With each encounter I have with a bird, I learn something. These creatures are so unique, each and every one of them from the parrots in my house, to the chickadees that return to the bush near the patio, to the Red-Tailed Hawk that hunts the birds in that bush, and to the pigeon at Nature’s Nursery that is recall trained and rewarded with a beak rub. Then there’s Pete, a big, bold, and inquisitive mind behind those eyes that clearly and intently look into mine as a form of communication.
Pete came to Nature’s Nursery (wildlife rehabilitation center where I train) as a young chick with a deformed foot. Laura, the director knew of my interest in wanting to work with a crow. She came up to me one day telling me if I’d like to work with the corvid family (family of birds documented as being one of the smartest besides the parrot), I have the opportunity to start with a blue jay. This is how I met Pete.
I soon brought home Pete who was young, not fully feathered, and we were uncertain if he could fly. I knew nothing of blue jays but wanted to learn from him. All I had to offer Pete was an introduction into his future with humans through positive reinforcement training. This type of training is very positive for the bird and the bird is rewarded for the behavior desired or being trained. Well, let me tell you that using this type of training with Pete, built a very strong relationship immediately. I made mistakes on our training ventures, but that is how I learned. Pete was quick to forgive my mistakes because every other interaction with me was built on trust and positive interactions.
I watched Pete fledge (developing flight skills). I watched him soar and learn from his environment. I made sure his environment was filled with objects in which he could learn from and one of the most obvious learning opportunities I saw him learning from, was our training. He seemed to really enjoy the continual change in training and learning something new with each encounter. He looked forward to it. I looked forward to it. I would walk in the house and I could hear him calling for me from the other room. I would get ready in the morning and I heard the most gorgeous songs coming from a special blue jay residing in my living room looking out the front window greeting each day.
I taught Pete to recall (fly to the hand on cue). I taught him to jump up and catch an object that I’d toss into the air and return to my shoulder. I taught him perch on a scale for checking his weight. I taught him strong recall and to remain on my shoulder in unfamiliar environments. I taught many other things and he did the same with me like playing tag running through the house. I would run through the house yelling for him and he would come flying after me screaming with excitement. I would laugh so hard I couldn’t keep running. He would land with crest up and bouncing around in anticipation of our next chase. He always won. No, I won, because I got the opportunity to know Pete and he taught me a new-found appreciation for the blue jay.
Recall training Pete in the aviary
Scale training Pete.
Pete’s debut was last weekend at Nature’s Nursery’s first annual fundraiser called “Meet The Flockers”, an event that introduces the world to our program birds and Pete and Francis our pigeon led the show in a closed tent with flight demos. After the event, I left Pete behind to now reside at Nature’s Nursery. I came home to a house that was missing something. It was missing everything blue jay that had enriched it in ways I can’t describe for the two months prior. It weighed heavy on me that day and evening.
Monday morning I got up early and headed in to see Pete at Nature’s Nursery. I don’t know why I was so surprised. I walked in to a house full of happy volunteers as it always is and I heard the excited cries of a blue jay from the other room. I peaked my head in and saw Pete flying around the main room on Barb’s (volunteer) head. Pete wasn’t calling for me, he was talking to Barb and flying and following her around as she was cleaning cages. I stood and watched Pete jump from her head to the top of another animal’s cage that was covered in foraging and caching toys obviously placed there for Pete. “Oh my gosh!” I said peeking into the main room. Barb turned
and looked at me. “He’s so excited and so happy.” I said to Barb. Barb replied “Oh yea. You should see him. He’s flying everywhere and getting into everything. He’s having a blast.” That heaviness quickly left me as I saw Pete look at me and give me a blue jay call as he flew to my shoulder and immediately cached a foreign object in my shirt. “Petey Petey with the funny feety” I said to him as I reached for a beak rub. How dare I think Pete couldn’t be as happy in another environment other than what I had to offer at home. I’ll admit, I did fall into that trap for a moment, actually for a couple of months. Pete was flourishing with the continuous change in people that walked in his environment. He will continue to flourish now with all of those that continue to train him. He will also make a major impact in our community to show the world why and how we can appreciate the native wild life of the blue jay. You rock Pete! You just rock!