Jamieleigh's Parrot Help

Galah bite.

Galah bite (notice two beak marks on my thumb, not bleeding yet!)

My most recent parrot bite was received on May 30. Parrot bites from my flock are a big deal to me as I’m always trying to do right by them which to me, means avoid ever making them feel the need to communicate their point to me with a sharp point at the end of their beak! But, it happened. I can recall pretty much every parrot bite I’ve ever received (that’s how hard I work to communicate properly and not screw up in training) but, it still happens because I’ll forever be learning and they’ll forever be teaching me.

Dave and I were performing at a school in Spokane, WA. There are a few schools that mean a lot to Dave as some of his teachers practically home schooled him during high school as he already had his career and was constantly performing and missing a lot of school. So any time we are here during the school year and can do it, he goes back to those schools and performs for the kids. We had already had one show, and were on the second. Bandit appeared and there was a lot more smoke than normal from the pyro that went off that blocked his path enough to me, that he tried twice and then decided to land on the prop he appeared from instead. I rolled it to the side of the stage and we went on with the show with Bandit perched comfortably and contently on his prop.

Since he appeared fairly early on in the show, I worried about him deciding to fly down to one of us during another routine. So during a routine where I wasn’t needed, I pulled the prop even further back stage, but hit a cord that was taped down just enough that Bandit decided it was best to fly down and land on the ground instead of trust this rickety prop! He started walking towards the kids.

I immediately regretted moving the prop – since Bandit was so content I probably should have left him there BUT, if he became not content anymore, that would have been an even bigger issue since I wouldn’t have had another point in the show that I’d been able to get him. So, doing what I thought was best in the moment, prevailed.

Galah bite.

Galah bite, only the bottom beak bite bled a little.

I didn’t want the kids to get hurt – I didn’t worry about Bandit walking up and biting them, but I did worry about the kids possibly being too aggressive with him (petting wise, like a dog which does not go over well with a bird!) and getting bit that way. Bandit didn’t show any interest in doing what I thought was best for him at the time, so I knew the bite was coming but it was the choice I made to avoid what I thought could be much worse consequences.

But it still hurt my friggin’ feelings and I pouted about it anyway, against all logic. I often talk to my birds as if they understand English instead of body language and told him I was sorry I made him step up when he didn’t want to, and that I upset him the way I did. Luckily for me, he forgives rather quickly. Faster than my hand will.

I guess I just wanted to share that I get bit too. I sometimes have to ignore obvious parrot body language in order to do something that I feel has to be done at the expense of not being what my parrot wants.

If you’re getting bit often without knowing that it’s coming, you’re missing clear signs that your bird is giving you. Always think of the bite as the last resort, or a learned response (maybe you accidentally taught it that every time it bites = something it wants, like getting put back in its cage, or going to its favorite person, etc. without meaning to start that pattern in the first place.)

This blog post may just be an excuse to share my favorite photos from our trip. If you walk away with more than that, I’ve done my duty. If not, enjoy the photos anyway!

We took a three week long trip over my daughter Sydney’s first birthday to Boise, ID, Moab, UT and White Sands, NM (Alamogordo) for our annual freeflight trip with our birds. Originally I had planned a cake smash for her in the red rock and white sands, but with all the red rock and white sand she consumed on the trip ANYWAY, I didn’t think those were necessary. Plus, like her mother, she isn’t really gun-ho about cake anyhow. 

Sydney and Rocko jumping on the bed... (thankfully no one fell off and bumped their heads!)

Sydney and Rocko jumping on the bed… (thankfully no one fell off and bumped their heads!)

One of my favorite moments from the trip was actually when I brought my toco toucan, Rocko, into the hotel one day. Sydney noticed me giving him blue berries, which she also loves to eat too, and showed interest in handing him one herself. I showed her closely how I did it, and made sure he could see the blueberry in her hand for him. As she reached out towards Rocko, he reached back and she got nervous and pulled away. She tossed the blueberry towards him on the ground instead. She did this twice before I stopped the interaction realizing she wasn’t going to conjure up the courage to really hand it to him, and I didn’t want him to feel teased and become frustrated. (I made sure to give him the blueberries she dropped or tossed near him).

I’m hoping someday soon she will find that courage – hopefully I have my video camera! 

With toco toucan Rocko

Cuddling both my babies

On another day, Rocko and Sydney were both cuddly at the same time. He has gotten really great about cuddling in public, with cameras in his face – he has finally found a way to ignore the chaos around him and enjoy the snuggling instead. What people? What camera? Only toucan-cuddles here.

Sydney sharing her gram cracker with Jinx. We’re gonna have to talk about the treat size…

One of Sydney’s favorite things to do while we were flying the birds was to follow (usually Bandit) around on the ground. They went on walks together. Sometimes with Jinx, too.

Just a girl on a walk with her blue throat macaw.

Just a girl on a walk with her blue throat macaw.

Dave and I loved flying the birds over her head as close as possible. I lost track of how many times she got hit with tail feathers!

Camelot macaw flying over Sydney Capri

A lot of the time she did her own thing and the birds would join her.

Giant sandbox with camelot macaw Comet (White Sands, NM)

Giant sandbox with camelot macaw Comet (White Sands, NM)

But her favorite thing about free flying the birds outside with us was when me or Dave would hold her while the birds would land on us. She would giggle and squeal with excitement! While the birds were in the air, she would usually laugh at them. I just couldn’t get enough of that sound.

Galahs Bondi and Bandit, blue throat macaw Jinx, african grey Cressi

In this environment, it seemed easier to have them together. Inside feels so confined compared to this experience – Sydney and the birds were free to do what they wanted, and interact when and where they wanted. Nothing was “controlled” and neither daughter nor birds felt pressured to be around one another, or interact if they didn’t want to. Neither even showed a problem with the other.

It was refreshing, to say the least, because I went into the trip thinking how held back I would be by having to entertain Sydney and make sure she wasn’t annoying the birds, etc. but everything was so smooth it was actually a bit surreal. Both birds and baby were happy which meant… I was happy too! 

I wonder if she wants do this every year for her birthday… ;) 

P.S. I do want to say a huge thank you to the grandmas (grandmas Sandy and Julie!) who made it out on this trip and helped watch Sydney – when it came to more focused training sessions, they made it possible to not have to be in tune with both baby and birdy body language at the same time! And they may have kept her away from the cliff’s edge a time or two… (what? It’s hard to remember only ONE of your fids, I mean kids, don’t have wings…) 

Bandit (galah, age 6) and Sydney (human, age 1)

I was giving my daughter, Capri, a bath yesterday. I had the water running in, and she was splish splashing away enjoying herself when she noticed the faucet. She scooted over to it, and pulled up on the part that changes it from a bath, to a shower! When the water first switches, it comes out cold through the shower head and when it did it hit her back! Her shocked look said it all, and I switched it back to the tub. But she couldn’t help but play with it, and did it again. Pull! …And water started hitting her back again. Again, she yelped with upset in her squeal. I changed it back again, and she did it again. Each time it was as though she was expecting a different result.

I stopped helping and waited for her to understand what the consequence of her action was. She pulled that lever, and water hit her back. She didn’t like it, so eventually she stopped pulling it. If only bird owners caught on so well.

I received an email from a customer who was at a loss with their bird’s bad behavior. She explained the constant screaming and how it was driving her and the rest of the family crazy. She went on about how the bird calls to her, and she always calls back, and when it screams she goes to get it so it can ride around on her shoulder with her.

I’m gonna wait for that to sink in for all of you.

This customer was doing the same thing every time, expecting the bird to give her different results. She kept “pulling” so to speak, and expecting one of the times for the water not to hit her back. Just like my daughter in the bath tub. It made me realize the lessons we learn are the same through life, just different circumstances and objects playing the roles.

If you want different results, try different things.

That’s why BirdTricks.com is comprised of a “team” of people – because what works for one, two, or even twenty people won’t work for someone else who comes along. It’s important to take a lesson from everyone and piece together what will work for you.

And it’s important not to reward your bird with a shoulder ride for screaming if you don’t want it to continue to scream every time it wants a shoulder ride.


My daughter’s swollen pointer finger from the bite she endured from blue and gold macaw, Tiko.

The inevitable happened. My 11 month old daughter got bit by a parrot. Not just any parrot – and not even one of my own – a 20+ year old blue and gold macaw. For those of you familiar with BirdTricks Training Programs you know him. His name is Tiko. 

It could have been MUCH worse, and I’m relieved it didn’t happen while she was with me because I would have felt just as awful as my husband did when it happened under his eye. “She’s alright, it didn’t break skin.” I comforted him. “It COULD have, it could have been much worse! She could have lost a finger! I wasn’t paying enough attention! I can’t believe I let that happen!” he retorted, completely broken. I knew he was right, but drawing attention to that wasn’t going to help him feel any better. I could imagine what he was feeling – it’s the feeling I’ve been avoiding dramatically as I carefully introduce my daughter to the birds and work on a mutual respectful relationship between them. 

So how did this happen? Dave and I were spending the entire day breaking down three outdoor aviaries at his brother’s house. Two of which we would move to our place in Idaho, and one of which we would move to his mother’s home in Seattle where we would relocate Tiko. (Such a touching moment, by the way, which you can view on facebook here.)

Dave and Tiko

Dave and Tiko

We did the aviary Tiko was living in last, and before starting Dave grabbed Tiko to move him out of the aviary before we began. Sydney was curiously at his feet looking up at him and I said, “Wait, let me get a photo!” then I added, “Want to hold Sydney [our daughter] in your other arm?” he picked her up, and she immediately reached as far as she could toward Tiko. Something she ALWAYS does with our birds. It’s something you just have to know is coming and always have the bird far enough away that when the bird leans in as far as it can stretch, the two don’t meet. Dave was unprepared for it, and when Tiko reached to meet her fingertip it wasn’t for a kiss. 

She shrieked and cried, and comforting from us immediately ensued along with checking the damage. We were so lucky it was very minimal and she got over it very quickly (must be all that desensitizing from her clumsy German Shepherd pup at home who constantly seems to take her out to which she is no longer phased.) However, she immediately showed FEAR towards ALL birds directly after. She wanted nothing to do with Tiko, and even the ground roaming chickens were beings to be feared. This upset Dave even further as he thought he now was the cause of his daughter disliking all birds – including ours when we would return home (or so he assumed). 

Dave with Sydney and the chickens

Dave with Sydney and the chicken (and our dog watching too)

“She knows the difference between Tiko and her birds at home.” I said, hoping this was, in fact, true. Nothing I said seemed to make Dave feel better about what he had just allowed to happen. We both knew she’d get bit at some point in her life, we all do, that’s how we learn about body language, tell tale signs, boundaries of our birds, etc, but we had hoped that would be a lot further down the line. 

The only saving grace was that the bite itself didn’t do any real damage, and the emotional response she was showing could be retrained. 

Video of my daughter Sydney with the chicken.

Dave made it his immediate mission to let Sydney know the chicken was nice. He let Sydney watch the chicken peck at the Earth surrounding them, and then brought it near and held it for her to touch and pet gently. She was apprehensive and we had to be patient for her to come around to be open to the idea of petting the chicken and not getting hurt. That the two aren’t always linked. She soon did and smiled up at him. 

Note: Everyone parents differently, mostly because no two people were raised exactly the same and we all have different kids – making what works for some people not work the same for others. So, my blogs are by no means “parenting advice” (who takes parenting advice from someone as inexperienced with it as me, anyway?!) but more of a journal of how I handle things when it comes to my daughter and my animals. One of my “parental views” is that I don’t mind an animal hurting my daughter as long as it is not a serious injury, as long as it teaches a lesson. What I mean is, when teaching my daughter how to pet the cat gently, she later walked up to it and patted him on the face. He didn’t much like that. Once, he tolerated. Twice, he tolerated with extreme irritation and the third time in a row he swatted at her with claws and bit her on the arm. None of it was done hard, but just enough that she understood this animal could inflict pain on her if she did so to it. What that teaches (in my mind) is mutual respect. I hurt you, you hurt me. I play nice with you, you play nice with me. 

I took it upon myself in this instance to do nothing. I knew the cat’s tolerance level and I knew she would surpass it ending in a little bit of hurt. As long as the cat isn’t clawing her eyes out – I saw it as something for her to learn. I didn’t say, “No! Don’t do that to the kitty!” I let her learn not to do it for herself. If I prevented her from doing it wrong – she would never know it was wrong. If anything, she would be more curious about doing it wrong in order to find out what happens. 

I get that that may seem harsh to some parents – and that you may choose not to do that – and that’s totally okay. And it’s okay for me not to do the same thing you would do. 

At first all Dave and I could think about was how HORRIBLE of an experience getting bit by Tiko was for Sydney. But as the days and weeks went by, we realized her interactions with our own animals (who are VERY tolerant of her) changed for the better. She had become less “grabby” (always putting her arms out at them) and more overall respectful of animals in general. She became more in tune with animal body language! I’ve seen full grown adults clueless when it comes to their own animal’s body language so to see Sydney reading it successfully and knowing when to back off an animal was astounding to me. 

I wouldn’t say I’m happy she got bit – but I would say some great things came out of it and I wouldn’t take it back if I could. We’re lucky it was nothing serious – and we’re also lucky that she walked away with more than just one lesson about animals and better respect for them overall. 

My kiddo reaching to touch the bird, like she often does.

Not to say she doesn’t still reach for them like crazy, but when close enough to touch, she will now shy away and it takes some gentle coaxing. She still enjoys their company just as much, if not more, but shakes her head and keeps her distance from their cages, travel carriers and them overall when they’re out and about as well. It’s an amazing thing for a toddler her age to be giving our animals the space they need to feel more comfortable in her presence. And I have to say, I really don’t have concern for her sticking her hands or fingers in a cage, or grabbing a macaw tail, etc. which is invaluable as a mother – one less thing to hover about. Sydney actually hangs out at a respectable distance whenever she joins me for cage cleaning time, or feeding time. 

Baby catalina macaw “DaVinci”

While in Boise, ID at a friend’s house she approached a large cage with two baby (11 week old) catalina macaws inside. She came up excitedly and the two macaws were immediately scared and began screaming and hissing at her – she was actually running over to me, and I was right in front of the cage looking adoringly at the baby birds. Sydney looked at the macaws in surprise, and backed up. The next time she came by the cage, she approached slowly and gave more space to the birds as she did a wider circle around it to get to me. Whenever the babies showed hissing or body language of “we’re trying to intimidate you to go away!” Sydney would oblige by giving them more space. That’s when I realized how in tune with body language she was becoming – and how much more attention she was giving to it. It makes me a lot more confident with having her around animals in general because I know the more she’s exposed to, the more she will learn. 

Playing in a giant sandbox (White Sands, NM) with our daughter Sydney and freeflying camelot macaws Tusa, Comet & blue throate macaw Jinx. Background macaws are blue and gold macaw Delilah and scarlet macaw Percy (students’ birds).

I will continue to try to provide those experiences in a positive way where no one gets hurt, but as I’ve learned – life has a way of making plans for you, and we have a way of constantly making mistakes in order to blossom more lessons. So no promises about any perfect parenting! 

Performing Catapoultry with galah Bondi

That’s right. We’re taking our parrots and we’re hittin’ the deck! 11 countries, here we come! We will be on board the Norwegian Dawn Cruise Ship for six straight months starting July 25, 2014-January 25, 2015.

We’re going places like Boston, MA to Bermuda… New Orleans to the western Caribbean, Canada and New England! So pick a destination, make sure you’re on the right ship and we’ll see you at sea!

Performing Catapoultry with galah Bandit

As long as you book your cruise on board the Norwegian Dawn between July 25-January 25, you will be seein’ us and our birds performing at sea (as well as throughout the rest of the cruise).

For booking, cruise details and itineraries click here.


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One of my sun conures on the door into my daughter’s room.

I posted a couple photos recently, of a “breakthrough” I had with my african grey parrot, Cressi and my ten month old daughter, Sydney.

To me it was a breakthrough, because it was a huge step in a positive direction. A step I wasn’t expecting to happen so soon.

My daughter loves seeing, being close to, and just being in the presence of any animal but especially our birds. (You know this if you follow my instagram at all) Her favorites are the sun conure girls, but she loves all the birds. She once woke from a nap and Rocko our toco toucan was the first thing she laid eyes on and all I heard was her murmur, giggle a little and just beam at him. She was sitting up happily smiling at him. I wish she woke up that way when the first thing she sees is me but alas, it’s the toucan that does it. ;)

Rocko watching Sydney sleep.

Rocko watching Sydney sleep.

It will never cease to surprise me how people judge in all aspects of life. Ever since becoming a parent, I see it even more-so. Everyone expects you to do things the way they did them, as if it’s the only way that is acceptable to them even though we all know there’s not just one right way to do something.

The best advice I received for parenting was to do what feels right to me. That’s how I go about it. If it doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it. If I get stuck, I ask what others did and see what feels right for me to do. I tell people this in the bird world all the time – you should be learning from everyone, not just one source, and then creating your own path from all that you learn into what works for you. What makes sense for someone with a cockatiel in an apartment isn’t going to be the same for the family in the log cabin with a macaw, or the girl on the island with the toucan.

I would use the expression ‘more than one way to skin a cat’ but I really hate the image that pops into my head when that’s used…

Sydney excitedly looking up at a conure girl.

Sydney excitedly looking up at a conure girl.

We’ve been working on getting Sydney to pet nicely to our dog, Diesel (german shepherd) and our cat Ninja. Diesel is way more tolerant – he’s about to be two years old this year so he’s still a pup and likes to play rough so a harder pet or stepping on the tail doesn’t even cause him to look in your direction. But we still work towards it.

Sydney recently began to pet our cat Ninja to where she actually enjoys the petting which is a huge step for us! From the cat that avoided the twitching kid that looked like she had no control of her limbs (which was pretty true during the time they are figuring all that out!) to now coming up for a petting is pretty awesome.

Sydney petting our cat Ninja.

Sydney petting our cat Ninja.

While changing cages and feeding birds, I sometimes have Sydney in the bird room with me “helping” (rearranging their dishes… on the floor… playing with the dog usually, finding pieces of fruit Rocko disregarded and the vacuum didn’t find) you know, the things ten month olds specialize at.

Which brings me to Cressi. I always try to share part of my day with our fans – through bird photos or videos. That day I picked up Sydney in one arm, and let Cressi out on the other. I posed us for a picture, though Sydney couldn’t help herself but stare at Cressi rather than say cheese for the camera:

Sydney staring dreamily at Cressi.

Sydney staring dreamily at Cressi.

Then something happened in literally a second. While I was still holding the camera trying to get a good photo of us where I didn’t look so sleep-deprived (ha!), Sydney reached out and as I pulled her further away, Cressi responded with a fluffed head and bowed it down so that Sydney could more easily reach the proper spot that needed the most petting. Seeing this, I let Sydney’s hand get closer after all and she pet Cressi on the head for the very first time ever.

Sydney petting Cressi.

Sydney petting Cressi.

The moment was a second. But it was an important, awesome moment. I was so excited that Cressi invited Sydney’s petting – and that Sydney was able to do it gently as she had been working on. I’m all about short, positive interactions to build the bond and trust between my daughter and my birds. I figure short, baby steps (pun intended!) are the way to go.

Now, I don’t share my moments to say “Go do this with your kid and birds!” I do it to share what I’m doing in the hopes that it helps someone have an ah-ha! moment along the way in their journey, and gives them an idea or what may work for them and any issue they may be currently having. Plus, I like to think I’m raising an animal lover. ;)

Like I said before, I wasn’t planning on this – but Cressi gave Sydney the opportunity and I decided to act on that moment. That’s what animal training is about – that is why it’s so hard to film things, at least for me, because I always work on things when the bird presents the opportunity vs trying to plan anything. This was one of those special moments.

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My husband Dave with our 6 month old daughter Sydney, galah Bondi and grey Cressi.

One major player in making me encourage a relationship early on between my birds and my daughter has been my daughter’s enthusiasm about the birds. If she was less than interested, I wouldn’t be meshing them so much as I am. So if your child shows no interest in your birds, don’t force it. The best thing you can do is show your kid how awesome it is for you, and hope they will want to be a part of that, too. But I’ve learned you can’t force someone to care about animals the way you do (I wish!)

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My daughter is SO happy just watching the birds, as you can see here.

I take in information – I watch for a while. When I first go on a house consult, I just listen and watch and observe. And that’s a big part of what I do with my birds and daughter to make this whole thing work without anyone getting hurt. I watch how Sydney reacts and responds to my birds while they’re with me, my husband, in their cage, out but far away, etc. And it really helps me know what to do when they’re both in proximity of one another.

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Bondi wanting to snuggle close for a kiss but Sydney is not so sure…

Cressi showed no interest in getting any closer to Sydney, so she stayed contently with her favorite person; my husband Dave. Bondi, however, is SUPER social and loves everyone so she was moreso curious and happy to come closer if we wanted. My husband held her closer, and then held Sydney’s hand still so there would be no sudden movements to scare either one of them.

I don’t recommend you do this with your kids and birds just because if you aren’t great at reading body language, your kid could get bit in the face. Cockatoos are especially harder to read when it comes to body language. Bondi, however, we are confident in and this lasted merely seconds. Bondi became more interested in chewing Sydney’s sweatshirt zipper so their time together was quickly over!

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Sydney’s THIS IS AWESOME face.

One day we were all just playing on my bed, Sydney and “the girls” as I call my three sun conures (all sisters). I put Sydney’s hat on her and we hung with the birds a bit. I figured if they landed on her head, she wouldn’t get freaked out about it because she would barely be able to feel it. Sharp claws scare kids away FAST! So keeping the nails of your birds trimmed is ideal.

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Me being so proud of Sydney for being this excited about hanging with the girls.

The girls were constantly landing on Sydney’s back and climbing up, and would land on her head and she would look around – knowing she felt something and then getting excited when she couldn’t see them but would know where they were. It was to die for.

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Leaning in for a photo!

My birds are mostly OK with this because being with me is reinforcing to them, second they really trust me not to put them in a scary or harmful situation (this doesn’t mean they aren’t sometimes uncomfortable with how Sydney tends to move or something). And, a huge part I feel is that my birds are fully flighted so anytime they feel uneasy, they leave. Simple as that. They are never scared that they won’t be able to get away, or be forced into anything, so they feel in control with no need to feel intimidated. That’s HUGE.

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This is seriously the face she makes whenever she realizes there is a bird in view. Pure excitement.

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Did I mention it’s the conures who encouraged her to finally crawl? She was going to skip that stage otherwise.

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Me with one of the conures talking to Sydney about them…

I just recently began taking the girls into Sydney’s play room to hang out as well. This way Sydney gets distracted playing with toys and things, and only devotes some of her attention to the birds vs 100% which can get overwhelming for the girls. This keeps things more manageable and makes it so that I can spend more time with the girls while Sydney plays. Then when she comes over, it’s like a break and it just works. Finding your own balance is going to be important.

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In the play room (door shut from distractions!)

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Playroom girl time.

As I continue to raise my daughter with my birds, I will keep you all updated in new things I discover and of course, I will also be sharing my mistakes along the way. Which in a way, I am DREADING, but also know there’s no learning without mistakes.

Note: Just because I titled this “kidS” doesn’t mean I have any more in my sight for the future. It just sounded better, and more likely for people to relate to than “raising A kid…” so yeah, don’t go looking into that title!

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