Home > Behavior Change, Changing Behavior, Enrichment > That is music to my ears…

That is music to my ears…

Rocky foraging with a new toy in his cage. He almost looks as if he's getting busted with his hand in the cookie jar.

I’m not one that believes in keeping many routines with birds because it can lead to behavior issues, but one I do stick somewhat close to is not opening the bird room door until 9 a.m. This is a behavior I started shaping or creating about four years ago. The bird’s foraging toys are stocked full the night before so when they wake up, if they chose to do so, they have the option of foraging for their food until the bird room door opens at 9 a.m. The choices they have in their cages are many and each bird has about 6 – 8 foraging stations in their cages.

Four and a half years ago this house was full of ear-piercing screaming as soon as the crack of dawn began. That’s when everyone’s day began, including the other birds. After all, who can sleep through that decibel level? “Sleeping-in” became a term quickly unknown in this house, but not for long. There were several steps I took in modifying that behavior and all well worth while. One of them was putting foraging toys in Rocky’s cage. This obviously didn’t happen over night because when I first brought Rocky home four and a half years ago, not only did he not have a great diet, he had little food reinforcers in addition to not playing with toys, let alone foraging toys.

So this morning it was 8:45 a.m. My husband and I had been up since about 6:30 and we were walking all through the house doing laundry, taking showers, going up and down both sets of stairs in the house, and having conversations. Yes, we were having conversations and even yelling up and down the stairs to each other asking questions. What’s the big deal about all of this? These things were all former behaviors that would set Rocky off screaming every morning for sure when he first came into this house. Not any more or very, very rarely. All of these things were going on in this house this morning and I was ready to open the bird room door and glanced at the clock. It was only 8:45 a.m. I stood there and thought for a second “Well, he has been very quiet and I know he’s awake.” I knew because I could hear the bell on one of his toys. How did I know it was

Rico eating his early morning treat after pulling it down through the top of the cage bars.

Rocky’s toy? I put certain sized bells on Rocky’s toys so I can identify which bird-cage the interaction is coming from on the other side of the door. I like to know that Rocky is interacting with his toys and playing independently when I’m out of sight.  I smiled a huge smile and those butterflies went zooming through my stomach like they do every morning. “I suppose it is time to modify the behavior and include variance of when that bird room door opens.” I thought. I turned and headed to the bird room door.

The door handle creaks when opening. This is the cue to the birds that I’m coming in. I heard a bell stop ringing. I looked at each bird and said “Good Morning” in a light but exciting tone. Murray, my greenwing whispered “Hi” back to me. I tip toed over to Rico’s cage and rubbed his belly through the cage bars. He was sitting high up in his cage foraging for a peanut I put in a paper cone cup and then wrapped in a paper cup and threw on top of his cage the night before. He stopped eating and stood still for the belly scratch.

I kept hearing the ding of a bell behind me and each time I turned to look, Rocky would stop foraging. That’s ok, he tends to stop what he’s doing when someone looks at him. A label many would call ‘shy’. I don’t know why he does it but it is pretty cute. I walked over to his cage with camera in hand and kept telling him what a good boy he was to be able to snap a great photo of him with his foot way down deep in the foraging toy searching for the goodies. He wouldn’t budge but I was able to snap the photo I posted above. One toe in the cookie jar.

I turned to open the blinds and the windows and I heard the dinging of the bell again. I didn’t move. I stood there and the dinging was just going to town. I glanced down at my camera, turned it on and got it ready. I took

Rocky digging in to one of his foraging toys.

a step backwards toward his cage and the dinging stopped. I waited until it started again and took another step back. The dinging stopped but not for too long. One more step and the dinging continued. I turned and quickly snapped this photo of Rocky going to town in his foraging toy! “Ah ha!” I yelled in my head. I felt like I caught Santa red-handed delivering under the Christmas tree! I was able to snap this photo before I got the ‘deer in the headlights’ look again. I’m chuckling. Actually he looks at me as if he’s wondering what it is that is so exciting. That’s fine, I’ll take it.

Seeing Rocky foraging like this is very rewarding to me. Many, many behaviors of Rocky have been modified since he’s come home to live with us. I always say “He’s my favorite mistake.” I’ve adored the moluccan cockatoos from afar and would have loved the opportunity to live with one. I just couldn’t purchase one knowing so many are without homes due to behavior issues. Rocky and I’s path crossed one day when he was eight years old and homeless. I jumped at the opportunity and took him in blind sided. It didn’t take long before I found out why he lost his home. The road was ‘rocky’ and full of work but here we sit four and a half years later and he’s probably one of the most well-behaved birds under this roof. “Someone’s trash is another’s treasure.” Isn’t that the saying? He is an awesome life added in this household and boy has he ever changed mine. He’s turned me and my husband’s life on its axis and it has been such an eye-opening and learning experience for us both. Oh the quite lifestyle of leisure and travel we once knew. Now before I open the bird room door on the weekends I glance at my husband and say “Are you ready?” Once I get the nod I open the bird room door and out runs Rocky yelling “Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! Tickle, Tickle, Tickle! Peek-A-Boo!” and through our house goes running the big, pink chicken with crest up trying not to trip over those big feet running a mile a minute. We would have life no other way.

You know what’s even better? We get to sleep in now on Saturday mornings before the big, pink chicken show begins! 😉

  1. May 18, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Lara, what a great reward. Patience is the one thing I need to get me back into my Vos Eclectus’ world. We’ve come a long way since his illness, but I still can’t get him to step up. We talk & play together w/ a wiffle ball while he’s on the open ledge of his cage. He puts his foot up (3 toes) & I can make raspberries on it,& have even kissed his semi-plucked wing a time or two, but that’s it. He’s very quick to bite. When I put my hand up for a step up, he lunges at my hand. When I put my shoulder up for a step up, he either backs away, or bites my shoulder. I have finally found banana to be a favorite food. So once I know how to get to the next step, at least I’ll have the treat he likes.
    This probably wasn’t meant to be a “help” reply, but I know I need help to get my Tommy back.
    Congrats to you guys & Rocky. The pink chicken thing cracks me up..:)I can just see that.

    • May 18, 2011 at 10:12 am

      Hi Laura. Good to hear from you and sorry to hear you are having problems with Tommy. Did you by chance see the new section on my blog where I pick a question once a week or two and respond to it publicly to give any additional help I have? Here’s the 1st question I just responded to last week: https://larajoseph.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/question-on-behavior-cockatoo-wants-to-be-on-us-at-all-times/

      And here’s where you enter your question: http://www.larajoseph.com/LaraJoseph/Question.html I have several people who have entered their questions already. I pick one that I think can help the majority of people or will start picking ones where I haven’t addressed certain issues already. If you’d like to enter a question, I’d be more than happy to address it when I can. I’m planning on addressing one question either on my way to my workshop in California this weekend or on the way back.

      Are you still adding posts to your blog? I haven’t received notification lately. 😉

  2. May 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Hi, just wanted to tell you Jamus (my Great horned Owl) is on the glove and doing GREAT – Thank you so much for all your help !!

    • June 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

      Traci, it was my pleasure. Helping others and seeing or hearing of the progress is a major reinforcer for me.

  3. May 20, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Thanks for sharing such a heart-warming story. All three of your birds sound wonderful, but I especially love hearing about “problem” ‘toos that come around under the right guidance.

    Stewie was a “problem” bird when I got him. Someone had taught him to bite HARD (even though he was desperate for attention all the time). And he didn’t know how to play. It took a couple of years, but he’s improved so much. He’s very good at entertaining himself now; sometimes he’ll even go back inside his cage to do his own thing, even when he has the option to hang out with me. I rarely get bitten — these days about 90% of that is him not wanting to bite and 10% is my knowing better than to put myself in a situation where it’s going to happen (but it started off the opposite). There are even times when I could fully understand if I deserved a bite, but instead he just complains at me; as long as I back off and apologize, all is forgiven. 🙂

    Both my birds are rehomes, but Mika came to me a pretty perfectly behaved bird. I’m honestly glad I got Stewie first so I could have time to learn with him. If Mika had set my expectations for what living with a parrot should be like, I would’ve been totally spoiled and I might not have been able to handle Stewie at all.

    p.s. Despite all the progress, Stewie is still very, very LOUD! I still need to work on him letting me sleep in.

  4. June 6, 2012 at 12:47 am

    This is really a fantastic web site, would you be interested in going through an interview about just how you produced it? If so e-mail me!

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