Parrot-fanciers gather to learn behavioral training

Every year, many birds are given up for adoption because of behavior issues.

by Yelena Kibasova

In a room of attentive listeners, the lecturer was periodically interrupted by “What are you doing there?” coming from a gray parrot perched on an owner’s shoulder.

Parrot lovers and their pets gathered Saturday at the University Raptor Center to gain knowledge of appropriate behavior training.

The center opened its doors to host a well-known author and bird trainer.

Barbara Heidenreich has worked with birds for more than 15 years and teaches the fundamentals of positive reinforcement through workshops and books.

“In the companion parrot community, the concept of training with positive reinforcement is relatively new,” Heidenreich said.

Nearly 50 people attended the Saturday workshop. Some owners brought their birds, ranging from small cockatiels to large macaws.

Workshop attendees ranged from veterinarians who handle birds to parrot owners. Along with basic training, owners were taught how to prepare their birds for medical procedures so stress would be minimal.

The workshop was interactive. Heidenreich lectured with PowerPoint presentations and video examples. She presented advice on the basics of training, reading body language and modifying behavioral problems.

Participants also played games to better understand the human and animal relationship. The attending parrots were used as examples.

“It’s not like a textbook type of lecture Ö you actually get to see the speaker talking about it, but then she’s going and she’s having somebody demonstrate it,” said workshop attendee Gregg Kastner.

Kastner brought Pumpkin, his blue-throated macaw to the workshop. He also owns a Sunday conure named Waldo.

Heidenreich used Pumpkin as an example and quickly taught him to turn in a circle using positive reinforcement. The bird was lured around the perch and treated after satisfactory performance. Unwanted behavior was ignored rather than punished.

The workshop was set up by the Avian Behavioral Council, which works to bring more bird education to the community.

“The hope is that people will understand that we need to change our expectations of the birds because it’s easier for us to change our behaviors and our expectations and then the birds will come along with us,” said Patti Christie, co-chairwoman of the counsel.

Every year, many birds are given up for adoption due to behavior issues, Christie said. Companion bird education strives to teach owners how to get what they want from their bird without using punishment and force.

“I’m really trying to help to get that information out to people, so that they’ll use kind and gentle techniques to train their bird,” Heidenreich said.

Besides doing nationwide workshops, Heidenreich founded Good Bird Inc., which also concentrates on positive reinforcement training with parrots.

The main focus of the workshop was “to create an environment where a wild bird, a wild animal, can exist in as harmonious a state as possible in a captive environment,” Kastner said.