We’ve had a lot of fun training our parrots for the Ringling Circus shows. Out of the 9 birds we brought along with us on the road, we have 5 currently in the show as of dress rehearsals on December 20th. Our goal is to be able to have all the birds do the show, so that they get plenty of days off! This way we can rotate who does which show.
The first birds we implemented into the show were our camelot macaws. We chose them for the opening and closing of the show based on how big they are and what they naturally like to do. Tusa tends to like Dave a bit more than me, and Comet tends to like me a little more than Dave. It’s nothing drastic, but just enough to work in our favor for the show. We made it so that Comet flies to me in the show, and Tusa flies to Dave. Though in practice and for fun, we fly them back and forth between us.
We don’t want the birds to get tired too fast, so for rehearsals we keep it to a mere 3 repetitions for any flight behaviors we ask. These repetitions are done full out as if it were a real show setting with cast, lighting, crew, and sound. They don’t always include costumes, but sometimes they do.
Other than our two macaws in the main part of the show, we found places to use our smaller birds, too. Cressi, our african grey parrot, is getting to show off her hula hooping skills she learned back at our house in Florida and make an appearance in the pre-show side of things.
We changed the hula hoop flights from the hoop being taped on a pole, to strangers being able to hold the hoops instead. We even got Cressi to fly through two hoops with two strangers holding them which is great for the show and interaction of people with the birds.
We’re very excited about all the new things we will be able to add to the pre-show and it’s designed so that people can get up close and personal with all the circus animals including the horses and elephants.
Some of the things that have helped us train our birds successfully for the show are:
- Little is more: we try to keep the training fun and end it when it’s still fun so the birds are always left wanting more and never let them end the training session for us (if your bird does this, it means you’ve trained too long)
- Random rewarding: rewarding our birds at random times during the training with a variety of food treats and other reinforcements helps keep them working hard and hoping for their favorite treat.
- Jackpot rewards: because we’re in an environment where there are large changes all the time, we use jackpot rewards a lot for a job well done. Our birds love sweet potatoes and get it after they perform their one flight well in the show.