — utterly discredited by behavioral scientists — the birds are viewed as trying to “intimidate” people by biting.

Perhaps we should be teaching beginners how to read parrot body language instead, and earn their trust, and not how to just force them into submission? Birds learn to bite because it gets a message across — namely “NO!” to whatever you are doing. The Birdtricks method essentially says to the bird, your wishes do not matter, what matters is that I want to pet you whether you like it or not.

Submission is not the same as trust. It works not by building trust, but by breaking spirit. The result — at best — is a compliant, passive bird (likely with other behavior issues) not an active, trusting companion.

Sid’s post here: The Real Secrets of Training Success and Where to Find Them.

There are many articles by Dr. Susan Friedman and others on how real behavioral scientists and reputable trainers address these issues. See listings in the Training Directory (Most of this information is also free — not only free of charge, but also free of hard-sell marketing tactics that treat consumers like 2-year-olds.)

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Morally Depraved

Posted by Raz on May 27th, 2008
2008
May 27
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This is the latest version of the Birdtricks.com “animal rights” press release, from PRWeb.com. This was released today,after the incident recently where someone watched these very videos, tried it himself, and lost his African Grey Parrot (Tui).

Thousands Inflict Animal Cruelty On Their Parrot

Birdtricks.com shows how the common practice of clipping a pet parrot’s wings causes severe emotional damage to pet birds, and how a new method of raising pet birds allows pet bird owners a way to let their birds fly freely outside, but still come back when you call them. This gives them all the exercise nature intended them to have, and provides dramatic amounts of emotional stimulus.

Birdtricks.com has shown clipping causes severe emotional damage?? (Their new research division?) Guilt-tripping people into trying to freefly their bird, especially using the unweaned baby bird method, in my opinion borders on a disgusting disregard of ethics.

Also, this part of their press release explicitly states that the Cressi videos Tui’s owner watched are intended to teach people how to freefly their bird, contrary to claims that they are just posted to demonstrate what they have done:

In an effort to teach parrot owners how to use positive reinforcement to train their birds for lasting results and an end to bad behaviors like screeching, biting, and feather plucking, Birdtricks.com has documented a case study of how they used positive reinforcement to train their Congo African Grey to safely fly outside, including videos and pictures of the entire process.

This all just makes me sick. I am all for keeping birds flighted, but it is unethical in the extreme to advocate it for everyone on the grounds that not doing so is animal cruelty. Pushing people to do this whose birds are not ready for it, or who may not be up for it themselves, will result in losses — THAT is animal cruelty.

This kind of advertising is just morally depraved.

(For more on the “freeflight as enrichment” issue, see this post, and on the unweaned baby method, Don’t Be Bird-tricked.)

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Freeflight as Enrichment

Posted by Raz on May 23rd, 2008
2008
May 23
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In response to a comment by Gay Noeth, I agree and do not think people should undertake outdoor flight training just because they want a better life for their bird. Even a bird who is free-flighted spends most of its time indoors, and that life also needs to be enriching, filled with exercise opportunities, and choice. The friends I know who do freefly do it with an interest that borders on obsession. It takes over our weekends, our vacations, and our social life. It’s not something that’s just a casual pastime, like walking a dog. It’s also no guarantee of a better life, if it’s not done safely or if their life indoors is too restrictive. I have seen some home setups and aviaries that I would move into myself if I could!

Anyone who tries to guilt trip pet owners into feeling they must freefly their bird, such as the widely circulated “press release” by Birdtricks.com which is headlined, “Thousands Inflict Animal Cruelty On Their Parrot“, is at best morally indifferent. Considering the advertisement goes on to say that their intent is to teach pet owners how to freefly their parrot with a series of videos which demonstrate poor, rushed, and inconsistent training technique from a total novice in bird training, it is outright reckless. I can think of no reason to publicize this kind of thing with an “animal cruelty” press release, other than to drum up business at the expense of pet parrots.

My primary interest is seeing companion birds’ lives as enriched and “natural” as possible, so they can be birds, not toys. I think keeping birds flighted is a very large part of that, and freeflight is wonderful. But to this day one of the most exciting training events Carly and I have had together was when she did that first voluntary jump-flap off the counter, when she had barely any flight feathers. If I could see more people experience this kind of interaction with their birds, I would be a very happy camper indeed!

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Don’t be Bird-tricked

Posted by Raz on May 8th, 2008
2008
May 8
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A few thoughts on hard-sell parrot “training” marketing.
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