Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bird 55

Will post a picture soon!

Bird 55
Gender: Unknown
Birth Date: May 13 or May 14, 2007
Preferred Partner: Unknown

Bird 55 has a special number. He is the first bird that I have recycled a number for (knowingly!). I met Bird 55 Senior when I was first introduced to the lab. He helped out with a thesis comparing the learning efficiency of mass trials vs. distributed trials. He was a very gentle bird, much as Bird 37 is. He and Bird 53 liked to hang around with each other. Bird 55 Sr. passed away during the winter between 2006 and 2007. Here is the only picture I have of him:
Wish he hadn't just pooped! Anyway, before the new birds were introduced into our lab, Bird 55 Sr. was one of our biggest. He was usually 100 grams or so heavier than many of the rest of the birds. But his most obvious quality was his calmness. He didn't back away from my hands and didn't shake when I picked him up. I think this is a testament to the students who have worked with him in the past and I hope your bird will be just as comfortable with you.

This quality is why I passed on his number. When Bird 55 Jr. was about a week old, his parents began leaving the nest more and more, and I began handling him and his sibling (Bird 65) to get them used to it. Bird 55 Jr. was so relaxed in my hands. He cuddled into my palm and let me carry him all over the place. Usually the young birds are very nervous and try to back up (I guess they don't realize that there is just as big of a fall from the other side of my hand!) Now that he is grown up, and hasn't been handled regularly for the past two months, he is a little more nervous around people. But treat him gently, and I think you will see that calm disposition come back out.

Bird 47

Bird 47
Gender: Unknown
Birth date: May 12, 2007
Preferred Partner: Unknown

Bird 47 joins the ranks of Grey (50) and Mustache (45) in being the only birds with coloration other than white in the lab. She is the sibling of Bird 46 and they are the younger siblings of Mustache and Bird 35. All are offspring of Isis (25) and Bird 20. I'll leave it to you to get to know her and name her...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Our Space

The new science building has just been built and we have not been allocated a space in it. However, they want to tear down our building. So, I don't know where the lab will eventually end up. In my dreams we get our own little building not much bigger than what we have, but designed with much better ventilation and natural light. Ideally it could even have an "outside" area where the birds could live while they are not in experiments and where the ground has microorganisms that will break down their droppings. That area would also have little ledges for them sit on and large dog water bowls for them to nest in. In the most perfect world, there would even be plants in there so that they can choose natural items to build their nests with.
I have lots of little and big dreams for the lab, but this post is about what we have right now.

Here are two pictures of the outside of the lab. In the first you can see the Science Building in the background and in the other one you can see the greenhouse next to it.
I would show you the other side, but it is just a concrete wall. No windows; no ventilation.

The building is divided into three rooms. The door that you can see in the first picture belongs to the biology department. The other two rooms are ours. The first one is the operant chamber room where all our studies are conducted, and the other is the home cage room where the birds live.

We have four fully functioning operant chambers and a fifth one that will work with a modified interface panel (the black flat thing with the holes standing next to each chamber), but is missing a projector on the inside wall.

Here's the view from the other side. On the far counter you can see the scale we use to weigh the birds and keep them healthy. You can also see we have plenty of chairs. Unfortunately we have spiders, including black widows, that love the dark nooks and crannies of them and therefore I refuse to sit on them without long jeans on. Another of my dreams is to have white plastic chairs that are easily cleaned of all spiders. Stackable would be nice too so that they take up less space.

One of the best things about the design of the lab is the floor and walls. The floor is smooth concrete. The operant chamber floor is painted but the home cage floor is not and both have a slight slope down to a drain in the middle of the room. The walls are smooth tile for about two thirds of the way up, then it is painted cinder blocks. These make cleaning easy! Both rooms also have a sink for easy access to fresh water for the birds, and there is a faucet and hose outside so that the cages can be cleaned regularly.

Here is what the home cage room looks like when the birds are free to roam around. About half of them still prefer to hang out in cages, but they can fly around whenever they want. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of exciting things for them to look at or play with, but those are a part of my dream for our new space...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Video Links

Here is a great mini-documentary of B. F. Skinner with some operant conditioning:

This is a nice little chain training accomplished by a class at Minnesota State University:

This is another nice clip of B. F. Skinner talking about Schedules of Reinforcement and his ideas about Freewill with some more pigeon training:

Here is a clicker training video from Karen Pryor - a wonderful demonstration of using positive reinforcement to teach an abused mule to enter a shower stall. She has many other great videos at her website -

Here is B. F. Skinner's final appearance discussing his views of behaviorism and cognitive psychology:

Another New Bird!

Bird 64 has hatched her first successful egg! And I think that her second will have hatched by the time I go in tomorrow. It is the tiniest one I have caught a glimpse of. Here's the best picture I could get without disturbing them too much.

Links to Video from Our Lab

You can train your bird to sit on your arm (rather than grab it or make it ride in the pitcher). Here is a bird who is in mid-training. Bird 37 gets food at three points along the trip:

When pigeons drink, unlike many other kinds of birds, they suck water. They use their beaks like straws:

Young Mustache (2 month old Bird 45) is not very well established in the pecking order and here negotiates joining the chow line:

Here is a "day in the life of..." video.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

New Birds

Two new birds have hatched today. They belong to Birds 25 and 20. I tried to take a few pictures of them but none turned out to well. Here are the best ones. One of them looks like something may be wrong (see the red spot), but he was alive and moving around this evening.

May 21, 2007
The bird I was worried about is fine. They are big enough now that I feel comfortable picking them up and I have checked both of them and neither appears to even have a scar. Here is a picture of Dad (Bird 20) and the kids!