Target Training ‘Zara’ the Red-Legged Seriema

Zara, Red-Legged Seriema (photo by Ben Coulson)

Meet Zara, a beautiful 1 year old female Red-Legged Seriema. She arrived at the Tropical Butterfly House around 3 weeks ago and had 2 weeks just to settle in before we began training on Monday this week.

This mainly ground-dwelling South American species lives in lightly wooded areas as well as savanna-type habitat and is omnivorous (although they are highly carnivorous) – they prey on insects, small rodents, reptiles and birds as well as seeds, grains and fruit. Built as a predatory bird, they have three sharp toes at the front and one slightly raised toe at the back of their feet, which are used to hold prey while they feed. They’re also very quick runners and usually run rather than fly from danger.

Zara, Red-Legged Seriema (photo by Ben Coulson)

Zara is such a character! She sort of holds her head high most of the time, as if she knows how fancy she looks and is looking down slightly at the rest of us! The beautiful crest on her head is permanently raised and she has long eyelashes too, along with a way of walking around that just says ‘yes I’m gorgeous enough to strut and you know it’. What surprised me was her call – Seriemas sound like a puppy yelping REALLY loudly and they tilt their head right back when they do it; definitely something we will try to capture and get her to do on cue in the shows!

She has been very responsive to training, they are very intelligent and naturally curious birds which always makes working with them easier. We are training Zara to touch a target (shown in the picture below) with her beak – the target in this case is a bamboo cane with a foam ball stuck on the end.

Zara, Red-Legged Seriema, approaching the target (photo by Ben Coulson)

Important things to note when target-training:

– Bridge (verbal bridge/clicker) at the *exact* moment the bird touches his/her beak to the target and reward afterwards

– Reward only for touching the ball (the target), not the stick. If you have a different kind of target that doesn’t have something different on the end, just ensure you’re only rewarding for touching the end of the stick or whatever it is.

– Offer a specific window of opportunity to touch the target and reduce this window as training progresses in order to achieve an immediate response (eg. if the target is not touched within 10 seconds, you remove it, then offer it again until they are reliably touching it within this time, then reduce the amount of time again etc.)

– Don’t get ahead of yourself. Trying to get your bird to follow the target around before they fully understand to touch it will only mean you have to backtrack in future with this training. Be thorough – we’ve spent a week doing 4-5 training sessions a day, each time doing about 3-4 touches of the target with it just right in front of her, and have now achieved a response within 1-2 seconds. Now that we’re at this stage and she clearly understands the behaviour, we can move on and get her to walk a few feet to then touch the target and move on from here.

Congo African Grey, Cressi, touching the end of a target stick (photo by Dave Womach)

Target training is a great foundation for other training too; you can use it for trick-training, flight recall training and lots of other things. The Red-Legged Seriema is capable of jumping very high, even up to 7-8 feet in the air, so this target training will be used to train Zara to do this over the coming weeks.

For more target or touch training tips, check out Touch Training Secrets, the spreecast.

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