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 am going through some footage from the flight training sessions that led up to Kili & Truman's high school performance. I am going to try to post some more of the footage that shows the training involved in getting the parrots to the point that they flew to me on command during the show while also sharing some of the difficulties in the process.
Day 5 of advanced flight training was the second day in the theater. The forth session went extremely well but I wondered how much of it was based on the fact that the birds were very hungry that time. So during the fifth session I made sure they were better fed beforehand and tried to see if they would fly to me for the reward of having a more fun time on stage. A large component was putting the parrots on a familiar Parrot Training Perch and then walking to the stage and leaving them there for some minutes. Not only would I let the parrot on the perch get bored, but I would do a lot of activity with the other parrot on the stage. This was to make being on stage more lucrative than anywhere else. Not only was this for the purpose of being able to recall the parrot to the stage but also to reduce the likelihood of the parrot wanting to fly away from the stage during my eventual performance.
Kili learned to fly circles when she missed her perch on a return flight. She didn't come back to me immediately because she seemed to simply enjoy the fact that she can fly. But eventually she was getting tired and flying lower so she came back to me. On one flight recall that I called Truman he went straight for my brother who was videoing instead of me, but when landing on his head didn't seem to go as he had planned, Truman turned and flew to my hand.
Truman did end up flying up into the rafters and curtains a few times though. Whenever he doesn't make his landing on the first attempt or isn't sure of where to go, he flies higher and higher. If he can't find a spot to land he'll continue circling high but never flies back down to me, perch, or anything else. Eventually he lands somewhere high and I have to wait until he calms down and gets bored before he would even consider flying back down to me. In the video you may see me call Truman a few times to come down. In reality it would be much more than that. I might call several times every few minutes until it finally would dawn on him to come after all. I would reward him generously and let him take a break after coming down though so he would not feel like flying down would force him to go back to work if he didn't want to.
After the failures of the second and third flight training sessions in the wrestling room, I decided to adjust my approach by trying a stronger case of food management. It's not even that I decided to go extreme with the food reduction but more so that I had been too generous with the feedings during prior training sessions. The generous food helpings I was feeding in the cage prior to training did not repay with better flight attempts from the parrots so a more strict food regiment was in order. Prior to the fourth flight training session I reduced the pellet meals for both parrots not only the morning of the training but also the night prior to clear out their crops in time for flight training in the evening.
Originally the goal was to test how well I could get the parrots flying in the wrestling room with more hunger motivation and after a successful day, move up to the theater. However, my number of flight training days were getting used up and practicing in the theater was most important. So my brother and I decided to make use of the high hunger motivation by jumping straight into the theater. I unloaded the parrots and put them on their Training Perches on the theater stage. We didn't know how to turn on the stage lights so we had to make do with just some work lights controlled by ordinary light switches. Nonetheless, the stage was the best lit part of the entire theater.
There is no doubt that Kili and Truman were a bit nervous and awkward about their new surroundings. However, within minutes of letting them out, I was already able to cue them tricks. First I had Truman do the few tricks that he knows. Then Kili ran through her routine and even played dead on the stage floor. Tricks are a good indicator of motivation level and help me guess what kind of flight performance I can expect. I had two main goals for theater training. The first and most important one was for the parrots to learn to stay on their perches on the stage. I don't want them flying off or going anywhere during a performance. The second purpose of this training is to teach them that if they do fly, to fly back to the stage. All of the recalls would be on or toward the stage and never away. I wanted the birds to get super used to being on stage and to recognize their perches as the best place to land if not on me. Then all of the thrill of flight training and practicing recalls was a secondary goal but more personal than practical.
I began by recalling Kili across the stage and she came eagerly. Truman took a lot more time and coaxing but eventually he was making short recalls across the stage as well. Kili was so successful and so motivated that I decided to progress further with her. I took her training perch and put it about 20 feet off stage and put her on it. I recalled Kili to me on stage and she came eagerly. I continued putting the perch further and further back in the theater aisle and she was coming consistently. This training session was going far beyond my expectations. All I expected to do was to desensitize the parrots to the stage and maybe get just some short on stage recalls going.
Kili was really clingy and generally flew to me rather than anywhere else. Sometimes I would send Kili to her perch but she would return to me instead. One time, Kili missed her perch and flew laps around the theater instead. She made several circles before returning back to land on my hand. The fact that she is afraid to go anywhere she hasn't been works in my favor in terms of her returning to me rather than going anywhere else. This demonstration of return reliability makes me confident to fly Kili in any indoor environment because I know that she will either fly back to me on her own or at least come when I recall her.
With so much success on Kili's part and high motivation on Truman's, I decided to give him a shot with the aisle to stage flight recalls. I brought the training perch back closer and put Truman on it. He did not make an effort to come right away. He sat there stunned and looking around his new surroundings. I worked hard on making him jealous of how much more fun Kili and I were having on stage and eventually he flew the recall. I always made sure to give a lot of attention and time to relax on stage as a reward to flying to the stage. I was teaching Truman that being off stage is boring but that good things happen when he comes back to the stage.
However, not everything ran so smoothly. Truman missed my hand on one of his recalls because he flew too fast. Instead of turning back to me as Kili does, Truman flew laps of the theater getting progressively higher and faster. Finally he landed up in the rafters and recovery was only possible with a stick because he was too high and close to make a flying descent. I will unveil my special "Parrot Recovery Perch" in coming weeks and make it available for purchase so stay tuned. After getting Truman down from the rafters, I rewarded him and put him back in his carrier to take a break. I focused on Kili for a bit and then took him back out. I thought he would be too nervous to fly any more but after a bit of coaxing I had him flying short recalls again. I let the parrots enjoy some almonds on stage as super treats for their final recalls.
This forth advanced flight training session was a major breakthrough from any flight training I had previously done with my parrots. Now they were flying in a significantly large open space with very high ceilings. The distances required for recalls were further than ever before and there were endless new things to look at. Nonetheless, the parrots were super motivated and did an outstanding job performing their flight recalls. Finally, Kili demonstrated an eagerness to return to me in the event of a fly off. Truman would not fly back to me, but at least I know I can recover him with a Parrot Recovery Perch. The two hour flight session was tremendous exercise for the parrots and a phenomenal learning experience for both them and myself. Here is a video of this training session. The video is quite long but a worthwhile watch for all parrot owners interested in flight training. Even if you're not flying your parrot in such a large space, the advice contained herein is helpful for flight training anywhere.
You can purchase a similar set of Parrot Training Perches for flight training your parrots at gym, theater, or at home. Please visit http://ParrotWizard.com and check out the various products I am offering for parrots. Many more coming soon so check back often.