How to Use Food as a Training Tool to Teach a Parrot Tricks

Learn how to use food as a training tool for teaching a parrot tricks from Parrot Wizard Michael Sazhin in this Howcast video.

This video is about how to use food as a training tool, and it’s as much about the food that you give as the food that you don’t give. So, the first thing that you’ve got to understand is portioning your parrot’s normal meals. I don’t want to encourage anyone to go and starve their parrot to teach them tricks. That’s not the purpose of this exercise.

However, I do want you to realize that the portion size that parrots need and consume is way, way smaller than the bowls that they make for them. So, this is the bowl that comes from Truman’s cage and, in reality, this is about the size meal that he should be getting. He gets two meals a day of this size, plus some treats during training.

He’s able to adjust his food intake by cooperating more during training sessions, so if he’s hungrier that day I give him more opportunities to earn treats during training. And if he’s not hungry, he’s going to show me that by not doing anything.

Knowing that he knows what to do, that’s very important. You can’t just say well, my parrot isn’t learning his first trick, so I’ve got to feed him less. That’s not necessarily the case. But, if you do know that your parrot can perform tricks, you can use that as feedback to know whether or not you should feed your parrot more or less.

So, this is about 12 Roudybush pellets right here, and that’s the typical meal size for this parrot. For a larger or smaller parrot, that can obviously be different. But, I just want you to be aware that your parrot actually needs way less food than you’re probably giving to it.

The next step is food scheduling. By scheduling when your parrot eats its meals and when your parrot receives its training rewards, you can encourage motivation to receive those training treats during training times. The key is not to feed your parrot right before training time.

Instead, let your parrot go without food for 6 to 12 hours, depending on the size. The smaller parrots, about 6 hours. For the larger ones, you can let them go all day or all night without food. You do your training session giving them treats, and then you give them their meal in the cage.

A foolproof approach is to give unlimited meal sizes in the cage after training, but only for a limited time. So, you can give them a full bowl for 30 minutes, let them eat as much as they want, and then you take that food back away and you don’t feed them again until their next training session.

Once you know that your parrot is hungry and wants to eat and wants treats, you can use treat foods to make it extra motivating. So, we have sunflower seeds and safflower seeds and other foods. What I like to do is buy a classic parrot seed mix, which you shouldn’t necessarily be feeding your parrot as its staple meal, but you can use this as treats.

Parrots really enjoy sunflower seeds and others. You can let your parrot discover its own favorite treats by just showing it the variety and seeing what it chooses. Truman picked a pumpkin seed out of the mix.

So, you let your parrot choose, and you find out what its favorite, second, and third favorites are. And then save the best, most favorite treats for when the bird is doing exceptional job. When the bird does a more ordinary or mediocre job, try to use the smaller treats to keep it hungry and motivated for the bigger treats for doing extra good work for you.

And that’s how you use food as a training tool for your parrot.