So finally the day has come when all of Kili & Truman's theater flight training would be put to the test. For two months I had been training them in the high school theater to get them not only accustomed to being on stage, but also to learn advanced indoor flight recalls.
Throughout the dozen or so training sessions we had both our ups and downs. There were fantastic training sessions in which both birds recalled eagerly. But there were also training sessions where the parrots would not budge a feather and would be nearly impossible to get them to fly. There were sessions when Truman spent the majority of the time up in some high place refusing to come down. However, each session yielded progress over the last by making the parrots more and more accustomed to being on stage. We trained with the stage lights on and eventually with music playing to test the parrots' resistance to distraction.
Nearing the show, I left for two weeks to travel around West Africa (yes, this happened before the performance but I have a lot of footage to edit so unfortunately you won't get to see this until later). During that time my brother came to take care of my birds but little training was done. When I returned, I had just a week to get the parrots ready for the big show. Normally I trained on Tuesday's and Thursday's, but this time I did not want to have a training session immediately prior to the Friday morning performance. So instead I did flight training two days in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then I gave the parrots a break on Thursday. Then Friday morning we had to get up very early to get to the school, set up, and do some flight recalls to warm up prior to the audience entering.
Originally I had a five minute speech planned about motivation and the basics of behavioral psychology but I had to bag that since I was pressed for time. I decided to show the 20 Tricks in 2 Minutes and Kili is the Word videos after the live performance because I realized that the props and birds are too small for people in the back to see. So in order to have time for the videos, I had to drop the talk. Mostly I was relieved to skip the talk because I had inadequate time to prepare it. It's a topic I have given much thought about and can have a good conversation about, but I would not be as good giving a speech about it. Before I learned about the time constraint, I felt obligated to make an educational moral to my performance by discussing psychology, learning, and motivation (all things I've learned from my parrots). So after the head of the upper school announced me, I just went straight to my parrot show by recalling Kili down from the balcony.
My brother was assisting me by releasing the birds to me. He had both parrots in a carrier and was ready to move quickly. As soon as he released Kili on the balcony, I bought him time to move downstairs while I introduced Kili. Then he released Truman from the back of the theater when I called his name. The students were shocked to find the birds swooping across and coming flawlessly to my hand. Audience members sitting up front later commented being able to feel the air rush over them as the parrots passed across on their route to my hand.
I had been debating with myself whether or not to fly Truman at all. In earlier training sessions we had major reliability problems. If he would miss the landing or just not feel like it, he would start flying around the theater and always land high. Unlike Kili, Truman would never replan his flight and come back down to me. At best he would land somewhere high and fly down but many times we had to get him ourselves. However, he did pretty well during the two training sessions prior to the performance so I decided to take a chance with him. During the training sessions immediately leading up to the show, I practiced the flight from the back of the theater to my hand many times with Truman instead of just random flights as I had been doing earlier. So with the extensive practice I felt that Truman knew what to do but still risked that if he missed my hand, he would fly off. I did some more practice the morning of the show and he did not fly off once, so I decided to go for it during the show.
I had Truman perform his tricks first to let Kili headline the show afterward. Truman was a bit hesitant at first. You see he had never been in front of such a large crowd and we basically tricked him by keeping him in a dark carrier and then releasing him straight on a flight he was accustomed to. So his first chance to see the crowd really wasn't until he had landed on my hand. It took a few seconds to get him to focus but eventually he did his tricks. By no means his best but he did fine. No matter how much motivation he may have had from hunger and social pressure, the novelty of the situation was still quite overwhelming for him.
Kili only had about ten seconds of stage fright, then she just blossomed. Kili just adored the attention performing her tricks and did better and better as the crowd reacted. I still fed her occasional treats so that in the future she would not distrust me not to give her treats during a performance, however, she was motivated to perform just as well without them. I could tell that she was doing it all for the attention and not the treats. This way I was able to give her tiny treats between just a few of the tricks to make the performance appear seamless. I forgot to have Kili do ring on peg but no one noticed because I went straight to play dead. When Kili dropped over and lay on her back, amazement beheld the crowd. None the less, I think the absolute favorite trick among a high school full of athletic students, was the basketball trick. I think the varsity team may be calling Kili back for try outs next season.
Not only did the performance go very well, but it was a very pleasing culmination of all the previous theater training efforts at the school. The birds learned advanced flight skills and expanded their performance capabilities. Now the performing parrot duo is ready to tackle virtually any indoor on stage performance.
Actually, that's a funny story I forgot to mention. She had never spoken into a mic before and I wasn't planning on having her say hello. In fact when I put her near the mic in the morning, she was terrified of it. The mic wasn't working during previous training sessions so there was no way to work on that. But the morning of the show I got there an hour in advance and the mic system was working.
So really I was just messing around trying to get Kili to say hello to laugh at how big her voice is. She was too scared of the mic though and wouldn't do it. So I had her do a bunch of other tricks instead and mixed a hello between them so once she was on a roll, she did say hello. Then I continued cuing hello and having her say it into the mic. Normally "hello" is on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule for Kili so she's not likely to get more than one treat for saying it five times. Well to teach her to say it into the mic I used continuous reinforcement instead (FR1) which stands out as more reinforcing than usual. So every time she said hello on cue into the mic she got a treat. We did this about 10 times and she became very reliable at saying hello into the mic.
Michael, Kili and Truman won the Audience
It was very good!
If you don't mind, you wrote in your article that you didn't have time for introduction and some speech. Personally I appreciate your videos with your explanation what and why you are doing something that way and no other, because we can all learn from this.
But for the show like that, people want to see only tricks(my personal opinion) and any comments will only make them feel boring.
So for me it was better! I know that your other mission is probably educate people, but show is show.
Kili and Truman was great
That is cool. What made you decide that you should perform at a high-school. Me, my budgie, and my cockatiel would like to perform anywhere atleast. you know... right after I teach them tricks first.