Kelly Ballance trains both birds and bird lovers

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Kelly Ballance is planning a big future for Jericho the Congo African Gray Parrot. He will be her partner at kids camps this summer.

After Jericho the Congo African Gray Parrot walks out onto a table at the Avian Medical Center in Lake Oswego, nothing much is expected.

A newcomer to the AMC, Jericho just stands there, looking cute and appealing, a little fearful and not really doing much. Just a little shuffling up and down the table. Although a parrot, he declines to use his gift of gab. He does seem fond of sticking his head right into the lens of a camera.

But then bird trainer supreme Kelly Ballance goes into action. Ballance starts snapping her fingers and shouting encouragement: “Yeah, yeah, yeah! That’s my bird! Jazz feathers!”

Jericho begins to tap his inner Michael Jackson. He first starts bobbing his head back and forth, faster and faster. He flares and fluffs out his feathers. His feet do little dance steps. As a topper he practically stands on his head while twisting it around.

Jericho has gone from big disappointment to show stopper, and it is all because of Ballance. Somehow she is able to impart her very big personality into a bird. She is preparing Jericho for bigger things.

“Once his wing heals I’m going to work with him on flying,” Ballance said. “He talks a lot, and he doesn’t swear. Once he starts feeling better I want to take him with me to summer camps.”

Jericho is just one of many success stories for Ballance, who has trained hundreds of different species. What is baffling to a bird owner when the bird’s behavior goes out of whack is almost instantly apparent to Ballance, who has an uncanny ability to take a bird’s eye view.

Ballance once cured a bird of screaming its head off by teaching it to say the name of a son’s name, David. She once tamed a duck that was attacking its family by training it to waddle toward a pond instead of attacking.

In one of her greatest cases, a good bird had gone bad when a family moved into a new apartment. Ballance was called in to deal with this Jekyll-Hyde situation, and she soon discovered that the bird was scared because its cage was hung in a spot with a very high roof and large picture windows. Ballance’s solution was simple and clever.

“I asked, ‘Can I move the cage?’ It made a difference within a half hour,” Ballance said. “In two weeks, they had their old bird back.”

Soon, Ballance was getting emailed photos from the family showing it interacting with the bird just like in the good old days.

Ballance has come a long way since the first bird she ever trained chased her around a clinic until she had to jump on a counter. But by cleverly feeding Goldfish crackers to the bird, in two weeks it was a true feathered friend.

A lifelong bird aficionado, Ballance began to ease into the bird training profession (which is rare) when she started working at the Oregon Humane Society in 1999. No one else was doing any bird training at the time, and Ballance did not have many resources to help her budding career. The turning point came in 2004 when she met Susan Friedman of Utah State University.

“I consider her my mentor,” Ballance said. “The way she used applied behavior analysis changed how I looked at everything in the universe, especially how I interacted with animals.”

By using her own experience and wisdom, Ballance can bring people and birds into a happy relationship.

“You can’t say to a bird, OK, yeah, let’s go,’” she said. “A bird’s first reaction is fear. Anything new has to be introduced slowly. You need gentle, persistent persuasion and also food and treats. Birds can figure things out faster than humans because they’ve figured out how to fly. But you have to go very, very slowly. Once they’re OK with something, they’ll totally interact with us.

“I have a lot of affinity for birds,” Ballance said. “They are very, very complex, and I am never bored working with them. What other pet can talk to you?”

Ballance keeps her base at the Avian Medical Center in Lake Oswego, where she worked for several years. Last April she started her own separate business, and in September, she became a full-time bird trainer. She is also a wife, mother and pet owner.

“I have three pets, not counting my husband and child,” Ballance said. “Right now my son is going through an African Gray phase. He repeats everything I say. He previously went through an Umbrella Cockatoo phase in which he was yelling all the time and destroying everything he touched.”

Ballance has been gratified to see the great strides in bird training over the past 10 years, and she says, “It’s exciting to be part of it.”

Turning bad birds into good birds and making them true family members is a challenge that will never grow old for Ballance.

“When a bird chooses to be around you it’s magical every time it happens,” Ballance said. “We can be partners with them.”

For more about Kelly Ballance, visit or call 503-939-7825.

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