Home > Behavior, Empowerment, Training > Well provide him with “what to do’s”

Well provide him with “what to do’s”

Everyday I stumble on to new circumstances, interactions, or behavior concerns with my birds or the birds in which I work. No day is ever the same so I don’t expect the behavior that happens in the house to be the same from day-to-day either. I don’t expect my bird’s behavior to be the same today as it was yesterday. We learn from our environment and exploring that environment is how we continue to learn. This works the same for our birds. What Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo enjoyed interacting with yesterday is going to change in some way today. This is how intelligent minds work.

So this morning I decided to have Rico come out into the kitchen to fly around and interact with my husband and I as we both got ready for work for the day. It was something different and a consistent changing environment that Rico can learn from and interact with. By consistently changing I mean, a lot of things are changing around him. I’m moving about the kitchen putting away dishes and preparing fresh veggies for the birds. My husband is walking around taking out the trash and carrying things in from the garage. Every time we move something in the kitchen, Rico’s environment changes and Rico learns from watching and interacting with those changes. I learn more about Rico by watching what he focuses on and what items in which he interacts. By watching him and living with him, I can learn and predict what things he will be drawn to in his environment and what things he is about to get into. When we learn what items and situations are attractive to them, we can use these items and situations to guide them to the things we want them to do and away from the potential undesirable things they are getting ready to do. A perfect example happened this morning.

Rico was flying around the house and interacting with some of his favored toys. I was watching him while I was continuing on about my business. He checked and interacted with all of his toys and then flew back to the kitchen. He sat there perched on his boing with a bird’s-eye view of everything that was going on in the kitchen. He flew down to a huge bowl of popcorn I had sitting on the countertop from my late night munchies the night before. He flew down to it. He stood and stared at it and then the behavior began. He stuck his beak in the middle of the dish and began swiping back and forth. With each swipe he was pushing popcorn out of the bowl. I chuckled and continued lining bird bowls in a row on the counter. My husband walked over and took the popcorn bowl away from him. I watched him and I watched Rico. Rico looked up at him like someone just took the world’s largest lollipop from a three year old kid. My husband sat the bowl on another table. I laughed because on that table also sat his sunglasses, his pen, his watch, and a few important notes. I looked back at Rico and saw Rico look at the bowl and then move his eyes to the lovely, attractive, enrichment items beside the bowl.

I asked my husband why he moved the bowl of popcorn and the reason was exactly what I thought it was going to be. “Because he’s making a mess” my husband said. I replied “Well he was having fun with it and popcorn is very easy to clean up.” I could tell the interaction with that large bowl of popcorn was going to take up a good deal of Rico’s time and attention this morning. Now it was gone. Now what behaviors are going to take up the rest of his time this morning? Rico quickly flew to the other table. I told my husband the popcorn is a lot easier to clean up than destroyed pens, glasses, destroyed notes. My husband looked at where Rico flew to and immediately ran to collect his valuables. I picked up the popcorn dish with Rico perched on the side of it and moved them back to the countertop where it was a safe place for Rico to play and safe for all of the items around him. There he began swooshing the popcorn out of the dish once again. I laughed as I looked back at my husband. I could see him understanding why I was letting him swoosh the popcorn.


Rico learning what 'to do' from the objects provided

Telling Rico what not to do doesn’t give him the opportunity of learning what is ok to do. Often when we continually tell a bird what not to do and pull them away from the objects we don’t want them interacting. Usually the only thing this teaches the bird is how to get to those objects faster and sneakier next time. I knew the swooshing of the popcorn was only going to attain his interest for a so long. So, I grabbed a paper cup and threw an almond in it. I stuck that almond in the new contraption of a toy we made the day before. He now has to search for a way to get the toy open to get to the cup to extract the almond which he has to shell before eating. He loves this and I know, because I watch the things he enjoys interacting with in his environment. If I don’t provide appropriate enrichment items, he’ll make his own. 😉


  1. Rebecca Gerondale
    January 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    fantastic and i couldn’t agree more. lucy loves popcorn. i let her play w/ the unsalted, unbuttered kind and she loves it. we need to provide enrichment as caregivers and it’s really something that needs constant new ideas.

  2. January 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    I really enjoyed your latest blog entry, Lara. You are right….there is so much to be learned by simple observation of our birds. Best to “provide” than to “take away” opportunities for our birds. Rico is fortunate to have someone so in tune to him. Thank you for sharing your insight on this form of enrichment.

  3. Corrie
    January 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Great article, Laura. I tell my Goffin, Seezer, constantly what a wonderful mess she made or is making. That means I’ve done my job keeping her busy and having fun, so it makes me feel good!

    I recently had a situation that ties into your article. Seezer and I spend time together on the bed every evening for quite awhile. About three weeks ago, she decided that chewing holes in the bedcovers and my shirt were her new favorite activities. Her normal enrichment devices were no longer appealing. I definitely needed a re-direct!

    Much to my relief, we found a new game that entertains her greatly and is fun for me, too. I have a handful of small seashells in her toy basket. She goes and picks one out and we play hide-the-shell/find-the-shell for hours. She stands on my chest (we must be cockatoo-close, you know) while I grip the shell between my fingers in various ways, and she pries, pulls, nudges, etc. to get the shell back. The she puts the shell back in my hand so we can start over. Seezer’s enthralled with the shell’s shape and texture, of course, so it goes on as long as I can stand it, which is pretty long because I can read while we do it if I want to. I make sure to give her the win every time, only gripping tightly enough to make it challenging and fun but not frustrating. Hole-making is a thing of the past. I LOVE MY BIRD!

    • Cathy R
      February 21, 2011 at 11:20 am

      My Umbrella likes games like that too…but still is “passified” when I put on an old t-shirt (I get them from my dad when he’s done with them) so she can go to town. If I’m not wearing an old t-shirt….I tell her “no” & she knows it’s not okay. She never takes a bite without first snuggling up slowly to me & looking up at me for approval. They’re so smart. I raised her from 8 wks old…she is almost 11 now. She also likes to have a bunch of toys placed on the sofa next to me so she can toss them onto the floor…then she hops across to the coffee table (iron & glass..lol) & climbs down a leg of the table & retrieves one & takes it back on top of the table to play with or chew on. She also loves the game of me saying “jump!”….and she jumps from the sofa to the table, from the table to the sofa….that goes on forever..lol…because everytime she does it I say “WEeeeee!!!” & clap. She loves the attn.

  4. January 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    That is awesome Corrie and exactly what I’m talking about. I could picture what you were talking about as you were describing it.

    Another one that Rico and I love to do was suggested to me by Kelly, who also replied to this post. She plays hide and seek through the house with her amazons and they fly through the house looking for her. I decided to give it a shot and Rico absolutely loves it. I usually give my hiding spot away because I can’t stop laughing as I watch him looking around the room as he does his “fly by’s”. A few flights like this and causes them to release so much energy and they have to think quick and observe while flying. You think about it, their flight is at least 5 x’s faster than our pace of walking, at least. That makes for some great mental stimulation. A few of these and Rico’s ready to settle down and for quite a while.

    • Cathy R
      February 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

      I bet that’s a hoot!

  5. Corrie
    January 16, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    That sure sounds like fun, Laura.

    When I first got Seezer as a baby, I let her wings grow out and was training her to fly to me over longer and longer distances. It was great fun. Unfortunately, because of my lifestyle and her nature, her winged-ness didn’t work. Long story. I couldn’t keep up with Goffin “destruct-o-beak” all over the house and at the office, mostly. Clipping her wings again was a bummer, but she seems pretty happy with her flightless adventures on her living room jungle gym, her training perch, her porch jungle gym, her office jungle gym, and the bed. Maybe in twenty years when I retire, I can try again!

    • Cathy R
      February 21, 2011 at 11:30 am

      I, unfortunately, have found that I need to keep my birds’ (4 cockatoos & 1 grey) wings trimmed also. I hate that they are grounded like that, but have found that it’s just too dangerous in my house….probably because they are not practiced enough at flying & when they have, they fly right into a wall or window (there is a large arched window in my kitchen also that is not covered…that worries me). So Lara, that is why I’m so excited about trying to prepare some sort of BIG (flight worthy) aviary with the netting like you did…so that they can fly (w/ practice). The outdoor aviary I currently have for them is only 4′ x 8′ x 6′ tall…not large enough to fly of course. I’d really like to run the netting off the back of my house like you did Lara so that I can have access with them right from the door. Currently, I must hold toes & go 2 at a time to walk across the yard to the aviary….hence, another reason to keep them trimmed right now. My brain is already planning the aviary! I’m looking into having a large pergola built out from beyond my back patio roof…..that would be a great base/support for the netting I think. I would LOVE for my birds to be able to fly as God intended.

      • February 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm

        Hi Cathy. We all do what we need to do to keep them safe and no one knows how to do that better than the one that takes care of them. The aviary is great and one of the best things I ever provided for the birds. Rocky, my Moluccan, prefers to run vs flying. It’s hilarious to watch him hop and run as fast as he can across the aviary.

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