Training Sun Conures with Affection

Photo by Daniel Kuykendall Affectionate with: Congo African grey "Cressi" & Blue throated macaw "Jinx" Location: Moab, UT

Affection training. Is it possible? Yes. Is it 100% reliable? Not in the least! But sure is nice. I use affection training a lot - and lately it has been happening on its own with my three sun conure girls; Lily, Phoebe and Detka. Since working on Nick Norton's magic show and incorporating his catalina macaw, Gypsy (a graduate of our Freestyle Flyer's Club) into his show as well with his magic - it has been a busy week or two here at Silverwood Theme Park already! [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rIkbj_DZ2I] Since a working visa is hard to come by, I've been the stand in assistant for Nick's show and so that time that I would be training our birds, is spent learning his show, helping to create and choreograph it along with teaching another girl everything along the way. It has been a lot of fun and is coming together faster than I expected which means in all due time, I will get back to bird training soon. But right now all we get is the random break time to get the birds in the theater, or coming in early to have training sessions with them all before the chaos begins for the day. Our training sessions are short, random and pretty much have no expectations - we've been determining motivation levels and figuring out which routines will suit which birds best via their natural capabilities. So where does affection training come into play?

Photo by Daniel Kuykendall Shown: Congo African Grey "Cressi" Location: Moab, UT

I was able to spend about one day working on training recall with our conures using spray millet as a treat. I would say, "Phoebe, Lily, Detka! C'mere girls!" and they could fly around and fly back to me. Phoebe always seemed to be last, and Lily is often first. I found out Phoebe was last because she didn't want to be ditched by the other two (who are more bonded to each other than her) and she wasn't diggin' the spray millet at all. She refused to eat it. So I decided to train with their real food - which is super finely chopped fresh stuff that looks pretty disgusting but they love it and it's super healthy for them! I make it fresh once a week and it lasts about a month or so if I freeze it. I didn't get a chance to work on that and be super focused about it, so I had them eat it on me maybe once or twice. Then the schedule got too busy to keep it up. The girls didn't really get worked with because we aren't sure where to put them in the show anyway, and felt like it was more important to get the other birds doing their routines and then work the conures in as we figure out the show's flow. The conures weren't getting neglected, but they weren't training. So in the RV I would go in about 2 hours after Dave every morning. Once he left, I would let the girls out in the RV freely and they would follow me from one side of it to another. I'm the one that does everything for them - I feed them, give them water, bathe them, play with them, encourage them to fly, clean their cage and almost always am the one to let them out of their cage. So naturally they bonded to me, and once in a while one would end up on the wrong side of the shower curtain with me and get a very wet bath in a matter of seconds.

Photo by Daniel Kuykendall Shown: Sun conures "Phoebe" & "Detka" Location: Moab, UT

I would do normal every day things and let them be out during it - this often meant having them land on my iPad, do my hair while fresh out of the shower, test out my belt's dexterity while I got dressed and stare into my yogurt or oatmeal and wonder if it's safe for me to be eating something so colorful. Today I brought them into our dressing room - which I've let them fly around and explore before. But today was different, they weren't as interested in self entertaining and testing their flight skills - instead they were like velcro which they have been lately. So I tossed them and called their names and they all came fluttering in. I didn't use treats and they flew around and we played hide and seek for a while. I'd hide in the bathroom or behind the costume case and they'd fly from the farthest part in the room away and come as soon as I called their names. It changed who showed up first - Phoebe was the first to figure out I was in the bathroom and gave away my hiding spot and what appeared to be directions straight to me to the others!

Photo by Daniel Kuykendall Shown: Sun conure "Phoebe" Location: Moab, UT

It has been really fun to just run around and have them come to me based on all the affection I'm able to give them. I smother them with kisses and praise and let them hang with me for a little bit before we do it again. I stop while they're still enjoying and showing interest so that they don't get the idea that I'm always going to toss them away from me. I ended on using millet the last time which everyone seemed to like and put them away with it. Often times people don't realize how much they use affection training - how the reward is simply affection the bird wants and that you want to give and have received. But this is often why the 60/40 rule I talk about so much comes into play. One person has put into action affection training without realizing it and the bird is responsive to it. So that means the person on the 40 side of the scale has to work harder with treats to gain that affection and then eventually be able to give it.

Photo by Daniel Kuykendall Snuggling: Moluccan cockatoo "Pooh" Location: Moab, UT

That's why affection training can be so powerful. Because of it, I don't have to work with the birds that I'm a 60 with very often and yet they will still choose to fly to me over anyone else doing training because of the affection training I've implemented with them. I do this unintentionally - it's just how I am. Are you using affection training with your bird? To learn more about training in general, check out the bird training store.

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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