Want to attend a training workshop with Rebecca??

Morris Basketball Low ResRebecca offers four- hour parrot training workshops in her studio in Grand Terrace, CA and throughout the country. These workshops are a fantastic way to get one-on-one instruction from Rebecca in an affordable and intensive setting. All workshops include a Powerpoint presentation, video clips, handouts and training demos with parrots. They are also catered to attendee’s training concerns and challenges.

 

Training Basics: Beginning and Refresher Course
Learn the basics of using applied behavior analysis (or refresh your memory) to shape your parrot’s parrots behaviors.
Saturday, February 22, 2013
10 AM- 3PM  (Lunch Included)
22545 Barton Rd.,  Ste. 201
Grand Terrace, CA 92313-524
Cost: $59

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The Next Step: Training for Daily Living
After a quick refresher on training basics, jump into learning how to train behaviors which will help with cleaning, bathing, grooming, vet visits and encouraging good behavior. Bring your own challenges and have them addressed in class.
Saturday, March 29, 2014
10 AM- 3PM  (Lunch Included)
22545 Barton Rd.,  Ste. 201
Grand Terrace, CA 92313-5244
Cost: $59

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Training Plans for Managing Bad Behavior
After a quick refresher on training basics, jump into learning to work on aggression, screaming, feather plucking and other problem behaviors.
Saturday, April 19
10 AM- 3PM  (Lunch Included)
22545 Barton Rd.,  Ste. 201
Grand Terrace, CA 92313-5244
909-264-3602
Cost: $59

For More information contact Rebecca at rebecca@blueskywriting.com

SPACE IS LIMITED TO TEN ATTENDEES.  SIGN UP EARLY!! (Cancellation is non-refundable, but IS transferable to another workshop date.)
NOTE: The studio requires climbing a flight of stairs in order to get to the entrance. Unfortunately, it is not wheelchair accessible. 


Choose Your Workshop Date


 

Parrot Boarding and Training Opportunities

tyThe other day a parrot-training friend who I admire and adore asked me why we didn’t board parrots in our homes in order to give them focused training sessions and allow their owners the opportunity to maintain behaviors rather than build them from scratch. I scoffed at this idea. In fact, I think I puffed out my chest and said, “ANYONE CAN LEARN TO TRAIN!”

Of course, anyone CAN learn to train, but as my friend pointed out — not everyone wants to learn to train new behaviors. Doing things you’re not good at is frustrating. Sometimes people just want to do right by their pets and enjoy them. Why does everyone have to be an expert? Dog owners send their dogs off to be trained all the time.

“I’d never send my dog off to be trained!” I said. Except that even as I said it I realized it was a lie. I’ve happily sent a dog off to “bird dog” school to learn to point upland game and have every intention of sending my puppy off to do the same this summer. Who am I kidding? There is nothing wrong with boarding/training situations in the hands of the right trainer.

Then I started thinking about the opportunity to build a relationship with a parrot on a daily basis and build behavior on our own time, rather than in the afternoon allotted to an in-home consult. The whole idea of it got me kind of excited about the possibilities.

I have always been frustrated by my limited ability to shape behavior in a single consultation and the pressure of knowing a parrot might have to be re-homed if you can’t help the household learn to train can be immense. I realize that behaviors are easy to reshape and sometimes aren’t transferable, but I do find myself wondering if I couldn’t do a better job of helping loving, dedicated and frustrated parrot owners succeed in building or renewing a relationship with their parrots that works for everyone. Why not set them up to succeed with a bird that already had the basics? I want to try!

So here we are… I’m officially offering a very select number of train and board opportunities in my home that include:

  • Flexible training plans based on your needs.
  • Ongoing and consistent daily training.
  • Multiple daily training sessions and ongoing household interactions.
  • Opportunities for socialization, short trips and new experiences.
  • Personalized behavior maintenance plans.

Details on services and pricing for training and boarding are here.

I know everyone can’t afford this luxury (and I hope to get to a place where I have slots for pro bono birds every year). Still, I hope a few people are interested and I’m curious what parrot folks will think of this opportunity. I suspect it will be a bit controversial. I bet you all will let me know! 🙂

Ode to the Least-Favorite Parrot

She was on sale for $180. She was a red-bellied parrot worth $600 at a time when I had set my sights on breeding poicephalus parrots, Senegals, red-bellieds and maybe, just maybe, a pair of Rüppell’s if I made enough money.

The female red-bellieds are plain parrots, grey and petite with a shock of teal. The males have the bright red bellies of their name. Her brother had been purchased, but she had lived in the pet shop for a year and the new owners wanted to off load her. No one wanted to buy her. I bought her because she was a good deal.

She lived in my home with the “chosen” parrots, the grey and the Senegal who were my companions. She came with her name, “Bali” a shorthand for “Red-bellied” which became “Bellied” and then “Bali”. I kept her name, too lazy to give her another. While Ty, the grey was the commentator and Loki, the Senegal was the trouble-maker, Bali was the quiet one. She was the sweetest of the three, she was the bird that would let anyone pick her up and then say “hi” to new friends in her civil and chirpy pet shop voice. She was the one you loved quietly and without a fuss.

##

My grandparents raised me and it was my grandfather who nurtured my love of birds. I came home from UC Davis and finished my last year at UC Riverside in 1992. I had meant to come home to be with my grandmother, to keep vigil, but I wasn’t home soon enough and she passed away before I could get there. I was only 21 and had no idea how to consume this loss, make it my legacy. I pretended she was just away for a while.

I think my grandfather did too and in the meantime we talked birds.  I bought my first parrot, a Senegal and then a six-week old grey in 1994. I found Bali that same year. I was smitten and I began to look for pairs to breed. I wanted a world full of parrots and I wanted to share it.  Living in an apartment, breeding parrots wasn’t ideal, so I set the pairs up at my grandfather’s house. He built me cages in his workshop from the diagrams I gave him and I came to feed them every day. I visited with my wild-caught and taciturn parrots and my grandfather and I kept talking birds.

I bought a boot-shaped nest box from Magnolia Bird Farm for my first pair of Senegals. My grandfather scoffed at the price and its construction. He could build something better. My grandfather, my dad and I suffered (and still suffer) from the same malady. With a little bit of knowledge, we are shortly convinced that we have a better design for everything. So my grandfather built me a nest box that a month later split at its seams and my first pair of parrots escaped.

I was furious at first, but it became a joke between us. It had been me, after all, who had opened the cage door for a favorite parakeet sunning on the back porch. I was six years-old and uncertain why it was wrong for me to set him free and then expect him to come back. My grandfather had clenched his jaw and then laughed.

My grandfather promised to build me a better nest box for when I bought a male for my red-bellied parrot. And he would have, but a year later he was too ill to build nest boxes with his frail hands and then he too passed away.

##

I got up every morning, gave Bali fresh water and food, changed her papers, scratched her head and thanked her for never biting, never seeking the destruction beloved of all parrots and for being the good bird. She and the other two parrots came with me to Florida to train birds at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and back to California.  She met more people and shared more spaces than most humans I know. And she was a constant for seventeen years, perky and dependable until two days ago when I got up and saw she was ill.

I know birds in a way I sometimes cannot explain anymore. I could see she was dying and that she wanted nothing more than to be comfortable. So I carefully set her up to doze and dream of old friends and the places we had been. My mom found me crying in the kitchen, tipped her head in a way that said she loved me and then turned away, trusting my instincts and my grief. She didn’t ask any questions and make suggestions. My mother just followed my lead and kept vigil with me for the next 12 hours.

##

My grandfather was in the hospital the last morning I saw him. We talked about the canary I had bought him, a canary guaranteed to sing. He had told me stories about the canary he had as a child and how his mother let it bath in lettuce leaves and how much she loved to hear him sing while she prepared the family dinner.

So I bought him a canary just like the one he remembered, but I had to return it when my grandfather insisted that it refused to sing. The next canary was just as stubborn. At least, this is what my grandfather told me the day I heard the bird trilling in the living room. It whistled a sweet buoyant song in an octave too high for my grandfather to hear.

“I’m not taking this one back. Turn up your hearing aid,” I said.  He clenched his jaw and then he laughed.

“Don’t give up your birds,” he told me that final morning and it was one of the last things he said. He passed away the next day.

##

At 3AM I wrapped Bali in a favorite t-shirt, soft and worn and as familiar as the least-favorite parrot.  I worried that I wouldn’t cry, that somehow I wouldn’t mourn her enough, that I hadn’t given her enough and wouldn’t in the end either. Yet, I’ve barely stopped crying for two days.

It turns out she wasn’t the least-favorite parrot. Turns out she was the most important parrot; she was the glue, the memory keeper, the temperance of the triad.

There were always three parrots and I understand now that there always will be.

10 Facts About Owning a Pet Parrot

I’m so excited that Bird Talk and BirdsUSA is starting to offer some of my old and ever-green articles on BirdChannel! This is one of my favorites! Enjoy and stay tuned, lots of activity coming soon on Heckled!

Rebecca with Ty

If you are looking to get a pet bird or already have one, chances are your favorite aunt or a well-meaning co-worker has filled you in on what a parrot brings to your home. You probably heard all the stories about the “worst parrot ever” and about someone who knew someone who had their eye poked out. Chances are also good that what you have been told is not quite right. So here are a few misconceptions and missed truths that can help you get off on the right foot with your parrot pal.

The 3 Things You Know About Parrots That Might Not Be True
If you’ve heard any warning words at all about parrots it is probably that they bite, scream and make a mess. If you are a parrot lover, you likely figure you can handle these three little things. Maybe you even accept them as the simple truth of sharing your home with a parrot. However, in the wild, parrots don’t “scream,” they rarely bite, and they might not be as messy as they seem. So surprisingly, these three behaviors are not a given in your home.

READ THE WHOLE THING

Throwing the Baby in the Bathwater

As I work on my new parrot training book for TFH, I find myself noticing training for better or for worse all over the Internet. The book includes trick training and training for husbandry and behavior, but I personally think the most important bits of the book are training the day-to-day. Right as I was about to write the section on training a parrot to take a bath, I noticed a video on Facebook of a scarlet macaw taking her first bath.

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I hope the video owner will forgive me for not entirely approving of this method of “baby’s first bath” which is essentially here is how you take a bath, get over it. He is very gentle and careful and talks calmly to his parrot. Obviously he loves her a great deal and wants to help her with new feather itchies. However, she is not happy about her bath and may or may not be willing to get in the sink next time.

What do I mean by “not happy”? Explicitly at :19 she starts trying to get out of the sink. At :34 she tries again and when she is unsuccessful holds up a foot, wanting to try again, but not making a big attempt because she wasn’t successful on her last try. When she succeeds in busting free at :54 she definitely has escaping on her mind and beelines out of the sink. If you have ever heard me talk about watching for subtle body language that exhibits discomfort or fear, that is what I am talking about. Her body language is saying, “I don’t like this.” If the parrot finds the situation undesirable, then it is not training with positive reinforcement, because being in the sink and being sprayed is obviously not reinforcing. It is also not operant conditioning because the operator is clearly not in control.

Is she terrified? No. Traumatized? No, I think she is just fine. However, it’s now a crap shoot whether or not she is going to want to take to her next bath, because it obviously wasn’t rewarding. Behaviors only repeat themselves if they have been rewarded. Compare her experience to Blu Lu, Barbara Heideinrich’s parrot and her first bath which is entirely directed by the parrot.

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When Blu Lu is uncomfortable, she is allowed to leave. I know not all of us believe in having our birds flighted. If she were unable to fly, Barbara would have just offered her a hand, when Blu Lu lifted a foot wanting to get away from the water and let her step back down when she leaned toward it again. The parrot can make the decision and discover for herself how she feels about bathing. What she discovers is that it is positive; look at her body language in compared to the other parrot. She is flicking and bobbing her head and dunking herself in the water voluntarily. Her body language shows engagement rather than a desire to escape. And when she does leave, she comes right back. The experience was positive and chances are it will repeat. There is no question about how she will feel about being near the sink or being offered a bath in the future. Perhaps she won’t jump right in, but it will only be because does not feel like having a bath, not because she is nervous or fearful.

So you can train a parrot with operant conditioning to take a bath by allowing her to reinforce herself, or if you have a reluctant parrot, you can be the giver of reinforcement and shape the behavior. Those step would look something like this:

Leave the water running in the sink and step your parrot on the counter. (You may have to do some repetitions on and off the counter if your parrot is uncomfortable with standing on it.) Once your parrot is comfortable sitting on the counter train her to bath by shaping the behavior for rewarding each step progressively:

  1. Reward for looking at the water. (She looks at the water, you say “good” hand her a treat.)
  2. Reward for getting closer to the water.
  3. Reward for getting right next to the water.
  4. Reward for touching the water.
  5. Reward for getting beak all the way the water.
  6. Reward for leaning all the way into the water.

At any time, if she is uncomfortable, she can back out or quit all together and you can pick up your training session again later. And once you get her going to the water on her own you can ask her to step up and position her with your hand so that she can move all the way into the water for rewards. Pretty soon you have a parrot that has learned that bathing is fun and enjoyable and getting into the water will likely be its own reward.

Sure, a lot of us have learned how to swim by being thrown into the water, but who wants to learn that way when you can just as easily put on your floaties and slowly the test the water on your own? Life should be a self-explored adventure, not a task that is forced on us. Those of us who have found our way by exploring and being in control are well- adjusted and on the look out for fun. This is similar for all animals. So give your parrot a chance to delight in the simple things in life, like taking a bath!

The Alien in the Room

Alien Eye

A snippet of the parrot training book I am working on…

 

Imagine that your parrot is an alien dropped into your home from another world. Actually, this is pretty close to the truth.

Parrots don’t have lips and cannot smile. Their strange little pupils expand and contract with their thoughts. Overall, they have strange expressions that do not make sense at first, expressions mostly based in the rise and fall of feathers. They communicate in clicks and beeps. Their locomotion is even different from ours. It is hard to even imagine what it would feel like to travel through the world on wings, but they do it and in the wild make it look easy. You may as well have E.T. in your living room. (If you haven’t seen the movie E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, you should definitely rent it.)

Yet, despite the fact we must seem just as alien to them, we assume parrots understand our words, motions and sometimes even our thoughts. So where would you start if you found yourself having to share your home with an alien you wanted to communicate with, have fun with and teach how best to live with you? If it were E.T. you would coax it into interacting with you with Reece’s pieces, train it how to integrate into your home without making too much trouble, teach it to talk, learn everything you could about the species and then work on some awesome tricks together. (Who wouldn’t want to ride a flying bicycle?) You should skip the candy, but working with a parrot is not all that different than working out how to live with E.T.

 

 

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How Many is Too Many?

 

Ty

 I answered an email the other day that I thought might be helpful to share with all. What do you think? How do you decide what too many is?

Dear Rebecca,

What is a good retort to when people say, “You just have too many animals; you need to get rid of them.” The best retort I have is, “You just have too many kids; you need to get rid of them.” And no, I don’t believe that parrots are the same as children (though they do act like them), but well-meaning friends believe any bickering between the husband and myself or ANY day-to-day problem comes as a result of having so many animals.

Thank you so much for any advice–this is really driving me crazy!

Just Right


Dear Just Right,

I’m sorry it has taken me so long to answer. I read your email and honestly did not know how to answer. I tried to think of what I would say, but the honest truth is that no one has ever said these words to me… “You have too many animals, you should get rid of them.” And then when I asked myself why no one has ever said this to me, I wasn’t sure why they hadn’t. For one single female my menagerie is pretty immense—1 dog, 3 parrots, 2 falcons, 1 hawk, 3 pheasant and 10 pigeons. Oh, and there are the six goldfish I just bought… Is this too many animals? And if not, how many more would be too many? And what do people think of me? And if someone did suggest I had a problem, what would I say? I slept on it and my answer still isn’t a simple one.

The first thing I suggest is to take a deep breath and save your retort. Forgive your friends. Humans by nature want to “fix” things. We want to produce solutions that save our friends in speedy ways that both rid them of their heartache and also make it easier for ourselves. It is very hard listening to a friend in pain and not be able to help, especially if that friend is in a bout of troubles. Your friends are compassionate, generous and they love you. –They are also self-centered and uncomfortable having to listen to your woes. I know this because I’m like that as well; it is called being human. And being a good friend can be pretty damn exhausting.

Loki

When a friend suggests your animals are too much for you, thank them for their suggestion. Then take their hand and tell them that you weren’t looking for a solution, you were looking for a friend and that you deeply appreciate their willingness to just listen.

Reward the good. Ignore the bad. That’s the animal trainer in me, speaking, but it’s also the only code that has never failed me, a practice that reminds me which lens I should be looking through.

Be grateful that you have friends wonderful enough to listen to your day-to-day hiccups and domestic shake-ups. There are people who are unable to engage with others and are too ill to figure out how to fix it. There are people who barricade themselves against the world surrounded by so many animals they can barely take care of them, but expect these animals to fill that sucking wind of silence which only another human being can fill. They collect more and more animals trying to fix something and yet have no idea what is broken. Having too many animals is the symptom, not the disease. Obviously you are not ill. You are probably not a hoarder. So you can also laugh at this image of yourself, embrace your sense of humor and tell your friend that perhaps they watch too much television or that maybe they should watch more, because removing the clutter in a hoarder’s house does not suddenly fix the problem.

Is it possible all the animals are a symptom of some issues in your life? Perhaps. I am certain that the amount of feathered and furred bodies in my home is very much in correlation with the difficulties I have committing to people, the ridiculous expectations I have of the significant others who come into my life and my fear of being hurt. The animals don’t disappoint me and they give me a safe direction for my nurturing and love. But would ridding my home of the animals fix my issues? No. Again, it is a symptom not a solution. I know this about myself and I work on it and perhaps this is why no one suggests I have gone overboard with my menagerie. Or perhaps it’s just that they are too afraid of me and my trained predators to even make such a suggestion. –I’d like to think it is actually because I seem balanced.

Rebecca & Booth

So if people are suggesting you have too many animals, perhaps you should start asking yourself if there is something else in your life that needs adjusting. Western society is so good at trying to fix symptoms that we rarely ask one another, “What’s REALLY going on with you? I know there is more to it than what you are saying. Let’s get to the bottom of this.” So finding what is actually bruised, bumped and perhaps not working as well as it should is a thing that you mainly have to do for yourself. Maybe if whatever is off kilter is put upright in your life, the number of critters you have now will be just right in everybody’s eyes. Or at least, it won’t bother you when people suggest there are too many.

Some of us could never be sane without the touch of fur, the brush of feathers and simplicity of animal adoration. But all of us need other people. The question of whether or not you have too many animals is irrelevant. So you don’t have to answer it. If you really are in over your head or you know someone who is, be compassionate enough to try to figure out the real reason why. I guess my answer boils down to being kind, to your friends and to yourself. What you should say is something patient and kind. That is the answer. In fact, I think kindness is almost always the answer to everything. It shouldn’t just extend to the animals in our lives.

xxRebecca

OMG She Laid an EGG!

Ahhh Spring.

Ahhh Spring.

It’s been a regular avian grumpfest around here lately. The falcons are on an all-you-can-eat diet and the molting has commenced, meaning falcons who have no use for me and are nearly impossible to handle. The pigeons or making ostentatious and impossibly loud overtures to one another. Meanwhile, the parrots are touchy and feathers abound in the house. Tis the season. What I wasn’t expecting though, was Loki’s first egg. Fifteen years old and my little hen Senegal parrot decided this was the year to settle down and get to business.

I watched her closely as soon as I realized she had made herself a newspaper nest and that she was bulging about the cloaca. I expected aggression, but what I got was adoration and regurgitation. She turned to goo, literally. I tried not to encourage her while watching for signs of egg binding. I was relieved when the first egg arrived and then the second. I might have one more to look forward to and then hopefully we’re done.

Egg laying can actually be dangerous business. An egg the parrot is unable to pass is a death sentence and not uncommon. First time egg layers and older birds may be more likely to become egg bound so keep an eye out. Egg binding can also occur because of compromised health, poor nutrition or simply because of genetics. If your bird is puffed, bright-eyed, interactive, but obviously just nesty, she’s probably fine, but watch closely for signs of distress. Watch for a distended abdomen and straining to pass something through the vent, drooping wings, fluffed feathers, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing. And if there is any question at all in your mind, best just to get to the vet!

Here are a few tips to avoid egg binding:

  • Get your bird DNA sexed so you know whether or not to suspect egg-laying
  • Try not to encourage nesting and bonding behavior during the breeding season.
  • Make sure your parrot has a nutritious well balanced diet with sufficient calcium (smooth muscle requires calcium to function and of course, calcium is required to create fully formed shells)
  • Get that bird some exercise! Obese birds are more likely to become egg bound.
  • Talk to your vet if your bird lays eggs excessively. Your vet may suggest hormones to get the egg laying to cycle more normally.

If your bird does become egg bound get to the vet right away! Your avian veterinarian can help the egg pass or remove it surgically if necessary before the situation becomes deadly.

Hope you all have a great Spring. It’s gonna be a long one around here…

Five Parrot Books that Should be on Your Shelf

These are the five books I think should be on every parrot owner’s bookshelf. Click on the titles to read a lengthier review of the books. (and to add your own review if you agree or disagree!)

Parrots of the World by Joseph M. Forshaw

Everyone should have a book to pull off the shelf when they are wondering what species of parrot that photo on the web might be or when arguing about the name of that lory species over drinks. (It’s Duyvenbodes, by the way. You win some you lose some…)

More importantly perhaps, this book is a wonderful starting point to finding out a bit of natural history about the parrot in your home. The more you know about what your parrot’s kin does in the wild, the better you will understand his needs and habits in your home!

Good Bird by Barbara Heidenreich

Barbara and I worked together for some time in the arena of free flight bird shows. She took much of what we knew and lived by and put it into this easy to understand book for the pet parrot community. It was just the start of many great tools produced by Good Bird Inc!

The Parrot Problem Solver by Barbara Heidenreich

Taking the basics of “Good Bird” to the next level, Barbara breaks down the basics of behavior and training. She gives those unindoctrinated in the world of using proven techniques and terms standardized by psychologists a great intro and many tools to put their new knowledge to work.

Brinkers All Around Grey Book

Brinker's All Around Grey Book

For the Love of Greys by Bobbi Brinker

The African grey parrot is unarguably one of the most popular species of pet parrot in the world. And few people are more knowledgable about this particular species than Bobbi. Introducing readers to the idea that positive reinforcement and facilitation rather than force is the best way to live with a grey, she also shares just about everything you need to know about keeping  your grey healthy and happy.

A Parrot for Life by Rebecca K. O’Connor

I won’t review my own book, but of course I think it should be on your shelf! Decades of both living with parrots and training birds professionally inspired me to write the book I wish I had when I trained my first cockatiel at eight years old. I wanted it to be fun to read and full of up-to-date information. My first birds would have had better nutrition, health and my hands would have suffered a lot fewer bits. I’ll leave it to you to decide if I accomplished my goal.

 

What are your favorite parrot books?

Be Kind to One Another

…People are Animals too!!

by C. Pedersen From Flickr.com click to see source

by C. Pedersen From Flickr.com click to see source

Those of you who have heard me speak on parrot training, have likely heard me say this in 10 different ways in my lecture. We often forget how incredibly important it is to be considerate to the others who live with our parrots and are not necessarily parrot people.

The ex-parrot post got me thinking that I ought to clarify this point just a bit further especially as more and more people commented privately, on Twitter and Facebook that the girlfriend should just “get over it” or “get some self-esteem.”

I’ve been around the block enough times now to know that no gets over anything when you tell them to “get over it.” And no grows self-esteem on demand. I agree that everyone should love parrots, I’m not really sure why they don’t. I also think they should have thicker skin. However, the fact of the matter is that some people don’t care for parrots and therefore don’t have much tolerance. Those people might love you, but not your parrot.

Don’t let the bird (or the dog or the cat) to be a bone of contention in your relationship with your roommate, children or significant other. The people in your life deserve just as much respect and love as your animals. No one deserves to be attacked, even if it is just by a tiny little Senegal parrot and they surely don’t deserved to be laughed at and told to “get over it.”  They also don’t deserve to have to listen to screaming or your ex-girlfriend’s bedroom talk if it really bothers them.
What do the people in your life deserve? Your understanding. Your empathy. Your willingness to work on a solution so that everyone came live comfortably together. They deserve for you to take their feelings seriously and come up with a training plan to change the bothersome parrot behavior. If the bothered party won’t take part in the training plan, then its their own problem that the parrot is being a pain. At least you were understanding of your roommate’s quality of life and tried to make a change for their benefit. At this point, I would say perhaps you are living with the wrong person, but not before.

In the end the quality of life will be better for everyone including your parrot if you care about the humans in your household. More importantly, you will never get to the “it’s me or the parrot” stage of your relationship.