We’ve named our program blue jay Pete! It so fits him too. So much has happened within the past week, I don’t even know where to start. I just sat down to download photos and videos from my camera and was reviewing photos from the past week and he has advanced so much since I have taken these. This just proves to me how fast a young bird’s mind develops and how important it is to take advantage of that time if you have it. We don’t always get that opportunity, I know. I have it with Pete and we’re not wasting any time.
Over the past week, I’ve watched Pete’s confidence grow with his learning how to fly. First he was bumping into walls, flying into the blinds, but that didn’t last long at all. I think this happened just a few times and with each time I saw him learning. The first time he flew into the corner. The second time, he tried a different corner. The third time I watched him fly to the corner and hover looking for a place to land. The fourth time I watched him fly to the corner and turn once he got to it. Then I watched him learn that every corner had the same predicament…..no place to land.
His second advancement in flight I watched him begin to experiment with how far he could fly. After his cues to hop to the top of my hand were taught well and without using a prompt, I then need to cue him to step off of it. I began doing this with adding a lure which was usually a pine nut in view of the area in which I wanted him to hop to off of my hand. Soon I was able to drop that lure and just tap where I wanted him to hop. His reinforcers, or rewards in these instances have changed greatly in the past week. First they were soaked bird pellets. Then they switched to pine nuts, almonds, and many times now the reinforcer is hearing the word “Good!” His reinforcer or reward to flying to me on cue, many times is just being with me. Our relationship has grown and his trust in me is very obvious. If I can help it, I try to never force him to do anything or put him in a situation where he is afraid or not comfortable. He and I are both learning together in how to work and adapt and grow with his disabled foot.
Here is a video showing Pete’s first experimental flights. He seem comfortable in height so I started placing him on top of the kitchen cabinets. I thought the flat spaces up there would give him plenty of room to hop and learn from objects I placed up there for him to forage through and play. It wasn’t but a day before I began seeing these flights.
These small circular flights soon turned into flights from the top of one cabinet to the top of the next. Then it turned into bigger loops returning to the same cabinet. Then it was loops around the kitchen. Then to the top of the refrigerator. I really enjoyed walking into the kitchen having to look to see where he ventured to with each visit. Within a few days he was flying back to the living room to his cage top. Then I saw him in his cage and I didn’t put him there. I loved it!
We weren’t sure if Pete could fly. I loved calling the staff at Nature’s Nursery to tell them, Pete’s flying and such a curious flier. Everyone was excited to hear this.
Here are two consecutive videos. The first one shows me calling Pete to my hand from a very short distance. You will also see in this video that I am using a pine nut to lure him to make the jump. I begin calling him from a distance where I know he can accomplish. I reward immediately and then bring him down carefully to eye level. At this point I’m still learning to move carefully with him on my hand as to not knock him off balance with his one foot. If I were to consistently knock him off balance before he learned how to fly, I could see him quickly associating this stress with coming to me. That is the last thing I wanted. Here’s me beginning recall with Pete to my hand.
In this second video, you will see that I increase the distance, but not by much. I still want the distance to be at an attainable accomplishment for him and show him there is a reward in it for him if he chooses to do it. He does. He by passes my hand though and lands on my head. I don’t reward because I know he can land on my hand. He had done it numerous times. If I rewarded for him landing on my head, he would probably start landing on my head more often. I don’t want educators to have to pull him off their head when they take them out on a program. I did notice that Pete wanted to start flying to my head, as this was not the first time he had done it. It was probably more comfortable for him, but encouraging this could also encourage him to not have to use his good foot either. I reward when he then hops to my hand, not my arm, but my hand.
I haven’t taken video in probably three or four days now and Pete is now flying through several rooms on cue. He is also flying up the stairs on his own. He flies down at sharp angles to get to me and this I really do want to see as I hear it’s one of the hardest things a bird can do in flight.
We have a program coming up and I’d love to have Pete be one of the program birds attending. In order for him to do this, he needs to be able to do several things and one is being in a new environment with many people. So, time to start the training. I’ve been working on Pete staying on my shoulder in new rooms of the house in which he’s never been. If he’s nervous or afraid, we back out. I am very pleased to see him staying on my shoulder in all kinds of new places inside the house. If we’ve been in that room before, I try to change something in that room so it’s new, moved, or dark. I am also very pleased to say that last night for dinner, my husband and I ate dinner in the aviary at the patio table. A place Pete has never been. I cued him to my hand in the house and he flew to it. He hopped right to my shoulder. I walked him through the aviary and to the table. There he sat on my shoulder. Within 2 minutes, he flew to my husband’s shoulder. My husband looked at me and gave me a big smile. I handed him a pine nut and said “You definitely want to make sure that behavior is reinforced.” We were in a new environment and Pete didn’t fly anywhere but to the shoulders of the two people that had interacted with him. He had a million other places he could have flown in this new environment. I was so excited!
I want to focus on keeping Pete socialized and used to numerous people. It will not be healthy for Pete to focus all human interaction with me. If I’m not there all of the time for Pete, this could be very stressful for him. He needs to be able to do these behaviors for other people. My main focus there will then turn to the other people and make sure we are all using the same cues. If not, these behaviors will quickly become sloppy and probably fade.
Here is a video of Pete interacting with my father and I last weekend. In this video Pete is showing a natural behavior of caching his food. Caching is storing or hiding food. Some birds are known for this including the corvids such as blue jays, magpies, jackdaws, and crows. Pete loves noodles and often tucks pieces under the collar of my shirt. This brings about strange looks from people while sitting at dinner and a noodle falls out from underneath your collar. This brings a smile to my face with memories of an encounter with a clever little blue jay from earlier that day.
You’ll quickly see in this video that after Pete takes the peanut from my father’s hand and sticks it in his caching box, he then tries to make the hole in the box bigger. Can you see how he tries to do this? He sticks his beak in the box and then opens it. I see him do this often.
So, Pete has been here with me at the house for just a little over two weeks. He’s doing many things and I’m discovering many things. One day I walked upstairs from the basement to find Pete under the coffee table in the living room caching pine nuts in my flip-flops. I laughed. He makes me laugh so often. His continual advancing wit amazes me.
Here is a video of me knowingly reinforcing a very undesirable behavior but I took the video for the readers here on my blog and for those following Pete’s progress. Pete has shown me he likes to peck at my computer keys. Not something I want to encourage for my the sake of my beloved Macintosh. My BlackBerry has paid the price with the defacing and unknown location of my “N” key. Shame on me for thinking simply covering my computer keyboard with the keyboard cover would be enough for Pete to not know the computer keys are hidden beneath it.
I always catch myself never taking for granted the time I have with Pete. I value also everything he teaches me. My eyes and ears are now observing and
hearing all of the blue jays in my neighborhood. My husband and I have a new-found appreciation for them each morning we see them in our front yard. We watch Pete watch them too. There is nothing I can provide Pete with what his natural life in the wild could hold. Unfortunately for Pete, this is not a reality for him. His life in the wild would undoubtably be short if existing to this day. So each morning and each evening, my husband and I are reminded, those are the beautiful calls of the blue jays outside, those are coming from our living room.
Here is a common scene in our house over the past few weeks. Pete loves to sit on the back of this chair and watch all of the birds in the front yard. Each night at sunset, I can be sure to find him sitting here. Thanks for being a great teacher, Pete. Thanks so much.
Gotta run. It’s time for more aviary training with Pete!