Archive for the ‘Enrichment’ Category

What a Little Flight Can Do

March 16, 2013 12 comments

Rico on my head looking out into the aviary.

Rico on my head looking out into the aviary.

I’m sure many people are ready for this winter to be over. I’m a big lover of the snow and cold but this winter has been long enough and I’m ready for some warmer temperatures. The birds are also. I love the summer for them because they get the fresh air, the sun, and all of the benefits of their aviary. I’m a big advocate of aviaries for our birds because of all of the health benefits, mental stimulation, and physical stimulation it offers them. I like helping people visualize how they can incorporate aviaries for their birds whether they live on 20 acres, in a condominium, an apartment, or in a town house. Where there is an idea, there is an aviary!

Anyway, back to winter and being cooped up because of the temperatures. Each day I try to get each bird out for interaction with me, interaction with other things in their environment and just for a change in scenery.The other day I was working at my desk that overlooks the aviary and Rico was perched on his favorite perch, which happens to be my head. Whatever it was that I was working on, I noticed Rico began to bob up and down on my head. I opened my phone and flipped the view backwards so I could see where Rico was looking. He was bobbing up and down, holding his wings out, and looking out the window at the aviary. So much body language here and these signs all together gave me a hint that he may want to go out into the aviary. I put down what I was doing and out into the aviary we walked.

I sat Rico down on the banister in the aviary and ran to the other side. I called him to my hand and after a few struts on

Rico flying across the aviary. The windows are open letting in fresh air and natural sounds from the outdoors.

Rico flying across the aviary. The windows are open letting in fresh air and natural sounds from the outdoors.

the banister he was off in flight. Right to my hand he flew. All of that fresh air going into his air sacs, being distributed to his bones and organs. How healthy this is for him, how fun it is for him and for me to be a part of it.

Not all of my birds fly. One hasn’t flown in his life, which is my greenwing macaw, Murray who is about to turn 9 years old. Then I have one that is a beautiful flyer but doesn’t know how to land. This would be Rocky, my moluccan cockatoo who is a little over 13 years old. Let me correct myself…Rocky is still working on perfecting his landing. Myself and the volunteers here at the center are helping him work on his landings. When Rocky flies, he doesn’t know how to land and when he lands he has to crash into something to stop. I no longer encourage him to fly until we have his landing gear perfected. We have not clipped his wings, we just don’t encourage him to fly yet. He loves to run so we are encouraging him to run while we work on training him to land and use his wings, tail feathers and feet to stop. He’s getting pretty good at this. We hope to be posting photos and videos soon of Rocky’s flights through the aviary this summer.

So Rocky runs and in the meantime we are focusing on hanging vines in the aviary to give Murray more means of locomotion and choices in transportation through the aviary. When birds have more control in their environment, how to navigate it and choices in navigation, I see it having a huge impact on decreasing behavior issues such as screaming, feather destructive behaviors, and issues related to stress, aggression and anxiety.

Before I took Rico out of his cage and before he was on my head, I could tell he was up for a change in his environment, which was his cage. Keeping animals in the same space without changing that space or having different areas to move to, creates a stagnant environment. Objects and interactions in that environment become predictable and studies show that with predictability comes boredom. I could see Rico was getting bored and was in need for a change. If I didn’t provide change I could tell undesirable behaviors were about to happen such as screaming, hunkering down and flapping wings in anticipation which brings along signs of anxiety, and probably grabbing a toy and banging it on the side of the cage. I don’t like seeing any of these signs in my birds because of the stress I see that it brings out in them.

Rico flying over the 4 1/2' pit in the center of the aviary. His concentration increases while learning depth perception.

Rico flying over the 4 1/2′ pit in the center of the aviary. His concentration increases while learning depth perception.

After one flight across the aviary I could tell Rico was still interested in flying. Down into the pit I went and I called him to my hand from there. Rico has been showing signs of not understanding how to fly to my hand when I am down in the pit. I’m not sure what it is but he’s not used to flying to me when I call him from different elevations. We’ve slowly been working on this at his comfort level while slowly increasing the complexity in elevation when calling him. Sometimes I’ll go one or two steps down into the pit and call him. The pit is about 4 1/2′ below regular ground level. Then I bring out the ladder, walk up a few rungs and call him up to my hand. Each time I step down a step or up a rung allowing him the slow change and adaptability in depth or elevation. This is a process called shaping; reinforcing small approximations toward the target behavior, and in this instance the target behavior was him still flying to my hand and gradual changes in elevation. In working on this several times in the past, this time I ran into the pit and called him to my hand. He flew over the banister and down into the pit and on my hand like he’s done it a million times before. He yelled “Yahoo!” as soon as he landed on my hand and you bet I yelled it back to him. I love having this interaction with birds and especially with the ones under my care. His learning something new (depth perception) in his new flying environment is not only physically stimulating for him, it is also mentally stimulating. He is learning from changes in his environment. When I slowly integrate change at their pace, I see the birds in my care dealing with unforeseen changes very readily. I want this for them, for their health, and for their future.

Not everyone has room like this to fly their birds. I understand that. A few months ago I didn’t either. I lived in a small house with five parrots and a crow with a Barred Owl in a mew in my backyard. I know what small living quarters are like with birds. This didn’t stop me from getting birds out and flying them all over the house, increasing complexity by having learn to fly through doorways and up the stairs. Rocky played fetch by running all over the first floor. Murray would swing from a vine in the aviary. Molly would soak up the sun for hours in the aviary, obviously with the option to move into the shade. I noticed that if I were to get them out of their cages and get them running, flying, and/or flapping their wings, energy was being burnt off, behavior issues would decrease, and the more they seemed content with perching, sleeping, preening, and foraging for the next several hours.

My point in this post is to share how a few minutes of burning off energy in large amounts can greatly impact behavior

Five minutes of flight provides several hours of rest, relaxation, preening, foraging, and a decrease in behavior issues.

Five minutes of flight provides several hours of rest, relaxation, preening, foraging, and a decrease in behavior issues.

or the potential for undesired behavior issues not to happen. Less than five minutes of flying in the aviary for Rico in the photos above, and we went back into the Birdroom and Rico flew straight for one of the perches and rest and relaxation were in his near future and mine. Parrots are intelligent creatures that have a lot of energy to burn and they want to put that mind and body to use. This is why I train them. I like putting their minds to use. I like providing environments where they can continue to learn and manipulate that environment. When I provide environments like this and interactions like this, I see our relationships skyrocketing.

For more information or ideas on how to build aviaries or extended exercise areas in your house for your birds, take a look at the Enrichment and Aviary section on my website at I will be building more aviaries this summer and plan on sharing my plans on my website. For everyday quick tips and ideas on behavior change, training tips, and enrichment ideas, sign up to my Behavior, Training, & Enrichment page on Facebook. I hope to see you there. I’d love to see photos and videos of your enclosures and how you exercise your birds.


A New Chapter, Turning the Page for the Birds

October 31, 2012 5 comments

Dearest Blog,

Murray and Suki making the most of the height in the new facility. The facility has been designed to provide choices even for the birds that don’t fly. Suki, flighted blue -front amazon on the left. Murray, non-flighted greenwing macaw on the right.

I have not abandoned thee. I wanted to post an update. I know several people have heard me talk over the past year about wanting a larger place for my birds. Actually, I’ve wanted this for the past three or four years. When Suki, the blue-fronted amazon came to me last year for training, Murray, my greenwing began interacting with her to the point that it was obvious they were creating a new form of enrichment for each other. I liked what I saw it providing to Murray’s future and growth. I enjoyed having Suki around also so I knew if I wanted to keep yet another bird I needed a larger place. I don’t feel I can properly provide what five parrots need in my current household, even with the aviary.

For the past several years I have been searching for a larger house with land to build indoor and outdoor flight spaces and enrichment areas for the birds. We have found one. We found a 10,000 square foot building that we can dedicate strictly to the birds. Lucky for us, there was also a house on the property. We have been working on the building and the house and we are almost to completion and couldn’t be happier.

First and foremost this building is an enrichment area for the birds to run, fly, play, and scream to their heart’s content. Over the past several years I have spent much of my time traveling the United States giving presentations and workshops to the animal community. I have been saving all of my pennies to purchase this place for the birds and I thank each and every one of you for your support. I have kept my workshops in mind during the design of this new building. I plan on having several workshops at this new facility along with one-on-one or small groups of individualized training also known as A Day With The Trainer. I also have designed the building for many functions that will benefit the avian and animal community.

“Can you hear me now?” Rico, the umbrella cockatoo recalling to my hand from the rafters and over the arena, or pit.

We are designing this facility to be unlike anything we have ever seen or experienced. From the moment any

Grass being laid in the center arena. More animal enrichment being installed this winter. Yes, we will be the only ones in Ohio mowing the grass in January.

individual drives into the parking lot, their avian educational experience will begin in so many ways.

I have been introducing the birds to the facility slowly over the past month. It is a large area and I have seen it be overwhelming for the birds at times. After taking the small steps in introducing the facility to the birds they are now showing signs of being very comfortable with it. The ceilings are very tall and the center of the building has an area to walk down into a center arena or area. This height and depth has been a new concept for my birds and very interesting for me to experience with them.

I am posting updates on my FaceBook page. I have been receiving a lot of e-mails and messages asking when the facility will be open, my plans for it, and bookings for workshops and A Day With The Trainer. Feel free to send me an e-mail ( with questions. We hope to be moving in a few weeks and will take the time during the holiday season to share this experience and joy with our birds. This is a huge move for all of us.

Thank you to everyone for your continued support and we hope to share this with you also. Happy Holidays. And to my birds, Merry Christmas with all of my heart.

Live On-Line Classes and Consultations Now Available

June 24, 2012 7 comments

Live On-Line Classes & Consultations makes it easy for all bird owners and care-takers around the world to attend from their computers.

I am very excited to be introducing a new project I have been putting together for quite a while. I am now offering on-line meetings, classes, and private consultations on various aspects of behavior, behavior modification, training, and enrichment. These classes will vary in size but will be treated just as if I was standing in front of each individual giving a presentation and answering questions.

My first class that is being offered this Thursday, June 28th from 7pm-9pm EST has already filled. Not to worry, as long as there is a demand a new class will be offered. I have already scheduled a second date for this class. In this particular class I am keeping attendance at five people in order to be able to give individual attention. More classes will become available and topics will change on a consistent basis. To check class offerings, availability, and details click this link Live On-Line Classes & Consultations Schedule.

Many people have contacted me asking when I would be giving presentations in their area. Several people from over seas have contacted me saying they would love to attend one of my presentations. Many people contact me for specialized attention and advice on changing behavior issues. I’m asked for information on teaching recall or how to live with flighted birds, how to work with and change aggressive behaviors and birds that scream. With these Live On-Line Classes & Consultations, now we can sit down and work together live with each other right from the convenience of our computer. For more information or questions, please feel free to e-mail me via the e-mail address provided in this link Live On-Line Classes & Consultations.

Time For You & Independence For Them…

January 22, 2012 17 comments

Rocky and I enjoying time together after my return from being out of town.

It’s easy to do…it’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily lives of taking care of our bird(s). Change waters, fresh food, fresh veggies, new toys, stuffing foraging toys, time outside of the cage, making sure they get time to with the ones they love, making sure they have enough exercise, vet checks, nail trims, etc. No one said birds were easy to take care of. There is a lot of detail to pay attention to and it’s not easy keeping such intelligent minds occupied.

I hear from parrot owners that don’t have the time to sit and relax. They don’t have the time they would like to spend with loved ones. They don’t take the time to make sure they spend on themselves. It is easy to do, I know. This can be stressful on the parrot owner, the parrots, the family, the spouses, and most of all on you.

I’ve been there. I’ve been so wrapped up in training birds, flying birds, enriching birds, working with nocturnal birds, dreaming about birds, and leaving town for extended periods of time to work with other birds. I’ve realized this and it’s not fair to the others in the household which need or want your time also. It’s not fair for you to not take care of yourself either and this can have a great effect on the birds.

I intentionally take the time to take vacations, take certain days of the week and do things for myself, with my family, and with my spouse. It makes for a healthy balance in life and healthy time for ourselves also proves beneficial for the birds we take care of. Coming home rejuvenated and with a clear mind, even if it is just for a day or an afternoon, can really be beneficial for the birds.

Someone sent me an e-mail recently saying they envied that I could take off out of town for a couple of days at a time. As we dove deeper in conversation, I encouraged this person to begin doing the same. It’s healthy and mentally rejuvenating. This person said they would never trust anyone else with their birds. I encouraged this person to begin picking out a few people they thought they could trust to stop in once or twice a day to check on the birds. Then begin leaving the house on some personal time, even if it is for six hours one day a week. They mentioned that this would be doable. Then try it a few other times throughout the week. Stock the bird’s cages with foraging toys and different enrichment toys. The variety in toys and goals in foraging creates environments for them that are full of choices. When we get stuck in a rut in thinking our birds need our full attention all the time, we begin shaping their behavior of becoming extremely dependent on us. This isn’t healthy for them and it isn’t healthy for us. We begin falling into routines with our birds that force us to stick to them because if these routines are broken, it becomes very stressful for the bird. We train this! By doing this, we are training our birds to become very dependent on us. Routines are nice to a certain extent because it makes things easy for us to remember to make sure we don’t forget to do them. Routines can be unhealthy also because when certain things happen in life that cause us to break them, it causes a lot of stress for all people and birds involved.

Start mixing up schedules. This is what I do. My birds aren’t always fed at the same time every day. My birds aren’t always fed their fresh fruit and veggies in the morning. Foraging toys are stocked the night before and food is always in their cages or on play stations if they decide to eat or forage. The delivery of their fresh fruits and veggies always varies. Sometimes I’ll deliver them at 10 in the morning. Sometimes it is at noon, sometimes it is at three in the afternoon, and sometimes I feed them these at dinner time. There is no routine for them to rely on and there is no routine to cause them stress or anxiety when that routine is broken. As I said before, food is in their cages at all times, the delivery and presentation varies. Predictability can cause boredom. Studies prove this.

I don’t always get my birds out of their cages at ten in the morning. Sometimes I get them all out at noon. Sometimes I get two out at eleven in the morning while leaving the others in foraging and exploring their cages. Sometimes one goes in the back bird room, sometimes three of them go in the back bird room. Sometimes two are in the living room with me while one goes in another bird’s cage and the other two are in another bird room. I know we all don’t have the opportunity to be this flexible throughout the day, but if you put some thought into it, there is a way to provide variety in daily schedules and in smaller time restrictions.

Routines also help birds become over bonded to certain people. It is easy to do. When I have family or visitors over to my house, I’ll ask them to go say ‘hi’ to the birds and hand them a nut or drop a treat into a foraging toy. I encourage them to interact with them verbally. So many times I see people not allow people over to the house because it is either too stressful for the birds or too stressful for the visitors. This is when we are allowing the birds to train us and this is also how many behavior issues are formed with our birds.

So there are two messages here in this post. Take the time for yourself. It is so important. Also, be careful on leaning on routines heavily with

Rocky, the re-homed moluccan that didn't play with toys, shown here foraging from a toy

our birds. It can cause stress, anxiety, and boredom with the birds. If your birds aren’t foraging for their food, really take the time into seeing how to incorporate this into their lives. It keeps their minds occupied while we are gone from the house, from their sides, or for a few days. Foraging toys helps in giving them goals and puzzles to solve, tasks to accomplish, and incorporates more choices in their environments. Keep their puzzles solvable though. If they aren’t, they can induce stress and frustration on the bird. If their mind’s are occupied and busy, that is time that they are spending not becoming over dependent on you.

When I come home from being gone for a few days, I am so excited to see my birds and they are so excited to see me. My mind is refreshed

and cleared and ready to get back to bird business and I usually have a few great ideas in mind for things to provide to them. When I have to or want to take off for a day again in the future, the birds get used to this and it is not stressful on them when that time comes. It always brings a smile to my face when I see a bird choose to go back into its cage to interact with a toy. This also helps me rest in knowing that when I leave the house, they are occupied and continuing to learn from their environments inside their cage and verbally interacting with one another.

A Foraging Idea

December 11, 2011 2 comments

Levels of complexity can come in where the ball is hung and if the ball is presented with a chain at all.

Living with five parrots, training one owl several times a day, and focusing on behavior, training, and enrichment with several other species of birds, my mind is always thinking about ways to enrich environments. Enrichment is so important, first and foremost because when given at an appropriate level for each individual bird, one can see the positive effects it can have on well-being and behavior.

If a species of bird will forage, I will try to implement it into their environment. If it doesn’t, I will try to help teach it. I make and sell a lot of my own enrichment devices, but not all the time. I keep my mind and eyes open at all times looking for enrichment possibilities for birds. Today I posted one on my website under “Do-It-Yourself” enrichment toys in the Enrichment section. This is one that has been a big hit in my house and outside of the house for several years.

Without getting into too much detail since it is all on my website, this toy can be a big hit with several species of birds such as parrots, corvids, and even vultures. This foraging toy can be altered in many different ways to make it look like something that may be encountered in the wild. Imagination is a great gift. This particular toy is popular with all of my parrots, a turkey vulture, and probably many caching species, and beyond. This toy can be given as a positive reinforcer for desired behaviors, and can also be given to reinforce an alternate behaviors. Come and take a look at The Rubber Ball Forager.  

What is appropriate enrichment?

October 1, 2011 7 comments

Offering variety in enrichment helps us as caretakers better identify our birds' preferences.

That’s easy. The animal will tell us. If my birds aren’t interacting with their toys, they are then call ‘obstacles’.

I spoke about this topic in detail at my last workshop, last weekend in Colorado. I mentioned that I don’t know what a ‘cockatoo toy’ looks like. I asked the audience “What does a macaw toy or a senegal toy look like?” I have no idea and I think this is a road block often thrown out to those that care for birds. There are a lot of people new to, or wanting to get more involved in the avian community and they hear these terms being used loosely. The problem I see regularly is these are people who are really looking to learn and want to provide mentally and physically stimulating enrichment for their birds or the birds under their care to interact. So they buy or make this ‘senegal toy’ and the bird doesn’t interact with it. The owner or caretaker hopefully will keep on searching for enrichment the bird will interact with, but the scary part could be the ones that think the bird not interacting with it is normal because this was the advice they were given. Then birds are sitting in cages or environments not interacting with the majority of it.

Birds and other animals learn from interacting with their environment. They learn from picking up a toy, manipulating a toy, and/or changing the shape of that toy. If they interact with that toy or manipulate that toy, it helps in bringing a sense of control into their environment. The toys also help include choice making decisions into their environment. If the toy is engaging and give some solvable challenges to it, then it also adds complexity to the toy. These are all areas I focus on when providing individual ‘appropriate’ enrichment to a bird’s environment.

Providing enrichment to my bird’s enclosures or environments is a major area of responsibility I owe to the bird. This was a decision I made when I took on the responsibility of caring for a bird in my house. If the birds aren’t interacting with their environment, I have work to do.

Colorado Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Parrot Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop

I so miss coming on here and posting the way I used to. I had a parent fall ill this spring and I devoted most of my attention to him and so glad I did. In all the crazy things I do, I do them because I want to and because this is the only life I’ll have on this earth and I’m not wasting it as I know I’ll never get a second chance. This is why I don’t care what the neighbors think of me when I run through the aviary screaming happily running right along side of my birds as they fly, hop, or run. I love sharing time with my family, my friends, and the animals under my care. So, I pretty much took the summer off and spent it with one of the people who raised me. The rest of the time I spent with my birds watching them enjoy life.

So here I am. I’m back and hitting the pavement hard yet once again. Many, many new avian things on the horizon and all focused on benefitting them and the avian community. I’m training new birds, my own birds, banding birds, writing more about bird behavior, training and enrichment, designing new workshops, booking into 2012, and just ordered a bird of prey enclosure to post everyday training progress with birds of prey that I train for Nature’s Nursery. I’ve designed a new Facebook page, in addition to the current one I have. The new one is called “Lara Joseph: Avian Behavior, Training, and Enrichment. On this new page I go more into detail with photos, videos, behavior, and training. I have a couple of other trainers on that page which we start open conversations on topics. Feel free to drop in and take a look. You have to click on the “Like” button to view the content of the page: Lara Joseph: Avian Behavior, Training, & Enrichment.

Coming up here in about three weeks I am heading to Colorado to give a two-day Parrot Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop. Both days will be packed with information and I’ve already started working on the presentation and loading new content. I always re-design each talk and never give the same talk twice. It makes for a lot of work, but my education and experience continually change, why wouldn’t my presentations? My education changes through experience and continual learning. At this workshop I’m looking forward to seeing familiar faces and can’t wait to meet the new. What a great network of friends and professional alliances I make with each venture. That is one more thing in life I will never take for granted. I hope to see you in Colorado in a few weeks: Colorado Parrot Behavior, Training, & Enrichment Workshop.

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