Aug 3

The new Good Bird magazine looks like a conspiracy among friends. Hillary Hankey writes about kitchen manners (ho boy — I just realized what an odd juxtaposition of words that is), Mandy Andrea writes about getting an adult bird to make those first steps toward flying, Grace Innemee talks about training a Jackdaw (and is also the “Animal Lover” profiled), and I adapted the recall article on my web site for the magazine. Carly snuck in to one of the photos of Grace as well.

Since I have almost no photos of Carly’s indoor training, we had hoped to feature photos of Barb Saunders doing recall training with some adult birds she has taken in, many of whom were unable to fly and/or had severely damaged feathers. Unfortunately we weren’t able to locate the high-resolution versions quickly enough to meet a tight deadline before it went to press in June.

So here are the photos of Barb’s birds learning recall in her aviary and looking spectacular compared to when they arrived.

Phil the Philippine Blue-Naped Parrot doing the famous “big lean” while working on getting the first jump-flap. (For hints on that, see Mandy’s article.) Phil’s was so scraggly when he arrived that he almost had no usable wings at all.

Peaches the Moluccan doing a recall in the aviary to Barb’s hand.

Ronnie the Galah flying to Barb, just learning and on a roll that day!

Fred the Bare-eyed Corella learning to fly down. One of my favorite all-time photos. He was a wild man when Barb first got him and he’s become a great trained flyer.

The article is here, but you should really go get the whole magazine at Good Bird Inc. if you aren’t already a subscriber. (It may be a day or two before the new issue is linked.)

This is from the recall article, and very funny in light of the recent posts about recall vs flight skills:

Also, when teaching flight skills and recall (they’re not the same thing), sometimes it can be necessary to work on each separately. You can do one whole session of easy recalls, just to get and keep that behavior well trained. Then do another later when you work some of the more difficult skills.

Notice I didn’t say you can train one but not the other, or “decide which one you want NOW.” You can use one daily recall training session to really push the skills, and another at slightly lower difficulty to work on the very fast snappy response. The two complement each other very well. There is absolutely no need to neglect recall training to teach flight skills, or vice versa.

Barb and her birds and aviary will be featured in an upcoming blog post.

(Note: the photo in the article of Daphne should read Ducorps Cockatoo, and credited just to Barb.)

Jul 28

The idea that one has to work on either flight skills or recall skills with a new flyer is an odd one. The two training tasks are so complementary. Doing controlled flights under your cue is how a bird can build up confidence along with skill, and those three elements — good recall, skill, and confidence — are what makes a good outdoor or indoor flyer.

They need all three to fly safely, and it doesn’t make sense to ignore one to work on another. If you neglect the recall training, every time you allow latency you are training the bird that it’s OK to ignore your cue. If you don’t gradually increase the skill level of the recalls, you risk the bird becoming bored with the training and not progressing physically.

The only time these elements come into conflict is if you’re trying to move too fast. If recall needs work, you can do that at whatever the bird’s skill level is, and do lots of repetitions. The reps improve recall, increase overall confidence, and can be done while gradually pushing the skill level. Carly’s first outdoor flying consisted of A-B flights between me and a perch, increasing in distance; short loops away and back to me, increasing the diameter; A-B recalls flying down from tree branches, increasing in height; and targeting to me through a tree (combination of climbing, hanging, dropping, flying) to learn how to descend if she landed too high for her flying skills. These can be done in a systematic way if the bird has a good recall and the confidence with it’s skill level that you can maintain an outdoor training session without flyoffs, refusing to come down from trees, or panicking.

For a companion parrot, being outside with poor recall and/or low confidence just increases the probability that it will panic or get into a situation that is beyond its skill level. These are not parrots who were raised outdoors by parents in a nest in the wild. They are not used to everything the outdoors presents.

Putting a bird in a situation that is beyond its abilities and forcing it to essentially “learn or else” and become desensitized to its own fear is one of the worst training strategies there is if you are trying to base the relationship on trust and positive interactions. It’s called flooding.

UPDATE: Apparently those claiming it was necessary to make a choice between training flight skills and recall agree with my point (from public Freeflight group):

Yes doing controlled flights is ONE way to build up the birds confidence and flight skills.

So, if you can do it that way, why encourage an unnecessary choice between recall and skills, which is more risky for the bird?

I urge anyone considering freeflying their companion parrot to consider this subsequent statement as well, before using the unfledged baby or “just let ‘em fly” approach:

Recall is extremely useful but is not required to fly birds out doors. — Chris Biro

and ask yourself if you’re comfortable taking this attitude with a valued companion.

That statement alone says enough for me to close the book on anything coming from this source.


Crow Migration, or What Not to Do on Day 2

Posted by Raz on Nov 22nd, 2008
Nov 22

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)


Early Training on a Harness

Posted by Raz on Nov 20th, 2008
Nov 20

Here are some pictures of Piper’s early outdoor training on a harness.
Piper Goes Out

I use a retractable leash set short at the beginning (5-6 feet), then work up to the full length eventually (15 ft). They need to be familiar with doing recall on a harness and leash inside before doing this, so they understand the concept and don’t try to fly off uncontrollably.

I personally like using a harness like this to acclimate a new bird to flying outdoors. Even when Carly had started flying on her own outside, I still used the harness for the first few minutes of our outdoor sessions at the beginning. It allowed me a way to double-check that her response was good that day, that she was not distracted or anxious about something in the environment, etc.

piper training on harness

I will take some pictures of the harness I use. It’s homemade, but similar to the aviator. I also have a version that doesn’t have to be put over the head since some birds don’t like that. The KEY with using a harness, in addition to sufficient indoor training first, is to make sure you have the leash securely attached on both ends. That means a secure fastener on the bird end that he won’t open up on his own (again — practice inside!) and a secure fastener on your end that you can’t accidentally lose hold of. That means a caribiner or some secure hook like those found at boat supply stores. I’ll include some pics of those too. Do not rely on holding the leash loop in your hand, or even looped around your wrist. If something startles your bird, and the bird tries to bolt, it may very well startle you too and you can accidentally let go of the leash. It’s also important to not have the line too long for what the bird is comfortable with doing recall, otherwise you can get tangled up.

An article about harness training by Barbara Heidenreich, featuring Stephanie Ernst’s African Grey is in Parrot Chronicles: Harness Training Your Bird .

Here’s a shot that show’s Piper’s harness better. I now use a screw-down pear clip to attach the leash to the harness because he learned how to unfasten the standard leash clip.
piper's harness

Complete Harness Training Series.


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.]


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!


Fledge Day Anniversary

Posted by Raz on Jul 26th, 2008
Jul 26

Today we are celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of Carly’s first official fledging. Since she was clipped as a young baby, she only really did startle flights until we started to train for recall. We started recall with walking, but the first part of flight training involved learning to take off — by jumping off a countertop onto my arm. It took almost 2 weeks from the time we started for her to work up the courage to voluntarily jump through the air that short 12 inches or so. Lots of strrreetching and plotting to find, other ways around it to get to me. But she always tried. And when we didn’t get the jump, we’d end with some long stretching step-ups to keep things positive. But on July 26, 2006, at 18 months and 6 days old, she finally made the big breakthrough! After that there was no stopping her and she became a jumping and flapping fool — even with only a few flight feathers grown in. She clearly liked the activity, and would even leave her dinner after training to come do some more jumps.

The process we followed and resources we used are described in the Indoor Recall Training article on the Recall Training page.

Here are some shots from today, at age 3 yrs 6 months & 6 days. Lots of diving and screaming. But her enthusiasm was just as great on those first hops.

With Gizmo….
CarlySassy, Fledge Day Anniversary
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 »


Flight Training by “Bond”

Posted by Raz on May 23rd, 2008
May 23

I was pondering all day the sad video about Tui that was posted on YouTube. Tui is an African Grey parrot whose owner saw videos of freeflight on YouTube, and was told it was easy to do. You can see it on Sid Price’s Training Blog, with some thoughtful commentary:

Comments on YouTube video.

I will also link to this video on my pages with flight training info, in the hopes that people will take it very seriously.


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