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How to Train your Hyacinth Macaw

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The hyacinth macaw, or hyacinthine macaw, is a parrot native to central and eastern South America. With a length of about 100 cm it is longer than any other species of parrot. It is the largest macaw and the largest flying parrot species, though the flightless kakapo of New Zealand can outweigh it at up to 3.5 kg.

My original goals with Hymie when I first brought him home were:

  • Get him eating some fresh foods.
  • Break the bad habit of immediately running to the shoulder.
  • Train him to let me hold his feet when he steps up on my hand. 
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I am pretty happy to report I accomplished ALL my goals and more! I was also able to socialize Hymie to other people successfully (including other birds and kids) and get him to accept my hands closing over his feet so that I could actually hold his feet in my hands. Once I was able to do this, I was able to transfer Hymie back and forth between my Florida room and an outdoor aviary… which he LOVED.

By the end of his trip with me, which was only a few weeks (instead of 6+ since I accomplished everything I wanted to in a lot less time) as he was returned to VA where his original owners are on July 6th, here are just a few foods he was eating with me (when he once REFUSED to eat anything but colored pellets and macadamia nuts!)

  • Oatmeal
  • Sweet potato
  • Chicken
  • Blueberries
  • Papaya
  • Creamed corn
  • Pine nuts
  • Almonds
  • Birdie bread with sprouts, peppers, organic pellets, bran, flax seed and much, much more! 

Hymie also learned to respect everyone new he met. With his first test, my brother in law, he did not run to his shoulder but stayed on his arm. And thereafter, he stayed on the hand or close to it depending on how the person allowed him to get up and what his balance was like. But there was no more “racing” to get up to the safety of anyone’s shoulder!

It’s hard to explain HOW I trained him to let me hold his feet. Some of the things I did was block him from going on my shoulder (or try) by how I would hold myself and I taught him to “stay” or “station” to his training perch so he would want to be down further on my arm to get there faster for a treat. This helped A TON. And didn’t use any force.

I also made 5-6 sessions with him per day, this means merely interactions with him where I was paying close attention to what I was telling him with my own body language. One day he would stay on my arm, the next day he was closer to my hand, and one day I just sort of realized I was holding one foot, and then eventually two for short periods of time, and at the end of it all, I was holding them without any problem at all. It happened based on interaction and a lot of it. I was not neccessarily holding a “training session” per say, but every interaction IS a training session because the bird is learning something from it. So I made sure never to give the wrong impression to Hymie. I also didn’t want him to think I was telling him “no” on anything, including going to the shoulder. So early on I STOPPED blocking him from it. Because that was saying no, and in a sense, trying to use “force”. Stationining him worked better because he would choose to get to the training stand and get the treat, and it was asking a behavior of him that was incompatible with being on the shoulder. Meaning, he couldn’t be on the t-stand and on my shoulder at the same time. 
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Teaching Hymie flight training helped a lot with the foot holding training too because I could almost always control where he was going to land on me and could set him up to land both feet right into my hand which I could then close at my sole discretion.

Although I WANTED to train Hymie everything in the book (as far as tricks are concerned) I trained only 4 behaviors really:

  • Recall training via flight
  • Stationing or “stay” (also with flight)
  • Stick ’em up (wings out)
  • Spin

Because Hymie is SUCH a fast learner and craves training time, I figured the other tricks/behaviors to train were not that hard to do and that his previous owners could do it just fine. So the day after I got home from leaving Hymie back in VA (which he was super excited about, by the way!) I heard from his owners that he had already learned how to “wave” which was one of my goals! I was very happy to hear it and the owner was impressed it took so little time making an even stronger bond out of their already strong bond with Hymie. I’m sure we will be hearing much more on Hymie’s success since he is already eating TONS of new fresh foods at his real home now including grapes, whole blue berries (mine I served I had to mush up), apples and peas plus much, much more! He is actually making faster progress now that he is at home which is fantastic! 

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