Teaching Old Birds New Tricks

Jasper, Congo African Grey, photo by Ben Coulson

Firstly, I should point out that Congo African Grey, Jasper, isn’t actually ‘old’ at 16 years old, but he is the oldest in our flock and was the first parrot ever at the centre so we think of him as the old boy

After about 12 years of performing in the Parrot Displays, doing a very cute talking routine (which has developed and changed over the years) we decided to offer Jasper the chance of a new adventure and train him for free-flight! Training young birds for free-flight tends to be easier because the birds don’t see it as a strange thing, but a bird who has been in the safe enclosure of an aviary for so many years could well spook just at the weirdness of suddenly being in strange surroundings so there is a bit more risk associated with it.

Jasper in flight, photo by Ben Coulson

Although new to being outside, flying to us when called is not a new thing for Jasper. He did this willingly from a young age when he was called by name and over the last 2 years I have particularly put an emphasis on getting Jasper to fly to me as part of the show (often flying the full length of the aviary) and he has always responded quite quickly. He’s also very comfortable having his toe held, meaning we knew we could safely hold Jasper if we needed to without any risk of injury to him (holding a parrot’s toe and the bird trying to fly away could lead to the foot/leg being twisted). Given that we were confident in Jasper’s response; a week ago, we decided to try our first flight outdoors with Jasper and he was brilliant!

Jasper in flight, in the background is the parrot aviary Photo by Ben Coulson

We kept the training sessions very brief at first, so that he didn’t really have time to worry about where he was or the different surroundings. When I did the first outdoor flight, I sat him on the wooden rail at the front of our display arena, ran back around 4 feet away and immediately called him and as soon as he landed on my hand, gave him lots of praise and a few treats as a reward. I repeated this again and gave him another big reward and then ended the training session.

As well as the free-flight training, Jasper has also had to become accustomed to being much closer to the audience than he was previously used to, and with no physical barrier between him and them. After 2 days of training, I decided to bring Jasper out in the show and tell people about the training we were doing, but before his turn to show off, I put him in a carry crate he could easily see out of, and let him ‘watch’ the first few birds of the show to give him time to adjust.

Jasper flying over to me (as you can see, training Jasper for free-flight is making me as happy as it's making him!) Photo by Ben Coulson

Over the last week, Jasper has been practising flying outdoors and doing this with 2 trainers means we have been able to begin training for flying circuits. With trainer 1 holding Jasper, the trainer 2 calls him over and at the exact moment Jasper takes off, trainer 1 points in the direction he is flying, so that he begins making the association with the pointing signal and flying. Our intention is to train Jasper to fly ‘mini’ circuits around our display arena just above everyone’s heads as opposed to flying really high up like Bonnie and Alfie (Green-winged Macaws) do and, given how confident he seems already flying up to around 15 feet (and in front of an audience), we reckon Jasper will be a star free-flyer soon.

Jasper in flight, photo by Ben Coulson

The most noticeable thing over the last week has been the change in Jasper; he’s absolutely loving all the extra individual attention he is getting and he has been more talkative than ever! Training your bird and challenging them with new exciting things provides the mental stimulation so vital for keeping them happy so, no matter the age of your bird or whether you have ever done training with them before, it’s never too late to begin and you will have a happier parrot as a result!

PS. If you have not yet done so, please sign this petition set up by the World Parrot Trust to help protect wild Congo African Greys


Note: This blog article is not intended to teach you how to teach your own bird outdoor freeflight or recall training. Please email info@birdtricks.com for more information on learning freeflight training from a professional trainer and to enroll your bird in the Freestyle Flyer’s Club.

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My rescued 11 yr old female Jen Day , Sunshine, will only eat Birdseed, Bananna, Grapes, and nuts. I have tried giving her pellets only in the am but she refuses to eat. Would like to get her to eat pellets and varieties of veges, need advise.

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