So many things coming to mind that I want to sit and write about.
I’m just returning from a trip out of town that I seriously considered canceling. I considered it due to the two new birds under my immediate care, Suki the amazon and Moon the program barred owl. I considered not going because I didn’t know if it was wise to disrupt their training and pairing of life with positive reinforcement interactions at this point in training. Every day and consistently I’ve been doing my best to identify their positive reinforcers and then pulling them and using them for pairing with myself. If I were to disrupt this and other care takers feed, water, clean, etc. they could accidentally pair the opening of cage doors with aversives. Aversives are things the birds do not like and it is only the bird that decides what the aversives are. After much thought, I decided to make the trip. I needed it. We needed it. It was a pleasure trip and one taken for rest and relaxation. Ones we take less than we should.
I depended on the consistent and frequent positive reinforcement training I’ve done over the past two weeks to help in having a quick recovery when I returned. I asked the care takers to be as ‘hand’s off’ as possible for now since both bird’s training is fairly new. The caretakers were awesome and that is priceless.
When I returned, my first interaction with Moon I saw a set back in training but expected it. I just didn’t know how much to expect. Before I left, Moon was walking to the glove, stepping on it and allowing me to bring her down to eye level and take a step or two before her wanting to go back to the perch. The first night I had to re-shape her accepting the leather glove again. She clacked at it the first time I raised it to her so I dropped it behind my back and fed her from the blue glove. Within the first two-minute training session, she was back to eating off the leather glove. That was about as much as I was going to train with her the first day of returning. Do you know who gave me that advice? Moon did. I watched her body language. The shape of her eyes were slightly different. Her rictal bristles (hairy like feathers around the beak) weren’t moving in the way they were before I left. She wasn’t as quick to move towards the food as she did before I left. So I decided, before I pushed her too far and blew up my whole training session, I’d end it on a good note and step out quietly. I’m glad I did because the next day (yesterday), she was back on the glove and let me walk her in the enclosure the furthest she ever has. “Badda Bing, Badda Bang, there’s some great training happening right now!” I thought. It was like stepping back into my favorite pair of worn in shoes.
Then on to Suki, the blue-fronted amazon I took in three weeks ago for training. “This will be interesting” I thought. This was the first time she’s been caged here in my house overnight. I walked in and she seemed content on the highest perch in her cage. She seems to really enjoy Murray, my greenwinged macaw so I made sure their cages were in close proximity to each other. Murray seems to fancy her also. So I set their environment up to be as enjoyable to both while I was gone. I wanted my absence to be as stress free as possible. It seemed to have worked really well.
I just went in and opened Suki’s cage. With the flip of the metal latch, she seemed to have already learned that was her cue for some type of interaction with me. She started looking around for a way to move off of her perch. I thought “Is this good? Is this bad?” I didn’t know. I didn’t know what she was about to do. I wondered if she was looking for a way to get closer to me to get on my hand or a way to get closer to me to lunge or bite. I didn’t know. So I paid close attention to her body language and any verbalization she would give me. From working with her the past two weeks I’ve paired her trilling with things she desires and a growl with thing she doesn’t. I try not to push her to the growl, but I learn through my mistakes.
When I put my hand nearer to her I heard the trill so I moved it in all the way. She was climbing down the cage bars and reached her beak for my hand. She gently grabbed onto my hand until she could get both feet on. “Weeee, here comes the sleigh ride!” I thought with a huge smile on my face. What joy it brings to me to see these birds just thriving in as much of a stress free environment as I can provide to them. So off we went to the kitchen with Suki on my hand. Three weeks ago she wasn’t even on my hand so you bet I was positively reinforcing the heck out of her staying on my hand as we walked to the kitchen. I offered her the kitchen counter top and that is where she stepped off and went running for the plate full of grapes.
Several times this morning I saw she wanted to head different directions in the house so I offered my hand as a cue for a “free ride” and she took it. She flew to my hand and off I went heading the direction she pointed. As if the smile on my face could get any bigger as she guided me around the house. Sometimes I call her “the little blue pointer.”
I saw her eyeing the walnut jar on the counter top. Before she could fly to it, I walked over and grabbed one. It is a positive reinforcer I just identified. So I used walnut bits to positively reinforce behaviors from her that I wanted to see maintain or increase. I used them to reinforce her flying to my hand when I offered my hand. I used them to reinforce her staying on my hand, and stepping off of my hand. So instead of her standing in the corner chowing down on a whole walnut I offered her pieces of it for behaviors I was requesting. She got the walnut she desired and I got strong behaviors on cue that I need. A win win situation for both of us.
My Christmas arrived and it arrives every day that I see the level in their quality of life increase or seem comfortable for them. In a few weeks all of the green garland and glittery red lights will be taken down from my house and the houses in the neighborhood. But in the middle of the cold, gloomy days of January and February my house will still be filled bright green torpedos flying by and dazzling red wings flashing glimpses of turquoise and blue. The January freeze may be harsh on the skin while training an owl, but the warmth she gives me when perched calmly on my glove can warm any outdoor enclosure.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my avian and training friends.