In 2008 when we flew our first parrot outside, Dave created flight level terminology as a way that free flyers around the world could communicate clearly about their birds' skills and successfully get together with other flyers to fly together. If you knew what another flyer's skill levels were, you could find one with a match and fly together, or at least go in knowing where everyone's skills are at.
No matter what level the terrain is, a level can be unexpectedly increased due to a change in winds.
What this means is you could easily be flying at a level 2 (slopes, hills, and trees with up to 10mph wind) and then suddenly find yourself at a level 3-5 based on wind making an appearance and bumping up to 35+ mph. This is very common in "high wind areas" like White Sands, NM (level 2 if winds are less than 10mph) or the Salt Flats in Utah (level 1 if winds are less than 5mph).
It's incredibly important to know your flight areas and ask ahead of time before visiting to see if the area is right for your bird's current skill level. It's also very important to be aware of the immediate surrounding areas, as you could quickly find yourself outside of your bird's skill level.
I get asked many level-related questions so here are the basics of the outdoor freeflight levels we use, explained:
This is where you start; your first flight outside and your ones to follow to work on successful descending, experience your first exploratory, etc.
This is the easiest level to recover your bird because you can clearly see the space. It's a wide open and flat area. Little to no trees or anything else to land on in sight, 0-5mph wind.
There's virtually no "perfect" level 1 - you may be near cactus, bodies of water may be in the distance, there may be a road surrounding your location, etc.
Here are some examples of level 1 flying locations:
The Salt Flats in Utah
Blue Jacket Park in Orlando, FL
Flat grassy area in Centralia, WA
School grounds in Orlando, FL during out-of-school hours/seasons
Front yard in Waynesboro, VA
Castle Valley in Moab, UT
A level 2 is still relatively easy to recover, though a little harder than a level 1 because you've implemented tall shrubs and trees. The wind should be between 5-10mph, and there should be some slopes to the environment making it no longer flat.
Here are some examples of level 2 flying locations:
Open hills with some trees in Waynesboro, VA
Uneven terrain with tall shrubbery in Reno, NV
At the bottom of a hill in Centralia, WA
Slopes and hills in White Sands, NM
Local park in Haleiwa, Hawaii
A level 3 is difficult to recover based on the terrain and wind. This level includes terrain with considerable ground/height variation from 50-100 feet with 100 foot vertical drops. It includes winds up to 10-15 mph.
Terrains that might fall under a level 2, but have wind of a level 3 are considered a level 3 because of the strong wind element (ie: White Sands, Salt Flats). Wind can push a bird further than you'd ever imagine possible so if your bird is not a skilled enough flyer, spend more time at the previous levels before advancing on.
Here are some examples of level 3 flying locations:
Backside of Castle Rock/Castleton in Moab, UT
Valleys and cliffsides on the way to Fisher Towers in Moab, UT
Backside in Moab, UT
This level feels almost impossible to recover your bird from, but it is still possible though greatly difficult. The winds are 15-20mph and the cliffsides are getting higher, the valleys are getting deeper and the terrain can be very difficult to hike/cliff/or otherwise get around on foot on.
On the same token, this would also include city flying (crowded areas with lots of people, other animals, roads/cars and activity) as well as advanced beach flying because of the escalation of danger and skill it takes to return to the correct person in those environments. The more dangers involved and the higher the risk, the higher the level.
Here are some examples of level 4 flying locations:
Wilson Arch in Moab, UT
Basecamp Hike in Moab, UT
Castle Rock Base Camp Hike in Moab, UT
Dinosaur Tracks, Moab, UT
City flying in San Fransisco, CA
Dinosaur Tracks, Moab, UT
Rooftop city flying in San Fransisco, CA
This level is unrecoverable. Your bird HAS to come back to you because otherwise it cannot be accessed by you. Locations of this nature are accessible by flight only! So in other words, if your bird flies over to an airport - you would not be able to go in there and get the bird. If your bird flies down into the Grand Canyon, it takes special permits to go in there. It also could include any winds of up to 25mph+.
Here is an example of a level 5 flying location:
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona