Basic flight training for companion parrots to remove the need for wing-clipping.
By Greg Glendell
Extract from Greg’s revised Pet Parrots Advice Direct book. 2005.
This article explains how to dispense with wing-clipping of 'pet' parrots and ask them to learn some basic flight requests from you, so as to encourage your bird to fly, while you still have good 'control' and your bird can fly safely.
You will not find how to teach your bird these requests in any other pet parrot book. However, since birds fly (and should be encouraged to do so) it is important to teach companion parrots these requests. When you are at the stage where your bird is good with stepping onto and off your hand, you can teach these requests. Here, the bird should be able to fly, and fly quite well having at least reasonable control during landing.
Stay and/or Don’t land on me. This ‘Stay’ request does not mean the bird should ‘stay where it is’ but only that it should not come to you for the moment. Parrots should be encouraged to be active birds and not be forced to stay in one place for long periods since this can cause them to develop serious behavioural problems as seen with some ‘stand trained’ birds. To ask a bird to refrain from approaching you for the moment, try to make eye contact and then raise one hand, palm facing the bird and say “Stay”. Praise and/or reward the bird if he stops.
Once trained, birds will often want to fly to you and land on you. This is fine on most occasions but there will be times when you may not want the bird to come to you, perhaps when you need to leave the room without the bird following you. Here, you can use the 'Stay’ request and hand gesture as above so that you can ask the bird to refrain from flying to you. If the bird disobeys and flies towards you, keep your hand held up and say “Stay” again while you prevent it from landing on you using your raised hand as a barrier between you and the bird. The bird will soon learn to turn around and land elsewhere. When he does, praise/reward him promptly and then leave the room, closing the door behind you. “Stay” is a very important request and helps the bird understand when it can and cannot come to you.
Go, go (fly off me). This request is used to ask the bird to fly off you and land on another familiar place. Initially, teach this request by standing with the bird perched on your hand, about 1 metre (three or four feet) from its cage or any other place the bird is already used to perching on. Place something here which you know your bird really likes; perhaps a favourite food treat as the reward. Normally when the bird is on your hand it should be facing you so that you can maintain eye contact and read its body language. But for this “Go, go” request, you should turn your hand at the wrist so the bird is facing away from you and towards the familiar perch. At the same time, use your other hand, held lower down, to point to the place you want the bird to fly to, then say “Go, go” and swing the hand with the bird on gently but decisively in the direction of the perch or cage. The bird should leave you and land on the perch/cage top and get the reward. When he is happy to fly from this short distance, gradually increase the distance to the perch. Then, practise this request in other locations, until you can ask the bird to leave you wherever you happen to be. You can eventually fade out the provision of a food reward once the bird is happy to fly from you. If the bird flies off you having been asked to “Go” but then tries to return by landing on your shoulder, you can use the “Stay” request (which you have already taught the bird) to prevent this. The aim of the “Go” command is to ask the bird to fly off you and perch on another place and not come back to you. Once you have trained the bird to fly off your hand on command you can use the same phrase to ask him to leave your shoulder by flying off. To do this, just say “Go, go” then jerk your shoulder sharply upwards while aiming the bird in the direction of a familiar perch. Again, if he tries to return to you just after you have given the “Go” request, use the “Stay” command to prevent him from landing on you.
Off there. This is generally used as a safety request to ask a bird to leave a place where it might be dangerous for him to remain, such as the TV or a light fitting, or a high perch such as the top of a door. It can be difficult to teach some birds this request. When the bird does land on such a ‘banned perch’ approach it and wave one or both hands at it in a gesture which is unfamiliar to the bird as you say “Off there”. You can also try waving an unfamiliar but harmless object near the bird such as a handkerchief. The bird should not be allowed to fly and land on you as it leaves a banned perch; it should land on some other familiar place. When it does land on a familiar perch praise/reward the bird as usual, but do not offer too strong a reward. If you do, you may end up actually encouraging the bird to go to a banned perch so as to get a ‘reward’ after you tell him to leave. You cannot plan to teach this “Off there” request, but will need to await the ‘right’ opportunity, if or when your bird does land, mistakenly on a banned or dangerous perch. Ensure you and the rest of your family are 100% consistent about banned perches. Once you decide a certain place is off limits, it must always be so.
On here (fly to me). This is a recall request, asking your bird to fly to you on command. By the time you have taught the other requests, above, your bird will probably have bonded quite well to you. Indeed most trained birds want to be with, and actually on their trainer’s hand most of the time. However, you can reinforce the bird’s desire to come to you on a verbal command by rewarding him ‘automatically’ each time that he does already fly to you. Working with the bird when he is about to come to you anyway, is a good way to get him used to associating your verbal request “On here” with him coming to you by flight. So, each time you see the bird about to fly to you, hold your arm out and say “On here” and offer a reward he can see you holding in your hand (e.g. favourite toy or food treat). Give him the reward as soon as he lands, and combine this with enthusiastic verbal praise, perhaps scratching his head as well if he likes this already.
Other training hints.
Do not hold a bird forcibly by gripping its toes while it is on your hand. In general, birds should not be forced to stay on you by being physically restrained (especially by their feet!). Although hawks are often restrained by the falconer’s use of jesses (leg straps) parrots do not have strong feet as hawks do. If a parrot attempts to fly while being held by its feet you may dislocate its toes or other joints in its leg and this is very painful. Occasionally a trained bird will choose to leave your hand without being told to go and this is fine. If you need to ask the bird to come back on you, leave it for a moment then just calmly walk up to him ask him to “Step up” as usual.
Copyright, Greg Glendell 2005
See website www.greg-parrots.co.uk
Greg is a full-time parrot behaviourist based in the UK and he can offer advice to help birds with behavioural problems such as self-plucking, biting, nervousness etc.