Photo by Dave Location: Orlando, Florida Flying: Galah "Bondi"
Bondi is a rose breasted cockatoo also commonly known as a galah in Australia. She is three years old and was bought from her breeder fully flighted and was properly fledged by Dave Womach and I using target training. She is not only an avid flyer but a very skilled flyer. Dave used her in his illusion show for years while headlining on world tours, top of the line cruise ships, and his own dinner theater in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. All the parts in the show that she performed in, involved flying. It is her favorite thing to do next to trick training and a way to let out all that energy of hers. Galahs are known for getting "fatty tumors" and their diets have to be strictly watched to where they do not receive seed or other fatty foods as part of their normal diet or as their entire diet. Seeds should only be given as rewards and treats so not to "over do it" with these birds.
The fact that we keep Bondi full flighted also helps her obtain the proper exercise she needs to also diminish the effect of getting any fatty tumors. When we first picked Bondi up in Oregon, she was only a few months old and she was still being hand fed. We fledged her while on the road in various hotels, theaters, etc. She naturally began to dart and dash around during flight (like all birds) and did what is referred to as "jinking" which are predator-avoidence manuevers. She loved skimming the heads of the audience just to get a reaction and easily learned to do more than one "boomerang" flight in the shows. We were constantly having to change up her flight patterns in the show so she would still have fun with it - she had a need (and still does) to want to be challenged. When I first learned about outdoor freeflight I was amazed and blown away at the very thought of it. It never occurred to me that you could take your pet bird outside without a restraint of any kind. And you can't - without the proper training. I was so intrigued and saddened at the same time. I felt like a horrible pet owner for never considering it before.
Dave learned with Cressi, a Congo African Grey, exactly how to train a new baby bird to freefly outdoors. I was there through the process, picking up on everything he did and discovered. When I saw how happy Cressi was and how attached she was to Dave, it made me want the same thing for Bondi. But she was already 3 years old and I thought... "it's too late for her, right?" Well, it isn't too late for her or any bird, I learned. The process just becomes different. I was desperate to take Bondi outside. She's the type of bird that is very social but gets depressed being on a harness and it just broke my heart. However, I wanted her to be outside more than anything so I put the harness on her anyway and made do - thinking it was the best I could offer her. Not knowing it, I had trained Bondi everything Cressi learned as a baby. And really, Bondi is even more talented at flying than Cressi as of right now. Bondi already knows jinking manuevers and can fly well in small, enclosed areas. Her turns are sharp and controlled and her landings are skilled to perfection. She even knew how to work and fly well in the natural wind outside which took me by surprise. One day while on a drive looking for new places to freefly Cressi, we found a batting cage on the property of a church. Dave immediately knew it was a great idea and a perfect way to introduce real life elements to Bondi without the fear of losing her outside due to rushing into outdoor freeflight with her. We began bringing Bondi on all the trips with Cressi so she could watch and learn from Cressi. We even flew Bondi on her harness making sure she had enough slack in case wind picked up or something spooked her. She did amazingly well with A to B flights between Dave and me. I was so excited with how it didn't feel any different from flying her inside that I immediately wanted to take the leash off. I'm always overwhelmed by how much I know the bird will love it that sometimes the dangers and precautions get swept away by the emotional part that comes into play.
Of course, Dave knew better and always keeps me in check, keeping the dangers real and the logic in the forefront. We worked Bondi on a harness for a few days before moving into the batting cage with no harness at all. It was exactly the same except Bondi had more freedom in the batting cage. She could do boomerang flights as well as simple A to B and she had the ability to jink as well. It was so fun to watch her zoom by. It's like watching a child pick up a toy for the first time - their eyes get wide with amazement and they start having the time of their life. That's what it was like for Bondi and experiencing that moment with her was breathtaking.
The more we took her out and worked with her, the more I wanted it for her. And it's so hard not to be over-confident in your bird and just want to toss her outside with you. It was essential for me to be learning from Dave and watching his every move. Even to be there to witness how his mind works was beneficial for me. You don't really think of the difference it can make for your bird until you watch your bird experience it first-hand. You think, "My bird is happy enough... it loves its toys, me, and it eats well and gets lots of interaction." but is your bird really being a bird? I have to admit, I thought Bondi was as happy as could be. She is well socialized and entertained, she flys in the house and learns something new all the time. She doesn't have any issues so I know there's nothing "wrong" with the way I am raising her... but then this happened and my entire perspective changed. I've never seen her so happy! I mean, I thought her life was good... but now... it's fantastic. And the bond it creates between you and your bird is like none other. It's not comparable to any other type of training in my mind. And really, there is no other way to make your bird happier than outdoor freeflight. I don't say that from a trainer perspective of "I've seen all, I know all" I say this from an owner, a "parront" perspective of actually witnessing the happiness first hand. You think your bird is happy, wait until you meet a freeflighted outdoor bird. Then you be the judge.
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.