Kili was always a very docile parrot and I never had any problems grabbing and handling her. One problem that I recently developed was that she inadvertently learned to fly away from me when I would try to grab her from a perch. When she started flying, she was fine with me grabbing her. However, more recently she realized that most of the time I grab her is to put her away or force her to do something she doesn't want to. What was happening was that if I had to leave in a hurry, was mad at her and wanted to put her away, or if she flew off in the middle of a training session, I used to walk over and grab her which often resulted in getting put away in the cage or returned to training.
The mistake I made was the excessive use of negative punishment and I created a cue for it! She knew the cue and she would only fly away from me when I approached her in the way that I do when I grab her to put her away when I'm mad. One evening this got really bad. She flew off during training in the middle of a trick and I stomped over to get her. As I reached to grab her, she flew across the room to the other perch. I walked over to get her there and just as I got there she flew back to her cage. This got really ridiculous and I was going back and forth and couldn't get her. I was getting really really frustrated and lost my head which I really shouldn't have done. As a side note, the rational thing to do would have been to either ignore her and wait for her to get bored and come to me or to use a cued behavior to get her to step up or fly to me. But in the moment I felt like I had to grab her and the more I tried, the more she'd fly away. It got so desperate to the point where I was trying to catch her in a towel and it was impossible cause she kept flying off. I think that all ended eventually where I tricked her by not giving away my intentions to grab her and then grabbing her anyway. But by the end of this escapade, I knew I had a problem on my hands.
The following night, when I was in a more rational mood, I wanted to check if Kili's fly away reaction would continue or if that was a one time thing. Well sure enough when I approached her looking like I was about to grab her, she would fly away to the other end of the room. Here's what I did to untrain this fly away behavior that I inadvertently taught my Senegal Parrot by being an idiot.
I covered Kili's cage (which was the place she'd fly off the perch to when I tried to grab her) and I had her on the training perch. I approached her like I was going to grab her (which is basically with my arm raised and hand open, reaching in to grab). Surely the first time I did this she flew off but when she approached to land on her cage, she panicked because it was covered and turned around to land back on her perch but I stood there so she turned and flew to her cage but turned around once more. She flew 6 laps of the room this way until she became exhausted and crashed into a wall, bounced off, and landed on the floor. This was completely an unintended consequence but actually it really helped because in effect she punished herself for flying off when all I would have done is grabbed and held her. Because she ended up punishing herself, I was not to be associated with the aversive. I did not rush over to pick her up off the floor either but eventually went over and got her. While she was still gathering her energy on a perch I walked over being subtle about grabbing her and grabbed her but then immediately gave her a treat.
I gave it some time and trained other behaviors but would occasionally walk over with clear intentions that I will grab her and would grab her and give her treats or petting while in my hand. Remember that it's not the grab that Kili is scared of but the after effects of the grab like being locked in cage. So I completely stopped using grabs in the aversive manner as before. I've pretty much given up on using negative punishment in that way with a flighted bird (somebody help me find a better way to dissuade biting behavior). While I may have gotten away with the negative punishment technique of putting bird away in cage for biting, this cannot be used on a flighted bird for sure because it will just learn to fly away and you won't be able to put it away.
The strongest technique, however, that I used to undo the fly away from grab behavior is to turn around the punishment and turn it into a positive reinforcement. For the last week, at the end of every training session, I would send Kili to her perch and then I would stomp over acting really mad and abrupt and grab her and then I'd praise her, pet her, and put her back into a cage to enjoy her evening meal. I previously wrote how certain reactions can be perceived as positive reinforcement or punishment depending on the context. Getting put away into cage during normal out time is perceived as negative punishment. Getting put away at cage after training and receive a meal is positive reinforcement. So instead of changing the purpose of "grab parrot from perch" I just changed the context from being bad (get put away during fun time) and made it good (go back to cage to eat and sleep).
I think that because I caught the problem early on, it was much quicker and easier to remedy than if I had ignored, neglected, or not realized the issue. Now the aversive cue of me walking over with open hand has become a positive cue. In fact it's kind of funny because I have made it overly positive. When Kili sees my hand coming in to grab her, she makes a couple steps over toward my hand and nudges herself into my hand! So it actually became a quasi-trick behavior. The grabbing motion cues her to nudge herself toward my hand!
Several lessons can be learned from this exchange:
1) Punishment can hurt your relationship with parrot
2) Flighted parrots will not tolerate punishment at all
3) Clipped parrots can still be negatively affected by punishment and may learn to bite rather than fly as part of fight or flight response. Kili chose to fly but clipped parrot may bite!
4) If you will use punishment of any kind (better not be hurtful!), then you better make damn sure that the precursor to punishment is not predictable or #3 will happen
5) A good way to untrain an undesired response is to change the trigger into a positive trigger instead (like turning it into a trick)
6) I have not had any success with punishment, Kili can be just as nippy even if I put her away in cage. If I take her back out later the same day, she's just as nippy. On another day she could be totally sweet. Punishment doesn't work, so don't use punishment on parrots.