Category Archives: Birds

The trainees.

A Good Week, a Short Update

Things went well last week, for the most part! Without breaking it down by bird, everyone made an improvement. The star of this week was definitely Kohl, who went from reluctantly hopping to the feeding platform five minutes after offering a large chunk of food at the beginning of the week, to instantly jumping to the glove when offered the tiniest piece of meat by the end. She is very calm on glove, although everything the right hand does must mean food— this means touching toes or keel is out of the question, as she would much rather try to eat you.

One-eye is still sending mixed signals, but I’m keeping an eye on him. Hopefully we’ll start to make some progress this week. Twist did extremely well all week, and Blinky, although thoroughly uninterested in me for the most part, started to show a bit more interest in training.

To make this short update slightly more palatable, enjoy this image of Big Girl:

Cheers!

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Filed under Big Girl, Blinky, Kohl, One-eye, Twist

Training Days (are here again)!

Today was great! I had a blast getting right back into training, but the birds were not quite as gung-ho as I was about it. Fair enough, since most of them have had  big shifts since I last worked them regularly, and poor One-eye recently had an accident that involved him getting wedged in a wall. For these (and other) reasons, I took it slowly.

Big Girl:

Awesome, but bored. Some very nice step-ups and hops to the glove, but it didn’t last long. She was not particularly interested in food. What I’d like to work on with her is a hand signal (a rotation of the index finger) to get her to turn around on the perch and face me. She already got the foundation of the behaviour today, but I think I’ll need her a bit more keen to make more progress. I gave her a few ‘toys’ as enrichment and underestimated her urge to destroy things– by the time I got back, I found a smug eagle sitting in a pile of stuffing and shredded leather. I’m glad she enjoyed it, but we need to find enrichment tools that last longer and make less of a mess! Decoy ducks apparently work well, so I may grab her a few.

Blinky and Kohl:

The troublesome twosome are doing very well! Both are being managed sans equipment (no anklets or jesses) at the moment.  They’ve come a long way since I last wrote about them, and have ‘switched’ behaviours– a few months ago, Kohl was flighty, nervous, and slightly aggressive, while Blinky was fairly calm. Kohl is now sweet-tempered and calm, while Blinky is far more high strung and surprisingly aggressive towards the glove. I didn’t make much progress with Blinky today (dropped her food to see what it does to her behaviour overnight), but Kohl ate her food daintily from glove, stepped up, and let me walk her around (again, without equipment on). She also returned to her pen as nicely as could be. Looking forward to getting her flying this year!

Twist:

She hasn’t lost much since I’ve worked with her, and she was very well-behaved today, although she needs to be lured now on returning to the perch. That’s frustrating, as she did it automatically before. I also need to switch my focus from asking her to hop and move towards basic reinforcement on glove and good crating behaviour. Her vision is too far gone to ever fly in a show, but the more solid she is on glove, the more education programs she’ll be able to take part in. I love this bird.

One-eye:

I have to admit I’m quite depressed about how One-eye’s behaviours have broken down during our training gap. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion it isn’t due to lack of time spent– I think he may be masking an illness. There’s a pulse to his sinuses that he didn’t have before, and a very subtle click from his nares that could be usual moisture or something more dangerous. While he’s bright, alert, of normal weight, has good mutes, and in general seems perfectly healthy, there’s something about him that seems ‘off’, and I’m uncomfortable with his reduced interest in food, even though he’s at working weight.

To be fair, it may be residual stress from his accident last week, but I doubt if he even remembers it. A trip to the vet may be in order in the next few days just to be sure. All we did today were some step-ups and short flights, but he was distracted and reluctant, and ended the session ahead of schedule by refusing food. That alone tells me there’s probably something wrong… who ever heard of a RTHA being full? They’re the labrador retrievers of the bird world (ie, bottomless pits).

Wish him luck at the vet!

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Filed under Big Girl, Blinky, Kohl, One-eye, Twist

Day Off, Day On

Yesterday, Big Girl and One-eye got the day to themselves– when last we left off, we’d fed them up in the hopes they’d be ready to work. Unfortunately, I massively underestimated the power of Metabolism(tm)– despite the increase in intake, they both barely held even weight-wise. In order to avoid repeating previous mistakes, I did what I should have done the day before: they both got a truly ridiculous amount of food (more than twice the usual amount) and took the day off from training. Apparently One-eye’s reaction to the unexpected pile of food was to mantle over it and then look suspiciously at the handler, with a sort of “…I really don’t have to do anything for this?” expression.

Today, they were back up to a comfortable weight and ready to work! Perfect!

Big Girl:

We took it slow today — I used her in a short presentation, in which she was excellent, and then followed it up by a session of step-ups. She was very well-behaved. Nothing special to note… just that she was receptive and seemed happy! She got half a rat to work on back in her mew.

One-eye:

The cue/no-cue issue is perhaps at 70% now… he (nearly) always comes when cued, and definitely ignores the glove’s movement when not cued much more frequently. He checked himself today a few times, although he came a few times without the cue as well. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a secondary cue I’m not seeing or if it’s just that he’s having trouble with it after ten years of coming to the glove when raised.

We did point-to-perch for a while, then jump-ups from the ground (he did much better this time and only missed the perch once), then long flights glove-to-glove with a volunteer — he was awesome. A little sticky-footed, but his weight is back where I need it, so I think he may just have been overly excited by working again after a break.

Rooster:

This is not a new raptor– it’s a sick bantam chicken I brought home from the barn at work, who has needed some supportive care to get over an illness complicated by a high parasite load. Tonight, the stinky thing needed a bath, which then progressed into a shower once I realized he seemed to enjoy being rinsed off. Then I spent 30 minutes carefully blow-drying him until fluffy so that he wouldn’t catch a chill. The rooster seemed to enjoy the attention.

Oddly, nobody who knows me is surprised by this. If anything, I am surprised by its normalcy.

C’est la vie.

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Filed under Big Girl, Birds, One-eye

A Sticking Point

Today was a wash on all fronts. The cold overnight dropped One-eye and Big Girl’s weight faster than expected. I thought I’d fed them both up yesterday and was expecting them to have gained weight, but instead they were ravenous and had either held even or dropped. This is mostly a psychological hunger rather than a physical one, but it doesn’t make it any less ‘real’ to the birds or to their trainers. It just means that even though they are healthy and in good shape (nowhere near to being ‘lean’ let alone starving), their brains are evaluating the temperature and how much they got to eat yesterday, calculating the difference, and are reporting back with “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE IF YOU DO NOT EAT MORE”. I should have given them a day off and fed them both up. Hindsight is 20/20.

I did a session with Big Girl in the morning that went nicely, so I thought I could leave her be for a few hours. Long story short, the result of that decision is three punctures/scrapes and associated bruises on my upper arm. My fault, again– but the result is that I fed her up so much she could barely swallow. I hope that takes the edge off for her, and puts her back into ‘work mode’ without stuffing her all the way up to ‘bored and disinterested’.

One-eye was the same, if not worse. A frustrated, frantic ball of feathers. He wasn’t listening well enough to get rewarded, and that was making him offer progressively more uncontrolled behaviours (which also didn’t get him rewarded) until it culimated in him bumping into a window and having the closest thing to a honest-to-god teenaged hissy fit that I have ever witnessed in a raptor. With a coworker’s help, we switched gears to some long glove-to-glove flights down the indoor hallway to work out some of his energy and ensure enough rewards to calm him down. By the end of the session he was tired, full, and much more reasonable to handle.

Live and learn– and I will make it up to them later. Luckily for me, raptors live in the moment and rarely hold grudges!

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Frustration

Despite the title, today was a good day. Even with the depressing amount of paperwork I needed to attend to and the fact that I was teaching all morning, I got quite a few training sessions in.

Blinky and Kohl:

Approach-retreat (also called ‘pressure and release’) is not having much of an impact on Kohl, but Blinky is showing progress. Kohl is very food oriented, so we may change her training style in the near future and focus on food response. Blinky let us touch her toes today, which is great– and both of them are getting multiple sessions a day from multiple trainers. I am hoping to see some marked progress in the next week or two.

Twist:

Because of the progress Twist made yesterday, her trainer and I did a session together. She was very nicely behaved and continued to show improvement from yesterday, but we’d like to see her stop ‘stabbing’ at the food with her beak, and hope that will come in time as she realizes that the food is a constant that won’t be taken away from her once presented. Her first ‘step-up’ was actually footing the glove and trying to pull it closer so that she could get the food (bad manners!), but by the end of the session she was stepping up nicely without being too keen.

Her trainer took over in the afternoon, and from the notes in the training log, it sounds like they had a good session!  It’s going to be great to watch this bird’s progress.

Big Girl:

Poor Big Girl. She was used twice in program this morning, which doesn’t happen frequently, and she tolerated it with good grace… but when I put her back in her mew the second time with no sign of food reward or clicking, she gave me a “SERIOUSLY, IT IS TIME FOR TRAINING NOW” look.  Well… to be fair, it was probably more of a “where the hell is my food, pathetic human slave” sort of thing, but still.

Morning session went nicely. She started offering step-ups halfway through, which was great– we did about 25 repetitions. The afternoon session was really an ‘evening’ session, and by the time I got her inside and ready to go, she was beside herself.  I should have let another staff member do her session earlier, mea culpa. Still, we made the best of it– when I realized she was too hungry to work rationally, I gave her a decent hunk of chicken and let her rip it apart. She ate every scrap, including all the bone, and when she had finished feaking she was ready to work. A few of her step-ups were a little hackled and grabby, but for the most part she was very good and went back like an angel.

Tomorrow, I’ll make sure she gets worked earlier in the day.

“Food now?”

One-eye:

Today was interesting with One-eye– in our morning session, I took him out into the lunchroom to try and work him over longer distances. At longer distances, however, his poor vision became more of an issue. He missed perches left, right, and centre– skittered on to the floor, nearly landed on my head, and popped onto the window sill once. I should have started with shorter jumps to get him used to the new place. Luckily, he learned fast, and midway through the session he was much better. Unfortunately, we got interrupted by some incoming staff who wanted to observe and chat, and as soon as my attention was off One-eye, One-eye’s attention was completely off me. He was bored and irritable by the end of the session, and quite frustrated by the cue/no-cue thing.

Our evening session was quick and dirty, and entirely based on only rewarding a flight to the glove when cued. He is, I think, about 65% of the way there. We had a few more ‘visible checks’, when he starts to initiate flight when I raise the glove, doesn’t see the cue, and checks himself. Usually, he comes instantly when cued. Every so often, though, he has a fit– he comes repeatedly to the glove when I haven’t cued, and ignores me when I cue. I think (I hope) that it’s an extinction burst, and that it will be followed by him cementing the behaviour firmly in his brain.

Considering he’s been trained for years to come to a raised glove with no cue, extinguishing this behaviour is probably taking longer than it otherwise would. I’m really proud of him, even when he has his ‘hissy fits’!

Wee One was displeased that I was training so late, and tried to eat my finger. Little duck.

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Filed under Big Girl, Blinky, Kohl, One-eye, Twist

Back on Track

I have a habit of going to work even when I’m not working, but I had resolved to actually take the planned-for three days (unheard of!) off, as intended, and not go in. Even when you love your job, sometimes you need to take some ‘you-time’. Well, the ‘me-time’ lasted two out of three days, but today I missed the birds, and I really wanted to do a session with One-eye. So, in I went!

While I was there, we also got Blinky and Kohl up on glove to take stock of them. The bruise Kohl had on her chest when she arrived is almost gone now, and both of them are in excellent shape– and, thankfully, both of them are slimming down. They’re still pretty fat, though.

The new red-tail I mentioned a few entries back, who is not on my training list, hadn’t been worked with today because her trainer (who is worse than I am about coming in on her days off) had been temporarily banned from the building to get some much-needed downtime. I decided to do a session with her as well– in this blog she will be known as ‘Twist’.

Twist:

Twist was hit by a truck on the highway, and lost her left eye as a result. Unfortunately, she also has a blind spot in her good eye, which adds further complication to her training. She’s responsive but nervous, and has a habit of twisting around in a circle to take stock of her surroundings when uncertain of herself. There was a note in her training log that she had been very snappy in a previous session, so we took it slow today. She definitely had trouble seeing the food at first, and ‘stabs’ at it with her beak. This frequently results in the food ending up on the floor, on her, on me… pretty much everywhere except inside her.

Still, for a session of just feeding small pieces and– by the end– asking her to step up calmly, she did very well.

One-eye:

When I stepped One-eye up today, I could tell he was ready to work. I can’t say that he missed me, as most raptors are not social in that way, but he definitely recognized me and seemed eager for our session. I pushed him pretty hard today on the cue/no-cue thing– to the point of visible frustration, twice. He’d bounce away to other perches, stomp a bit, and when he did get rewarded, he’d snap at the food peevishly. His irritation with this particular exercise aside, I can finally say he is starting to get it. It’s not every time, but more than once now I have seen him check himself from flying because he the glove came up but he wasn’t given the cue. He never ignores the cue when it’s given, but he frequently ignores the raised glove otherwise, except when excited. But when he gets excited and comes without the cue– and doesn’t get rewarded– that’s when the temper tantrum starts.

Whenever he got too frustrated, we’d take a break and work on reinforcing things he’s already good at– three long hallway flights and a lot of pointing to perches. He was great! I think I’m going to spread out a bit and fly him in the big front room tomorrow after program, and see if I can get him performing at longer distances. And, of course, keep working on the cue.

Bonus Photo:

Why? Because everyone needs a little owl in their lives.

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Filed under Blinky, Kohl, One-eye, Twist

Blinky’s Pantaloons

Although I was supervising an event elsewhere in the park for the morning, I got a chance to spend a good amount of time with the birds in the afternoon. I did a training session with an especially beloved volunteer using Wee One’s older brother, which went very well. One-eye came down nicely from free-loft, and doesn’t seem to have gotten too big for his britches considering his unexpected overnight freedom. The two new owls were a study in contrasts….

Kohl:

Kohl is a difficult bird to read. Compared to Blinky, she seems more ‘well adjusted’ to the hustle and bustle of her new surroundings… but she’s also the more flighty of the two. Today’s session involved opening the door to her pen and waiting until the count of three, then clicking on retreat. The first time, she was excellent. The next time, her ‘flight’ response tripped– and she didn’t calm down until I’d left for a while. I think I moved too quickly, based on an assumption that she was the calmer of the two birds. I will take a step backwards for the next session, and perhaps work only on opening the door a tiny amount– or perhaps even standing in front of her pen.

Blinky:

Blinky, on the other hand, showed more progress than I was expecting. I was able to open the pen door and lift the glove up to the platform she was sitting on. I could get about 6 inches away before her ‘pantaloons’ (our nickname for their lower belly and leg feathers) puffed out in alarm. For the record, raptor pantaloons are utterly adorable. When a red-tail’s pantaloons get wind-blown or the down layer underneath pops out, I always inform them that their underwear is showing.

Anyway, just like with Kohl, I held for three seconds and then clicked on retreat. After five or six repetitions, she stopped lifting her feathers on approach and was content to just stay still. For a brand new owl, that’s pretty amazing progress! We’ll see what she does next time!

Big Girl:

One of my coworkers did Big Girl’s morning session, and I did a quick afternoon follow-up. Her weight is back up, but she’s still fairly responsive. Just a session full of bridging on presentation of food, and Mrs. Picky deigned to eat most of what she was offered. She does not like legs, but she seems to be getting over her dislike of chick heads. Thank god.

She was calm and attentive throughout. I think it’s time to start testing her to see if she understands the bridge. When she was finished, she feaked all over the glove. She’s such a good girl now, after her period of randomly-directed aggression earlier in the fall. Big doof.

One-eye:

One-eye, as I said, came down to the glove pretty nicely from being freelofted– I was worried I’d either have to chase him around, or that he’d be so eager that he’d nail me in the face as soon as I walked in. It’s always nice to avoid extremes! Luckily, he was lean today and ready to work. We worked on the ‘point’ cue today, which he is getting very good at now– he is getting a little more prone to anticipating my point, which leads to some interesting mid-air corrections when he realizes I didn’t cue to the perch he expected me to. Still, I am finding I can point from further and further away, and he quite deliberately follows the line of my arm to the nearest perch and goes there.

Two new things: one, I tried to work some jump-ups from a perch on the ground to my glove held above my head. He was quick to come up, but his missing eye gave him some trouble and he seemed to avoid the perch he was supposed to land on more often than not. He ended up on buckets, a chair, and a leaning perch that was drying after being washed. The second new thing is that he may finally be getting the picture in regards to cues– that I want him to stay where he is unless he’s cued to the glove. He ignored a lifted glove three times in a row, twice, and then came immediately when I cued him. That said, he also came to the lifted glove repeatedly without being cued earlier in the session, so it may just be coincidence. We’ll keep working on it.

I flew him in the hallway at the end of the session, since he seems to enjoy it. Four 75′ flights, and he wasn’t winded. Not bad for a one-eyed, “retired” and massively out-of-shape hawk. I hope he’s enjoying his new life as a Genius Bird as much as we’re enjoying having him here!

Break:

I’m off work for three days, because it is my birthday weekend. I may go in on Monday to train– or not, depending on timing. Regardless, enjoy your weekends, and updates shall resume when training does!

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Filed under Big Girl, Blinky, Kohl, One-eye