March/April 2003 Magazine
Over the years there have been hundreds of examples of birds who have been potty trained. We have heard of macaws, cockatoos, cockatiels, lories, conures, amazons, lovebirds and greys who have been successfully trained. Because parrots are among the most intelligent of the animal species, it is easy to understand why they can so easily be trained to go potty.
Birds have a much higher metabolism than mammals. Their normal body temperature is over 100 degrees farenheit and food passes through the digestive track of a parrot in about 30 minutes. After eating, food is stored in the crop and is gradually passed into the rest of the digestive tract. For this reason, birds will poop periodically for 2-3 hours after eating.
Birds also tend not to poop overnight, when asleep, and thus the first poop of the day is often a massive one. In addition, birds usually take a poop before they fly.
Potty training an older bird may take more effort, but young birds are relatively easy to teach. Wait until the bird is about four months old, since birds have difficulty in controlling their poops until that age.
Follow the same guidelines used with other animals such as dogs and cats. Observation, positive reinforcement, persistence, patience, and consistency are the keys to successful potty training.
There are a few things which must be understood and decided in order to successfuly complete the potty training process. You need to observe the frequency of eliminating and the behavior patterns the bird exhibits when ready to poop. You should identify any special behaviors the bird makes just prior to pooping. These are signals that the bird is about to poop. You should also decide where you want to allow the bird to go to the bathroom - in the cage, on a perch, in a wastebasket, etc. Additional questions are: Do you also wish to train the bird to poop on command? and Who is going to perform the training - is it one person or a group of people? Whoever does the training must also be committed, be consistant and have patience.
Successful training depends upon positive reinforcement. When the bird does what is desired, it should be rewarded with praise.
Anticipating the needs of the parrot by its owner is an important step in the training process. Spend a few days observing the bird. How frequently does it poop?
How often after eating does it take it's first poop and then how frequently after that does it take another one? If the bird has not eaten for a few hours, does the frequency change? Record the number of minutes between eliminations and the situation. Watch the first dropping in the morning. Is it a massive one?
Does the bird poop just before it steps up onto your hand or if it is coming out of the cage? If not clipped, does it eliminate when about to fly? Does it poop when nervous? Learning the specifics will help you in predicting episodes and in training the bird.
Most small birds, like budgies, conures and cockatiels, poop about every 10-20 minutes. They often go when you pick them up. Smaller birds need to eliminate more often than big birds. Time between droppings may vary from 10 - 30 minutes. Cockatoos and macaws can last an hour or more, but many are more comfortable going more frequently.
Our cockatoos are often out for a period of 2 hours at night. Although there is a place for them to take a poop, two of them often go for more than an hour and one of them usually lasts the whole 2 hours. The length of time before taking a poop is shorter if they have eaten immediately before coming out or eat during the time they are out.
Many people report that the longer the bird is out, the less frequently it eliminates. Unless more food is eaten, apparently the source of the droppings runs out.
What behaviors does the bird exhibit when getting ready to take a poop? Learning the particular signs of your bird enables you to anticipate when it is about to go to the bathroom and to intervene for training.
Watch the bird in its cage, and while it is out playing. You will notice that the bird will squat and sometimes raise its wings and back up a bit before going. They will also crouch a bit and lift up the tail to facilitate pooping.
Our birds prefer taking a poop from a height - on a perch, from one edge of the top of the cage or the cage door. If on a bed, sofa, chair, playpen or shoulder, they seem to prefer going to the edge of the surface so that the droppings fall down and away. If your bird moves this way, it may be a sign that it is getting ready to potty.
Others have described getting ready to poop as - a low, crouching stance with the rear end of the bird extended as if stretching. If on a flat surface this is often accompanied by a backward step or two.
Still others refer to the bird as getting antzy or doing a little dance or wiggling the tail.
One pet owner believes that his bird's feet become hot. Another has a bird who makes small noises, and one has a bird who when sitting on her shoulder, fidgets and grabs her ear when it has to go to the bathroom.
Observe your bird and get to know what behaviors it performs when getting ready to poop. Catching the bird as it begins these behaviors, is the time to intervene and train the bird on where to go potty.
Once trained, you may find that your bird will tell you when he needs to potty. The bird may repeat a phrase you have used during training or go over to the place it is allowed to poop on by himself. It may become agitated, wiggle, make noises or do something unique to alert you that it has to eliminate.
Give some thought as to where you want to train your bird to potty. Some people prefer that their bird go only on or in its cage. Others train them to go when on a playpen, perch or chair, over a newspaper, on a wicker basket with a handle, or when over a wastebasket. Some even hold the bird over a sink or toilet.
Others train their bird to go whenever they hear a certain phrase. The bird can be placed over anything its owner wishes and when the phrase is uttered, the bird knows it is all right to take a poop.
It really doesn't matter where you teach a bird to poop, as long as you choose places which are readily available when the bird needs to evacuate.
Teaching a bird to go over a newspaper or paper towels, in a wastebasket, when on a portable perch or on command gives maximum flexibility. Such places enable you to vary the location. If the bird, and the items it has been trained to go on, are taken with you to visit friends or other places, then it is easy to ensure the bird will know where to take a poop.
Choose a simple word or phrase which you want the bird to associate with taking a poop, such as 'go potty' or 'poop' or whatever seems right for you. Be aware that the bird may learn and repeat this phrase, so choose carefully.
Begin while the bird is in the cage. Watch the bird for the behaviors it makes when it is about to take a poop. When it starts to go, then use the phrase you have chosen. Use a firm, positive tone of voice. When it does poop, then praise the bird lavishly. You can also scratch it's head or perform some petting which the bird enjoys. You want to give the bird positive reinforcement. Continue this for a few days. You want the bird to associate this phrase with the act of pooping.
If you are able, then return to the cage when you expect the bird will be ready to poop again. If you can, try to be there when the bird takes its first poop in the morning. This is usually a large one.
Once you believe the bird has made an association with the words, begin training when you take the bird out to play. Some people make it a game.
When the bird begins making signs that it has to potty, pick it up and take it to wherever you have decided you want the bird to poop and speak the phrase you have chosen. It can be the cage, a playpen, a newspaper or what ever. If the bird is already on the designated spot, then watch it and when it is about to poop, speak the phrase.
Again, lavish praise on the bird when it takes a poop. You may wish to train the bird to eliminate in more than one place. If so, teach it one place at a time or it may become confused.
The time it takes to train the bird will vary depending upon the bird and the amount of time devoted to the training. It could be a few days to a few weeks. Have patience and be consistent. Birds are intelligent and are capable of learning.
Once trained, some birds will let you know when they have to poop by making a special sound, by uttering the phrase you have used for taking a poop, or by performing a special action (we have heard that one bird nips it's owner's ear, another does a dance, another gets nervous). Others will walk over to the designated place on their own when they need to potty.
Expect that there will be times when accidents happen. Nothing is perfect.
Below are some experiences from various people I have been in contact with over the years and some articles on the subject.Janet, Sweet Pea's owner - "Each morning I take Sweet Pea over to the sink or newspaper and say, 'Go Poop'; she does her thing, then yells "Goooood Birdieee". When she's out, I periodically (every 15 minutes or so) hold her over a trash can and say 'Go Poop'. Sometimes she even tells me 'Go Poop' when she needs to go."
Goffins owner Rhonda - "My bird plays on on our coffee table. She'll be playing in her basket of toys and when she needs to go potty, waddles to the small gym, climbs to the high perch and goes poop. Then she climbs down and resumes playing!"
Alan owner of a moluccan cockatoo - "It took about 3 days to potty-train him simply by taking him back to his cage after about 1/2 hour of being out, putting him atop his cage and saying, 'Go potty'.
He's at the point that, when he has to go and I miss the signs, he'll climb down off the chair or whatever he's on, walk back to his cage, climb up on it, and go ... then climb down and come back to me."
Deborah Wisti-Peterson's article Potty-Training your Pet Lory - "I have also trained them to poop when I jiggle the hand that they are perched on, so I don't have to say things aloud such as 'go potty'."
Bobbie Andleton's article Wanna Potty? - "Associating words with actions enables the parrot to identify what is expected in this action. Thus catching bird and saying 'Wanna potty?' begins the word action association and once over the potty merely saying 'Potty' will become sufficient."
Teresa - "Brando was trained within two weeks. I used to set him on a T-perch and say 'Go Potty', and he learned to do so before I picked him up. Now I can just set him on a piece of newspaper or paper towel and give the command, and he will go. I like getting him used to going wherever he is on whenever I tell him to so I don't have to always be near a perch."
Nancy & Duncan - "With Duncan potty training wasn't too difficult. She always does this squat thing as she is getting ready to let one fly. When I picked up on that little cue I would grab her and walk her to a poop zone. Once I figured she pooped about every 7-10 minutes I would make sure she was in a poop zone every ... you guessed it. Then I would say 'Poop' - and she would."
Christiane, conure owner - "I have successfully potty-trained my Mitred Conure Nietze by simply assigning him a 'poop-perch' on his playground. Every 10-15 min in the beginning I picked him up from my shoulder and set him on the perch, saying 'Poop' or 'poop-a-di-poop'. He was only picked up, when he 'did the trick'. It only took two weeks. By now, when he wants to be picked up, he says 'Hello' to get our attention, runs up the perch, poops - and expects us to enthusiastically come over and get him. If we don't, he throws in a (slightly annoyed) 'Step up'."
Chris, goffins owner - "I noticed with Peaches she would go potty about every 20-25 minutes or so and she would always start waddling and wiggling her back end so then I knew she was gonna go. If I catch her doing this I pick her up, carry her where I want her to go holding her tail down the whole way cause she has to lift it to go, hold her over whatever and tell her to poop and she almost always does."
Try to potty train your bird. You'll both be happier for it.
Winged Wisdom Note: Carol and husband Kenneth have owned pet birds for over 15 years and are co-creators of the Birds n Ways, Winged Wisdom and Cockatoo Heaven websites.
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Last update: July 1, 2003