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.
I really enjoyed the movie. I have a few thoughts:
1) That venue is great. I really like the size. It is perfect for the training stage that you are at with these two birds. Even though it seems frustrating, (I know, I've been there) it is good to see Truman fly high and up and land....and then come down. This is really GREAT flight training practice. When I see birds fly high, I also see that they do tend to stay where they land. It makes sense because if you think about it, it's probably a lot of fun to be up there and watching every thing below (Wouldn't you sit up there if you could?) The issue is: Do they come down? It looked like Truman did and for a first time flyer that was great. The only way to do this better is going to be conditioning...conditioning..conditioning.....You are moving into the art of training now. Getting this consistent will take a lot of practice and time learning Truman's nuances and finding gentle reinforcement opportunities. It's fun but it is a study. There just isn't a shortcut.
Preparation means that if you know you are going to perform, you practice for consistency. You will lose the consistency when you don't practice. That's okay because when you are just hanging with your birds, it's usually more about exercise than training.
The only problem I would have with the venue would be the mirrors. Birds will fly into mirrors. It looks like both Kili and Truman have it figured out though so it does not seem to be a problem for your birds. Some birds learn windows and mirrors....and some don't. I'm not sure why....If I took my birds to fly in that room, I would first walk them around and have them tap their beaks on the mirrors so they could see they were solid and that they could not fly through them. For a new bird, I would spend a lot of time on that. I do have a friend who has a pionus that is an excellent flyer....flies long, long flyabouts....but can't seem to learn windows. She will fly into a window and we've had at least one heart stopping moment when she was knocked out. Fortunately, she revived and is okay but this is always a safety concern.
2) I enjoy watching both Truman and Kili fly. You can tell that Truman is in much better shape as a flyer than Kili. Kili dips down on her A to B flights. Phinney used to do that too. It is a way to conserve energy. I'm not sure if this is because of Kili's wings or what (since she's missing those feathers)....but she is definitey conserving energy in her flight. There is a word for that and you may know it since you fly planes (I forgot,could look it up but you probably know it)....but there is an effect when they fly up that helps them conserve energy. Truman on the other hand, flies above the perch and lands gracefully.
I really enjoyed the movie and I liked seeing Truman's flyabouts.
3) Modeling.....I see that you are using clicker training and food rewards....which is great...but personally, I believe birds learn how to fly from modelling. They watch other birds. I would guess that Truman is learning a great deal from watching Kili fly back and forth. It is one of the problems we (people) have when we try to refledge older parrots because we can't fly. Birds that fly with other birds tend to learn quicker, especially if they see the other birds as part of their flock. Part of the fun we have when we use a fly building is creating that sense of flock that goes with learning and play.
I gotta go Michael but I really enjoyed the video. I am excited to watch you on this wonderful, new adventure. Keep it up!
I also wanted to share a little anecdote because I know that you like to analyze training and articulate some of the behaviorial "why's".
My flock has a daily routine. I roll their cages into the bird room and I let them out for an hour together and when it's time, I tell them to "go to your perch" to get them to fly into their cages. All four fly to their cage from across the room so fast that they will almost fly into each other to get to their perches. Babylon and Phinney have been flown in many, many different environment but Jack....although flighted....has not had the socialization my hens have had. He was flown briefly at another home before I got him about three years ago and the only other place he has flown is my home.
He is incredibly conditioned to fly back to his cage. It is really funny. He will consistently stop eating, stop socializing, drop every thing he is doing to fly to his cage when I cue "go to your perch". Even if another bird is sitting on the door of his cage, he will dance around them until I remove them and then run onto his perch for his treat.
I was feeling kindof "proud" of my training with him but I was making one big mistake. I was not varying the training. This is more of a management issue with me. It was how I put them away after my work day and after their play session so I wasn't taking the time to do much more than laugh at their antics and put them away on a nightly basis. Once in their cages, I roll them back into our living area so they can hang with us.
This is where it gets interesting. One afternoon, I spaced out and I rolled Babylon's cage where Jack's usually is and I rolled Jack's cage where Babylon's usually is......The cages are similar and I just wasn't paying attention so when the hour was up, I walked in the room and cued all four birds to "go to your perch". Babylon wanted to go in her cage but guess what??....Jack had already flown in it. I called him out and he went back into Babylon's cage. I walked to his cage and lured him (a cue I thought he was fluent in) and he went back into Babylon's cage He balked at the lure about a half dozen times (basically, he just looked at me like: "Hey, I went in a cage. Why am I not getting a treat?) before I walked him onto a stick and brought him close enough to his own cage that he flew right in.
So guess what I figured out? His orientation was SPATIAL. He knew the cue but he associated it with the location, rather than the cage or even a target. My hens who are more socialized can get stuck in this sort of a rut too, but it's a lot easier to get them to change modes and orient to a target (not just a location) than it is to do with Jack. This is because their whole life I have been bringing Babylon and Phinney into unfamiliar environments and practicing some form of training in those environments. I have not put that sort of time into Jack.
This is something to think about when flight training. Two things effect training in unfamiliar environments if you have motivation: 1) Lack of focus. Distractions 2) Overconditioning - The bird gets stuck in a training rut.
Of course, overconditioning can work to your advantage too.....If the bird is overconditioned to one perch and always fly to that perch....you can see the advantage....
You asked how you get the "recall" if you don't use food as a motivator.....I rarely use food as a flight motivator in the fly building because there are so many other things going on in the flight environment that effect focus.....The first thing that helps is the animal's sense of security and orientation to my person....and second, is the conditioning done in many, many, many different environments.
Not sure if this helps....but it is fun and makes me think.