Natural Fledging & Recall: Comments

Posted by Raz on Aug 1st, 2009
Aug 1

The following are comments regarding my post about training flight skills vs recall skills. Jim Dawson is an avian biologist at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tuscon. He states that “a trainer overly focused on ‘recall’ will never let a bird truly explore its wings.” He also points out that birds naturally fledge with a type of A-B recall, gradually increasing their flight skills along with their confidence, under the supervision of their parents. It is that type of supervised, controlled skill-building that I prefer to use with my own birds, and which is typically used by professional trainers (ask around).

UPDATE: This discussion originated with someone’s assertion that a new trainer with an adult bird who was just being introduced to outdoor flying had to choose between focusing on allowing the bird to learn flight skills and training recall. My position applies to any bird who was raised by humans indoors, whether newly weaned or adult. I do not condone anyone inexperienced in hand-rearing and weaning baby birds to experiment with replacing a bird’s natural parents or a qualified breeder. Please see the guest post by Wendy Craig for details.

Nicely written — We find ourselves bounded by the ways that we think about flight. Our birds thus end up equally constrained. This blog touches on some of the false labels we put on behaviors.

Instead we need to think about how wild birds fledge and learn to fly competently. With all the written resources and video out there about wild birds, there really is no excuse any longer for not understanding natural fledging (all the way to strong skilled flight outside).

Recall is part of fledging naturally — babies don’t leave the cavity until parents refuse to go to cavity to feed them. Babies’ first flights are to the parents to get food. It’s parallel to recall to a person. It has to be done right away and without much food restriction. They are out for supervised, short periods and are not left at liberty ever. I am very much against any form of at liberty flying, even though people like Chris Shank do it very well.

The youngsters develop quickly and their skills keep pace with the final growth and hard-penning of their sails. Panic flights happen when a bird has the hardware (developed wings and some muscle) to fly high and far but is lacking the software (confidence and learned skills) to handle flight. A young bird fledging doesn’t have the hardware yet to go far. By the time they do, they’ve flown quite a bit and have the mental skills in place.

I agree with you that recall and skills have to happen simultaneously. I don’t agree with a sink-or-swim idea about flight. I don’t agree that putting a bird outside without a solid recall is the way to do it.

A to B recall is only the very start of the process. The point is to increase the skill level of the flights as the bird develops physically and mentally. The practice A-B flights are shaped into loops, and the loops are shaped into larger loops, then higher. Eventually the bird starts exploring dives and other maneuvers, and flights become longer and and require a great deal of stamina. But the goal at all times is to maintain a balance of control and freedom with the bird, so that they can explore their own limits without excessive risk. When dealing with an indoor, human-raised bird, we are the only ones who can provide that balance and allow time for mental growth (confidence outdoors, “thinking on the wing”) as well as physical growth (flight skills).

Note: Chris Shank is a long-time trainer who started out in the marine mammal world, and conducts week long workshops on training and flight at Cockatoo Downs in Oregon. Chris recently stated about at-liberty flying:

I have flown cockatoos in this manner. However, I do NOT promote that form of flying in any way now. It is an unsafe and reckless way to fly one’s companion parrot. (29 July 2009)

When we are dealing with a bird who is going outdoors for the first time, whether as a youngster or an adult, it is a good recall that enables us to maintain control over the pace and difficulty of the skills being practiced.

Regarding a suggestion from a “recall optional” proponent that the method of early training I advocate needs to undergo “peer review”… well … if there even were such a thing for publications in the bird training world, in this case it would kind of be reinventing the wheel. This type of flight/recall training is the industry standard. Descriptions of the process I used with Carly for early flight training can also be found in two articles in Good Bird Magazine (links here), a publication reviewed and edited by Barbara Heidenreich. (Not the same as peer review, but in the companion parrot world it’s the best we have at the moment. Barbara is a past president of IAATE, and training consultant with many zoos, as well as an active advocate for companion parrot training.) Most all of my training strategies that are not routine practice are discussed with one or more professional trainers/behaviorists before and during the process, and well before writing about them. I strongly encourage others to do the same and not rely on internet chat groups as a sole source of information.

In addition, because of such a need for training information to be somehow “vetted,” the newly formed IAATE Companion Parrot Committee was set up for just that purpose. Articles posted at the site will have undergone peer review by members of the committee as well as the IAATE board of directors.

For more information:


Carly & Piper Meet

Posted by Raz on Aug 6th, 2008
Aug 6

Piper arrived with Wendy on August 1st (the day of Carly’s big RHG adventure). Carly was a bit peeved at first, chasing him around and not letting him sit on any of “her” stuff. Over the next few days she fairly rapidly mellowed and began watching him carefully. Then sidling up to him closer. Then trying to regurgitate food! These pictures are from August 6th, the first day they went to my office together. She’s even more protective of her things in my office (just ask Rocco!) But she not only allowed him on her gym, she sat next to him, erped up food, played, and babysat. They were both so good, and it was even easier having the two of them together than Carly alone.

Carly & Piper at Work

More pictures: Carly & Piper’s First Day at Work with never-before seen exclusive photographs of Carly sharing her dinner bowl!

Piper is a big guy — already 10-20 g heavier than she is and much broader and chunkier. He is unbelievably sweet and friendly, and very confident. A good flyer too, but a real klutz in the house! He’s still learning which things are solid and stable enough to land on.

Yesterday we had our first outing in the park on a harness, which he puts on with no fuss at all. The difference is striking between his confidence and willingness to immediately explore everything around him, and Carly’s physical caution when she was young. I think part of it is definitely a physical confidence from fledging properly, and part is from being raised, socialized and weaned by a real expert in an ideal environment with lots of human and bird interaction. He is just not fazed by anything so far. (Except maybe plane rides. He growled and hissed at Samantha on the other side of the carrier partition before they left Dallas, but when we picked them up in San Diego they were both huddled next to each other in back where the partition is see-through. He was a bit uneasy with the car ride today too, but bounces back so quickly when out of the carrier.)

And not to forget little Rocco — he has a new album too! Photos: the Little Guy Settles In. I wish I’d known years ago how sweet cockatiels can be.


And then there’s Ferg. What’s a cat to do?


photographs by LG CU500 cell phone :-)


Update: Good Bird Article PDF

Posted by Raz on Jun 28th, 2008
Jun 28

An alert reader let me know that the Good Bird article PDF file linked on the Recall Training page was missing the last page. It’s now complete and is also a higher quality PDF file.

Carly Gets Her Wings: Flight Training an Unfledged African Grey Parrot


Guest Post: Andrew Hall

Posted by Raz on Jun 12th, 2008
Jun 12

Andrew Hall is a trainer and director of the Northern Colorado Bird Center. A former employee at Natural Encounters, he now presents free flight shows and other avian educational programs at the bird center. The following is another post reprinted by permission from Barbara Heidenreich’s Good Bird Group. It is short, but I think it’s extremely important and an easy point to miss.

Thoughts on Learning How to Train

You get out what you put in. Continue Reading »

Jun 5

I have been curious what difference a top-rate trainer would see in training a pre-weaned baby, and training an older bird who is already weaned and fledged. If both are trained well with positive reinforcement and small increments, is there a difference in the outcome? The following is from a post by Barbara Heidenreich, used by permission from her Good Bird forum.


Flying in open fields with no perching options and relying on a “baby
bond” are in my opinion are unreliable crutches for outdoor flight
behaviors. To me it signals some important training steps are being

Question from forum:

May I ask why “baby bond” isn’t good to BUILD a +R history with the bird?
How can you say you don’t like to hear about training fledging birds
because “it signals some important training steps are being missed”?

Barbara Heidenreich:

I am not a big fan of teaching flight on the Internet, which is why I don’t participate in those discussions anymore. Although I am still a member of a few lists and check in to read posts periodically. As you know the discussions get quite heated and getting into arguments on flight training do not accomplish much towards my teaching goals. Kinda just sucks up lots of time.

With that in mind I will share a response to your questions….but I will not be sharing all my thoughts, philosophies and teachings on flight training here. Even my two days teaching at Chris shank’s is not enough to send someone off to free fly safely in my opinion without additional guidance.

So here is the deal…… Continue Reading »