Using Play Time to Encourage Behaviors for Tricks

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Macaw "Jinx"

One of the tricks that is a must for me to train, is getting the bird to lay on its back in my hands. That behavior or "trick" just means the world to me and I love achieving it with my birds. I recently trained my blue throat macaw to do it and he is SO good at it now. It's one of those tricks you're always working on because it's a comfort level thing, and it's all about your relationship with the bird. Since my other two macaws LOVE to play on their backs on the rug in our den, I tried to get Jinx to play with them too. He wasn't always fond of it, and would mostly just want to watch from a distance but a few times I was able to roll him over on his back next to them and he'd stay there longer than they would.

I'd then cuddle him and scratch him on the head and neck where I knew he liked it to encourage him to stay on his back. When doing this kind of thing during "play time" I'm not using food as any sort of reward, and I'm not asking the birds to do ANY behaviors. But I am encouraging them to do things that will be easily turned into tricks later. Getting your bird to play on his back is a great thing to do because it encourages any back behaviors like rolling over, playing dead, and laying on their back in your hands. Once Jinx was comfortable during all play times to go on his back, then I would start putting him there starting from him being on my hand. And since it was play time, I seemed to be able to get away with a lot more (handling wise). So I could cradle Jinx and lower him towards the rug and set him on his back, and then get him to let go of my hands. Because he could easily roll over and be on his feet, the ground was less intimidating of a spot to work on this behavior from my hands. And gradually I was able to get the behavior I wanted through play time!

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Macaw "Jinx"

Now I can just put Jinx in my hands and he will let go because he is SO use to doing it on the rug in the comfort of that distance. It just became like second nature to him and was a much less intimidating way to teach it than holding your bird 4 feet in the air and expecting them to let go of all ability to hang on to something safe.

Photo by David Location: Orlando, FL Shown: Macaw "Jinx" & Galah "Bandit"

I easily took that behavior to another room and set Jinx on his back, and incorporated the clicker and a reward and became a training behavior that he looks forward to doing even more because of the tasty nut he earns.

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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