Photo by Nathan Slabaugh Location: Athol, ID Pictured: Camelot macaw "Comet"
During the making of ParrotFX, Comet has been the bird to stand out the most. He has really come into his own and been able to shine. In fact, he has more asked of him than any of the other macaws and has been excelling at every single part.
Dave and I usually throw a bunch of things at the birds and see which ones like what and go from there. Based on what they like to do and what they do best naturally is how we begin to train and work things into our shows.
We decided early on that we wanted Comet and Tusa to appear from nowhere and fly around the audience. We assumed Tusa would be best at this because he does this the most outside when we freefly. Comet sticks close to home so we assumed he wouldn't be so great. Well, they both kinda sucked at it. Dave worked on it and the birds did tiny flights back to him.
Photo by Nathan Slabaugh Location: Athol, ID Shown: blue throated macaw "Jinx" (background) and camelot macaws "Comet" & "Tusa"
I told Dave I wanted to try, to give me some time with them and try it myself. I had some observations and Dave agreed. I grabbed some fresh food I made in the fridge and let the both of the macaws stuff themselves. Then I sat them on the t-stand to digest for a couple minutes. I grabbed the nut pieces and asked them to wave and spin - easy tricks that would tell me whether or not they wanted treats. They did.
Now, I don't recommend you throw your bird - but I did do this because I wanted to see is my assumptions were correct. I tossed Comet and Tusa out into the audience and out they flew, almost to the back. I yelled "Comet, Tusa!" once they went as far as I wanted and they turned and landed on me. I rewarded. Comet did better than Tusa as time went on. He was going further while Tusa was cheating it short to get a treat faster.
Photo by Nathan Slabaugh Location: Athol, ID Shown: Camelot macaw "Comet"
Once I got the birds going further, I passed the training onto Dave because in the show they'd need to do this from him. I found that if I tossed the two of them (mainly Comet) downwards to the right he was more likely to fly further. Dave was able to start where I left off and phase out throwing the birds at all so that they would go on their own.
When the two of them would fly together, they'd hit in the air and it would throw one of them really off. So we decided to let Tusa do a smaller circle than Comet so we wouldn't have to worry about a collision in the air. (I guess we will be working on flocking next freeflight trip...!)
This new motivation level (of hardly any) will be Comet's norm. He gets twice the amount of food as everyone else. Reason being he has a faster metabolism so if you give 1 bowl full of food to both Comet and Tusa and come back 8 hours later - Tusa isn't hungry and Comet acts like you've never fed him the first bowl. So he needs twice as much. He also works better full - so figuring out the right motivation level based on what you're asking of your birds is super important. I had no idea a motivation level could change based on what you're asking the bird to do. I knew easy tricks came easy but this experience was eye opening and I'm glad I gave it a go. I think we will be seeing a lot more from Comet!
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.