Virgin Air: Piper Earns His Wings

Posted by Raz on Nov 15th, 2008
Nov 15

Piper did his first outdoor flights this afternoon. In the park, from the same bench where Carly learned, with big sis right next to him showing him how it’s done. (I actually thought she’d want to go sit up in a tree and goof off while we did this, but she wanted to join in. We’ve been practicing indoors a lot that way, alternating birds.) He’s 7 months old now, and we’ve been doing regular indoor practice sessions twice daily, before meals, for about 3-4 weeks, and also started taking walks in the park and other places on a harness several times per week. Indoors he’s been recalling all over the house, into different rooms. I’m feeding him as much as he wants, but in scheduled meals (he usually gets 3, one more than Carly).

He did great today, nice and relaxed and very attentive. We stuck with short recalls, probably 6-8 ft. I have not been able to do targeting with him in trees (to learn to crawl down from them, just in case) because he spends all his time chewing on the harness if he’s on a perch! We do have a high ceiling at home now and a high hanging gym at work, and we do target training swinging around the get-a-grip net or hanging gym. Before we do longer flights I’m going to let him do some crawling recalls in our pine tree off the harness now. I’m not all that worried about him being afraid to fly down. He’s a kamakazi in the house, totally fearless, and his recall is very strong — as is his desire to be wherever Carly and I are.

I’m really proud of Carly too — she was a champ in doing little bitty recalls with him outside; she usually finds that very boring.

People have asked me how I decided when was the right time to do the first outdoor flight. Besides all the standard criteria for recall and flight agility — which are the fundamental requirements — I must say I decided much the same way I decided to let Carly fly at the beach. I knew they were ready for a week or two, and was monitoring things very closely. On the day of however, it was really just a gut instinct. Probably because I felt relaxed, the bird was relaxed, we had time, good weather, etc. Everything felt in place.


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.]


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 »


Recall Training

Posted by Raz on May 19th, 2008
May 19

Here is a new blog page with info on how we did recall training, including links to some resources for getting a good training foundation in place:

Recall Training Basics