Posted: June 6, 2011, 4:00 p.m. PST
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Omar's Exotic Birds
Turn your bird's natural behaviors into bird tricks.
I can’t spend much time with a bird the size of a conure without wanting to teach it to do a somersault. If a conure trusts you, it is not a difficult to teach this trick. Where you start depends on how much your conure already lets you do. If your pet bird isn’t used to being handled on its back in your hand, I recommend gradually getting it used to this before trying to teach the somersault. With your conure on your finger, hold the pet bird against your chest. Gently cup your other hand against the pet bird’s back. Once your pet bird is comfortable with that, slowly lean forward so that it is actually resting in your hand. It may take some time to get your pet conure comfortable with that but once it is, you can start working on the actual somersault. Sit over a bed or couch, so if the bird flips too far, it won’t get hurt. I place the pet bird on its back with my thumb around its head and shoulders. Then I sort of jerk my hand so that the pet bird’s tail comes up in the air. Although it may not happen the first few times, the pet bird will eventually grab your thumb with one foot and your index or middle finger with the other foot. Once your conure starts doing this, the somersault should only take a few more practices to perfect. Of course, when conures do their somersaults or any trick, you can win big points with them by giving them lots of praise for a job well done.
Conures are acrobatic birds, and they can be real swingers. Encouraging their physical abilities as a part of play is something that both requires trust and builds trust. Once trust is established with a conure, the pet bird will let you do almost anything as long as you don’t try to push it into doing things too fast. I have a hanging playgym with a ring below it. I put my slender-billed conure, Twiggy, on it and she hangs onto the ring and says, “Ready!” Then I start the ring swinging, and she squeals with delight. It is like an amusement park ride for her, but if the swinging gets too extreme for her, she just flies off. Sometimes she will fly over to the ring and she won’t wait for me. She starts flapping her wings to get the ring swinging. She also likes to hang on to my fingers and have me swing her around in sweeping figure-eights. She flaps her wings and again makes the sound of a pet bird having a lot of fun.
When I first got into parrots, I walked into a pet shop and immediately noticed a conure motionless on its back in a cage. Of course, my concern was not warranted because the bird was just sleeping. Turning a conure’s natural behavior into a game can be accomplished through patterning. Because many conures love to roll over on their backs, turning this natural behavior into a trick can really be easy. Again, it is best to get a bird used to being comfortable with being handled in a trust-building way. Patterning involves doing something several times so that the bird gets used to being handled in a certain way. You can also use a word and/or a gesture to associate with the trick. Choose a time when the bird is relatively mellow and place it on a table in front of you. Use one hand to point and say “Pow” and then use the other hand to gently roll the pet bird over on his back. Make sure that your conure is comfortable with this behavior. Repeat the process a few times, and then take a break for a few minutes before you start again. It shouldn’t take long for a smart, little conure to learn this game.
Another game that many conures love to play is what I call “raspberry belly”. It is really a simple game, but some conures really get into it. It is just a matter of getting the bird on its back (see No. 1) and bringing its belly up to your mouth and giving the bird a “raspberry” kiss on its belly. I met a wonderful blue-crowned conure that would make the sound to let his caregiver know that he wanted to play.
Conures love to climb around in clothing. Years ago, I talked to a woman who taught elementary school. She brought her conure to show to her class, and the bird climbed down her blouse and crawled all over inside of the clothing. Of course, the kids thought this was hysterical. But it was even funnier when the conure popped its head out between two buttons. I suggested that she turn this into a trick of playing “alien.” Conures love playing peek-a-boo using a towel or piece of cloth. It is just a matter of putting the bird on the cloth and bringing the corner up over the bird’s head and saying “Peek-a-boo.” A friend of mine has a green-cheeked conure that loves to play in a hand towel. One of the games he loves is when she wraps him up in the towel and swings him around in the towel over her bed. When she started doing it, she swung him around very gently but as the conure got used to it, he enjoyed more enthusiastic play.