The Ethics of Using Obsession with Training - and Other Training Quirks

pterry97

Member
Aug 26, 2020
45
1
UK
Hi all,

This is a follow up thread on my new grass parakeet rescue Mofu. She is finally off her medication so I've been hoping to have the opportunity to train her to tolerate my hand - now that it's no longer grabbing her to force down liquids.

Fortunately since my last post there has been no other signs of seizures, so it could be likely that they were as the last vet suggested and could have simply been baby bird clumsiness. She still doesn't fly, nor make any attempts to fly. I do however make her flutter out of her cage by herself when it's training time, so that she is getting a little bit of muscle exercise with those not-so-used wings.

Unfortunately, it's surprisingly hard to find much information on keeping red rumped parakeets as a whole. The information I have found has shown contradictions between each other too, so I can never quite tell what to expect from her. I even scoured around the tags on here, and there were only 3 other posts that weren't my own... Are they not often kept?

Back to the topic at hand; please keep in mind I have read various training tips from this forum and other sites, but I've come at a bit of a crossroads with Mofu. Most particularly is her unwillingness to eat and thus my inability to find a suitable treat for training.

For a while it definitely seemed like intervalling between millet and sunflower seeds was the way to go to reward her for good behaviour, but she stopped accepting them a few days ago. I wouldn't fault her for being sick of them, but the problem is she refuses to eat anything else. In the cockatiel seed mix she was being fed originally, she only seems to eat the sunflower seeds daily, and the remainder of the seeds go untouched. I have parakeet pellets finally here, and have been adding a small portion on top of her food for almost a week now, and she has yet to attempt to try one. I started soaking them in warm water a few days ago because they were quite hard, but I've seen no luck as of yet to eating them. Fresh greens have been provided daily, with a single bit of fruit a day, chopped as finely as I can manage, and placed in an individual bowl (although I put a couple pieces in the main dish as if to say "this is food!") but not a single nibble. She just pushes everything aside in the main dish to eat her sunflower seeds. I can't weigh her as of yet but I can tell she is looking rather thin. How on Earth can one convince a bird to eat?

Despite this trouble, we are making small progress with training. Mofu definitely knows when its her time to come out of the cage in the day, and she'll often call for attention whenever I look away from her or leave the room. But once I come up to her, she suddenly changes her mind and scoots away. I can tell however she is very lonely. This is difficult for me to factor for, because I am absolutely not ready to get another bird just yet. She was an out-of-the-blue rescue and was previously getting bullied, still can't fly, and is still pretty untame. I feel getting another bird at this point will only cause more issues, but Mofu is still having a lot of conflict over wanting me as her social buddy or not. I might consider finding a male for her in the future (the far, far future), but from what little information I could find, it said that grass parakeets aren't good in groups and will often fight each other, with the exception of bonded pairs. But also the thought of having two birds this uncooperative at the same time makes me want to pull my hair out.

I figure she is lonely because Mofu immediately began obsessing over objects in my room; particularly the mirror (which she practically pranced over to, stared at for a solid 40 minutes, while sitting hunched and miserable beside it as if waiting for said reflection to comfort her), and... a tennis ball. I wish I was joking.

Once I realised the first time that she wasn't going to move away from the mirror of her own volition, I make sure to remove it before her out-of-the-cage session every day, so she can actually try some training and be productive. But the tennis ball.... I've somewhat found this to be my only way to motivate Mofu to train with me.

This is where things are questionable. I know it's ill advised to let a bird get attached to something as depressing as an inanimate object, but the neon yellow-green of the ball must remind her of her own lutino colours, and she will pursue it rather notoriously to sit beside. She doesn't play with it, or even interact it, she just wants to sit with it.

I still can't handle Mofu. I absolutely cannot get her out of her cage by any means of stepping up. Even slowly and carefully pulling out the perch she is on to introduce her out will have her kamikaze to the bottom of her cage. But if I simply leave the cage door open, she has no want to come out by herself. However, if I sit aways on the floor as I usually do, prop up a pillow, get out my laptop for some video watching while I prepare for a looong waiting game for the next three hours, and oh-so-happen to hold the ball up in my hand, I have never seen Mofu more alert. She sees that ball, and she is suddenly desperate to get out of her cage. She starts to squeak, pacing to and fro, until she figures out by herself that the way to the ball is to get out the cage door, leaps-of-faith's out of her cage, and comes dashing over as eager as can be. I place the ball right beside me, balance the mix of sunflower seeds and millet along my arm and side for some good old positive association, and that's where our training has headed.

Getting her back into the cage is even harder. She's not the sort that doesn't dislike her cage, but she still refuses to step up onto anything. Even using her perches that she sits on in her cage; if I leave them on the ground and hold a treat to attempt to lure her onto it, she will literally jump over it like a hurdle. My hands are still a no go, so the closest attempt to success I could get at the time was to corrall her onto the bars meant to be on the bottom of the cage (that I don't use) vertically so she has to climb up it, and then shimmy over to the cage as quickly as I could before she jumped off it (which is often).

Yet, I've found in these past two days, if I hold the bars up and hold the tennis ball at the top with my hands, she'll actually climb up willingly and remain on the bars all the way to the cage door. It's kind of crazy what this bird will do for a ball.

So far this week with the help of the tennis ball, we have managed to; take a full nap against my hip, get Mofu to stand on my (sleeved) arm (unmoving on the ground), climb willingly onto the bars to escort her back to her cage, and today (while I napped, because I have been super tired today) have Mofu climb all up me (while covered in a blanket). She's still very scared of me, but the tennis ball is working magic with us.

This being said, it does feel rather cruel, using a bird's confused knack for loneliness and her desire to sit with an inanimate object to reward her for tolerating me for three hours a day. Is what I'm doing bad for her health? It feels like I'm definitely manipulating what seems like the beginning of an obsessive disorder, has anyone ever seen anything similar with training birds regarding this? But with her unwillingness to eat food, what more can I try? It's certainly unconventional, but I'd love to hear what people think, and perhaps any tips on how else to train a bird to tolerate people.

Many thanks for reading.
 

chris-md

Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2010
4,170
1,438
Maryland - USA
Parrots
Parker - male Eclectus

Aphrodite - red throated conure (RIP)
Lots to unpack. I’ll keep it simple.

She clearly loves sunflower seeds. Moving forward, those need to come out of the diet as a Staple of her regular diet, and only be given as training treats. That’s how you get her to eat other stuff and simultaneously make big progress in her training.

I would be extremely cautious of anthropomorphizing her behavior. “Being lonely“ is very different from showing otherwise natural behaviors. Do not confuse mating behavior with the human concept of loneliness.

The way you are going about training is actually not too bad. It certainly is not cruel, precisely because you’re using the birds on natural behaviors rather than forcing behaviors that are not natural to her. It’s very similar to the process of capturing, where do use clicker training to reward behaviors that birds do frequently “spreading the wings for example) in order to get that behavior on Cue as a fun little trick. It’s very similar to the process of capturing, where do use clicker training to reward behaviors that birds do frequently (spreading the wings for example) in order to get that behavior on cue as a fun little trick
 
OP
P

pterry97

Member
Aug 26, 2020
45
1
UK
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #3
Lots to unpack. I’ll keep it simple.

She clearly loves sunflower seeds. Moving forward, those need to come out of the diet as a Staple of her regular diet, and only be given as training treats. That’s how you get her to eat other stuff and simultaneously make big progress in her training.

I would be extremely cautious of anthropomorphizing her behavior. “Being lonely“ is very different from showing otherwise natural behaviors. Do not confuse mating behavior with the human concept of loneliness.

The way you are going about training is actually not too bad. It certainly is not cruel, precisely because you’re using the birds on natural behaviors rather than forcing behaviors that are not natural to her. It’s very similar to the process of capturing, where do use clicker training to reward behaviors that birds do frequently “spreading the wings for example) in order to get that behavior on Cue as a fun little trick. It’s very similar to the process of capturing, where do use clicker training to reward behaviors that birds do frequently (spreading the wings for example) in order to get that behavior on cue as a fun little trick

Hi, thanks for your response. I am trying to wean her off her seed diet, but everyone says cutting them off entirely is a very bad idea. I worry if I remove the seeds completely she will just starve herself until training time when she knows she can get them. She is already very thin and I don’t want to risk further issues with her.

Also, I don’t believe this is mating behaviour. She is only 21 weeks old, and grass parakeets mature at a year old. She’s also still in her fledgling stage, being unable to fly. Does mating behaviour occur so young, because I haven’t heard of this otherwise.
 

chris-md

Supporting Member
Feb 6, 2010
4,170
1,438
Maryland - USA
Parrots
Parker - male Eclectus

Aphrodite - red throated conure (RIP)
So grass parakeets actually hit puberty around 8-9 months, a bit earlier than a year. At 5 months it’s likely a little early, but it’s possible to see some early behaviors in some individuals (genetic variation and all, early bloomer). Green cheek conures hit puberty at one shear on average, but we’ve seen variations here from 9 months up to 2 years old when puberty sets in.

Whether it’s hormonal or not, I would still caution that slapping the term “lonely” is you projecting your emotions on to the bird, which sets you up for misunderstandings well into the future.

Regarding seed diet, I only said to pull the sunflower seeds from the meals and make them treats only. I did not say pull her completely off the seed diet.
 

fiddlejen

Well-known member
Mar 28, 2019
1,198
Media
11
1,019
New England
Parrots
Sunny the Sun Conure (sept '18, gotcha 3/'19). Mr Jefferson Budgie & Mrs Calliope Budgie (albino) (nov'18 & jan'19). Summer 2021 Baby Budgies: Riker (Green); Patchouli, Keye, & Tiny (blue greywings).
Some of what you're describing sounds similar to budgie behaviors. Many budgies are skittish and hand-shy.

Budgies can be Quite difficult to train away from seeds. (Took me a year, and even so my budgies still will not accept pellets in their food dish. They will eat pellets from the food dishes in the Conure's cage only. They DO eat veggies, but that also took quite a while to get started. The way I got my budgies to TRY veggies - I would chop them very finely, as Small as Seeds. I would leave these tiny-chopped veggies on a paper plate on the bottom of the cage when I went off to work. Eventually I began to notice Less veggie on the plate when I got home, and started paying attention to what they liked. It was After that, I took to clipping broccoli tops and lettuce pieces to their cage bars, which they now enjoy.)

Also regarding colors. I have never offered my bright-Orange Sun Conure an Orange ball to play with, but her Red ring-a-bell has been her favorite toy from the time I got her. She Loves bell-peppers, but ever since I first brought home an Orange one, that is the only color pepper she will eat. And, she loves shredding carrots.

So, if your little Lutino is already showing a preference for same-colored objects, I'd suggest offering her some same-colored veggies, possibly diced to seed-size to begin with. Make them simply available to her for as long as safely-possible before taking them away, and, be resigned to the wastage that will happen.

My budgies nowadays will eat veggies clipped in their own cage, and, anything that they can believe they are stealing from my Conure. They still mostly refuse pellets in their own cage, and still refuse to consume anything beyond seeds from their seed dishes. No wait... I sometimes grind up some dehydrated veggies & mix with their seeds, either dry or wet, and they will eat that. But anything else that is non-seed gets left uneaten, or else removed from the dish.

So, all this to say ...indeed do Not try to rush the transition away from seeds to pellets. If your little birdie is stubborn or just timid it could indeed starve or get under-nutritioned.

Regarding training. ((And, speaking from experience of Absolute FAilure to train my own budgies... )) Something I used to do to communicate with them, and still do actually, is watch their body language and copy it. AT one time their cage was located ON my sofa. They would sit next to each other on the long perch across the cage, and I would sit on the sofa and sort of copy them. So that, with a whole lot of imagination, I could seem to be just the third in the line us all sitting there sort of tipped forward at the same relaxed angle. Or when they would start Floofing themselves. (I still do this fairly often.) I say, oh it's time for birdie-exercises. So THEIR purpose of lifting their wings, and twisting their bodies around, is to Floof themselves. I stand nearby, and MY purpose of moving my arms upward or backward, and then twisting my body gently, is to get some gentle stretching. Knee bends & floor reaches work well too... just kinda imitating their movements, in a way that works for my body. When they are eating, that is a good time for me to snack on something. Etc.

Also to the extent that I can, I will imitate some of their chirps and noises back them. Yeah I know, other people train their birdies to speak human-language; I'm going the other way. But I do think it contributes to us having a relationship.

(I do this all these things with my Sunny too by the way.)

Basically, by imitating their behaviors, I can have a relationship with these little birdies who sometimes seem determined to just make it known how very much I am Not their leader, and that they will Not be trained. Even now, the more I engage in behavior-imitation with the budgies, the more likely Jefferson-budgie (and therefore Calliope-budgie) to seek me out, fly near me or even land near me to chirp at me, dive-bomb me intentionally, etc.
 
Last edited:
OP
P

pterry97

Member
Aug 26, 2020
45
1
UK
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #6
So grass parakeets actually hit puberty around 8-9 months, a bit earlier than a year. At 5 months it’s likely a little early, but it’s possible to see some early behaviors in some individuals (genetic variation and all, early bloomer). Green cheek conures hit puberty at one shear on average, but we’ve seen variations here from 9 months up to 2 years old when puberty sets in.

Whether it’s hormonal or not, I would still caution that slapping the term “lonely” is you projecting your emotions on to the bird, which sets you up for misunderstandings well into the future.

Regarding seed diet, I only said to pull the sunflower seeds from the meals and make them treats only. I did not say pull her completely off the seed diet.

Thank you yet again for your quick response. May I ask where you received the information regarding the sexual age of red rumped parakeets? I'm quite desperate to find more content on their care that isn't just further conflicting information that I find on the internet. Even my vet said their maturity age was at a year old, although I'm pretty certain he was classifying her under the same bracket as a cockatiel. Any sources, links, or even book names will be greatly appreciated.

Apologies also for my vocabulary or lack of thereof; I can't quite coin up a short word to mean "a social creature showing signs of needing social interaction with its own species" and the word lonely is the only thing that comes to mind. There's no intention of trying to anthropomorphise her, I just can't think of more words.

Unfortunately regarding removing the sunflower seeds, my previous concerns are still present. If I remove the sunflowers from her seed diet, which are the only things she eats from said diet, am I not essentially removing the only source of food she eats? This feels like the exact same outcome of removing all the seed at once, because what remains she won't touch regardless. I'd rather her risk eating fatty content over not eating at all, I know of birds who starved themselves for days until their owners had to relent and give them their original feeds back. And whenever I spray her down with water (an act she absolutely despises, but as she always has a dirty vent I have no other choice) her feathers on her chest part ways and expose her sternum which is quite prominent on her tiny figure. I really wish she would eat more. I imagine it's a long road ahead of us.
 
OP
P

pterry97

Member
Aug 26, 2020
45
1
UK
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #7
Some of what you're describing sounds similar to budgie behaviors. Many budgies are skittish and hand-shy.

Budgies can be Quite difficult to train away from seeds. (Took me a year, and even so my budgies still will not accept pellets in their food dish. They will eat pellets from the food dishes in the Conure's cage only. They DO eat veggies, but that also took quite a while to get started. The way I got my budgies to TRY veggies - I would chop them very finely, as Small as Seeds. I would leave these tiny-chopped veggies on a paper plate on the bottom of the cage when I went off to work. Eventually I began to notice Less veggie on the plate when I got home, and started paying attention to what they liked. It was After that, I took to clipping broccoli tops and lettuce pieces to their cage bars, which they now enjoy.)

Also regarding colors. I have never offered my bright-Orange Sun Conure an Orange ball to play with, but her Red ring-a-bell has been her favorite toy from the time I got her. She Loves bell-peppers, but ever since I first brought home an Orange one, that is the only color pepper she will eat. And, she loves shredding carrots.

So, if your little Lutino is already showing a preference for same-colored objects, I'd suggest offering her some same-colored veggies, possibly diced to seed-size to begin with. Make them simply available to her for as long as safely-possible before taking them away, and, be resigned to the wastage that will happen.

My budgies nowadays will eat veggies clipped in their own cage, and, anything that they can believe they are stealing from my Conure. They still mostly refuse pellets in their own cage, and still refuse to consume anything beyond seeds from their seed dishes. No wait... I sometimes grind up some dehydrated veggies & mix with their seeds, either dry or wet, and they will eat that. But anything else that is non-seed gets left uneaten, or else removed from the dish.

So, all this to say ...indeed do Not try to rush the transition away from seeds to pellets. If your little birdie is stubborn or just timid it could indeed starve or get under-nutritioned.

Regarding training. ((And, speaking from experience of Absolute FAilure to train my own budgies... )) Something I used to do to communicate with them, and still do actually, is watch their body language and copy it. AT one time their cage was located ON my sofa. They would sit next to each other on the long perch across the cage, and I would sit on the sofa and sort of copy them. So that, with a whole lot of imagination, I could seem to be just the third in the line us all sitting there sort of tipped forward at the same relaxed angle. Or when they would start Floofing themselves. (I still do this fairly often.) I say, oh it's time for birdie-exercises. So THEIR purpose of lifting their wings, and twisting their bodies around, is to Floof themselves. I stand nearby, and MY purpose of moving my arms upward or backward, and then twisting my body gently, is to get some gentle stretching. Knee bends & floor reaches work well too... just kinda imitating their movements, in a way that works for my body. When they are eating, that is a good time for me to snack on something. Etc.

Also to the extent that I can, I will imitate some of their chirps and noises back them. Yeah I know, other people train their birdies to speak human-language; I'm going the other way. But I do think it contributes to us having a relationship.

(I do this all these things with my Sunny too by the way.)

Basically, by imitating their behaviors, I can have a relationship with these little birdies who sometimes seem determined to just make it known how very much I am Not their leader, and that they will Not be trained. Even now, the more I engage in behavior-imitation with the budgies, the more likely Jefferson-budgie (and therefore Calliope-budgie) to seek me out, fly near me or even land near me to chirp at me, dive-bomb me intentionally, etc.

Thank you for your continuous responses to my posts, I appreciate them greatly. I do finely chop the veg and fruit I offer, and they are placed in a ceramic bowl on the ground for her to pick at. I've seen her poking her head into the bowl several times, which always get me excited, only to find her munch on some sunflower seeds she must have dropped into the bowl somehow. There's always that sigh of disappointment that comes with it. I shall persevere regardless.

In actuality, I do mimic her call (very VERY poorly I might add) and whenever I do she goes berserk for it. Very similar response to when she sees her tennis ball. She calls back to me very frantically, desperately calling as loud as she can. I've added a video to show this in action.

[ame="https://youtu.be/SPQguVLHk5I"]https://youtu.be/SPQguVLHk5I[/ame]

Your relationship with your own birds sounds very sweet and endearing. Although I'm grateful for the progress we have been making in such a short time (seeing her peek her head out over my shoulder as she climbed on my back yesterday) I pray for the day when I can one day accomplish the only command I actually want her to be able to do; to step up. Fingers crossed!
 

fiddlejen

Well-known member
Mar 28, 2019
1,198
Media
11
1,019
New England
Parrots
Sunny the Sun Conure (sept '18, gotcha 3/'19). Mr Jefferson Budgie & Mrs Calliope Budgie (albino) (nov'18 & jan'19). Summer 2021 Baby Budgies: Riker (Green); Patchouli, Keye, & Tiny (blue greywings).
I love the video! She knows you -- you are progressing with her really quite well. It always seems forever at first but I'm confident you're gonna get there, and relatively quickly too. :)
 

Most Reactions

Latest posts

Top