Piper Comes Out!

Posted by Raz on Sep 1st, 2011
Sep 1

My boy Piper is growing up and getting used to the world. He is the one I rarely took out because he behaved so skittishly around new people or environments, and has shown little interest in going with us. (No flying to the door to come along, like Carly does.) I decided early on to just let him take things at his own pace, and I didn’t know if he’d ever change his preferences. Now he and Carly love the new digs, and both want to be outside all the time. They play outside on the stairs, we do training down in the courtyard every evening, and they can hang out in the trees. I think the way it is semi-enclosed felt comfortable to Piper. However, he has also become a great fan of flying in the nearby park — big rambunctious flights, high and fast, with lots of screaming. For some reason he has never had a big problem with learning to fly down, even though he hasn’t been outside that much. He will often make a few passes if he gets going too fast, but doesn’t hesitate to take the plunge. Perhaps flying like a kamakaze inside my old apartment got him over the fear of crashing. (He certainly crashed often enough.)

In addition to the flying, he is becoming friendly with new people. The other day he was seriously flirting with a neighbor woman on the stairs. We’re talking kisses and the whole nine yards. Fergus the cat was getting quite pissed off at the shift in attention. He is also getting much more comfortable around men, as well as larger groups, and he often goes with Carly and I to the neighborhood pub now. Here they are making out on the stairs:


His behavior change seems to be closely related to the new environment, though I’m not sure exactly why. But I think we’re all happier and more relaxed here, so that may have something to do with it. I would not have thought that moving away from a large, suburban greenbelt area into the heart of the city would be an improvement from the birds’ perspective, but this little piece of garden heaven in the city is unique.

And did I mention there are palm nuts on the property?! (That’s the tree in the background, one of many in the neighborhood.)

palm nut

As with Carly, I’m glad that I let him take his time with this and “come out” when he felt comfortable. He is actually the same age now as she was when she first started flying at the beach. She showed no interest in getting off my shoulder there for 3 years, including 6 months when she was flying outside at home. It is possible both could have been pushed harder in their training to acclimate sooner, but I personally find it much more interesting, and respectful of the animal, to let them find their own pace. We’re not doing a show, and this is all about their enrichment, not mine. I must say though, it is great to get madman Piper doing some vigorous flying, for the sanity of the whole household!

Playing on the stairs… (Piper goofing, Carly sneaking, Fergus being sneaked upon.)


Piper’s Outdoor Acclimation

Posted by Raz on Sep 21st, 2009
Sep 21

I am training Piper for recall with the same general methods as I did with Carly, but whereas with Carly I had to take quite a lot of time training flight skills because she was never fledged, Piper came ready to launch. However his disposition is entirely different than hers and he spooks very easily and often outdoors (and indoors some also). It has taken time to acclimate him to specific locations so his behavior is relaxed, but he still becomes alarmed by a variety of things. Carly is an extremely calm bird outdoors, so spook flights were never an issue. Her alarm response is typically just an alert posture, or at most flying up and doing a short loop (5-15 feet) then back down to me. Having seen several losses and near-losses of free flighted Greys after spooking, it’s a very high priority of mine to ensure Piper is confident and secure outside before flying with Carly.

This puts us in a bit of a catch-22 however: the biggest reinforcer, normally, for wearing a harness is not there. Going outside isn’t a reinforcer but instead needs to be trained systematically. But he needs to wear a harness for that acclimation. (I don’t think th experience of being outdoors in a carrier or aviary is the same at all; they are quite protected spaces. Piper does fine on our enclosed balcony that is up in the trees with an open view of the sky.)

Piper puts on a harness well, but does not like to keep it on long. I just can’t seem to find reinforcers big enough, and can’t use going outside as a reward. When reading one of ShanLung’s recent blog posts I was reminded how his Grey Tinkerbell was so prone to spooks, indoors as well as outdoors, which was his main motivation for flying her on a harness with a long line (with a controlled recall). To do that he designed his own harness that is very soft, light, and a bit stretchy, so it can be felt as little as possible when on. I already use a hand made custom design, but it is still more bulky than the Tink harness.

When emailing about some of our experiences with acclimation and spook flights, ShanLung generously offered to make me a nice comfy Tink harness for Piper. I’m hoping the Tinkerbell UltraLite will be more comfortable and make the acclimation process easier. I’m also going to begin training flying up in a small loop (like Carly does) so he may perhaps learn there is a controlled way to respond to something startling.

The Tinkerbell UltraLite

The Tinkerbell UltraLite

So when our package from Oman arrives, we will try the Tinkerbell UltraLite model of harness (sans the long line). And I think I owe a parrot conservation organization a nice donation :-)

More thoughts on the subject of outdoor acclimation, as well as weight management and training ethics are in the next post, The Right Training Tool.

The Part with the Caveats:

ShanLung and I are always stressing ATTACH THE HARNESS TO YOUR BODY, and that the bird must be well trained in staying with you and recalling before using a harness. I was amused by this post of his, which he calls the Cargo Cult Rant, comparing people who don’t consider the bonding and training part of it to indigenous south Pacific islanders who thought it was the landing strip itself that caused food cargo planes to land during WWII:

‘using’ harness without the understanding and training is like South Pacific islanders building airstrip and wondering why planes do not land with cargo for them.

(The history of cargo cults is a rather fascinating example of magical thinking.)

So to reiterate, harnesses must only be used on birds who are trained to ride on your hand or shoulder, and who have a good trained recall, and have been acclimated on wearing the harness indoors or another familiar place.

See the complete Harness Training series of blog posts and the Recall Training page for more details.

Jun 23

Sometime last year, I was concerned about times when Carly would fly so fast down the beach that she’d be out of hearing distance before I could call her back. Barbara Heidenreich suggested training an emergency recall. Zoos use this with some animals in case there is an incident with a trainer or an animal has to be moved quickly to another location. The idea is that the cue is different than a normal recall, and the reward is a huge jackpot, so there is a much higher probability of a response, even in the face of external distractions or competing reinforcers. It’s also a very useful behavior to have trained in case of an accidental escape outdoors.

I practice this once daily at home with both Carly and Piper to keep it fresh, using a referee’s whistle as the cue and usually a whole almond in the shell as their jackpot (highly, highly desired by my guys, as both toys and food). I use it at the beach when Carly is getting too far away, but not every time we go. Typically her flights are large loops, but within visual and hearing range. I am careful not to overuse it, otherwise the jackpot isn’t a jackpot any longer, and the emergency recall loses its extra incentive.


Today I had the first opportunity to test it with Piper. He is about 15 months old, and has never been especially keen on going outdoors. He simply hasn’t shown the curiosity or ease with things and events outdoors that Carly did, even when very young. When he’s outside I try to take it very easy, going to familiar places routinely, doing a little training there, providing lots of opportunity for calm behavior and lots of reinforcement. We use a harness outside because I want to see far fewer startle responses before free-flying. Today he surprised me by flying out to me as I walked out the front door, then landing on the roof next to the entry. He sat there and looked around, and I wondered how this would play out. I called him a couple times and he stayed where he was, looking at the trees around us. Then I remembered the whistle on my key chain. Gave the double-toot that’s our cue and he looked back at me for a second, then flew right down. I took him inside and got an almond pronto! (Carly got one too, for not flying out the door. )

To get started training the emergency recall I shortened our daily recall training sessions a bit, and switched to the ref’s whistle at the end. At first they had no idea what I was asking for (and were a little startled by the loud sound) so I followed the whistle with our usual recall cue. When they came they got the big jackpot. I did this at the end of every recall session for a few days. Next I moved to different positions in the house, while still in sight, before giving the cue, and then out of sight in a different room. When that was working well, I stopped doing it at the end of our usual training sessions and started those steps over (whistle cue close by, then further away, then from another room) at random times. This is how I keep it in practice now. It’s quite funny to see them come racing in from wherever they are to get their jackpot.

The first time I tested it outside with Carly at the beach, I did it when she was not too far away. I had no idea if she’d respond out there. She turned around so quickly it was as if she skidded and made a u-turn in mid air.

It is not a 100% solution by itself. I still have to keep up all the regular training and practice routines or both kinds of recall get unreliable. In environments where there are a multitude of competing reinforcers (seagulls, people, trees, etc) the regular practice is especially important, so that the whistle works even when other reinforcers are present.

I was very pleased with the response from Piper today on his first escape outside ever. And also pleased that he was eager to go outside to begin with. We took a nice walk outside later so he could explore more, and did our usual training out by the pool.

Next up: competing reinforcers!

For more information, Barbara Heidenreich describes training an emergency recall in Good Bird Magazine

Carly Lu’s Flight Blog



I’m acclimating just fine…

Posted by Raz on Dec 30th, 2008
Dec 30

thank you very much.

Now leave me alone so I can nap.

piper culcha

[Piper @ San Diego Museum of Art, Balboa Park]

We have been doing a lot of outings over the holidays to help acclimate Piper to the Big Wide World, and also to give Carly more opportunities for socializing outside of our flying time when it can be a dangerous distraction if she sees someone interesting just out of my sight. We used to do a lot of this kind of thing before she started free flying, so it’s no wonder she tries to find opportunities to visit people. Another “Doh!” moment for me.

Since our retraining efforts began last month, she has gotten much better about staying within a safe range at the beach, but still gets distracted by socializing in the park where the flying itself is less interesting, there are no gulls to play with, etc. So we are going to train very hard at the beach with the aim of “super-duper generalizing” of the recall behavior (as Barbara H deems it). This is a perfect time for it since the number of people is very low there right now, and will be increasing over the coming months as the weather warms. Automatic incrementing of level of distractions.

At Seaport Village at San Diego harbor yesterday Carly had a Red-Headed bonanza. She got to be held by a RH guy, a little RH girl, and an older RH lady. And then there were ducks.

carly & ducks

More pics here: Social Outings


Piper Learns About the World

Posted by Raz on Nov 22nd, 2008
Nov 22

I’m upping Piper’s excursions. I take Carly by herself most often when I do errands, because she is easy and also seems to do well when we have some one-on-one time like that. But today we had a family outing to Home Depot, and then a little training time in the pine tree at the park. Carly has a great time in the hardware aisle — hundreds of little tiny bags of parrot toys! Piper was apprehensive with all the people and busy-ness, so he rode in a carrier in the cart and observed. I really think one of the reasons Carly is so unflappable (?) outside is because she had so much exposure before freeflying.

Piper adapts pretty well once he’s done something a few times. He’s a great little car rider now. And today in the park he was very relaxed walking around and doing a little fun work in the pine tree, even after his big adventure the other day. I think with Carly it finally got to the point where experiencing new things was just nothing new. That’s our goal.

Piper being puffy in the park, while Carly chills.

piper being puffy

carly hangin

So, finally, a question: what is it about Home Depot and parrots? I have met workers there who have parrots, and today met two more. Both men in their 60’s, one with a 3-yr old Amazon, and one with a teenage Grey. The man with the Grey had one who recently died also, at the age of 75! He was his 3rd owner.


Crow Migration, or What Not to Do on Day 2

Posted by Raz on Nov 22nd, 2008
Nov 22

There have always been a few crows in the park. One or two would often sit in the sycamore tree and watch while I was training Carly under the canopy. She was briefly chased by one once during one of her first big outdoor flights, but she didn’t pay much attention to it. Otis and Gizmo were chased by a couple on their first outing to the park here too. They did their usual divide and confuse routine, and the crows gave up.

So Monday morning was Piper’s second outdoor recall training session. (Put on your shades — you might be blinded by the glaring errors!) Carly went with us again, and before I let Piper out of his carrier I unclipped her leash so she could go on a few big flights. After that she’s usually content to just hang out with me. She didn’t want to go however, so we did a few short recalls from the wall like we did yesterday with Piper. Then I got Piper out to join in. We normally alternate back and forth when we practice indoors, and that’s what we did today for 5 or 10 minutes. Then Carly was ready for a big flight. She took off on a big circle around the park, and of course Piper followed her. (He always wants to take off with her if he’s on a harness.) They did a couple very large loops above the treeline, then Carly landed in a eucalyptus. Piper landed in another tree behind it, but I didn’t see which one.

piper map

Carly and I did a full circuit of the park and surrounding townhomes calling, but not a peep out of him. Then a guy came running and said he’d seen Piper get chased quite aggressively by 4 crows out of a tree. We went off to search in that direction, but still nothing. Once I heard Piper do some of his calls, but it was a courtyard or two over and I could not find him. Once I thought I saw a grey-like body fly behind some trees. But mostly nothing. Just walking and calling and whistling our contact tune. One thing I did find: crows. Lots and lots of crows. Not in big flocks, but 2-4 in almost every tree. Then later in the day larger groups flying overhead. Another person told me they’d seen him being chased also. Just as it was almost dark I saw the silhouette of a bird landing in the top of a eucalyptus in the distance. It was landing in the same silly way a grey parrot does. I ran and called and it was indeed Piper. He flew to a tree near me, and did the stair-step descent approach, going to lower and lower trees, finally landing on a scrawny twig about 15 feet high. One final call and he was back!

This was not the ideal 2nd day out for sure. I have never seen so many crows in the area. I have since seen flocks of them near the beach also, where there are usually only ravens. Unfortunately I didn’t personally see any of the chases with Piper, so I don’t know how aggressively they were behaving. But I do know it was very hard to find a landing place without crows already in possession. Piper has not been outside nearly as much as Carly when she first started either, so he has far less exposure to seeing large birds. It must have been pretty frightening for him.

In the picture above, our training spot is just to the right of where it says “found.” Pretty amazing after so many hours he was literally back within about 100 ft of where he started.

When we came in he ate a huge dinner, then went to his bedtime perch and fell asleep at 6:30 (about 5 hours earlier than normal!)

But back to the errors:

Carly went with us again, and before I let Piper out of his carrier I unclipped her leash so she could go on a few big flights. . . . She didn’t want to go however, so we did a few short recalls from the wall like we did yesterday with Piper. Then I got Piper out to join in. We normally alternate back and forth when we practice indoors, and that’s what we did today for 5 or 10 minutes. Then Carly was ready for a big flight. She took off on a big circle around the park, and of course Piper followed her. . . . They did a couple very large loops above the treeline, then Carly landed in a eucalyptus.

Totally preventable, dumb errors. Carly is just coming out of some re-training, so I should not have trusted her to stay focused on short recalls before she had done some longer flights. Dumb. This was Piper’s second day out, and I should not have been training him alongside her unless I was totally confident she would not fly off. I knew how he’d react. It worked the day before when she had already flown some, but even then it was more of a risk than I should have taken on his first day. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal without the crows, but even so, not smart. I assume it was also distracting for Carly, still under intense observation and re-training, to have Piper flying with her for the first time.

What did go well:

  1. I had my stack of 50 “Lost Parrot” flyers with pictures on them right at my home, so I got those out very soon. I also have business cards with Carly’s picture, my cell phone number, and web site address, normally for giving to people so they can access the training resources web page or photos. They are also perfect for handing out when searching for a bird.
  2. Piper stayed very close, in the immediate vicinity of the park (even though I couldn’t spot him!) He must have really been hunkering down inside the trees most of the time. Since he is brand new at this I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m very happy his instinct was not to bolt in a straight line and fly off.
  3. Once he felt safe retrieval was easy.
  4. I could take the entire day off to search if I need to. I never fly outdoors when I have anything within the next 24 hrs that can’t be rescheduled.
  5. This is a very animal-friendly and helpful neighborhood. Wonderful people, eager to help. (Two neighbor girls were so excited when I got Piper back home they even volunteered to go take down flyers. Wow!)

Piper is much more watchful of the sky when outside now, so I’m going to do spend some more time on the harness just walking around and doing recalls without big sis. He is a fearless flyer physically, but he also startles so much more easily than Carly ever did. It’s an odd combination. But it could also be that I notice it more with Piper because, being fledged properly, his instinct is to fly; Carly, unfledged and clipped, would usually just hunker down onto my chest. It’s easy to forget how much a baby hasn’t experienced yet.

One final note: I think this kind of experience highlights the risks inherent in freeflight training, especially as practiced with companion parrots, by non-professionals, in a relatively uncontrolled environment. I don’t consider myself an impatient trainer (quite the opposite usually) and I could have prevented this event with the knowledge I had. But it’s very easy to “go with the flow” even when you know what you’re doing is increasing the risk. In addition to the importance of learning and gaining experience, one of the lessons for me with this is that a very important aspect of experience is to always remember why the rules you have established are so critical.

Carly’s card:

carly card
(Photo by Hugh Choi)


Virgin Air: Piper Earns His Wings

Posted by Raz on Nov 15th, 2008
Nov 15

Piper did his first outdoor flights this afternoon. In the park, from the same bench where Carly learned, with big sis right next to him showing him how it’s done. (I actually thought she’d want to go sit up in a tree and goof off while we did this, but she wanted to join in. We’ve been practicing indoors a lot that way, alternating birds.) He’s 7 months old now, and we’ve been doing regular indoor practice sessions twice daily, before meals, for about 3-4 weeks, and also started taking walks in the park and other places on a harness several times per week. Indoors he’s been recalling all over the house, into different rooms. I’m feeding him as much as he wants, but in scheduled meals (he usually gets 3, one more than Carly).

He did great today, nice and relaxed and very attentive. We stuck with short recalls, probably 6-8 ft. I have not been able to do targeting with him in trees (to learn to crawl down from them, just in case) because he spends all his time chewing on the harness if he’s on a perch! We do have a high ceiling at home now and a high hanging gym at work, and we do target training swinging around the get-a-grip net or hanging gym. Before we do longer flights I’m going to let him do some crawling recalls in our pine tree off the harness now. I’m not all that worried about him being afraid to fly down. He’s a kamakazi in the house, totally fearless, and his recall is very strong — as is his desire to be wherever Carly and I are.

I’m really proud of Carly too — she was a champ in doing little bitty recalls with him outside; she usually finds that very boring.

People have asked me how I decided when was the right time to do the first outdoor flight. Besides all the standard criteria for recall and flight agility — which are the fundamental requirements — I must say I decided much the same way I decided to let Carly fly at the beach. I knew they were ready for a week or two, and was monitoring things very closely. On the day of however, it was really just a gut instinct. Probably because I felt relaxed, the bird was relaxed, we had time, good weather, etc. Everything felt in place.


Piper in the Great Outdoors

Posted by Raz on Aug 23rd, 2008
Aug 23

We’ve mostly been taking it easy and letting Piper get used to his new home and buddies. We’re doing a bit of recall practice indoors each day, as well as targeting which he is great at! As for outdoors, he’s been getting used to the park and beach and his harness. He is relaxing quite quickly, though it still strikes me how different he, being a baby, compared to Carly. I had almost forgotten all they have to learn the first few months to a year. But notice the relaxed, fluffed feathers in many of the photos, even on his first times trying new things.

Here’s his first outing to the beach on August 12, about a week after arriving — surveying the new scene!

piper at beach

And walking around while the big boys flew.

piper beach shoulder

Today we did some recalls on the harness on our park walk. Lookin’ around a bit first…

piper park wassup

Then a big fluff.

piper park bigfluff

Ready…. set…..

piper park launch


piper airborne park

Carly is still feeding him when he’ll let her. She’s eating a lot and maintaining her weight, and he just broke 500 grams the other day — a 30 g gain since his arrival a few weeks ago. Carly’s a good mom :-)

This week we’re moving to a different apartment, which is one reason why I’ve taken it pretty easy letting Piper get used to everyone. Wendy’s babies really are confident and happy though. That foundation is quite apparent in the ease with which he adapts to new things.

Photos by Raz’s LG cu500 cell phone, except shoulder shot by Hugh Choi.


Carly & Piper Meet

Posted by Raz on Aug 6th, 2008
Aug 6

Piper arrived with Wendy on August 1st (the day of Carly’s big RHG adventure). Carly was a bit peeved at first, chasing him around and not letting him sit on any of “her” stuff. Over the next few days she fairly rapidly mellowed and began watching him carefully. Then sidling up to him closer. Then trying to regurgitate food! These pictures are from August 6th, the first day they went to my office together. She’s even more protective of her things in my office (just ask Rocco!) But she not only allowed him on her gym, she sat next to him, erped up food, played, and babysat. They were both so good, and it was even easier having the two of them together than Carly alone.

Carly & Piper at Work

More pictures: Carly & Piper’s First Day at Work with never-before seen exclusive photographs of Carly sharing her dinner bowl!

Piper is a big guy — already 10-20 g heavier than she is and much broader and chunkier. He is unbelievably sweet and friendly, and very confident. A good flyer too, but a real klutz in the house! He’s still learning which things are solid and stable enough to land on.

Yesterday we had our first outing in the park on a harness, which he puts on with no fuss at all. The difference is striking between his confidence and willingness to immediately explore everything around him, and Carly’s physical caution when she was young. I think part of it is definitely a physical confidence from fledging properly, and part is from being raised, socialized and weaned by a real expert in an ideal environment with lots of human and bird interaction. He is just not fazed by anything so far. (Except maybe plane rides. He growled and hissed at Samantha on the other side of the carrier partition before they left Dallas, but when we picked them up in San Diego they were both huddled next to each other in back where the partition is see-through. He was a bit uneasy with the car ride today too, but bounces back so quickly when out of the carrier.)

And not to forget little Rocco — he has a new album too! Photos: the Little Guy Settles In. I wish I’d known years ago how sweet cockatiels can be.


And then there’s Ferg. What’s a cat to do?


photographs by LG CU500 cell phone :-)


Piper Pretty in Pink (harness that is)

Posted by Raz on Jun 30th, 2008
Jun 30

I will post about harness training and use soon. For now, here is the almost 3-month old Piper in his harness for the 4th time, doing great!

An article about harness training by Barbara Heidenreich, featuring Stephanie Ernst’s African Grey is in Parrot Chronicles: Harness Training Your Bird .


A few more recent pictures are in Piper’s Gallery.


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