I’m sure many of you are keen on the idea of training your parrot for free-flight (outdoors) and it’s important to say I STRONGLY recommend that you do NOT attempt it without intensive training, preferably using the BirdTricks Free-flight training course.
But even if you’re not at the stage where you can safely take your parrot outdoors, you can still do recall training with your bird in a safe place inside (which is a great start for free-flight training anyway) and can still be lots of fun for you and your bird! By recall training, I mean training your parrot to fly to you when you call them.
It goes without saying that positive reinforcement is how you do it, but the reward for your bird flying to you might not necessarily be a food treat. Your parrot might be perfectly happy to fly to you because they like you, or for a verbal reward (‘good boy!’ for example) or maybe a tickle on the head! For free-flight – it’s important that the reward is FOOD!
It is easy to mistake the reason, though… I had been training Ché and Esteban, the Hahn’s Macaws, for about 6 weeks indoors – calling them by their names and giving them a treat when they landed on my arm (at the same time as a verbal reward by saying ‘good!’) I was amazed at their quick progress, within the first week they were flying over to me quite reliably when I called them! I continued the training for a few more weeks inside though, just to make sure.
I took them outside for the first time and practiced flying them from a perch and started to gradually increase the distance – all seemed to be going well and I thought I had done a great job! THEN when doing the same thing the following day, a flock of doves flew overhead, and Ché and Esteban took off and joined the flock!!
They flew round and round really high up with the doves… then the doves landed and Ché and Esteban flew to the top of a very tall tree and sat there. As you can imagine, I was watching them and was reeeally panicking! I called them intermittently for about 20 minutes before they eventually returned.
The mistake I had made is that I did NOT realize the reward that Ché and Esteban were getting was being close to me – not a food reward. They were very young and I was the first person to regularly handle them and spend time with them, so they were just flying to me when I called them because they liked me and weren’t particularly motivated by a tasty treat!
For more information about how food and effective training are related, click here for Patty’s blog post, understanding the training diet.
Flying because they ‘like’ you is fine when you’re indoors, but when you’re outside with your bird – it’s vital that they will come to you when you call them, and the motivation of food is more reliable when the unexpected happens! The easiest way to tell is how keen your bird is to take the treat from you – looking back now, the Hahn’s babies weren’t all that excited to take the treat from me…. and spotting that straight away could have saved me from 20 minutes of panic!