shanlung (shanlung) wrote,

Tinkerbell Legacy - - Rant 03 (a flighted parrot mentality) & Understanding the mind of your grey

23 Feb,

After a couple of lazy days, I spend today on a couple of small tours.

The first tour was a trip by boat up the Mekong river to Pak Ou cave 2 hours upstream with a lot of Buddhas in the complex. The river ride passed by largely forested mountains on both sides of the Mekong river. A couple of stops were made in local villages, one village specialised in making rice wine and the other in making paper.

In the afternoon, a minivan brought a bunch of us to a Kuangsi waterfall. We reached there after an hour on unpaved track. A tiger cub was rescued from poachers in 1999 and she lived there in an enclosure since then. I spend half an hour looking at her and thinking nice thoughts to her before I continued to the waterfall itself. It is a pretty waterfall. From about 100 meters up, the river split and divide itself into a series of tiered cascades marching down to the turquoise plunge pool. After that, the water spread out in a series of pooled terraces disappearing in the jungle beyond.

I got back into town and decided to continue with this.

Tinkerbell Legacy - Living with a flying parrot - Rant 03

Psychology and temperament of a parrot

You are aware that parrots are so individual and may have different behaviour altogether. In this part, I refer to Tinkerbell. If we are to talk about training and living together, it helps if we know the mind of our companions.

1. Intelligience and sense of fair play.

Her intelligience is staggering to me. Because she flew about with me and interacts with me, there are many incidents which indicate her intelligence to the extent I must conclude that they are sentient as well.

My earlier letters mentioned the way she understood the harness arrangements and the way she indicate to me how I need to improve that design. One day, I saw one of the two leash loop (the 9 inch long loops from the harness) to be out of the hook and the other leash loop inserted into the second hook (line hook). I thought that was a wierd mistake from my part until one day she (Tinkerbell at pavilion beyond Dragon Eye) took that off completely after she was extremely angry at me. I then realised that she must have got the two loops completely off and did not let me know. She was in the process of inserting the loop back but she used the wrong hook.

I can talk of the uncanny choice of words in the right context when she talked with me.

Even though she was trained to fly to me on cue and I mentioned I thought her "step up" from the beginning, that was conditional only. My son came to stay with us for a few weeks. Tinkerbell never flew or go to him. At home, I called Tinkerbell to fly to me. When she was on my shoulder, I cued her to step up and I moved to try to hand her to my son. She flew off back to my shoulder. I then asked her to step up and turned to my son. She flew off immediately to a nearby perch. I walked over to her as she refused to fly to me on cue and asked her to step up. She stepped up on my hand and when I turned to my son, she flew off immediately. She refused even to step up after that and flew to another room. I never tried to make her go to my son after that.

I have a squirter gun that I use to reinforce "NO" requests to her. The unwritten code is that if she stopped doing the misdeeds, I cannot shoot at her. She was biting off the buttons from a shirt. I said "NO", took the gun and pointed at her and she nicely stop chewing and was on the verge of flying back to her perch. I was feeling wicked and I pull the trigger giving her a jet of water. She looked at me as if in shock and she flew to my shoulder. Now, I mentioned she normally will go to her designated places to shit. That was taught to her by praising her when she did so at her perches. If she shit elsewhere and we caught her in the act, she will be scolded. In that way, she was toilet trained and she knew we do not like her shitting elsewhere.

She felt an injustice was done to her. On flying to my shoulder, she shat on me. I felt relieved as I was feeling guilty at firing at her. She then immediately flew away to my other shoulder and repeated that act , flew off and hover in front of me looking at me before going to her perch and preen. I felt so ashamed that I had to apologise to her. I never crossed that line again.

When we go out with her in her harness, I mentioned very often that never should the harness and leash be used to drag her or even to 'urge' her in coming to you. If she did not want to take off and fly to me, I would walk back to her, talked to her and changed the position to try again.

But sometimes when there was a crowd, it was so tempting to pull. When I did that, she deliberately took off, aimed at a treee, and flew around the trunk twice. She did that deliberately as the line did not even touch the tree trunk until her second loop around the trunk. She then was brought short by the line and she went round and round and round after that. At other times, she knew the obstacles and she understood enough of the line and would fly to avoid them. She knew the difference between deliberate pulling and accidents. Sometimes when I walked away laying the line, I tripped or the reel snagged and she was pulled from the perch. In all those cases, she would fly over to my shoulder.

Food treats are an important component of any training. However, it will be a big mistake if we think that our parrot are greedy Pavlovian robots. They do like intelligent training so that they can be with you doing things that both liked. I used to reward Tinkerbell with sunflower seeds all the time when she came to me on recall. Until one day, after she flew to me, she took the sunflower seed offered and threw that to the ground. She then turned her head in the 'head rub' posture, talked softly to me requesting for headrubs instead.

A parrot is no unthinking robot. If we can agree the parrot is intelligent, then it is important that they can take an active part in the training. That our training to them be modified by what they want us to do as well, that at times, they may even be training us.

If we assume we are there only as commanders and they as robots that must obey, or forced to obey us, we look at them to see only if they obey us or not. If we use that kind of mental approach, we will miss seeing their body languages and behaviour to the cues we give. We then only see that they did not obey without ever seeing their body language as to why they do not do so. We can try and try and try and blame everyone for the failure and never know the reasons that our parrots are trying to tell us about.

Such alpha wannabees can never ever have the joy and warmth of a real friendship either.

In having and living with a flying parrot that can never be forced, your only chance for success must be based on friendship and equality with her. Only then will you notice their body language and nuances with the clarity that will come to you.

2. Parrots are empaths.

I am convinced that parrots sensed our emotions.

When I got back from the office, the reaction I got from Tinkerbell will be different very much as if she knew the mood I was in. If I felt the day was bad for me, she would fly over to me and settle herself on my shoulder to preen herself or my hair or give gentle nibbles on my ear. I chill out with a drink with her on best behaviour on my shoulder.

If I got back with a happy mood, she would fly to me screaming at me. She then will snatch the packet of cigarettes from my pocket and fly off to top of the cupboard to tear them apart. She ignores all my "no"s. As I recognised this as a game from her, I never threatened her with the squirt gun. I chased her and she allowed herself to be caught eventually. Or she would snatched my keys , fly around looking for Halftail the cat or Zorro my ferret to divebomb them until I intervene.

I tried to fool her by pretending to be happy when I was not or pretending to be sad. She read me correctly at all times. Perhaps she may have seen our facial and body expressions. Perhaps she may sense the emotions at some other level.

This became a very important part in our interactions and training. To think of training as some Pavlovian conditionting demeans them and us.

When I train her and she did it well, I was happy of course. I also project mentally to her of my happiness and my words to her reflect that feeling of happiness. If she did something that is REALLY BAD, I allow anger and unhappiness to flow out of me to her. It is a mistake and I believe very confusing to parrot to be hypocritical in our actions and thoughts.

(editted and added on 7 Aug2010
The belief by most people that you remain silent and stoic when being bitten by your parrot is hypocritical and wrong. You will continued to be bitten and your parrot will never learn. This is true if you are friends. If you are the alpha, then you go find your own solution as I don't know how to be an alpha)

If you caught the parrot doing something bad that displeases you, it is very important to be honest about it to them. Sweet words and murderous thoughts will be confusing to them. Which is another reason why I mentioned earlier that if she did something bad and you did not see that act being done, you should just clean up or fix it and do not even think of it after that.

I am not advocating punishment or something fearful to your parrot as part of any training. Tinkerbell is not afraid of the squirt gun at all. She even love to play games with me involving the squirt gun. She would do something that she knew is 'bad' by my defination. She even called out to me "Tinkerbell is a bad girl" to let me know she was doing something bad. She knew the gun must be aimed before it is effective. She would wait until I almost aimed the gun at her before she flew off rapidly and zigzag herself out of line of fire to perch herself on top of the gun and bob at me as if it was a big game.

She also trained me. When she was thirsty, there were some very specific signals and calls that she wanted water. Sometimes, I failed to notice her signals especially if she was on my shoulder and I lost in thoughts on other matters. My wife would notice her signals but would keep quiet, out of her morbid curiosity as to what she would do. Tinkerbell would then nip my ear as if to call my attention, and then repeat her request for water.

I do not ever think she was punishing me and her nips were just to get my attention. For all I know, she may have 'borrowed' that from me into her own way of training me.

The relationship between Tinkerbell and me was a feisty and robust one where we screamed together in happiness and with a lot of play and laughter.

If your parrot is very sensitive and fearful, then you must first win their confidence with patience. This is something that you can do with clicker training that I will talk more on later. I consider all aggressive parrots to be very fearful and sensitive. I cannot imagine any parrot biting you with deliberate malice. They will give so many body signals that you may have ignored.

I mentioned before that you must not fear your parrot. You can respect their beak, but must never fear them. I do feel if you have fear for them, they may felt or sensed or read your fear and misunderstood your fear for them. The parrot may be even more frightened by your fear and you end up getting bitten.

(editted and added on 10 Aug 2010 - a couple of letters I wrote on 9 Aug 2010 when I revived this old writing. I think those couple of letters belong here as well)


[AGPC] Re:Understanding the mind of your grey

Greys are intelligent and I really cannot see their biting in terms of mindless
viciousness from them at all.

Only humans are capable and demonstrate unprovoked viciousness and cruelty. Are
we right in extending that uniquely human trait to the animals in general and
greys in particular?

Greys resort to biting when they are frightened and afraid or if they felt they
cannot communicate anymore of their wishes and preferences.

I remembered the days when I was a tiny boy and a lot more cute than what you
have seen of me in my photos.

My sisters, and their friends, love to pet my cheek when I did not like it. At
that time, if I had known of greys and parrots, I would have turned around and
chomp them on the fingers.

To me, it was so easy to see if birdie is receptive to me or not.
And very often, if birdie is not receptive then (to head rubs or to train
together), just a few minutes later, the birdie will be ready and receptive.

Perhaps its because I do my best to see their moods AT ALL TIMES.
And because I want to see, I do see it.

Smart and intelligent as greys may be, shouldn't the onus be on us the humans
who are supposed to be even smarter?

Are we to blame the parrot because they 'cannot read us' (I think they read us
a lot better!) or should we blame ourselves for not reading them, and in many
cases, deliberately not reading them in the first place.

I think 'Alphas' pay a heavier price for assuming the role of alphas
than those who decide greys are equal and should be treated with the courtesy
and dignity due to fellow sentients.

And if 'Alphas' insist on what they think is God given role as 'Alphas', they
continue to pay the price until they learn.

To each the role they want to play, and the rewards and price they get for
playing those roles.


Far too often, because people do not see or do not wish to see the reason for
the biting, they rather conveniently say the parrot bite them without reasons at

Or they say its the Terrible 2 or 3. That hormonal changes came.
That might be the case. But even at that, the nuances of the emotions can be so
easily seen in them.

Blaming hormonal changes is another cop-out.

Even without hormonal changes, a parrot might get out of the wrong side of the
bed on that day.

I do not do to them what I done the day before because I can do that the day
before or even on the hour just before. That the birdie liked it then do not
mean the birdie like the same thing now.

The birdie showed so much of what they liked that it is so much easier to make
yourself more receptive to their moods there and then and act to them according
to their moods there and then.

That is just simple courtesy and respect to fellow intelligent sentient.


In another forum I just wrote something new.
I think that is important enough for me to add here as well.


Quote from: danmcq;205422
Shanlung -
I agree 100 percent with you, that they do not bite out of just meaness or viciousness. They did it because we did not respect thier space or body language at the time.

In this thread at another forum somewhere, there is this lady who love to say she graduated from a bird psychology course in almost everyone of her mail. Whatever that meant. Maybe that she became an expert because she got a printed certificate.

Her grey bite her about once a month, and that it was the fault of the grey. That greys are so individual. But of course! Greys are individuals.
I do not treat Riam the way I treat Tinkerbell. But at the very bottom, they all are the same, including getting out of wrong side of bed.

It was so obvious she relished her role as the Alpha and with her psychology course, that she could psycho the birdie to her will. (guess who I wrote indirectly to in letter of 11 Aug). That she carried the birdie everywhere (guess that she clipped the wings so birdie be less uppity)

Also obviously, I am a nobody to her. With none of those fancy certs to hang in my house and none of those fancy affiliations. So again

And if 'Alphas' insist on what they think is God given role as 'Alphas', they
continue to pay the price until they learn.

To each the role they want to play, and the rewards and price they get for
playing those roles.

I also cannot understand whats all those emphasis on birdie pinning their eyes to be watched out for as the magical precursor to biting.
Tinkerbell, and now Riamfada, they kept pinning their eyes (narrowing and then dilating their pupils) almost all the time when I play with them.

I like to think they pin their eyes even when I am not playing and watching them at all.
I never will know. After all, if I am not watching them, can one know if they pin their eyes then?

One might as well say parrot open their jaws before they chomp on you and watch out that opening of the jaws.

One other very special point I like to make.

I always asked them (by voice or by the very actions) and I watched them, as to everything I like them to do, or allow me to do.
My wishes were almost never rejected by them.

I do believe, the very act of asking them, was perceived by them.

And because I did the courtesy of asking them, they allowed me , and played along with me, because I asked them.

Simple opening of the heart, and courtesy and respect to them, gained me a lot more than a dozen beautiful certificates and affiliations.

Your graduation from my course is your better enjoyment with your birdie and having more magic in your relationship. And a lot less chomping from them.

Isn't that better than a beautiful cert and diploma hanging on your wall?

Do try that, and remember that cheque to Gerald Durell Wildlife Trust or to any nature conservation body of your choice on your graduation.

And tell your friends it worked for you and to try this course, so nicely stickied here for easy finding.

Warmest regards



(added on 19 Aug 2010 )

I thought I add into this the preamble I made when I revived this old writing on 9th Aug 2010. I was checking on my statistics when I noticed this entry was read. I saw this was an old entry so I read it. Even when I first wrote this, I had not realised how important it was at that time. But in reading of the problems folks have even in simple stuff like step up, and their constantly getting chomped on, I thought this would help them. So I wrote in that introduction to this old writing.

I think you would agree with me.


Understanding the mind of your grey and other parrots

2600 years ago, Sun Tzu wrote his Ping Fa better known perhaps to you as 'The Art of War'

One fundamental underlie his thoughts in his PingFa.

知 己 知 彼
zhi ji zhi bi

百 战 百 胜
bai zhan bai sheng


Know yourself, Know your opponent
A hundred battles, a hundred victory.

I am not saying we treat our grey as an enemy to do battle with.

But if we understand them, it may make it that much easier to live with them and to train with them.

Whether you want to train with them as friends, or to train them as you the "Alpha', understanding their mind must help.

And perhaps those that thought they must dominate them and be the Alpha might even change their mind instead.

And perhaps those that have been bitten and otherwise terrorised by their grey might be bitten a lot less and enjoy their parrot a lot more, and find training with them a lot easier. And in bonding with them.

If you understand the mentality of your parrot, that might go a long way to becoming friends together. And save you lot of pain and heartaches in the process.

Notwithstanding that was written in early 2005, I cannot add further to that.

I think this is one of the most important of the many entries I have written over the last ten years.

I find what I wrote to be applicable to my currently living with Riamfada, and to Yingshiong even if YS was not a grey.

My 2 cents and for all it is worth.

An extract from Tinkerbell Legacy

Tinkerbell Legacy - Living with a flying parrot - Rant 03 (a flighted parrot mentality)

Warmest regards

山 龍



(added on 29 Aug 2010 )
an extract from

Pakistan//mind of parrot//Tinkerbell Mash Batch 9//Riamfada pulling up cup//Villa walkabout


Mentality of parrot

William wrote to me a letter yesterday. I have his ok to reproduce that below


Hello, Shanlung,

It's been a while since I wrote. My apology, but I've started a new job and the time constraints of caring for a menagerie and working a full time position in the US (where the working week has been unofficially extended to 45 hours) don't leave time for correspondence.

But I had to comment on what you said about people with certifificates and living with a grey. I've been bitten a number of times. It's ok. I recognize what constitutes a bite (a real bite!) and what constitutes a parrot playing hard, a process which will almost inevitably leave a puncture mark or two. Honestly, when I've asked my grey (Martha - long story on the name) to do things she doesn't feel like doing (going inside when she's not done playing is one example) she will give me a nip to let me know she doesn't want to do that. This is ok - she has the right to tell me she wants to play more. People who do not accept that the bird also has wants probably should go buy a dog, though I'm not sure they'd be very good dog owners either.

As for certificates, etc, I learned in one exchange with an expert that our end goals are not in sync. My goal is to give the bird as much freedom as I can, and let it discover its limits. The expert's goal was to ensure a satisfying bird ownership experience. So while I am very at ease letting my bird fly to my shoulder and hang out there or wander up and down my chest and back, her advice was that this shouldn't be done. But since we were operating from different views of what is desirable in a bird-human relationship, any reasonable discussion of what should and should not take place was fruitless. So, rather than expose myself to the frustration inherent in trying to convince people of the 'goodness' of ideas when they don't want to be convinced, I just keep my views to myself and try not to get too annoyed when I read some of the poppycock that passes for bird owning wisdom.

One thing I can say - an African Grey is far more cognizant of the aspects of its life than is generally accepted. I have never met a more intellectually engaging creature - I'm fond of saying that greys are cats on steroids, since cats are also intellectually engaging, whereas dogs are loyal, and, quite rightly, man's best friend. All three species play an important role in my life, and I value each species for what it brings to the relationship.

Somewhat rambling, and I apologize. But, as I said, I hadn't written for a while, and I appreciate the perspective you bring to life and thought it might be a good thing to let you know.

As always, best wishes,

William H Guttenberg


I am touched by that letter William send to me. Even the occasional nip that he confessed inflicted on him.

After all, with all that I wrote, I cannot promise even a chomp free existence with your birdie.

I only say less chomping from your birdie, even for me.

None of us are perfect, especially me. We all have our lapses. From the time with Tinkerbell, and I imagine into the future, there have been lapses on my part. Through my own getting out of wrong side of bed, coffee not getting into head yet, day dreaming, wanting a particular sequence very much and plain stupidity, I have been guilty of not asking and therefore not observing them enough at times.

In such cases, I pay some kind of price.

In short, I do get chomped on. Rarely , and not on that kind of monthly basis. But never those bone crunching (other than that once from Riamfada who mistook my finger for wife ) or blood drawing bite.

Tinkerbell loves me very much.


Tink was so different from Riam. Tink would nip me, never painfully, to draw my attention should I be lost in day dreaming and not paying attention to her.

In-attention to her during our playing and training because of incoming phone calls would see Tink attacking the mobile phone in full fury. Wife talking to me during those times would see her being chased away to another room.

Riamfada is different in that she never knowingly even nipped on me. You have known Riam not only bite, she had displayed terrifying flying lunges onto my wife, and once captured on photo, a flying lunge on Harry in

Even when I pushed her more than I should at a couple of time in my puerile curiosity, she just would not bite me. But she remembered. And she chose my wife as her whipping girl. And punished my wife to punish me a short while later.

Needless to say, I stay on that straight and narrow with Riamfada and all puerile curiousity in me (at least on Riamfada) was purged. My wife made sure of that.

Wlliam's letter brought home an element that is much more sad to me.

I am made aware of the gulf that I am trying so hard to bridge with others.

Those who read me, and in this mailing list, must have already shared a similar outlook to our companions. Even when you all have not heard of me, you all are already walking on your path, subjected to your constraints, similar and parallel to mine regardless if you kept your birdie flighted or clipped.

To those others that I tried to reach, even by entering into their forums on this issue, have been so surrounded by their brand of 'experts' and 'expert advisors' and 'bird owning wisdom' , that I felt the futility of reaching out to them.

We will still see 'dominance', 'height placement' , 'must show them you are the boss',must suffer in silence and be demure when your birdie chomp and grind on your flesh and bone and be stoic, and 'discipline' chanted again and again and yet again in those forums.

Those people will enjoy the advise from their 'expert advisors', and wondering why year after year, they suffer instead of enjoying.

As if I never written there at all.

I feel like a modern day Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

(Edited on 3 Sep 2011 to include this. )

What prompted me to write mentality of grey // Imprinting of birds// A fairy in my life

When I wrote
Rant 03 (a flighted parrot mentality) & Understanding the mind of your grey

there had been many experiences and discussions I have had before. Some of them were internalised in me and faded into the bedrock where I stood on.

But the other day at a forum, I wrote of some of those earlier discussions with other people I have had. And realised why I came onto the road I walk on now.

I extract that below, and added a slight bit more at the end here to put the extract into the context it was written in.

Let us get back to Gizmo.
I thought I write here something I plagiarised from what I wrote in another forum just a short while ago. And which obviously apply to you too.

CAGs are just so painfully intelligent that their personalities will never be the same.
What I did with Tinkerbell will not be what I did with Riamfada and vice versa.

I do not mold them into what I want. I mold myself to what they are, and teaching them what is acceptable and not acceptable.

When I was wrong, I accepted their chastisements on me in the same way they accepted my chastisements.
Training is a two way road.

All those I knew, be they dog or cat or horse family, told me without exception that the CAG was head and shoulders above them all.

I met trainers of dolphins, of great apes, of killer whales, and who happened to have CAGs. It is humbling to hear from them that they felt CAGs showed far greater intelligence than the other sentients that they trained with.

Give them love, respect, courtesy and dignity due to intelligent sentients equal to yourself.

You get that all back, together with the magic that only they can add.

You understand better why your best chance to succeed is to be friends with them and never as the alpha notwithstanding what the bulk of others might want you to think.

With CAGs of that level of intelligence that surpassed the major recognised intelligent sentients such as great apes, dolphins and killer whales, how ludicrous it is to think one is above them and we are to impose our wills on them.


Without that kind of relationship, I would not have been able to do
what you see below.

Below are some photos of Riamfada flying with Tinkerbell harness





or calling Dommie to come through tide pools to me and seeing him doing just that.





Riamfada is doing free flights as well in areas that I felt are safe enough for us to do that after a year of flights in harness and leash.



Thoughts on free flights // Riamfada last weekend with Jabris

Her freeflights were recorded here


Chile // Riamfada free flights at the edge of Rub Al Khali


Then soul searching in

Reflections on Riamfada at edge of the Empty Quarter and some rants

followed by

Free flights at Edge of Rub Al Khali Revisited

Important old letters on harness
Harness for flighted parrots – To Nick and folks

August, 2005.

‘ cargo cult'

'Ramadan & Kitties on beach// Chess -1st Saturday IM Tournament // Tinkerbell Harness for Piper '

Making of Tinkerbell Mash
Morning with Harry & the decision// Sultan of Oman Palace// Tinkerbell Mash Batch 7

(edited on 4th November 2011 to include below)

To Shanlung - How to do Free Flight Outside

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