Training Baby Macaws or other larger parrots Baby macaws find very little aversive, which makes training them much easier. Training adult birds to accept handling to the point that they can be examined is time consuming and requires more effort and patience. However, teaching babies and some juveniles to allow you to examine their entire body is easy. The entire process is based on touching, praise, always keeping it fun and never pushing too hard. Your voice should convey excitement, but it should be soft. As birds mature and are familiar with you and your training you can really whoop it up and be very animated. Stroke the baby’s head and run you hand down the chick’s back, while naming the part of the body you're touching, “head, neck, back”. As you do this be aware of how the body feels. Are there any lumps or bumps? Does anything feel out of place? This is an opportunity to train yourself to look for anything unusual or that seems off. Place your hand under the baby’s chin and stroke the baby’s neck while tilting the chick’s head back slightly. Tell the bird to,” Look up”. Babies are able to learning cues at a very early age. Furthermore this gives you practice at giving cues and not just expecting the bird to understand them. Take a moment to get a good look at the chick’s face. Look at the eyes, the feathers and the beak. It may become aversive and uncomfortable for the bird to hold the chicks head in one position long. Holding the baby’s head in an uncomfortable position is not necessary. You can always repeat the training at a later time. Continue to talk to the chick, praise and reinforce behavior. Next run your fingers alongside of the baby’s head. Tilt the chick’s head to the right and put a cue to it,” Head right.” Look at the chick’s eye. “Good baby!” Now tilt the chicks head to the left, “Head left.” Look at the left eye. Praise, praise praise! Ease the baby’s head to an upright position and continue to run your fingers alongside of the baby’s head. Search for the chicks ears and rub the ears. When you do this the chick will yawn and you can get a good look down the baby’s throat. Cue yawning. This appears to be a reflex behavior. Adults and juveniles will yawn too, but not as reliably as babies. Keep in mind that you are talking to and praising the chick during this training exam. If the chick is old enough to eat small pieces of solid food, you can offer the chick food at any time during the training. If the chick is too young to eat solid food a syringe of formula can be utilized to offer tiny amounts of food. Although this is not a requirement with young chicks. Once chicks are old enough to respond to the cues on their own then be certain to incorporate a small treat after the bird has successfully completed each behavior. A fixed schedule is the quickest way to teach a new behavior. Now that you have examined the upper half of the chick’s body touch the chest run your fingers along the breast bone while telling the bird what you are doing and praising the chick. Next slide your hands along the bird’s side over the hips and up the chick’s wings so that the wings are position straight up in the air. Again cue the behavior, “Wings up! Good bird.” Hold the wings up for a moment while you look at the underside of the wings. Not too long, just long enough to get a look. In time you can hold the wings up longer. If the baby is very young just do this once. If the bird is in pinfeathers or older you can do this three or four time in a row as long as the bird seems comfortable. You should not feel any pressure from the chick’s wings pressing against your hands which is an indication that the chick is trying to lower his wings. Next lift and lower each wing separately. “Right wing up.” Then, “Left wing up.” Continue to work with the wings, but this time spread the wings out to the bird’s sides, with the palm of your hands supporting the wings. You may want to cue this behavior by saying, “Spread you wings” Slide your hands towards the wing tips. When your hands reach the wing tips grasp the wing gently and let go immediately. With time and repeated handling your bird this way you can hold the wings out longer. After holding out both wings, work with one wing at a time. Your cue should include the words right and left. You are not only teaching you bird to move and accept handling you are also teaching right and left with many of your requests. Handling a birds’ wings this way when they are still babies make harness training a lot easier when they are old enough to wear a harness. From the wings move your hands down the bird’s legs while saying, “Legs”. Gently touch the legs while feeling for anything that might be out of place. It is unlikely you will feel anything out of place. Yet, you are becoming familiar with a parrot’s anatomy and if there is ever something wrong you will recognize it quickly. Touch the top of the baby’s feet and softly say,"feet." Touch the right foot and say, “Right foot.” Repeat with the left foot. Gently touch each toe and say, “Toe.” The next part takes some discretion on your part. Baby birds tend to be clumsy and fall down frequently. If the chick has good enough balance, grasp the chick’s right foot and say, “Show me your right foot” while lifting the foot so that the pad is visible. Quickly put the foot down. Repeat with the left foot. As the chick gets use to having his foot held up and is able to maintain his balance you can hold his foot up longer. One last step and we are done with the exam. Run your hand along the bird’s tail and say, “Tail”. Many adult birds find tail touching aversive, especially macaws and conures. Long tailed birds seem to be much more concerned about whom and what touches their tail. Therefore, getting them accustom to humans touching their tails at a young age can avoid problem when they are adults. As your bird becomes comfortable being handled so much. You can spray a little water on various body parts, such as under their wings or on the bottom of their feet. You can also touch the bird's body with a cotton swab. Spraying parts of your bird’s body with water or touching him with a cotton swab mimic applying medications to your bird’s body. If you actually need to apply any medication to your bird’s body it will not be difficult to do. If you follow this method you will teach your bird right and left and his body parts. Knowing his body parts can be helpful when teaching your bird to wear a harness. It can also keep your bird calmer if your bird is ever tangled up in something. Being able to communicate to your bird that you will touch a specific body part can help keep the bird relaxed. Adult birds can be handled in the same way. However, they may find being touched aversive and so the process is much slower. STEP-UP This is the most important behavior that your parrot needs to know. The step-up command is when your bird steps up onto your finger (or wrist, perch, etc.) When you say “Step Up”, your parrot should willingly offer up his or her foot while you offer your hand. Gently offer your finger or wrist to your parrot in the area where your parrot’s belly reaches the top of his or her legs and say “Step up”. Most parrots will raise their foot naturally and step onto you. Make sure you reward correct behavior. STEP-DOWN This command is also very important. When you are putting your parrot back into his or her cage or on a perch, they should go without a fight. CONTACT CALL A good way to keep your parrot from screaming is to start using a contact call. You are your parrot’s flock, so he or she will, understandably, want to keep track of you. A contact call is a special whistle, word, or phrase that you use when your bird wants you to respond. I just say Hello, really. It’s simply meant to let your parrot know you are nearby when you are not in the same room. Teach your parrot the contact call and use it consistently. Respond whenever your parrot makes the contact call. However, make sure you don’t respond when your parrot screams or you will reinforce that behavior.
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