Carly Meets Peregrine, Survives

Posted by Raz on Feb 10th, 2011
Feb 10

On the last day of the big golf tournament in January, I took Carly up to Torrey Pines gliderport. It was too windy for me to practice, but there was a big crowd of spectators, and quite a few of the more advanced fliers in the air. I normally only let her fly a few times around the fields on top, in case she draws the attention of any falcons. She screams like a banshee when she’s flying. Not exactly discreet, and I worry that it will sound threatening if falcons are on a nest on the cliffs below.   Shanti, the Harris Hawk flown by paraglider Kurt Sellinger, has been chased by Peregrines before when she is up in the air with him. None have ever shown up when Carly is out. Until this day.

It was her first flight, and she was quite rambunctious in the strong wind. She’d been up less than a minute, and — according to a pilot who was up between 500-1000 ft at the time — a Peregrine was circling at that height and suddenly took a dive at her. It was very fortunate he didn’t hit the target on his first try. He chased her several laps around the gliderport field and over the canyons. She tried to get down to me a couple times, but couldn’t shake him off her tail so she aborted at the last second. I lost sight of her when she flew behind a hill where some hangliders were parked, and ran in that direction. Men were yelling at the falcon and throwing hats — anything to distract it. I was calling to her and yelling out “where is she??” and kept getting “over there!” from all different directions. Finally someone said, “Behind you!” and THUNK, she landed on my shoulder at full speed and buried herself in my chest.

Peregrine Dive, by G. Castellano

Peregrine Dive, by G. Castellano

The spectators (including the ones in the air) said she was doing phenomenal flying, turns, and dives to get away from it. I probably saw less than half because she was diving behind the glider shop and into ravines. But I do know one thing — there was no place to land safely for a long distance. No trees or areas to hide. Getting down to me was definitely the safest option. The falcon flight was like nothing I’d seen before, including when Otis and Gizmo (Red-fronted Macaws belonging to Hugh Choi) were chased on the beach. This one was diving at her repeatedly at very high speed, though fortunately not from as great a height as the first attempt.

You hear some people say that having a good trained recall is irrelevant in a raptor attack. And that it may even be dangerous if the bird is focused on recall instead of evasion. I have called Carly back before when I’ve sighted a hawk in the area. She also got to safety on my when she was being chased by a large flock of ravens. Clearly in this case she was attempting to get down to me right away, but she knew when it was and wasn’t safe to land. She may have been able to outrun it eventually, but I have no doubt the chase would have gone on much longer, and with an uncertain outcome.

She was remarkably calm after it was over, walking around with me at the gliderport. Not agitated, and not frozen like parrots sometimes are after a fright. She didn’t show any interest in flying though, and was holding on to my hand with a pretty firm grip!

She will not be flying at Torrey any longer, unless I know for certain from paragliders and birders that the falcons have moved on after nesting season is over. But it looks like they are pretty much year-round here. According to Janet Linthicum, nesting starts in March and fledglings leave the nest in August. We have seen them off the cliffs from October to February also. And there are shorebirds here all year, which appear to be their major prey.

Peregrine at Torrey Pines cliffs

Peregrine at Torrey Pines cliffs

By the way, the last time Carly met up with a Peregrine, several years ago, she was flying with a large number of seagulls and started to get a bit too far away. I called her back and it looked like she was bringing a friend with her. As they approached overhead I realized it was a Peregrine Falcon, flying side by side, about 10 feet apart. She came down and the falcon kept going. Weird.

For a wonderful set of photos of Peregrines in the area, see
Peregrine Falcons at Torrey Pines


Carly Log 2: Generalizing Recall

Posted by Raz on Jan 12th, 2009
Jan 12

For background see Carly’s Super-Generalizing Recall Training.

Bad weather last weekend so we did some outings to indoor locations for socializing (and acclimation of Piper). We’ve been continuing to practice regularly before meals indoors, including some “emergency recalls” using a whistle and super-treats. We took a beach outing Saturday afternoon.

Set-up: she was barely below at-lib weight (458 g / at-lib 460) and we went out about 1-2 hrs after her normal first meal time. It was very warm and sunny, with a strong breeze from a Santa Ana wind. Used a variety of treats: butter toffee peanuts (super-treat), sunflower seeds (average), and peanut-butter cracker (jackpot, end of session).

Behavior: She did very energetic medium distance flights, dived over the waters, got some seagulls to chase her. We were approached by people a couple times. The second time there were 4 people who wanted to talk a lot, including a red-haired guy. She wanted to fly to him so I cued her to to go to his arm and back to me. That worked fine and she did quite a few of those back and forth between me and all four visitors. Didn’t get over-excited by the RHG. When we moved along she didn’t try to fly back. She did a very long flight but came right back to me at the end and made no stops along the way. Called it a day then with some jackpot treats as we headed back in.

Other notes:
Very good day. Carly got to experience many reinforcers: flying in wind, flying with gulls, and flying to and from other people, including a RHG. Kept her focus well.

Took Piper out on harness by himself afterwards.


Carly Log 1: Generalizing Recall

Posted by Raz on Jan 12th, 2009
Jan 12

For background see Carly’s Super-Generalizing Recall Training.

After a week or so of outings (on-leash) to public places for socializing, we took a trip to the beach yesterday.

Set-up: Her weight was 451 (at lib is 460). It was early afternoon, a little past when she normally gets her first meal, so she was due for that. There were more people than I expected on a foggy winter day, but it was a holiday. So we had a few distractions, including people approaching us which is always risky. We used super-treats for everything (butter toffee peanuts).

Behavior: Recall was very tight. But she did a lot of small to medium size flies, out and looping directly back in. This weight/meal timing is more than sufficient. I had to run alongside and encourage her to take some of the longer flights. I brought along a jackpot for the last flight of the day, walking back in (peanut butter ritz bits). We also did a few A-B recalls to someone we met at the beach, and it did not distract her from further flying as it sometimes has in the past. I’ll probably keep this weight and set up for a few sessions or more.

Other notes:
One thing I used to do at the beach that I’ve started up again is having Carly fly to someone she’s interested in, then call her back to me for a favorite treat, repeat… (I’ve seen her do this for over half an hour before!) That way she gets the socializing and also is reinforced for coming back. We did this a bit yesterday. It worked fine and she didn’t become obsessed and try to keep flying back when we moved on.

Jan 11

Continuing education of the parrot kind.

Background. About a year into Carly’s outdoor freeflying she developed a problem: wanting to fly to other people and socialize. Certain people were especially favored (the infamous Red-Haired Guys). The occurred at the same time she was displaying many nesting behaviors at home. Other changes that I identified in retrospect were that we spent much less time at social events once she became well-flighted; most opportunities for socializing were during our freeflying outings. I had also stopped doing routine A-B recall training; almost all her flying was outdoors in a very free form manner.

As long the person was nearby and I could immediately retrieve her the problem with going to strangers was not critical, though it was far from ideal. But on a couple occasions she flew behind a building and landed on someone out of my sight. Both times we were very fortunate that her choice was someone who was honest and attempted to locate Carly’s owner. But I did not find who had her for several hours (6 hrs the first time, 3 hrs the second) and after much searching. Both times it was an ad placed immediately online in a local lost-and-found listing that reunited us relatively quickly. But not quickly enough to save me many hours of worry that she might have been taken by someone with no intention of returning her. I do not want to risk that any more, so we are attempting to “Super-duperize” the generalization for freeflight recall so that she is not distracted by opportunities to make new friends.

Observations. Some things I noted that might be relevant to this training:

  • There appear to be different kinds of environmental distractions for her. Things that would often spook a parrot affect her very little. However there are also distractions that are not negative, but provide some type of reinforcement of their own. For her one of these is socializing. A rough ranking of what appears to be the value of some of her reinforcers is:
    1. Flying with gulls (chasing them, being chased)
    2. Flying in a strong breeze
    3. Food rewards (variable, depending on weight, hunger, how favored the food is)
    4. Socializing with certain people, including strangers, and especially red-haired men.
    5. Sitting/playing in trees (hanging upside down, climbing, singing)
  • The beach seems to provide a better flying environment not because there are fewer people (unless it’s summer, there are about the same number there as at the park) but because the flying itself is more reinforcing and it takes some time before she has satiated this and becomes interested in socializing.

With these and Carly’s training history in mind, it’s time for…

The plan. After discussing the situation with some professional trainers to help define what was occurring and what could be done to help, I formulated a plan to “super-duper generalize” her recall outdoors and make it socialization-resistant. I’m employing several strategies: 1) increase the value of reinforcers for recall, 2) decrease the value of reinforcement from socializing, 3) use socializing itself as reinforcement for recall, and 4) increase the consistency of our routine.

  • Resume a very firm routine of A-B recall practice indoors and outdoors. (This part I had started before the second event above, but it was not enough for less interesting flying environments.)
  • Start with weight at the lower end of her normal range, and fly before her first meal of the day. Her at-lib weight is 455-465 grams. For the first phase I will fly outdoors when she is no more than 450-455. Any lower than that and she is too focused on the food if she has not had her first meal yet. From previous experience, timing of meals can be very effective with her and weight does not have to be dropped very long or very much. But we’re starting out safe.
  • Initially fly only at the beach, in the winter, on the end with fewest people. This gives much more lead time for watching body language before she becomes interested in flying to other people to socialize with.
  • Incorporate A-B recall games with other people on our outings. If someone approaches us and Carly takes interest, allow her to fly to the person on cue, and then call her back with a favored reward. (This is a game she will sometimes continue for quite some time.)
  • Use extremely favored treats initially when outdoors, then intersperse with others. (For example, toffee peanuts, popcorn, peanut butter. Normal treats are walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds.)
  • Increase the value of the end-of-session bonus treat. I typically provide a whole almond or two at the end of a flying session, as we are walking back. Initially this will be increased to a small cracker with peanut butter, then varied.
  • Add outings to our schedule that are exclusively for socializing, not flying. The goal is to increase opportunities to get this reinforcement in a safe environment, and decrease the value of it when we’re flying outdoors.
  • Practice the “emergency recall” indoors with a special cue (metal whistle) and extra special treats. This has been described by Barbara Heidenreich in her Good Bird Magazine, Summer 2008 issue.
  • UPDATE: Carly’s normal meal items are very reinforcing indoors (she will train with things such as sprouted sunflower or pumpkin seeds). To increase the value of reinforcers, I’m switching to a base pellet diet with vegetables, using sprouts, berries, and fruit for rewards as well as the usual nuts. There are a few diets like Lafebre’s that both she and Piper like, but I’m going to try putting all the really favored foods into the training routine. That also provides a lot more variety in rewards, which has worked well with her in the past. It also allows for longer training sessions.

. . . . . . . . . .

Progress. Blog entries from our training sessions will be linked here.

Log 1: Beach Outing, 12 Jan 2009

Log 2: Beach Outing, 11 Jan 2009

Log 3. Generalizing Recall Update, 1 Feb 2009

1-year update: Partnership not Possession

For more in-depth account of my training as a trainer, see:
Freeflight for Companion Parrots: Beyond the How-to, 9 July 2009

. . . . . . . . . .

Thanks to Barbara Heidenreich and Sid Price for their helpful advice and observations, and also to my friend and fellow trainer trainee Cynthia Schutte for asking many difficult questions! And to my most important mentor, Dr. Susan Friedman, for providing me with the tools — and practice — to help think through behavioral questions.


Flying with Pigeons & Seals

Posted by Raz on Dec 5th, 2008
Dec 5

OK, the seals weren’t flying.

Carly and I visited Children’s Cove, the sheltered beach along the rocky shoreline south of La Jolla where the harbor seals hang out. I let her fly there for a bit, and it was quite an experience. She loved diving down the small cliffs of the cove, and was joined by a large flock of pigeons. Much harder to spot the African Grey in a flock of 50 pigeons than in a group of seagulls!

The brown lumps on the beach are seals.


More photos….


Up in the air again — in a good way!

Posted by Raz on Nov 7th, 2008
Nov 7

During this dry spell of posting, Carly has been grounded for the last couple weeks or so.   She was flying much too far afield, exploring the neighborhood out of my sight range, and making friends “without supervision.”   I did not want a repeat of the Case of the Red-Headed Guy.   We’ve been very lucky that incidents like these have involved concerned and honest people.

We had many changes in the last couple months, including Hugh’s birds leaving and 3 new birds of mine arriving.   Her behavior didn’t change overnight, but after awhile it felt like she’d lost almost everything we’d worked for, in terms of having a good response and being able to fly outdoors in a way that is up to my safety standards.  I finally realized that if I looked objectively at her behavior, indoors and out, without knowing her history of freeflight, my training recommendation would be to work on indoor recall only, and get it into a very firm routine once again.  (When her recall was good, our flying routine had become walks/flies at the beach, not any kind of disciplined practice.   Bad idea.)   In other words, go almost back to square one.   As Cynthia pointed out, flying off down the beach was not setting her up for success; so we went back as far as necessary to ensure that sessions were both successful and fun.   It was surprisingly startling to come to this realization; I had to focus only on what she was presenting, not what I knew she could do.  (Hmm… does Sid or someone have a post on a similar subject somewhere?)

So we spent a few weeks doing re-training, while Piper has been learning the ropes.     I will write more details in subsequent posts, but today I just wanted to report that she is back in the air again!  A beach outing in which she stayed within a comfortable distance, juked and dove and hollered, but didn’t do any runners down the beach to check out the tourists.  Didn’t even gaze longingly. ;-) I seriously wondered if we could ever do that again.   It is really a shock to see things become “untrained.”

More details on what she, Piper, and especially I have been learning coming soon.

P.S. I am opening the blog up to comments, so feel free to post questions or remarks below. [UPDATE: and you can now do so without being subscribed and logged in.]


September Beach Flying

Posted by Raz on Sep 7th, 2008
Sep 7

The beaches are getting less crowded, though the weather is still lovely.    Carly and the macaws haven’t been out to the beach in almost 2 weeks because we’ve been busy moving, so it was nice to let them get some sea breeze in their wings.

Piper came along and strolled on my shoulder, and Carly was far less attentive to other men. She even let several red-headed guys get away! Piper is already wanting to take off and fly with her when she goes, but we haven’t done very much training yet. But clearly he’s going to be an enthusiastic beach flyer! Carly did some big flights at the very beginning and end of the outing, but in between she stayed on my shoulder or did short flights most of the time. Protective of “her” baby I think.

I realized how tolerant she is of him she really is today when she made the ultimate sacrifice: she moved over and gave up the highly coveted left shoulder position when we were walking. Sometimes they both sat on the left shoulder and sometimes she let him have the whole thing. Now that’s love.

Unfortunately there may not be many photos of greys in flight at the beach for awhile — certainly not as good as the ones you’ve been seeing! Hugh and the boys are moving back to Philadelphia. So look for some new Redfront scenery in your inbox if you’re on one of the flight photos lists.

Here are a couple from today. This one reminds me of an eagle soaring.


And here she is going into a diving flip…

carly diving flip

Photos by Hugh Choi.
Subscribe to Yahoo Group Celebrate Parrots or contact Hugh if you want to receive photos by email.


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 :-)


The Mystery of the Red-headed Man

Posted by Raz on Aug 3rd, 2008
Aug 3

In response to queries about our “lost” posting to Craigslist on Friday evening, here are the details of what happened. I will post more later about how we’re dealing with this incident from a training standpoint.

Carly went into full-force femalehood this spring and became obsessed with red-headed guys when we were out. She would want to sit on them (sometimes half an hour before I pulled her away) and literally gazed up into their eyes, nibbled on their ears, wanted head scratches. Then when we would walk away she would often fly right back relentlessly. I had to be careful to keep an eye out for them, and really watch her behavior carefully when she was out flying to see if she was getting into that “mood shift” because it was a hard pattern to break once it got started. I also kept her doing shorter flyabouts and treated frequently for just staying with me and doing little tricks. We also did lots of short A-B recalls with the RHGs that she found, so she could interact with them in a more healthy way. And it had subsided a lot over the last month…. until Friday.

While flying over the houses by La Jolla Shores, she apparently saw a RHG sitting by the pool at one of the condos, and went down to investigate. Strange because she’s been much better with that in the last month, but she found one on the beach earlier who adored her too, and once she gets it in her head…. Also, we were out flying with Wendy Craig and Samantha, who came out to deliver Piper (Carly’s new Grey friend, now 4 months old). Carly was a little perturbed about that at home, but seemed to be behaving just fine at the beach without him around.

Anyway, she disappeared from sight when she ducked behind the condo and I couldn’t find her anywhere. Searched for hours, up until dark, calling, putting up flyers, etc. Turns out that within probably half an hour of her disappearing, the condo manager had been contacted, she contacted a local bird store, they contacted a veterinarian couple who had a missing Grey, and someone drove Carly out to their house. 20 miles from where we live. We were reunited via Craigslist about 10pm last night. She was already settled in to bed, and the couple was coming this way in the morning, so she had a slumber party there with their other grey last night. So the whole 6 hours or so I was searching, she was in someone’s house in La Mesa eating grapes :-) Some of the condo people called this morning, and that’s when I found out, yes, it was a strawberry blond guy.

Now we have to do some more work on this red-headed guy issue. I’d been letting her have a lot of freedom to do very long flies lately since she’s been handling them well, but I’ll go back to keeping her a bit closer and doing some “remedial” recall drills as a refresher, then see how things progress with her little infatuations. And if she is ever is missing again I will not even waste my time thinking she might be sitting outside in a tree somewhere or off exploring! She seemed quite tired when she got home, and was also very cranky until late in the day (keeping to herself, stepping up but then biting, not eating much.) She was driven out to the vet’s house in a laundry basket; not too much to her liking. Ironically, it was these infatuations that orginally got me thinking it might be a good time for Carly to have a grey buddy. She was in better spirits by evening after some alone time and a nap.

As for Piper — not really pals yet, but things seem to be calming down quickly. He is adorable and very sweet, and confident enough to hold his own. I think they’ll work it out just fine. They are already sharing gyms without any trouble, and Carly has been showing a lot of interest in watching him, not just chasing him!

Many thanks to Dr. Cheryl Clark for taking Carly in (and best wishes for finding her lost grey). Cheryl just happens to know Barbara Heidenreich, Susan Friedman, Lee McGuire, and the Gabriel Foundation folks — so Carly was in great hands. Also to the people at the condo — especially the manager — for making the effort to track down an owner, and the staff at Birdland San Diego for their assistance, and several people who called with information after seeing our flyers. (Highly recommended: It was so nice having a big stack of pre-made flyers to put up right away.) All together only about a 6 and a half hour ordeal, but I feel 20 years older!

Pictures and posts on Piper soon!


Summer Issue of Good Bird

Posted by Raz on Jul 22nd, 2008
Jul 22

The Summer 2008 issue of Good Bird magazine is out, and there are some great articles including teaching an emergency recall; how to prepare for, prevent, and deal with a lost parrot situation; and how to use training logs. There are also sample training logs available for download at the website. I highly recommend keeping a weight and behavior log, whether training or not. It’s so hard to remember details of what was happening months later, and very hard to detect patterns of behavior without a good log.

Purchase downloadable PDF issues here, and download free training logs: Good Bird Magazine .


Next »