Photo by Dave Womach Location: Carbondale, IL Pictured: Galah "Bandit" & Military Macaw "Crash"
I'm one of those people that says, "Everything happens for a reason." we may not understand that reason til later, which is usually always the case. I've found that there's signs in life that subtly tell you what path you should be going down. Sometimes it takes you longer to read them and make the adjustment, sometimes you catch on right away. Sometimes we all just need a little push in the right direction, and sometimes the right thing to do isn't always the most pleasant.
Back when we had no idea how hard it was to train a bird to fly that was previously clipped and never fledged as a baby, we bought three macaws; two blue and gold macaws named Jersey and Chayko and one military macaw (for whatever reason, I always remember Crash came to us from New York) we named Cash (because he was green, of course!) who later became called Crash due to his crash landings when it came to flight training.
Photo by Dave Womach Location: Carbondale, IL Pictured: Camelot Macaw "Comet" & Military Macaw "Crash"
Here is a video of the flight training we did with Crash in Saipan. He was in our magic show over there called Magical Flight and would perform a beautiful descend flight to Dave at the end of his bird act in the beginning of the show.
Crash was in the show off and on... we eventually pulled him due to his periodic crash landings. If he ever missed his first try to land on Dave in the show, he would spook, panic and crash land on anything he could. Once he stayed on the main curtain for a few numbers. Another time he hung onto a decorative shell in the showroom and screamed his heart out in the dark (the only lit part was the stage itself during the show and the entire show was on remote so once you pushed play, that was it!)
Because he wouldn't circle around and re-try the ending, we became frustrated and so did he. We eventually put the birds in the show, but they weren't flying. Chayko would plummet to the ground and struggled the most with flying skills. Jersey flew sideways as if one wing was stronger than the other. We had purchased them and at the time they were 6 months old, and their breeders never fledged them but refused to ship them fully flighted for fear of them getting loose. So we bought them clipped, not having any idea the difficulty ahead. Crash tried the hardest, but really struggled and eventually he didn't care anymore. So we stopped caring too. We made parts in the show for the birds that didn't require flight, but had them appearing and still performing on stage with us. We kept them in a large flight cage to help in the mean time develop their skills on their own, but they all still chose to climb as a means to get around.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Carbondale, IL Pictured: Military Macaw "Crash"
Jersey and Chayko ended up being trained and sold to David Copperfield to go live on his islands in the Bahamas (Musha Cay). Check out the video here.
Crash lived between us and Chet, Dave's brother, as we both worked on various training with him. He is an eager bird who wants to learn and wants to work, but struggles more than the rest. Nothing seems to come very naturally to him aside from his passion. We began flight training again, thinking that now that we had dipped our palms into freeflight and learned so much more about flight training birds in general, that maybe we could have bigger success with Crash this time.
We began using a harness to flight train Crash, but it hindered him too much. He did well with short flights, no wind. Check out the video of his short harness flights here. The flight training just wasn't happening as easily as we had wanted it to, so we focused on trick training so Crash had some sort of mental stimulation. You can view lots of videos of Crash and his trick training here.
Our last attempt was to get him into the batting cage with our other flighted birds that were never clipped so he could learn from them. He mostly spent his time hanging from the ceiling of the batting cage but he began to develop his skills a little more. Then Dave and I jumped on a cruise ship and because Crash's flight skills weren't up to par still, we didn't take him along. We felt it was unfair to him to not be included in the show with the other birds so instead he went to Chet.
Photo by Dave Womach Location: Carbondale, IL Pictured: Military Macaw "Crash"
At the time Chet was experimenting with foraging trees and food finding toys, as well as seeing how to bird proof and seeing how birds respond to being cage-less. Crash is an excellent toy-player and pro-forager so he worked well for teaching Chet a thing or two about what he wanted to learn.
For months, Crash was cageless. He lived from foraging tree to foraging tree in a big room devoted to him and Chet's blue and gold macaw, Tiko. During those months he mastered short flights and landings and became very confident in his flight skills. Chet started to notice Crash only using flight and barely using climbing anymore. He also noticed his change in confidence. The flight training began and Crash's recall was strong, one day we got a call from Chet saying he took Crash outside to freefly after months and months. Chet was ready to put his training to the test and took him outside to fly in zero wind and a big open area.
He was spooked by a train that came in the distance, and landed in a tree which Chet waited at the bottom of and touch trained Crash out of it so he didn't have to climb...
It wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't the success we all wanted for Crash either. A while later I got a call from a bird friend who wanted to get a military macaw of her own. I knew she had too many animals already so I offered to let her take Crash and see what it was like. He bullied her birds, and she ended up clipping him. I was devastated. There's so many more emotional issues to deal with once a bird is clipped and for Crash, it made him even worse of a companion when we took him back.
His wings grew back and we decided to take the flight training challenge on full throttle.
We all went to Moab and flew Crash. That's when he was in the middle of the desert and flew around and around and hit the RV. He could have landed anywhere, and he hit the RV. The name Crash was official at that point and he was either flying and landing perfectly, or he would do his old habit of panicking when he missed and crashing. It was so frustrating, for all of us.
Photo by Dave Womach Location: Carbondale, IL Pictured: Military Macaw "Crash"
Back to the drawing board. There was some success, but not the success we still wanted for him. Back on tour we went... when the circus called, we worked in the birds as much as possible doing flighted behaviors because we believe so strongly in letting birds fly. But there was still no spot for Crash... he wasn't dependable. What if he spooked during the show and didn't retry the landing? In a huge arena the risk is much higher. We didn't feel right taking the risk but we didn't want to leave him behind so he came along.
We fly before anything is set up in the arenas and we let Crash fly too. He isn't as good as the others, but he has fun and gets his energy out, too. And he works at it but we didn't push him. The crash landings were still apparent... until just recently!
A few months ago we had a friend who was going to give us her blue throat, so we made plans to make room by giving Crash to a fellow magician in Canada where he would be featured in a walk in showcase aviary and be able to fly around freely and live leisurely. We thought it would be great for him, and that way we could take on this other bird from our desperate friend. We made the arrangements but then our friend had a change of heart and decided to keep her macaw. We didn't want to back out on our promise so I filled out the paperwork to get Crash across the border. It took months and months, and they've made it harder and harder. Finally, we gave up. The new future owner didn't mind and understood how hard the border was making it. We would have to take Crash up ourselves as a pet and leave him there since we weren't selling him, and we didn't have the time to make it all happen.
Instead a place in California offered to take him as a donation to their breeding program. I knew their facility is amazing and that he would be in fantastic hands, and I was kind of used to the idea of having one less bird. We told ourselves he was too noisy, too grumpy, too messy, and that it wasn't fair to him that all the other birds get taken into the arena for show time and he gets left behind. He doesn't get as much attention as the others because he isn't in the show so we justified that someone else could do better by him.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Carbondale, IL Pictured: Galah "Bondi", Military Macaw "Crash", Galah "Ace", African Grey "Cressi"
Well, the plans just kept falling through and falling through, week after week we couldn't make a flight time work for everyone and Dave finally said to me, "I don't feel right about it anymore. It's not working out for a reason. I think we're meant to keep him" and at that time the last couple of weeks Crash had been retrying his flights for the first time EVER.
He would miss, or know he couldn't land something and he would make it work by circling back. It was amazing to finally see. Crash is now 6.5-7 years old and he is finally at a breakthrough. We are so excited.
We made the decision to keep him, and after we had made it, the flight worked out with the guy in California. We told him never mind, and we know he will always be an option in the future. But now we're thinking of parts of the show we can work Crash into, or even build around his strengths and weaknesses which is what we try to do for all our birds so it comes more naturally to them to perform. When we choose birds to fly from one person to the other, we try to have them fly to the person they like a little better. It makes it more rewarding for them, and easier on everyone.
We are really excited to continue our journey with Crash, and believe everything has happened for a reason and are super excited for his new flight progress. We'll get there. He'll get there. What a lesson to never give up, he never did.
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.