Category Archives: Twist

Young female RTHA, 2007 hatch. Hit by truck, left eye removed. 80% vision in right eye.

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:



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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!


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.


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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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.


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?”


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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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 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.


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