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Bird Behavior

by Gay Noeth of On African Wings

There is nothing mystical about your bird's behavior. It is not some hidden secret that only your bird can know. The principles of behavior that have been proven to work with humans and hundreds of other animals, will also work with your bird.

Years ago, Darwin (1809-1882) told us that behavior has *function*. Simply stated, it means that all behavior has a reason for being, and that reason is *value*. If a bird finds no value in a behavior, the behavior will not continue.

For this page, we want to focus on learned behavior while accommodating the natural inherited behaviors of birds, to the greatest extent we can.

It's said that learned behavior is a function of its consequences. It is this function that we want to identify to better understand and influence behaviors.

Behavior can be broken down into easily defined pieces (if you observe). These pieces are Antecedent, Behavior and Consequences. To look at a problem you have to be able to identify these three components.

Antecedents are the events and conditions that immediately precede a behavior. They set up the behavior.

Behavior is....well you all know what behavior is-the actual "what happens".

Consequence is what happens immediately after a behavior. The payoff....what the bird gets out of it.

With these three simple components and an understanding of reinforcement, you will be able to direct your bird to learn more acceptable behaviors.

Let's take a look at a simple ABC to see where this gets us.

Background information: Mrs. Smith has come home from work and taken her pet bird out of its cage and put it on a playstand with treats. Her bird loves being on the playstand and climbing all about. Mrs. Smith decides the bird must go back into the cage.

Antecedent: Mrs. Smith goes to playstand and asks the bird to step up
Behavior: Bird steps up
Consequence: Bird gets put into the cage

Now if you really look at this you could wonder, but does the bird really want to get put back in the cage? Exactly! If there is nothing the bird desires following the behavior, it is going to become harder and harder to get the bird to do the behavior.

The *probable future behavior* based on the above will probably be an unwillingness to step up and then possibly a downward spiral to flying away and/or biting.






So how could we change the above? Actually, it's relatively easy. By changing either the antecedent or the consequence or even both sometimes, we are able to change behavior.

Lets take another look at the above situation and change the consequence.

Antecedent: Mrs. Smith decides the bird must go back into the cage so she goes to playstand and asks the bird to step up
Behavior: Bird steps up
Consequence: Mrs. Smith tells bird how good he is, lavishes great praise and scritches onto bird, before replacing him into the cage

Here, since Bird likes the attention and the scritches, the bird will probably continue to step up to get them.

Now of course, we could take this one step further to see where we get.

Background: Mrs. Smith has been busy and must replace bird to the cage. She has asked him to step up and has rewarded him for doing so.

Antecedent: Mrs. Smith puts bird into the cage
Behavior: Bird steps down off her hand onto perch in cage
Consequence: The cage is shut, Mrs. Smith walks away

Hmmmmm. Do you think the bird will continue to step off her hand with no problem if this is always the payoff? Its unlikely. Again, we have to make the payoff something desired by the bird. The scratching of the neck once the bird has stepped off may work or a favorite treat or just praise.

Your bird can also learn new behaviors when we put the principles of positive reinforcement to work. The sky's the limit! The main point to remember is that each of us must find what is reinforcing to our particular bird. What one bird finds reinforcing is not necessarily what another bird finds reinforcing.
This is a very important fact and cannot be overlooked. View the consequence from the birds point of view, not your own.

This page has barely scratched the surface of how you can affect and teach your bird more positive daily interaction with you and other family members. It also has not explained the complete concept and workings of reinforcement, but I hope it is enough to give you the desire to read more, learn more and
put positive reinforcement to work.

Special thanks to Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D, for helping me *Get it*


For more information I would strongly suggest you take the online course offered by Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D. called Living and Learning with Parrots. There is a $50 fee for this course, to a designated bird-worthy cause. The course description can be found at the Parrottalk site.
You may also enroll for the course at Parrottalk Scroll down near the bottom and find the Living and Learning with Parrots course.


While you are waiting for the course may I suggest some articles by Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D.

Alternatives to Parrot Breaking
The Help at Hand
ABC's of Behavior
The Struggle for Dominance: Fact or Fiction
The Facts about Punishment
Early Socialization: A Biological Need and the Key to Companionability


An e-mail list has also been set up called Behavior Analysis Solutions. Scroll down near the bottom and look for BAS.



Books you could read on Positive Reinforcement Strategies suggested by S.G. Friedman, Ph.D include:

Don't Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training � Revised Edition, by Karen Pryor (1999).

How Dogs Learn by Mary Burch, Ph.D. and Jon S. Bailey, Ph.D. (1999).

Animal Training: Successful Animal Management through Positive Reinforcement by Ken Ramirez (1999).

First Course in Applied Behavior Analysis by Paul Chance (1997).

The Power of Positive Parenting : A Positive Way to Raise Children by Glen Latham, (1990).

The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen J. Gould, (1981).

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