Introduction: Why Teach Your Exotic Bird How to Read

About: I am married with two children. Spring, summer, and fall are my very favorite times of the year. I enjoy working in the yard, sewing, cooking, quilting, gardening, and creating. I do this to keep my sanity.

If you have an exotic bird or, are thinking about getting one, then this instructable might interest you.

I will be sharing tips on how to keep your bird entertained so they do not develop behavior problems, such as, biting or aggressive, and other problems associated with birds who might be depressed, afraid, hormonal, or bored. The information I offer is based on what I learned from Smirnoff and Annette and is very basic; if you are still interested after reading this please watch videos and read more articles from the professionals who can offer valuable information so you will be satisfied with your decision.

I will be sharing stories about Smirnoff, to emphasize how smart birds are and what you can do to help them adjust to their new environment and engage with you.

Last summer I had two very special house guest; Annette and her Cockatoo Smirnoff. Annette and her husband have adopted several Exotic birds; that needed forever homes, because, the owner passed away, moved over seas, and some were working too many hours for the bird to be left home alone, and a couple had biting issues.

We encourage adopting from an avian rescue instead of buying from a pet store or breeder because there are so many birds that the owners have given up, because some of them did not do the necessary research about owning an exotic bird. Some of these birds live to be over 70 years old, outliving their owners and some require a lot of attention, and all of them need owners to parrot proof their homes, because birds can get sick from things you have in the home like candles, aerosols, and cigarettes, just to name a few.

Here is a link to learn more about birds and their behaviors

Step 1: Birds Are Underestimated

Birds are very intelligent! Curiosity got the bet of me, so I did a search on birdbrain; and came across this article from the National Geographic magazine that has some interesting facts about exotic birds. Google search "Think ‘Birdbrain’ Is an Insult? Think Again." I had to chuckle, parrots would make great iblers if we could teach them how to write, they could sign up to instructables and share their projects!

Step 2: Behavior Problems

Smirnoff, has a very gravely voice and it is difficult to understand what he is saying. Every once in a while you can catch a few words with no problem. Annette carries yes and no cards with her in case Smirnoff needs them to answer her questions.

Parrots are very social creatures and vocal in their natural environment. They do not like to be left alone and will screech in distress. Smirnoff would screech anytime Annette left the room if he could not see her. His screech was so loud all of our neighbors commented that they could hear him. They laughed about it at the time but had this gone on for very long, I am sure there would have been complaints. Annette lives in the country and neighbors are not close enough to hear him. Smirnoff is her only bird that stresses when she is gone.

When Annette was outside in the yard she would put Smirnoff in Buster's kitty cave and that made him happy because he could see her. Sometimes she put him in time-out if there was no reason for his screeching, but she only does this for a couple of minutes because he usually said "Smirnoff is a good bird" and stopped screeching.

Annette mentioned that Smirnoff had bitten her on a few occasions and she figured out that his biting issue was usually a balance problem because he had a broken wing from a previous injury before she got him. He uses his beak to grab onto her and that is when he accidentally bites her. Birds use their beaks as a tool for climbing, cracking nuts, and for defense. One night she decided to go downstairs and because of the poor lighting, it was difficult for Smirnoff to see and he bit her when he grabbed onto her. That is when she asked him if he was afraid of the stairs and he touched the yes card with his beak.Most birds have limited night vision.

Birds also use their beaks for nest building which is a natural habit. You can't get mad at a parrot because he uses his beak to destroy something in the house, when it's his nature to do this. We had a supply of cardboard boxes and would give one to him to chew up and that kept him occupied and happy. Natural wood blocks are good as long as they are not treated or painted, best to double check and make sure the type of wood you are using is safe for birds.

When she first got Smirnoff he chewed on his feathers a lot. The reason he did this, was because he developed the habit because toys and chews were not previously available for chew on. Birds need chews to help them maintain their beaks. At first he was not interested in the things Annette gave him to play with, but as she worked with him, he began to engage with her and play with the toys, solving the chewing problem. Smirnoff spends his time out of the cage, except at night. He is ( only left alone for short periods of time,( another thing to consider before adopting a bird). She usually takes him everywhere she goes even Home Depot~

They have finished the bird room so the birds are cage free now. The room is large enough for them to fly. They are working on a large outdoor area for them to spend time outside.

I am leaning towards most of the problems people have with birds are because the birds are depressed, bored, or stressed because they have nothing to do. These creatures are very active in their natural habitat and when you add the ability to fly for 7000 miles non stop, reference below. The article gives you insight into how active and amazing birds can be in the wild and how unfortunate for them to spend their life in a cage.

Birds can fly 7000 miles without stopping

Step 3: Reward Good Behavior

Rewarding good behavior is very effective.

Step 4: Smirnoff Learns How to Give Consent

I think the first two words Smirnoff learned was yes and no by recognizing the words. Annette wanted him to understand he had choices. She carried the yes and no cards with her and he learned pretty fast what they meant. When someone would ask if they could pet Smirnoff, she would say "why don't you ask Smirnoff" When they asked him, he would touch the yes or no card with his beak, he usually answered yes, until he was uninterested. She also set up a recording on her phone ( "Smirnoff wants you to ask Smirnoff questions". so when he got loud when she was talking with someone on the phone, because he was not getting enough attention, she would ask him do you want to talk to so and so and he would usually answer yes.

One day he let her know he wanted to call me. I already knew what they had done that day so I started asking him questions about their day and he answered all of them correctly.

Parrots require about 12 hours of sleep every night or they are too tired the next day.Smirnoff gets tucked into his night cage and the cage is covered and the light goes off. Annette gave him a choice if he wanted the light on or off and repeated the question several times, to be sure that was what he wanted. He always picked on. So this lasted 2 nights, by the third night, Annette did not give him a choice because he was grumpy for two days, when he did not get enough sleep because it was still daylight out or so he thought.

Step 5: How Smirnoff Learned to Read Flash Cards

Annette began teaching Smirnoff the alphabet and sounds, one on one and then started playing alphabet videos on youtube

He could read and understand most of the words, Annette asked him, by picking up the right card with his beak.

She called me and asked me to ask Smirnoff who mommy was talking to. She wrote down grandma and grandpa and he picked the grandma card.

After whispering into Grandpa's ear, I put him on the phone, and he asked Smirnoff who ( Smirnoff was talking to and Smirnoff picked the Grandpa card, and he had never seen those words before that phone call. Interesting huh?

She had been teaching Smirnoff body parts on him and her. One time she asked him if he had feet like her and he was not very interested in playing the word game so he did nothing. She lifted up one foot and asked him to pick the feet card and he answered her by saying . . . "That's foot", clear as day.

Another time Annette asked him if he had hair on his head and he picked the yes card. Annette told him you don't have hair, you have feathers! He then lifted his crown feathers and showed her his few wispy little feathers, that did look like hair!

Step 6: Smirnoff Answers Questions About Story

Here is a video link of Smirnoff's first response to answering questions from a book Annette purchased that day. He had never heard the story before and she was curious if he understood it and how well he remembered it. Her original plan was to read one page and ask questions after that page but Smirnoff wanted to read the whole story first, then answer the questions. So the video takes off right after the story was read. Please keep in mind she did not have the questions written in advance, and Smirnoff was getting impatient after a shopping day, but for the most part he did quite well.

Smirnoff learns How To Read

Step 7: Smirnoff Learns How to Count and Knows All the Primary Colors

Annette taught Smirnoff how to count to 5 and was introducing the number 6. She laid out 6 dominoes and asked him how many dominoes. Smirnoff paused a minute and picked up one dice in his mouth and tossed it aside and picked the 5 card.

Annette mentioned Smirnoff knew his colors and began to pick up two paper clips, one red and one green and ask Smirnoff to pick the red one from her hand and he picked the correct color every time she changed the request.

Then we added more colors and I asked her if I could try. I picked up all the colors and hid one behind me and, asked Smirnoff to pick the color that was not in my hand. He tilted his head to the right and to the left and to the right and never tried to pick the color. He recognized it was not there.We all thought that was amazing.

Step 8: Smirnoff's Daily Routine

.When Smirnoff learned how to read, Annette would show him the flash cards with the words; feed the horses, go for a walk and check the mail. Smirnoff always picked feed the horses, go for a walk, and then check the mail until . . . he received a letter in the mail from sunshiine! After that, their routine changed to check the mail, go for a walk and then feed the horses.

Step 9: Smirnoff Shows Off in Front of the Flock

What's interesting is, Annette has been working with the other birds and they are engaged in learning the alphabet and they all seem to appreciate the bedtimes stories.

She was teaching the birds the word peanut and pistachio by showing them the peanut card first and if they took the card they did not get another choice if they did not pick the peanut card they had the choice of a pistachio. It was Poncho's turn to pick a card. Annette showed him the peanut card and asked him if he wanted a peanut. He aggressively grabbed the card from her hand and Annette said Poncho! Be gentle!

Smirnoff was on his perch making all kinds of racket and when it was his turn to answer her question, he puffed out his chest and mumbled a few bird words as if to say "watch this"! Annette asked him if he wanted a peanut and showed him the card and he very very slowly and ever so gently picked up the peanut card ( even though he preferred pistachios and knew the word,) he was teaching Poncho a lesson from the the expert.

Another example of how smart birds are is this story.

Annette bought Kiwi a bell and put it in her cage. The next morning Annette woke to the bell ringing. Ringling Ringling Ringling and after hearing the bell a few more times, Smirnoff hollers out clear as day " Stop it"!

Step 10: Sunshiine's Final Thoughts

It would not surprise me if Annette taught Smirnoff how to write, and I don't think the idea is too far fetched for her to consider doing it.

I look forward to any Smirnoff story that Annette is willing to share. There are so many it is difficult to remember all of them. Teaching Smirnoff how to communicate through flash cards has given him confidence, and he is interested in exploring more things by scourging for the food Annette has stuffed into coin wrappers and toilet paper rolls, and he is speaking more clearly when he wants to. Annette is his very best friend!

Smirnoff shares his day

In time, the other birds will be more confident and I am sure she will have a lot more bird stories and experiences to share. Thanks for stopping by and do have a safe and happy summer!


Annette has given me permission to use some of her pictures for this instructable, thanks.

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