The weeks seem to be flying by so quickly and I thought it might be nice to share with you some of the progress with Odin and Zara, who I introduced you to in previous articles. It’s been so manic recently for the bird team; we have a brand new show for our ‘Animal Olympics’ event this Summer for which we would like to have a few new things to show visitors. We have so many different little training projects underway; including flight training with an American Kestrel, a kind of ‘relay’ with two Cockatoos and an Amazon stacking up pots, target training a set route for Vernon, the Rüppell’s Griffon vulture, to fly, training the Kookaburra to catch food mid air, training our Barn Owl, Wispa, to ‘fly away’ back into her release box on cue in the show and several other things!
So firstly, I’m pleased to tell you that Odin is doing great! He is now 11 weeks old and seems so grown up already; he has matured with a fantastic personality! Trying to clean his aviary is hilarious, he hops around and picks up feathers or leaves and pokes them through the bars as if he is cleaning up, and then brings them back as a present… and if we’re watering the grass, he often dances about under the hose and has a bath – it certainly makes cleaning up the mess much more fun!
He has settled in well with his new companions, although he is cautious of Vernon (the largest) and seems to know it’s best not to challenge him for a certain perch or for food. He appears to be trying to make friends with Alfie, the Turkey Vulture, who Odin will tiptoe closer and closer to… if Alfie lets him – it’s quite comical to watch this strange friendship forming Odin picked up recall training very very quickly, but training him to go into a carry box hasn’t proved to be as simple.
With a food reward inside, Odin happily hopped into the box the first time, but when we attempted to close the door behind him, he really didn’t like it. We’ve had to come up with ways to make it less scary for him, for example we have taken the back of the box away and replaced it with mesh, so that he can still see out of it and isn’t in the dark. Carry boxes for birds of prey tend to be mostly solid walls with air holes as being in the dark tends to keep the birds calm, however in Odin’s case it seemed to do the opposite and was hindering progress. It just shows how what works for one bird in one situation, may not work for another!
We also had to come up with a solution to the issue of having 3 birds in the same aviary, and getting just 1 of them in and out of it at a time. Well, we have a release hatch that Odin and Alfie could fit through but is too small for Vernon. So we have avoided doing anything with Odin near it, so Alfie knows to hop through the hatch into his carry box, where he is fed and the others can’t steal his food. Vernon comes out of the aviary twice a day, through the main door that we go in and out of, to perform in the shows, but after settling in to the aviary, Odin realised he is also able to get through this door at the same time! To prevent him from ‘escaping’ or coming out of the aviary without us asking him to do so, we started training a couple of days ago to teach him to ‘stay’.
We’ve set up wooden perch with astroturf on the top on the inside of the aviary, and on the outside of the bars in the same place is a little food dish full of gravel. We are periodically rewarding him to ‘perch’ when he is commanded, by putting mealworms into the bowl – the great thing about this is that he can easily poke his head through the bars to reach this food, and Alfie and Vernon aren’t interested in mealworms so they leave him to it. We can use this to station Odin in this particular spot, so that we may safely open and close the aviary door for Vernon without worry. When Odin is 100% reliable at going in the carry box, we will be taking him straight out into the shows as well!
Zara, our Red-legged Seriema, has been a tricky one! Those of you that read the blog may remember how I said they can jump quite high and run pretty fast… we have recently discovered that they can, in fact, jump VERY high and run RIDICULOUSLY fast! I am often asked, how can you tell when the bird is ready to be outside free… the truth is you will never know 100%. Target training was going fantastically well with Zara in her aviary, we were getting lightning quick responses reliably, every time. She was jumping around 8 feet in the air to touch the target and she seemed totally ready to go outside.
To cut a long story short, we witnessed her bolting the length of a field in a few seconds and jumping 20 feet in the air up to a tree branch! It didn’t exactly go to plan, but we didn’t give up. We spent another few days training only inside the aviary, and were again convinced she was ready and would respond well…. no. We had tried to prevent her escape by having someone either side of the entrance to her aviary, but this seemed to worry her more so she jumped straight over my head and sprinted into the distance again.
As you can imagine, it was very stressful and disheartening for this to happen when we felt like we were doing everything right. When you are training a bird, you tend to have a plan, but your plan sometimes has to evolve and change when you make new discoveries about your bird’s behaviour through observing their reactions.
Zara did not like being surrounded, and didn’t like being in an enclosed space with no escape route. So, to prevent her disappearing over the horizon, we have actually given her a little more space (or at least the illusion that she has more freedom to wander). As you can see in the picture below, there is tall wire mesh to block the exit to one side of her aviary, and the trainer (myself, Ben or Amanda) stands the other side. This means we can use the target to build up her confidence and reliability hopping in and out of the aviary door when targeted to do so, without the concern that she will disappear and without spooking her by being too close for now.
So I said we have lots of training projects underway… well I’m desperate to tell you all about yet ANOTHER NEW BIRD! An adorable baby birdy has been keeping me busy over the last couple of weeks and I hope to be able to reveal his identity in next week’s blog, I just have to wait until we have issued a press release from the zoo first so that it is public knowledge. I think you guys will instantly fall in love with ‘Isaac’ just like I did!