Ask Lafeber


January 27, 2021


I would like to ask for advice on a specific training method.
Our CAG Smokey lives in an aviary, she is 6 months and three weeks old, we have had her since the age of three weeks, she has been free-flying outdoors since the age of four months, and she already speaks a few simple words (she has also started her Baby molt, which is really early I think).
I have begun to play with her to put a colored ball into a same color cup, but this is where I feel that I could be doing something wrong. I started with just using a red marble (15 mm diameter) and a red cup. Every time she picks up the marble I’ll say “red”, and when she drops it into the cup, she will get a click and a treat. I put the marble in such a way that, after picking it up, she will have to turn around to find the cup(s). I then added a green cup. Shifting the cups around often I will tell her “red” when she picks up the marble, and on average she will drop it into the red cup about 50% of the time. Sometimes she will almost drop it into the green cup but change her mind last second and walk over to the red cup. But at other times she can also get it very wrong and drop it into the green cup five or six times in a row. She won’t get a click or a treat for that, of course, and she is smart enough to know that it was wrong and will take the marble out of the green cup and drop it into the red cup (and she will then look at me with great pride and expectancy). I will also change the marble from red to green and play the same game but tell her “green” every time she picks it up. It is beginning stage still, but I just don’t feel that she relates to the colors (yet)… there was one incident though when I accidentally left the red screw cap of the treats container on the table and upon telling her “red” she went straight for it instead of turning around to look for the usual cups (but I can’t be sure whether it was just a cup to her or specifically a red cup).
Please do advise if there is something wrong with my method. What I envisage is that she has three differently colored marbles and cups, and that I’ll tell her “blue”’ and she will pick up the blue marble and drop it into the blue cup. Is that even achievable or am I expecting too much? Could it be that the marble is too small for her to ‘notice’ that it is the same color as the cup?
Thank you so much.


Hi Ernst,

Sorry for the delay, but I wanted to check with our resident Grey expert. We both feel like your bird is doing well, especially for her age. The most important thing when training a pet bird is to keep it fun. The point of any type of training or behavior modification is to provide enrichment for your pet bird and to build trust between you and your pet bird. Keep sessions short and try to end on a positive note. As I’m sure you know, parrots respond to positive reinforcement and don’t really understand punishment. Of course Irene Pepperberg has probably done the most work of this type, but her methods have to be very scientific. But you might check out her articles or search for any videos of her work. We have started a webinar series on African Greys presented by Lisa Bono, owner of the Platinum Parrot. We have a behavior themed episode planned for next month. I would highly recommend that you watch it live or view the recording on YouTube later. Your girl will have some challenges for you as she gets older. Living in an aviary provides a lot of freedom, and for some birds, this can be too much freedom. She is very likely to go through some independent phases. Lisa is a behavior consultant, so I would recommend her if you have behavior challenges with your bird later on. There are two main approaches to pet bird behavior – scientific and a more natural approach. While the science end of things can result in a well behaved, obedient bird, you are often lacking a personal connection with your bird and not allowing the bird’s individual personality to show and develop. Each method has its place and it’s up to you to decide what is the best fit for you and your bird. We are fortunate to have Chris Davis presenting Heart to Heart, a monthly Q&A webinar on pet bird behavior. Chris pioneered the field of Avian behavior consultants and has a special understanding & approach to bird behavior. She will be quick to explain that there is a difference between training a bird for performing and training a bird just for enrichment and trust building. I’ll give you the link to our webinar playlist so you can look through the past topics and also a link to our webinar page on our website – if you click on any webinar on that page and scroll to the bottom, there is a place to sign up for notifications of our free weekly webinars. Keep up the good work and good luck with your smart girl!

Thank you for asking Lafeber,


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