A Day with the Bird Trainers at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Scarlet Macaws flying long distance circuits in the Birds of the World show at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (photo by Heather Scott)

This week, I spent a day with the bird training team at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo which was a wonderful opportunity to see another zoo’s bird displays and spend valuable time learning from experienced trainers. I was looking forward to seeing Bald Eagle, Apachi, in action in the shows but unfortunately she was out of action due to a foot problem. The keepers and vets at Whipsnade were kind enough to allow me to go in to see some of the procedure.

Apachi, who is nearly 20 years old, had developed arthritis in her feet and a swollen area had developed around one of her toes, so she was anaesthetised so that the vets could check if the swollen area contained fluid, as well as take x-rays of her feet. They were pleased that they had not worsened since the last time they were checked, and pain management would continue to keep her comfortable.

Apachi, Bald Eagle, during surgery (photo by Heather Scott)

Apachi had been a big attraction in the Birds of the World show, so the bird trainers I worked with were certainly sad to take the decision to allow her several months break from the shows, but had her best interests as their priority. After a couple of hours to come round from the anaesthetic, Apachi was moved into her new very large aviary where she will spend the next few months.

Apachi, Bald Eagle, settling into her new aviary and enjoying her dinner! (photo by Heather Ahearn, bird trainer at Whipsnade)

I was lucky enough to be allowed to help weigh the birds and put them into their outdoor aviaries for the day, as well as observe AND take part in some of the training. Two Military Macaws were learning free-flight circuits for the shows and it was great to be included in this and be one of the people signalling them to keep flying

Meeting Neiva, Hyacinth Macaw (photo taken by Heather Ahearn)

Something I was astounded by, was voluntary nail clipping – all of the parrots were trained to offer each foot on command and wait patiently while their nails were clipped and seeing this in action was really impressive! I’m not going to go into too much detail now about how this was achieved as I have already started training Bonnie and Alfie, my Green-winged Macaw free-flyers, to do this and will be writing a blog about my progress in the next couple of weeks

Despite a couple of the ‘main attraction’ birds being rested temporarily, The Birds of the World show was really impressive; seeing a pair of Blue and Gold Macaws, a pair of Scarlet Macaws, and a Military Macaw all flying around at the same time was just breath-taking! Neive, the Hyacinth Macaw, will be joined by another in the coming weeks so there will soon be a Hyacinth pair free-flying at the same time too!

Scarlet Macaws, Inca and George (photo by Heather Scott)

I also watched the Sea Lion Show whilst I was there; the training principles are much the same as with parrots and I was impressed to see really well trained behaviours performed to such subtle commands. The tiniest hand signals (many of which looked very similar from a distance) got instant results from the animals, and this has prompted me to minimise some of the physical cues we use for our birds  in the shows (for example gradually reducing a whole arm point to a finger point).

Chico, Toco Toucan, who I fell in love with! (photo by Heather Ahearn)

Becky, Hazel and Heather, whom I worked with for the day, were really helpful in offering training advice and tips which I have already started putting into action with my flock. It was a valuable day gathering inspiration for our shows at the Tropical Butterfly House too and I also got to hold Chico the Toco Toucan, who also performs in the shows, which was probably the highlight of my day (and yes, I will be pleading with my boss to get us one!).

I also managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Lion enclosure before my drive back home and, after a brilliant but exhausting day, crashed out very much like these comfy cats

Lion pride at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (photo by Heather Scott)

1 comment


I would like to apologize one of my old friends hacked onto & was using my email account to make me look like a bad guy on here & I love every thing birdtricks does for birds…. I changed my passowrd & I’m sorry for all the annoying posts, I do agree with doing a lot of research to protect your birds but he took it to a whole dif & imature level…. once again I am sorry & I guarentee this won’t happen again, I feel so embarrised Much love to everyone at bird tricks & everyones flocks I’m truely sorry Ryan & my birdies apollo (cag), thor (alexanderine), & loki (plum headed parakeet) please don’t hate us we love you!


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