On the sixth flight training session in the school, the third session in the theater, we introduced a major distractor that would exist during the high school show and any other stage shows thereafter. This was of course the stage lights. Luckily the parrots have already had prior experience under the hot light back at my apartment for videos. I've used as many as three hot lights in close proximity to the parrots while making training videos at home so they already knew not to fly into them. However, they had never experienced a few dozen lights all at once so it definitely did keep them stunned for a bit of time.
I had Kili and Truman do some tricks to train them under a bit of pressure (from the unfamiliarity of the lights). It is a way to test motivation and see how likely the birds are to flight recall. If they can't even handle the basic tricks, there is no way that I could expect them to flight recall. When I am uncertain about Truman's likelihood to flight recall, I may work on return to perch flights instead. I let Truman fly back to his perch from short range and he did fine. I either run up to reward him as quickly as possible or I have my brother stand at the perch to give him a reward upon landing. However, on the second return flight Truman totally missed the landing spot and flew right up into the window curtains. We left him there for a little while until he got bored. I tried recalling him multiple times but did not persist too much if he didn't show signs of coming down. I continued training Kili to make him more jealous and eventually I got him to recall down. I try to get him to feel that he is missing out by being up there but it doesn't work so great because he likes being high.
After I got Truman back, we decided to attempt a flight recall from the balcony. Originally I thought Truman would be coming down from the balcony and Kili from somewhere closer because of Truman's superior flight skills and feathers. However, it turned out that Kili could do it no problem but Truman was unreliable and could end up flying off. Right from the first attempt Kili knew exactly what to do. My brother took her up to the balcony and let her perch on his finger. When I called her name she flew right down to me. Positive reinforcement of course played an important part in her eagerness to fly to me, but so did negative reinforcement. Kili does not like my brother that much and the balcony was not too great a place to be either. So the opportunity to come to me and eliminate those other factors was in itself rewarding. The ability to fly down to me from a high place like this gives me confidence that I could get Kili down in the event of a fly off. However, she never flies off like Truman so her skills are never tested.
I used Kili's excellent recall skills as motivation for Truman. I put him far back on a training perch and let him see Kili recall to me to earn treats. Since Truman is so young, watching other birds in the flock and doing what they do is almost more rewarding than the treat itself. So whenever he'd see Kili fly to me, he would be much more eager and likely to come to me as well. We continued practicing balcony flight recalls followed by Truman self recalls several more times. Truman ended up in the curtains several more times that day. While he was busy not coming down, I practiced Kili saying hello into a microphone. She was mainly scared of the device itself rather than the volume of her new found voice.
At one point Truman tried to fly down from the curtains when I wasn't ready to get him. He was heading for the training perch but missed his landing. At that point he went through his typical freak out routine and flew around seeking a higher place. However, he misjudged his landing on top of the curtains and had to continue circling. Eventually he crashed somewhere in the back of the room into the curtains and came to a rest on a seat. Since this is all happening in a controlled environment, usually I just leave him and call him again later. This makes for better training than running over to help him unless he is truly hurt.
Truman was becoming more and more unreliable as the training session was reaching the end and at one point he flew onto a ledge above the stage curtain. This is actually a terrible place to try to flight recall him down from because the angle down to the stage is too steep but recalling him away from the stage into blinding lights would be impossible. So instead I put my Parrot Recovery Perch to use. This is a special 20ft extendable perch that I invented prior to risking flying the parrots in the theater in the event that they land in a place they can't come down from. Since Truman's flight motivation had substantially dwindled, I preferred to take him down rather than wait for him to fly himself. So I extended the perch and placed it above his feet and unquestioningly he stepped up onto it and rode down like an elevator. Of course I always reward him for coming down to prevent him from avoiding the stick in the future.
I have actually come up with two versions of the parrot recovery perch. One is a compact lightweight portable version for most casual trainers and at home users. This version extends to about 10ft long which is plenty in a home with even the tallest ceilings. The extra large version I used in the video to get Truman down from the stage curtains, however, is for advanced flight trainers who may be flying their parrots in gyms, theaters, arenas, or outdoors. The large version is longer and heavier but has the benefit of extending over 20ft if necessary. The familiar natural wood perch on the end is similar to my Parrot Training Perches so it does not take long for the parrots to become accustomed to stepping up onto it. Just to play it safe, I practiced at home with Truman before using it to make sure he was used to it. Whenever I would bring the perch up to him and ask him to step up, I would simply reward him with a treat. These are not yet available on my website because I am still working on perfecting the design, however, if you would really like one before they are released, contact me privately and we can work something out. Otherwise, stay tuned for a release announcement of the 10 and 20 foot Parrot Recovery Perches for getting parrots down from high places.
Here is the video from the sixth flight training session in the high school (third in the theater). This session introduced bright stage lights, balcony flight recalls, and talking into a microphone.
I have begun advanced flight training with my parrots Kili and Truman to prepare for some upcoming performances we are giving. They are generally good birds and I don't expect them to fly off their stands on stage, however, if something frightens them or they slip, they wouldn't know what to do. So the best way to make it safe to have them in a large open space is to flight train them in one so they would know what to do. In coming weeks I am going to share with you the details of our indoor flight training so that it may help you with your parrot whether you're flying it in a large building or at home.
I made an arrangement with the high school I used to go to - and which my brother currently attends - to come twice a week to fly the parrots after hours. In return I am going to give a performance in front of the students in March. Not only is this a good justification for all the training practice, but the performance itself will be a test of their capabilities in preparation for the big show coming up (can't tell you about it yet so don't even ask).
On the first day of training, my brother and I brought Kili and Truman to the school after it had already turned dark and the bustling classrooms and hallways had long been vacated. Though the night was cold, there was little more comfort from the cold that we could provide the parrots beyond a towel covering their carriers. We brought two carriers, two training perches, a box full of toys and treats, and a roll of paper towels. We set up in the wrestling room, essentially a small gym about 60ft x 30ft x 18ft. The space was not that much larger than my apartment which the parrots are accustomed to flying around at will. However, there were two notable differences aside from the novelty of the room. The ceiling was significantly higher and one wall was entirely lined with mirrors making the room appear twice as big.
I let the parrots sit on their Training Perches for a few minutes just to become accustomed to the new room but soon proceeded to cue tricks from Kili and Truman to get them focused on training. If they refuse to do tricks, then there is little hope for flight recall. However, Kili was performing tricks quite eagerly so flight recalls were in order. I started with shorter recalls and after just a few calls, she did fly to me willingly from her perch. Truman on the other hand did not want to budge and was pretty much stunned by the novelty of the room.
I continued expanding my recalls with Kili until I was able to recall her from the far end of the room. She adapted quickly to the mirrors and did not fly toward them. Truman on the other hand would refuse to do anything besides staying still and staring. In order to break the trend, I began doing forced return to perch flights with Truman. However, I gave him treats every time he went to the perch. This way he at least did some flapping in the room, learned that flying there is safe, and had a way to earn treats. Furthermore it was teaching him that if he needs a place to go, the Training Perch is the best place to return to.
However, things did not run so smoothly with Truman. On one slightly longer return flight to his perch, Truman took off. He flew laps around the room getting faster and higher. He was not showing any inclination of flying back down to me. After a few exhausting laps he landed on a high beam and stayed there for a while. There was no use calling him down because he just wouldn't do it. He did make a few attempts to fly but they would just result in doing a lap and coming back to where he started off. Although I knew he knew how to fly down, it appeared as though Truman did not know how to descend. At home, I've seen him fly down 10ft lots of times, but here the ceiling was higher and the angle required to descend was much steeper.
After a while of not being able to get him to fly back to me, I resorted to plan B. I held Truman's Training Perch as high as I could first trying to get him to fly to it but then just to step up. As I approached him with his Training Perch, he finally took a leap and flew a few feet to land on it. I slowly brought him down and rewarded him generously for allowing for his recovery. It wasn't because Truman did not want to be with me but because he was unaware of how to return.
It didn't seem that I could motivate Truman to fly to me for bits of food, so I broke out the toys and tried to get him to fly for those. It still was not working so I let Kili show him the way by flying to me for a chance to bite off a piece of wood. Finally Truman began doing recalls to me. He did several recalls of increasing length and although they weren't instantaneous, they were finally leading to him flying on his own.
Toward the end I got out almonds to give to the parrots for some good recalls. Kili was stuffed from all the nuts she earned before and did not recall for it. Truman on the other hand did - his longest recall for the day. However, instead of landing on his perch when I sent him back, he ended up flying onto the high beam again. Luckily he dropped his nut on the way up. Otherwise he would have sat up there enjoying his nut and feeling reinforced for going there. Then there wouldn't be any hope of him coming down. I picked up the nut he dropped and walked to the far end of the room with it. He had a keen eye on that nut and the moment I recalled him, he flew right down to me. This was a highly valuable lesson learned for Truman that day was that coming down to me is a very good thing. I let the parrots relax on their perches and play with toys for the remaining bit of time I had prior to packing up and taking them home. And so concluded my first advanced flight training session with Kili & Truman in an unfamiliar place.
Last but not least, when a parrot gets too annoying being on me, I can chuck it toward its cage and it will fly back and hang out there for a while. While there are some new precautions we need to take when dealing with flighted parrots, there are also new perks involved. With a flighted parrot it becomes possible to spend a lazy evening without leaving the couch and have your parrot come to you and go at will. I can sit at my tv/computer (my TV is my computer... the computer has a 42" TV hooked up to it with wireless keyboard and mouse so I browse the net from my couch) and browse my parrot forum or watch a movie and call a parrot over to play with and then send it off to do its own thing when I'm done. The parrots can also notify they want my attention by flying over or more typically looking anxious to fly and letting me call them.
Come on, most other pets do not come with the incredible features that parrots include by default such as dazzling colors, vocalization capability, and flight. It is a major shame when owners cannot appreciate their birds for everything that they are capable of. Flight should not be considered a hindrance to your relationship but rather a bonus. I miss none of the benefits a clipped parrot owner may claim but also get to enjoy the flighted fun. My parrots are no less likely to step up, accept handling, and desire to be with me than if they were clipped. The secret to success is good taming techniques, patience, routine, and consistency and not clipping.
I can spend just as much time complaining about how much flighted parrots can be a pain in the butt, however, this article is meant to outline the positive aspects. Most of the undesirable ones really are just related to how parrots are rather than a fault of being flighted. So I made this video just to share some of the thrill of keeping parrots flighted in hopes of encouraging others to get to experience this for themselves. This is also meant to serve as a flight training progress update for Truman as I realized that I haven't shared his latest capabilities although they have greatly improved since last shown. Truman can recall to me anywhere and is very maneuverable. The following video shows how he recalls to me when completely out of sight around two corners. He follows the sound of my voice from his cage and finds me wherever I am. Kili can do this to some extent as well, but she is nowhere near as maneuverable as Truman. I also realized that I haven't really shared how I put my parrots away in their cages so I share that as well. Lately I've been able to recall them simultaneously when it is time to go back to cages and they both fly and land on each of my hands. Unfortunately in the video Truman hesitated a little. I just couldn't capture a shot where they fly at the same time, but when it happens it is truly beautiful. Flight is beautiful.
I had previously written about teaching Truman how to make small flights by luring him from training stand to training stand. Since then, I had about three more days of training flight recall to Truman. He is catching on very quickly so I am not using a target stick or clicker to teach him recall. Why bother if he's learning what I want from him? I will of course apply the clicker for more advanced tricks but when it comes to recall I want to do it with him so much that it becomes automatic and he does it just because. I want flight recall to be the most practiced trick in his repertoire so that is why I am teaching it before anything else.
First I lured Truman from perch to perch. Then I began hiding the treat and just tapping on the perch I wanted him to fly to. I extended the cue to my arm instead of a perch by tapping on my arm. Then I stopped showing the tapping cue and made the cue just extending my arm and calling his name. Thus I developed the basis of a flight recall in less than a week. It certainly does help that Truman loves human attention and is practically begging to be on me, but even without it is still very manageable.
In the meantime, Truman is not very treats oriented so for some recalls I give him a toy rather than food. I almost have to force him to take the food sometimes because he seems to want to fly to me just for the hell of it rather than to get the treat. Of course his recall is nowhere near reliable and he won't come from a long distance, but this is certainly good progress considering how recently we began practicing this. I'm sure I could push him to learn quicker but I don't feel the need as we are bonding in the process and just having fun. Eventually I'll pick up the pace with training but right now he is learning much more about living and the environment than just the trick training.
This same process can be used to train any species of parrot to recall to you. This works especially well with baby parrots that were never clipped. However, it can be used to train a refledged parrot who's wing feathers grew back out. I am certain a Budgerigar, Cockatiel, Sun Conure, Ring Neck Parakeet, Amazon, Eclectus, African Grey, Cockatoo, or Macaw could learn flight recall based on the same techniques. I have experience recall training a Senegal Parrot, Cape Parrot, and Budgerigar and I can tell you that the process was essentially the same with all the parrots because it is based on operant conditioning which all parrots (and even other birds) are capable of. Here is a video from a few recent sessions of flight recall training Truman the Brown-Necked Cape Parrot:
At the end of the video you may have noticed that I gave a treat to both Truman and then Kili following the long recall. The reason is because I had Truman fly close into Kili's territory so I wanted to not only reward Truman for recalling to me, but also Kili for not getting aggressive in her cage. I have been making extensive efforts to maintain peace between the parrots and tomorrow I will post an update about how I am introducing them to each other.
A week since I got Truman, my new baby Cape Parrot, I have already had my first successful flight recall. Since he came to me not clipped - and never will be clipped - safely managing his flight is essential. He is not yet a good flier and does not know well how to get from point A to point B. I can use his ignorance to my advantage by catalyzing his learning of flight and shaping it in direction and purpose that suits me. The number one most important thing is that I want him to learn to fly to me. Then I'd like to teach him to fly to appropriate places in my apartment and not others.
I kept the two stands with the perches parallel to each other and within walking distance. I lured Truman to walk between the stands when offering treats. Originally I was putting food straight into his beak because he wasn't eating well on his own so I decided why not at least make him walk for it. As I spread the distance he would reach harder and harder to get across. But as soon as the gap got too large to step across, he would give up trying to cross. It amazed me because he could fly across the room but not across an 8" gap. I continued the walk across exercises with him.
On occasion he would slip as he crossed and reflexively would flap his wings to stabilize. This is the part of the exercise that actually teaches the parrot to use his wings to make it across the gap. I taught Kili to get across the gap in exactly the same way except that I targeted her across with a stick. Since Truman doesn't know the target behavior yet, I simply offered him goodies on the other end. I would rather teach him flight recall before target training (although target training is an excellent method for teaching recall) because I want him to have the longest practice of flight recall in his life. I want it to be his first and most practiced trick. If he forgets everything, I want flight recall to me to be the most remembered and reliable thing in his repertoire. This is why I'm skipping the other stuff for now and going straight to flight recall which is generally a more advanced behavior to teach. Also I want to use his quick baby age learning and willingness to make the most of teaching recall.
A cue is already starting to emerge although it is just temporary. I no longer have to show him the treat or toy that he will get for coming across. I can just tap and point to the perch I want him to go to and he flaps across to it. I am going to practice this just a little more but as soon as he is recalling to my hand I will only practice the recall cue specifically and stop all luring and temporary cues.
Managing Truman's motivation for this basic informal training was fairly simple. He is not on any sort of food or weight management. In fact, he seems to be more motivated by toys many times than food. He's a curious baby and likes to explore so anything that is of interest to him can be positively reinforcing for preempted behavior. However, since Truman has been eating rather poorly on his own in the cage (mostly from a fear of climbing down to where the bowls are), he's been pretty hungry and would gladly take pellets from my hand. I have not yet even developed any treats for him and just feed him any of bland or colored pellets and almonds.
Thus I put all of these skills together and produced the first preempted flight recall with Truman. It is true that he has flown to me prior, however, that was either because he himself wanted to or because I happened to be a convenient place to land. However, this time, by doing the pointing cue like I had used on the perch, I was able to call him to my hand specifically. I just turned the second training perch away and put my arm where it used to be and in the same manner as cuing him to the training perch, I cued him to my hand.
Now increasing distance is quite simple and merely a matter of practice. Now the important thing to work on is developing a solid recall cue and practicing to no ends.
I highly recommend these training stands to anyone that has a flighted parrot or wants to teach a fledgling (or if they let the feathers grow back) to fly and eventually flight recall. You can use the stands to build practice jumping across a gap and then eventually flying to your hand. The height is adjustable so that you can keep the parrot at a comfortable height for your training. Very soon I will be offering these stands at 2x for $99 + shipping so stay tuned.