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.
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.