Crow Migration, or What Not to Do on Day 2

Posted by Raz on Nov 22nd, 2008
2008
Nov 22
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There have always been a few crows in the park. One or two would often sit in the sycamore tree and watch while I was training Carly under the canopy. She was briefly chased by one once during one of her first big outdoor flights, but she didn’t pay much attention to it. Otis and Gizmo were chased by a couple on their first outing to the park here too. They did their usual divide and confuse routine, and the crows gave up.

So Monday morning was Piper’s second outdoor recall training session. (Put on your shades — you might be blinded by the glaring errors!) Carly went with us again, and before I let Piper out of his carrier I unclipped her leash so she could go on a few big flights. After that she’s usually content to just hang out with me. She didn’t want to go however, so we did a few short recalls from the wall like we did yesterday with Piper. Then I got Piper out to join in. We normally alternate back and forth when we practice indoors, and that’s what we did today for 5 or 10 minutes. Then Carly was ready for a big flight. She took off on a big circle around the park, and of course Piper followed her. (He always wants to take off with her if he’s on a harness.) They did a couple very large loops above the treeline, then Carly landed in a eucalyptus. Piper landed in another tree behind it, but I didn’t see which one.


piper map


Carly and I did a full circuit of the park and surrounding townhomes calling, but not a peep out of him. Then a guy came running and said he’d seen Piper get chased quite aggressively by 4 crows out of a tree. We went off to search in that direction, but still nothing. Once I heard Piper do some of his calls, but it was a courtyard or two over and I could not find him. Once I thought I saw a grey-like body fly behind some trees. But mostly nothing. Just walking and calling and whistling our contact tune. One thing I did find: crows. Lots and lots of crows. Not in big flocks, but 2-4 in almost every tree. Then later in the day larger groups flying overhead. Another person told me they’d seen him being chased also. Just as it was almost dark I saw the silhouette of a bird landing in the top of a eucalyptus in the distance. It was landing in the same silly way a grey parrot does. I ran and called and it was indeed Piper. He flew to a tree near me, and did the stair-step descent approach, going to lower and lower trees, finally landing on a scrawny twig about 15 feet high. One final call and he was back!

This was not the ideal 2nd day out for sure. I have never seen so many crows in the area. I have since seen flocks of them near the beach also, where there are usually only ravens. Unfortunately I didn’t personally see any of the chases with Piper, so I don’t know how aggressively they were behaving. But I do know it was very hard to find a landing place without crows already in possession. Piper has not been outside nearly as much as Carly when she first started either, so he has far less exposure to seeing large birds. It must have been pretty frightening for him.

In the picture above, our training spot is just to the right of where it says “found.” Pretty amazing after so many hours he was literally back within about 100 ft of where he started.

When we came in he ate a huge dinner, then went to his bedtime perch and fell asleep at 6:30 (about 5 hours earlier than normal!)

But back to the errors:

Carly went with us again, and before I let Piper out of his carrier I unclipped her leash so she could go on a few big flights. . . . She didn’t want to go however, so we did a few short recalls from the wall like we did yesterday with Piper. Then I got Piper out to join in. We normally alternate back and forth when we practice indoors, and that’s what we did today for 5 or 10 minutes. Then Carly was ready for a big flight. She took off on a big circle around the park, and of course Piper followed her. . . . They did a couple very large loops above the treeline, then Carly landed in a eucalyptus.

Totally preventable, dumb errors. Carly is just coming out of some re-training, so I should not have trusted her to stay focused on short recalls before she had done some longer flights. Dumb. This was Piper’s second day out, and I should not have been training him alongside her unless I was totally confident she would not fly off. I knew how he’d react. It worked the day before when she had already flown some, but even then it was more of a risk than I should have taken on his first day. It probably wouldn’t have been a big deal without the crows, but even so, not smart. I assume it was also distracting for Carly, still under intense observation and re-training, to have Piper flying with her for the first time.

What did go well:

  1. I had my stack of 50 “Lost Parrot” flyers with pictures on them right at my home, so I got those out very soon. I also have business cards with Carly’s picture, my cell phone number, and web site address, normally for giving to people so they can access the training resources web page or photos. They are also perfect for handing out when searching for a bird.
  2. Piper stayed very close, in the immediate vicinity of the park (even though I couldn’t spot him!) He must have really been hunkering down inside the trees most of the time. Since he is brand new at this I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m very happy his instinct was not to bolt in a straight line and fly off.
  3. Once he felt safe retrieval was easy.
  4. I could take the entire day off to search if I need to. I never fly outdoors when I have anything within the next 24 hrs that can’t be rescheduled.
  5. This is a very animal-friendly and helpful neighborhood. Wonderful people, eager to help. (Two neighbor girls were so excited when I got Piper back home they even volunteered to go take down flyers. Wow!)

Piper is much more watchful of the sky when outside now, so I’m going to do spend some more time on the harness just walking around and doing recalls without big sis. He is a fearless flyer physically, but he also startles so much more easily than Carly ever did. It’s an odd combination. But it could also be that I notice it more with Piper because, being fledged properly, his instinct is to fly; Carly, unfledged and clipped, would usually just hunker down onto my chest. It’s easy to forget how much a baby hasn’t experienced yet.

One final note: I think this kind of experience highlights the risks inherent in freeflight training, especially as practiced with companion parrots, by non-professionals, in a relatively uncontrolled environment. I don’t consider myself an impatient trainer (quite the opposite usually) and I could have prevented this event with the knowledge I had. But it’s very easy to “go with the flow” even when you know what you’re doing is increasing the risk. In addition to the importance of learning and gaining experience, one of the lessons for me with this is that a very important aspect of experience is to always remember why the rules you have established are so critical.

Carly’s card:

carly card
(Photo by Hugh Choi)

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