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Uploaded:2021-01-28
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Jessi fills you in on what Chopsticks the quaker parrot has been up to, including challenges with training and a serious health scare.

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Hello!

Welcome back to Animal Wonders. I’m Jessi, and this is Chopsticks the quaker parrot, also known as a monk parakeet.

I know a lot of you have been asking about Chopsticks, so I’m happy to be giving an update on this feisty little guy, including where we are with his training and what’s up with the health scare that we had a couple months ago. [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC]. Chopsticks has never been an easy parrot to work with, from the day he was rescued in 2013 to today, but that doesn't mean he doesn’t deserve all the love. We don’t know how old Chopsticks is and we don’t have a good history on him, but we do know that he was previously someone’s pet because he came with an extensive vocabulary of over 40 mimicked words and sounds.

Want a treat? Here you go. Can you say "thank you"? [CHOP

STICKS:] Thank you. We also know that someone found him in their yard and brought him to our local animal control center. Animal Control spent 3 months searching for his original owners before contacting us for permanent placement. Now I know he looks a bit scruffy, and that’s because he doesn’t have any feathers on his chest or sleek covert feathers on his shoulders.

So his fluffy feathers are peeking through. Chopsticks came to Animal Wonders missing these feathers, and unfortunately the follicles are damaged beyond healing, so the feathers will never grow back. So this little guy is who he is, and we’re here to support him as needed.

Let’s do a little training session with this handsome boy now that he’s settled in. Hi bubbas! Right here?

Oh, yum! Good boy! Can you come this way a little bit?

Good! Can we do a spin? Good boy!

Nice work! That was so good! Yes it was.

Okay, now I’d like to share what happened to the break down our relationship. For the first few years at Animal Wonders, Chopsticks was an excellent ambassador for his species, and he traveled to public presentations showing off his awesomeness and sharing the fun vocalizations that he knew. But then something changed and instead of enjoying his time out with me, he started biting and showing aggressive behaviors.

So I asked my friends at BirdTricks, Jamie and Dave, to help me assess where things had gone wrong with Chopsticks. After a great session, we figured out that I had been accidentally reinforcing aggressive behavior when I’d meant to just be reinforcing his vocalizations. Basically what happened was Chopsticks would say something that I thought was cute but he was actually expressing a heightened emotion or aggressive behavior with that vocalization, which I would then reward.

And when a behavior is reinforced, the animal will do it more and more frequently. So, to get us out of this loop, I started from the beginning to work at not reinforcing any behaviors that had heightened emotions. I wanted to just focus on rewarding him when he was calm.

With most animals, target training is the best way to start because it’s easy for both the trainer and the trainee, and it can lead to many more complicated trained behaviors down the road. Unfortunately, Chopsticks was extremely fearful of any tool we tried to use as a target. No matter what we tried, he simply couldn’t be persuaded to enjoy a training session if he saw any kind of object that he thought might be used as a target.

From sticks, to twigs, to pens, to small balls, over and over again, he would shut down and refuse to continue with the session, even refusing freely offered treats. We were both frustrated, and training sessions were no longer enjoyable, which is the total opposite of what they’re supposed to be. So, even professional trainers and those who have trained animals for years and years can struggle from time to time.

It’s normal and it’s okay to talk about. What’s important is to come back to the basics and remember that training should be enjoyed, and training is simply a way to communicate between species. If something isn’t working, you need to find a different way of trying to say what needs to be said.

So I put target training on hold and focused on building up our trust bond and reinforcing any behavior that showed active participation. He got a treat for looking at me, for taking a step toward me, for leaning forward, basically anything that showed he was calm and ready to engage in the training session. It also helped that I discovered his absolute favorite treat.

Now, I usually use safflower seeds because they’re small and low in fat so I have more rewards to give before they get full, but Chopsticks doesn’t think that they’re high enough value. But after using a tiny bit of peanut butter in an enrichment toy and seeing how much he engaged with it,. I offered a little bit at the end of a spoon and it was like hitting the jackpot.

So, that’s what we use for training during times when he really needs motivation to enjoy the session. Eventually we were able to get him to follow my finger like he would a target stick and he understood a spin behavior. I then reintroduced a stick, not as a target, but as a step up stick so I could strengthen his stepping up behavior again while I protected myself from a bite if he became frustrated.

Since we had come a long way with calm behavior, I started experimenting with seeing if I could get him to say something while staying calm. And that’s where we’re at right now. We’ve struggled, but we’ve also made progress and Chopsticks is still an awesome little guy.

We’re gonna do a little training session again! Yeah? What do you think?

Here you go! Turn this way. Good boy!

Can we do a spin? All the way around! Good boy!

That was a big mouthful, huh? You're gonna get full of peanut butter! You'll be all Peanut Butter Bird.

That was good! Thank you for staying calm. I've been working on trying to get him to touch the end of this.

Good! Hi! Want a treat?

Can you "do the quaker"? [CHOP

STICKS:] Do the quaker. [

JESSI:] Good boy! Can you tell me a secret? Psst, psst, psst, psst, psst, psst, psst. Psst, psst, psst, psst, psst, psst.

Tell me a secret. [CHOP

STICKS:] Psst, psst, psst, psst, psst, psst, psst. Oh, thank you! That was a good secret. Are you a duck?

Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack. [

JESSI:] Here... [CHOP

STICKS:] Quack, quack, quack. Now, a few months ago, Chopsticks gave us a big scare. Early one morning we found him on the bottom of his enclosure weak and unstable. In just one week he had lost a significant amount of weight.

Since Chopsticks only steps onto a stick from inside his home and we had been reintroducing a stick as a good object to step onto, we were only weighing him once a week. And in that week he had gone from 116 grams down to 92 grams! This is a big loss.

If there have been no changes to diet and a bird loses more than 10% of their weight, it means that something is very wrong and they need to get to a vet ASAP. Our vet couldn’t find any reason why he was so weak and unbalanced. Since we didn’t have anything that we could actually fix, we prepared for the worst, that Chopsticks was just old and that he was at the end of his life.

We modified his home and set him up with a heat panel to keep him warm, soft blankets for him to walk on and be cozy with, made his food and water easily accessible, offered him any foods that he would eat, and gave him daily doses of pain relieving medication mixed in peanut butter in case he was experiencing pain. Well, he surprised us and actually started gaining weight! He slowly started to get stronger and was able to perch without wobbling.

And 5 months later he’s back to his normal weight, he’s off pain medication, and with a small dollop of peanut butter every day, he’s maintaining. Our best guess is that Chopsticks is quite old, which is all the more reason to show him every kindness we can. Whether he lives one or ten more years, it’s my pleasure to find ways to bring him happiness every day.

If you're struggling with training, I hope that hearing Chopsticks’ story inspires you to keep trying. And if mistakes have been made, know that it’s never too late to make a change to get back on target. Give yourself and those in your life some extra love today, and if you’d like to continue going on animal adventures with us every week, be sure to subscribe and we'll see you soon!

Bye! [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC].