Have a Bird? Will You Accept My Challenge?

Have a Bird? Will You Accept My Challenge?

Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

Windy City Parrot use to be located in the geographical center of the City of Chicago in the neighborhood known as Ukrainian Village (about 3 miles from downtown Chicago). Catherine and I live about 2000 feet from the Birdie Boutique so one of us walks to work every day (usually her).

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 Because I am the late riser I’m the one who usually takes Popcorn to work in a backpack bird carrier, quite handy for walking with a bird. Dogs are an integral part of families and it’s apparent in our neighborhood. Also apparent is the lack of training many dogs have. 

Humans are usually talking on their cell phones while the dogs are pulling them wherever the shadow of a squirrel is seen. Many times when I pass a dog walker I have to wait for the retractable leash to shorten so I know which side of the sidewalk to pass on. 

In the 70s and 80s, I was a Musher with a couple of sled dog teams, showing Malamutes and Huskies as well. In the 80s and 90s I bred a dozen or more champion Standard Poodles. I understand the importance of a trained pet that respects the binding relationship between humans and animals regardless of species.

I read lots of bird-related Facebook threads with 40,000 engaged fans (THANK YOU!). I read about all the reasons we clip our bird’s wings which makes me pause and ask “how much effort are we making to train our birds with serious one-on-one time?” The biggest objection people have to keep their birds flighted is “I don’t want the bird to have an accident by flying into a wall or a window and breaking its neck.”

Many of us know or know someone who’s been through driver education with a teenager. You’d be considered a heretic if you had a teenage driver who is ready to start driving and you simply handed them the keys with no practice. They’re guaranteed to have an accident, very quickly. If you’ve ever thought about moving forward with having a flighted bird think of it as teaching a student driver – it’ll be rough at first but in a few weeks merging onto the interstate will no longer be a white knuckler.
Flighted Bird Rule Number Two: Teach your bird where landing zones are in each room. Have them fly to the target multiple times. Focus on one target for two or three days or however long it takes. This way when they fly into a room from a different room they know where to expect to land and will adjust the flight path.
Assuming you’re confident that the bird can in fact fly again start by introducing your bird to a designated landing zone by gently tossing the bird from 1 foot away and increasing the distance daily. Include the bird’s main cage as a landing zone as well. Birds not used to flight can crash chest first into the wall of the cage at high speed, but from a foot away they can land with one flap making the necessary adjustments, keeping the body vertical enabling them to know they need to extend their feet using them to grab the bars and not to use their chest as an airbag. If you’re lucky enough to have a cage with some sort of landing door or play area atop the cage, so much the better. If not consider a single bolt-on perch or a landing platform on the outside of the cage if no intuitive landing place is available on the cage.
This second objection to having a flighted bird in the house is “I don’t want the bird to escape and fly out the door” So this isn’t a problem with dogs or cats right? Every new dog or cat that enters a household instinctively knows not to run out and run away when a door is open – NOT!
Flighted Bird Rule Number One: Always know where your bird is in the house. If I lose track of where Popcorn is, I whistle. She whistles back. We repeat the mutual whistle and what we have created is a form of low tech birdie Doppler Radar If she’s not on a designated landing area I put her on my finger, move her to a designated landing area and let her chomp a piece of millet the moment her feet touch the proper landing area (any high-value treat will work) 
When Popcorn is at work with us, she remains in the cage because the front door opens a lot.
She can’t fly away if she’s in the cage. At home, she is rarely in the cage until it’s birdie bedtime. Both our front and back door have vestibules. Even so, we will both verbally acknowledge the bird’s precise location before any entry door is open in the house – SOP (standard operating procedure). It’s not hard.
Here’s my challenge: Would you consider, as it gets closer to wing clipping time (wings start creating lift) , make a plan to set up one or two landing zones in your home? Schedule it. We’re talking 10 to 15 minutes a day, people. That’s all you need to start. 
Think about the fun you’ll have when the bird to flies to you and lands on your shoulder or hand. I’m starting to do that with Popcorn using a clicker and a tiny bit of a millet spray that I keep in my left hand rewarding her with the click and some millet spray when she lands on my right shoulder. It’s been a week and she’s got it right once. She’s becoming a great little flyer.
Simple Home Preparation Tips: The tops of the shower rods in the bathroom or bedroom closet doors are favorites of birds because of the height and the thickness of the rod or door. Those two factors combined make it ideal for a birds-eye-view. 
Keep a “poop towel” handy for the shower rod. Pooping down the front or the inside of a closet door is more of a problem.. For protection, you can fold a long piece of cardboard or a couple of sheets of newspaper over the top of the door to shield and collect poop. Or have a playstand in the room. Another alternative is to hang a single bungee from the ceiling with an inexpensive swag hook
We’re privileged enough to have these remarkable creatures in our lives, but we don’t always take advantage of this relationship. Birds are smart. One of Catherine’s favorite sayings is “big bird, big brain” referring to Macaws, Cockatoos. African Greys, Eclectus, but on the flipside I’ve seen highly trained Budgies. Many small birds including finches and budgies can be trained.
If you don’t know how to start, try clicker training. Here’s a blog post I wrote last year at this time laying out the simple argument that a three dollars investment can be life-changing. 
Let me leave you with this this visual. Since ever having been kept as caged birds, Budgies have been treated like “disposable” pets. Five dollar birds, fed poor diets, living in spartan cages. Potential life spans of 10 or 15 years ( I knew of a 26 year old keet) end up being 2. “They’re messy” “they won’t sit on my finger” “they can’t talk.”
Proper nutrition, well thought out cage environment and a little daily one-on-one time will take the relationship with your bird(s) to a higher level even with parakeets. I can promise you after watching this video your respect for these incredible little birds will soar. BTW all these birds are flighted! 
Mitch Rezman
CMO Windy City Parrot

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