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For awhile now I’ve been wondering if our Elmo would be able to be trained, much like the pigeons in B.F. Skinners videos. So when my darling wife Rev bought me an electronics kit for my birthday I immediatly started planning a device would put this theory to the test.

We’re calling it “Pigeon Treat Dispenser”… ok, I know, we might end up changing the name when we’re feeling a little more creative.

Basically the green LED light will indicate the device is ready to dispense. Once the button is pressed the LED goes out and the dispense process starts. After a programmable period of time the light will go on again ready to dispense.

At first we will have to train Elmo to associate the green LED with a treat, then train him that pecking the button will give him a treat, then we’ll combine the two.

See the video below of the early stages of Pigeon Treat Dispenser! Watch for Elmo’s reaction at the end of the video:

The external stuff you see like the button, LED, and LCD display will all become integrated into the device. The LCD display will become a numeric display.

I was a little worried Elmo would take one look at this great big green box spitting out peanuts and run a mile, but he is quite intruged! :)

More on this when I’ve developed it further.

A documentary (in two parts) about Drs. BF Skinner and Robert Epstein and the behaviour experiments they did with pigeons. Interesting viewing although I don’t agree really in their behaviourist views.

Most of us have seen the experiment in the first video so I thought I’d find some more experiments that BF Skinner has done:

I think yesterday’s food experiment went very well, and it seems a lot of people enjoyed it too! :)

I guess this means I need to do some more mini-experiments with Elmo and Georgie. Any ideas?

Seeing as Georgie cannot really see well I don’t think I can do any sight-based tests with her – unless it’s to see how she reacts to different things, e.g. light. We already know that she doesn’t like bright lights shining on her (e.g. torches, camera flash, the little red camera focus light that comes on or any strobe lighting that may be on TV). We also found out that she doesn’t like it when the monitor screen switches from dark to a light background (by opening and closing an application. She’ll flick her wing at the monitor if you do this). She’s such a fussy little thing!

Elmo by all accounts should be a better test subject, however, he’s a bit of a wimp and is easily scared of strange or new things. Even the food experiment was a bit strange for him: you can see how he shakes a bit and is avoiding the new dishes to go straight to something he’s familiar with (the peanuts).

Here’s two videos I tried previously to upload (and failed miserably). The first one should belong in the “My own personal guard” post. Elmo is standing guard at the territory line on the sofa and he’s tolerating my presence. However, he’s keeping an eye on my fingers and camera as I move it about near him. What a sweetheart!

The next one belongs in “Loving that water…“, where Georgie is busy having a bath and Elmo decides he wants one too, however, he doesn’t like it when Georgie moves her tail feathers in his face!

On another subject, the mineral pick-pot I got for Elmo seems to have done the trick. I put it on the kitchen floor between the bin and the fridge, which is the spot where Elmo likes to pick at the wall, and he seems to like it – making a mess by picking out bits off of the block. A very good purchase! Animals always seem to know when they need extra minerals and vitamins and will search for and eat them in the wild, however, indoor animals need your help in providing them with the option. Also important are grit (aids digestion) and oyster shell (provides calcium)!


When I wrote the post “Of pine nuts and pancakes” with the statement “Elmo’s second food love are pine nuts (peanuts are his first!)” Richard immediately said to me, “No, they are not. Elmo’s first food love are sunflower seeds!!” Well, needless to say we haven’t spoken to each other since. … Just kidding. But it got me thinking. Which seed does Elmo like more?

I devised a little experiment. I put down three small dishes that contained pine nuts, sunflower seeds and peanuts.


Left to right: pine nuts, sunflower seeds and peanuts

Then Richard put Elmo down for him to choose which one he prefers to eat first. Here’s what happened:

This is my interpretation of what happened: Elmo saw the three dishes and isn’t sure what they are for. He’s a bit wary (he’s shaking a bit). Then he sees the peanuts and heads towards them. Elmo eats peanuts every day and so he’s instantly attracted to his daily treat, however, he quickly notices the sunflower seeds in the next container and starts to eat them. Now that he’s in between the two other dishes he sees the pine nuts and quickly goes to them. Elmo continues to eat the pine nuts until I feel that he’s had enough and take the dishes away.

I think it is safe to say that Elmo prefers pine nuts over peanuts and sunflowers. That’s my interpretation. I’m sure Richard will disagree. :)


Yummy pine nuts!