At the Tropical Butterfly House, I work with the birds as part of a team of three: Ben has been working with me for a year and Amanda for around three months. Putting on shows for visitors that flow easily, look professional, and most importantly wow the crowds, needs a team of committed bird trainers who work together.
As many of you will know, I have a particular bond with Bonnie and Alfie, the Green-winged Macaw free-flyers, as we sort of learned together when I first began working with birds. I have to admit, ‘handing them over’ to someone new wasn’t my favourite of all things; firstly when Ben started, and more recently, when Amanda became the third member of the team. I know it’s silly, but I worried Bon and Alf might like these new people more and a tiny bit of me wanted to keep them to myself!
If you have a ‘one person bird’, you may find yourself guilty of this… if you’re really honest with yourself, it feels kind of nice when a bird will only do something for you and no-one else, doesn’t it? Well, although you may be able to justify why it’s ok for you, in my situation – a bird doing something for one person in the team and no-one else just won’t do! I know it’s beneficial for everyone that Bonnie and Alfie, and all the other birds, will behave equally well for the whole team so we all ensure we do the same to avoid the birds picking favourites among us – only by working together and helping each other, will we really achieve great training results.
Communication is absolutely paramount. We keep a detailed diary every day of who has flown/trained each bird, what happened and how well the bird performed, as well as the exact training steps. In addition, we watch each other training the birds as much as possible to ensure consistency and to come up with ideas on how to best progress. A simple difference can have a big impact, for example, if one person rewards with a seed every time for stepping up, and the other person doesn’t, a bird may become less willing to step up (even if they had previously stepped up without a food reward for a long time).
Ben, Amanda and I are all very passionate about getting training right, and it’s totally normal to disagree sometimes about the best way to go about doing something, but we always come up with a mutually agreed plan of action to move forward. Having more than one trainer also means more minds to come up with ideas of interesting behaviours we could capture and present to audiences.
If you are the only person interacting with your bird, socialising them with other people is very beneficial for your bird and for you anyway, so I would definitely recommend this. If you’re not the only person interacting with your bird, you need to ensure really good communication with anyone else who may be; set some rules for what earns a reward and what doesn’t and what is allowed and make sure everyone sticks to them!