How to Train Multiple Birds at Once

Photo by Dave Womach Location: White Sands, New Mexico Pictured flying: Camelot macaw "Tusa" and Galah "Bandit" (Email info@birdtricks.com for our freeflight course)

There’s a lot of questions that come up when it comes to training more than one bird. There are times when it works for the better to train birds at once (more than one) and there are times where it works against you to do so.

Here is my method for success in training more than one bird...

Scenario: You have two birds in one cage whom are both UNTRAINED.

Method for training success: Have a clicker and your birds’ favorite treat. We’ll use small birds like budgies (parakeets) for this example. Sit in front or on the side of the cage and click the clicker once, offer spray millet through the cage bars just long enough for both birds to get a quick bite. Repeat. Do this for 2-5 minutes or until the birds get obviously excited when hearing the click and are anticipating the treat coming. You can pause to really see if they are looking for the treat to be there when they hear the click (think dinner bell and working men running) Now, based on how your birds react here’s what to do about it...

Both birds are scared, flighty and frantic: Either train when your birds are naturally more calm (most birds calm down around night time but may also not be responsive if they’re roosting already) or make sure you’re slower in your movements. Don’t bring your hand up real fast, keep calm and watch for uneasy body language so you can adjust and make it more comfortable for your birds. Make sure your birds are motivated for the treat and don’t get it every day in their cage, it needs to be special and they need to WANT it.

If making those changes doesn’t work, it’s best to train your birds separately. Take one away from the other and into another room with no distractions to train, once that bird understands you can put him back with the other and try training him inside the cage with the other bird again and he will teach the other one what to do. You only have to remove them from one another when training, not forever.

If one bird is getting it and one is scared: This is when it’s ideal to work with two birds. When one gets it and one doesn’t, observational learning comes into play. The bird who isn’t getting it will watch the one who is and learn from what he’s doing and copy him to get the treat too.

Both birds are getting it and excited about it: Another ideal time to train two birds, unless it turns into aggression towards one another. There’s “healthy competition” and then there’s just plain aggression. When it turns into a race, you can get more repetitions from your birds and they learn faster trying to beat the other bird to the treat. This works especially well when teaching birds to touch train.   

How I train all my birds in one day: I keep my birds in separate aviaries when I am focused on training (one per aviary) and let the others hear and see me working with one bird. I train for about 1-2 minutes and then move to the next aviary to train the next bird. I often do this with my macaws, as I have three.  This makes them anticipate training, get excited and anxious and makes them get into training mode without a warm up. They are eager to train when they see another bird training and I can go from aviary to aviary to work with them individually. This is how I trained all my macaws to “wave” with their foot. It took about 3 days of doing this throughout the day for them to get it.

Now I can cue them all at the same time and they all raise their foot for me. Whoever doesn’t get a treat, often looks at the others to see what they did or are doing to get one and they copy to get one as well.   Birds are smart enough to understand when they ARE NOT being trained, and when they are. With that said, it’s not a good idea to let a toddler play with the clicker with your bird in the room or it will lose its meaning or just really piss off an unrewarded bird! Big difference between scenarios there.

Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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