Psittacine birds are challenging laboratory subjects, as they are typically long-lived, very social, highly intelligent, and easily stressed. The benefits of positive reinforcement techniques in animal management have been well documented for mammalian species; however, there are few publications on such programs for birds. To demonstrate the practicality of positive reinforcement training of laboratory birds to cooperate with research procedures involving direct manipulation of individuals, 9 adult macaws (Ara species; 5 individuals and 2 pairs) were trained in 10-minute sessions, twice a day for 8 weeks. The trained behaviors were: target, stay, accept liquids from a syringe, step onto a perch, step onto a scale, allow pressing a syringe to the pectoral area (surrogate for an intramuscular injection), and step onto a towel. All individually housed birds reliably targeted, stayed, and accepted a syringe, and 4 of the 5 stepped onto a perch. One bird performed all of the behaviors. Paired birds learned advanced techniques significantly faster when trained by 2 trainers versus 1 trainer. All behaviors that were mastered during the initial phase of training were successfully transferred so that the birds would reliably perform for the husbandry staff. We conclude that positive reinforcement techniques provide an effective, practical way to train laboratory macaws in behaviors useful for veterinary practice and research. Positive reinforcement used to evoke voluntary participation in procedures will help reduce stress associated with capture and restraint and improve welfare for laboratory parrots.
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