Having done two years of extensive flight training with Truman, I was ready to take this chance to further his flightducation. Just to be sure he'd come down to me if he did end up in an unreachable place, I brought his weight down to his training minimum weight. Kili on the other hand, I took down no further than typical training weight because I was comfortable and certain that she would do just fine. I've already taken chances flying her in irrecoverable indoor locations (such as TV studios) and knew what to expect from her.
What I mean by an irrecoverable indoor flying location is basically a location where the bird could land in such places that it would be impossible for the owner to recover the bird (except by the bird returning on its own). This is the closest thing to outdoor freeflight but without the risk of permanent loss or predation.
Note, I do not encourage anyone to attempt to fly their parrot (or for that matter have it unrestrained) in an irrecoverable indoor flying location without extensive flight training experience. Although it may not result in the death or escape of your parrot, it may cause extensive problems for the bird and disruptions to the facility. Instead, I encourage you to find recoverable large indoor flying locations first. This is not only to practice but also to test how your parrot would behave flying in a novel location. You don't want to be finding out that your parrot will fly right up to a 60ft ceiling, land, and be incapable or unwilling to come down the first time you are trying this! For the recoverable locations, I have designed a parrot recovery perch for getting parrots down from places up to 20ft high. If you are interested in one, please contact me directly. Only after you are confident that while flying in recoverable locations, your parrot has reliably returned to you even after landing in high places, then can you attempt flying the bird in a place with unreachable ceilings.
I started out with Kili & Truman on their training perches in the center of the gym. I had them fly short recalls to get the hang of flying in this new place and then progressively increased the distance until I was able to have them fly across hundreds of feet to reach me. I had them fly short boomerang flights to remind them how to return to me which proved useful when they would overshoot me. You see, parrots that are used to flying in confined spaces may develop too much speed flying in the open to slow down in time to land on you. Boomerang flying is a great skill to develop so that they would have the practice to turn around instead of just flying away.
It definitely helps to have two birds instead of one. One motivates the other. When Truman would recall first, Kili would eagerly follow when called. And vice versa. If one bird were to land and not come down from somewhere, giving a lot of attention, recalls, and treats to the other bird can sometimes drive it out and back to you. So while on one hand flying two parrots is more work and more to keep track of, it also helps improve the motivation of both birds at the same time!
Finally, when I was comfortable that Kili & Truman had no trouble finding me to land on, I sent them off to freefly around the gym to their hearts' content. I was curious if they would end up flock flying together or independently and it appeared to be more of the latter but really they were just all over the place. Kili enjoyed flying extensive figure eights around the gym at high speed and I was surprised to find that her stamina was better than Truman's! Don't forget that Kili is permanently missing some flight feathers, was not fledged as a baby, and has always been the weaker flyer. This made me realize that I had always worked her harder to compensate for this and as a result she ended up outflying Truman who is the natural born flyer!
In the span of over an hour the birds flew over a mile of heart pumping exercise flights both on command and of their will. They stayed on their perches until called and flew around when I offered them to. Overall I was very pleased with the session and my brother helped me record some of the highlights to share with you.
This is the 2nd video with footage of the birds' 3rd gym flight training session which also features Kili's newest trick.
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.