Tag Archives: Falcons

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

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

Restructuring

Today, we went on a road-trip to meet a potential new education bird, and ended up bringing her home with us. Another RTHA– I’m almost regretting One-eye’s nickname now, as the new bird is also missing the same eye! She’s gorgeous, despite her injury, and is lucky to be alive after being hit by a truck on the highway. She’s pale compared to the rest of our red-tails, and built sturdily. She has one behavioural issue we’ll need to work on pretty quickly– spinning on the glove– but I think that will sort itself out as quickly. I think she’ll be very responsive to training, but, alas, we have rearranged who is training who, and she is not on my list! Perhaps down the road I’ll get to write about her in more detail.

Big Girl:

She was great today, and got to go for a big, long walk with a co-worker while we were on our way to pick up the new RTHA. I managed to get a session in before I left, and she was absolutely perfect. By the time we got the new RTHA home, coped, jessed, and settled, it was dark– Big Girl had to be brought inside to do her session, and she was pretty hungry. Much more controlled than yesterday, though, and we got a full session with great responses in.

  • Big Girl is now a jointly-trained bird, so I may not get daily sessions with her, but I will still be taking a lead role in her training and will write about her often.

One-eye:

One-eye did very well today. We worked on targetting, and on reinforcing the cue. He definitely doesn’t ‘get it’, yet– I’m not sure if it’s because he doesn’t understand what the bridge means as well as I thought he does, or whether the lightbulb hasn’t come on yet.

Today’s neat moment was actually a miscommunication–  I cued when he wasn’t looking at me. The cue is a sharp, double-tap. He heard the cue but didn’t see it, so as he took off he started towards my glove. I’d given the cue on a perch to my left, however, and my hand was in the process of retreating from that perch when, in mid-air, he realized his mistake and tried to correct his aim from glove to perch at the last minute. It was too little, too late, and he bumped into the side of the perch and scrabbled on the table before recovering himself.

Obviously he didn’t get a reward, but it was interesting to see the mental “oops!” and his attempt to fix it. Good, if belated, communication!

  • One-eye is still ‘my bird’ after the training reorganization, so I’ll continue to update regularly with his progress!

Twitch:

Twitch got two sessions today, and was good for both — it was busy this morning, though, and she definitely has trouble with outside noise and confusion interrupting the training session. Her progress is slow, but she goes a little further every day. Today, she did quite a few nice step-ups and some hops to the glove, and lots of repetitions. It was bitter-sweet for me, because:

  • Twitch is no longer a bird I will be actively training– I am reluctant in regards to this, but the staff member who is taking over for me is extremely patient and sensitive, and will be perfect for Twitch’s issues. I will still handle Twitch and keep an eye on her progress, but won’t be doing regular daily sessions with her.

Wee One:

Great, but adorably clueless! Two sessions today, and she’s taking the rewards reliably. I’m worried we’re developing a superstitious behaviour, as she always lifts one of her tiny feet and places it on the glove when she takes the food– it’s cute, but I don’t want it interfering with anything later. We’ll have to monitor it. She definitely doesn’t associate the bridge with the reward yet.

  • Wee One is also off my training list for active duty. That leaves me with only One-eye as a solo bird and Big Girl as a shared priority.

Why?

Because tomorrow, we’re road-tripping up north to pick up two new, untrained owls– a long-eared and a short-eared. I don’t know what state they’re going to be in, but the restructuring of the training birds will leave me with the time I need to devote myself to the two new arrivals.

Wish us luck!

 

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Filed under Big Girl, One-eye, Twitch, Wee One

Turkey (and Chicken)

Although I’m Canadian, and therefore had my Thanksgiving over a month ago, today was festive — on my way home from training today, I turned onto the long, snow-covered laneway that leads up the hill to my crooked old farmhouse only to find a large and rather sedate flock of wild turkeys congregating in the middle of the road. I drove very slowly, and they parted on either side to let me pass. I love living in the country.

The birds were very good today. Progress on all fronts! Everyone got chicken today.

One-eye:

We picked up where we left off– targeting between perch and glove, perch and perch, and glove and perch. He was great. He wasn’t fazed at the height differential I added. Quick and responsive, but not quite as over-reactive as yesterday. About midway through the session, though, I realized there wasn’t much point in continuing until he learned to only come when given the cue, and not just on presentation of the glove. Thus began part two of our session, which did not go as well as the first. I would present the glove, he would come to it. He’d get no bridge and no reward, and I’d send him back. I’d raise the glove again, and he’d come again– no bridge, no reward. Third try, he ignored the raised glove. I gave him the cue, and he came. Perfect! Well, no. The reward that time seemed to erase the reason he’d got the reward from his mind, and he came on the next presentation of the glove without cue. And again. Third try, he ignored the glove again, then came when cued. …And thus started our cycle of it working out every third time. Frustrating for both of us, so we ended the session with some short hops, always with the cue.

I don’t think either of us are going to like the next session, which is going to be entirely focused on getting him to respond only when cued and at no other time.

Big Girl:

Much better today. I continued yesterday’s trend of doing a session with Big Girl between sessions with the other birds. Her first session went perfectly. She was keen and interested, and ate each piece immediately on presentation. I walked away when she’d finished her allotment and when she was still interested, and went to train Twitch. I also corrected my previous error of putting One-eye back in the weathering yard before I was done training Big Girl, so he stayed inside for the duration of everyone’s sessions. Her second session had slight hesitation on beginning, then she did very well for about 10-15 repetitions. As soon as I saw her nibbling and starting to drop pieces, I gave her a particularly nice piece and ended the session. I tried for a third session after training Wee One, but there was no interest at all– I offered three times, got no response, and ended the session. Still, that’s a much longer attention span than she’s shown before, and she was far more engaged than I’ve seen her. Maybe next time we’ll try rat instead of chicken and see what it does to her appetite.

Twitch:

Twitch bailed on me in her mew (she’s freelofted) when I went to get her, and I had to wait for her to return to the perch– on second presentation of the glove, she stepped up nicely and we moved inside to start the session. She was only marginally more relaxed today, but she definitely was more interested in the food. Lots of repetitions at foot level, and I only had to lift it closer to her face a few times when distraction elsewhere in the room got her fixated and ‘stuck’, staring at something. By the end of the session (which was messy– she likes to pop chick heads, so there was brain on her chest, on the perch, on the table, on the floor, and down my leg) she was reaching for the food and putting a foot on the glove. Session ended with two lovely step-ups from the perch to the glove on presentation, which was very nice. She also began to take ‘hidden’ food, but the movement of the glove to reveal the tidbit frightened her, so we’ll go slower with that next session.

Her sessions will eventually have to involve reinforcement for calm behaviour when moving through hallways, doorways, etc. She’s such a stark contrast to One-eye– I hope she learns to trust more readily.

Wee One:

Cut the food much smaller this time, and soaked it– that definitely solved the sticky crop situation, but even the smaller pieces of food were too big. Next time I’m going to really mince them. She cropped up a lot more quickly than I wanted her to. Still, this was a much more useful session than last time. Lots of bridging, some step-ups for visible food, and then some nice step-ups for hidden food that would have gone on longer had she not already been full.

Due to other pressing responsibilities, I think there will be a struggle to find the time to do multiple sessions through the day with most of these birds (which is much better for progress and retention than one longer session, as I’m having to do now). That said, Wee One and her tiny crop will be my first priority if I can find the time to do multiple sessions!

A great day all around. Tomorrow is a big training day for folks from another facility I used to volunteer with, so there will be many extra bodies around– it will be interesting to see if tomorrow’s training sessions are affected by it.

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Filed under Big Girl, One-eye, Twitch, Wee One

Round One

One-eye:

One-eye is incredibly quick, in every sense of the word. I have some concerns about setting us both up for failure, but he’s raised my expectations surprisingly quickly. Today’s session picked up where we left off– he associates a food reward with a bridge (verbal click), and last session we introduced the cue– two short, sharp taps on the glove to call him to it. We did a few repetitions of this last time. We have already weeded out having the reward visible, and he’s gotten good at waiting for it to be presented. We’ve moved into variable reinforcement as well. Today we started with short hops and quickly moved to longer flights, always with the cue. He was very keen– almost too keen.

With him, it will be a challenge to train him to come only when given the cue, as I ended up with a hawk unexpectedly scrabbling at my shoulder and upper arm when he anticipated my call and came before I was ready. Neat breakthrough: I reinforced the cue with quite a few repetitions, then transferred the cue to a nearby perch. You could see him thinking about it, but he went for it after a moment’s hesitation and got rewarded. The rest of the session, he was targeting perfectly to anything I cued him to, including calling him to a perch and then to the glove for a jackpot. Great bird! Eager to see if the targeting will work to get him into the carrier…

Big Girl:

Big Girl is a picky, picky eater. We have not gone much further yet than trying to associate the bridge with presentation of food. The challenge is that she rarely wants what she’s offered– and if she does want it, she wants to eat it in large chunks. She was more interested in food bits today, however, so I took advantage of it and did two short sessions with as many repetitions as I could manage. By the end of it, she was flinging them everywhere instead of eating them, but she was looking at the glove when I clicked. We’ll have to wait and see how long it takes to get her ready to work.

The interesting thing was that although One-eye was not able to see myself or Big Girl, he could hear us perfectly well– and the repetition of the bridge was driving him bonkers! Made a note in the log to move him before training her next time.

Twitch:

Twitch is a bit of a mystery to me. She’s a big tough female, but she’s afraid of everything. Despite the nickname, it’s less a twitchy fear than a catatonic one, and she’s incredibly wary of everything. She pulls at her jesses, bates through doorways, flares her wings at the slightest provocation, and despises her carrier. Both she and One-eye came to us recently from another centre, so I’m not sure what her training history is… but for now, we have an anxious but beautiful mess on our hands.

Yesterday was Twitch’s first session — she sat on the perch with her wings out and hackles up and stared at the wall. She would not look at food, even when presented at beak-level, no matter how enticing it was. Eventually she made minor progress, but it was all-in-all disheartening enough that I wasn’t expecting much today.

I started small — she’s decently comfortable eating food from the glove while on the glove, but wouldn’t take food from the glove while on a perch. I gave her a few small pieces on the glove to get her started (using the bridge), then set her down on her perch and offered tidbits at beak level. Success! After a few repetitions of that, we went down to chest level, and then to foot level. There were a few interruptions, but she did very well all things considered, and we are quite a few steps ahead of where we were yesterday. I’m hoping this continues tomorrow!

Wee One:

This was Wee One’s first session. She very obviously had no idea at all what I wanted her to do– and I made a mistake in cutting her food pieces far too large and neglecting to wet them first. She filled up much faster than anticipated and got distracted by trying (and trying and trying) to put her crop over. She’s eager but undisciplined right now. Next session: smaller, slicker pieces, and we’ll give it another go!

Overall Challenges:

  • The birds are all fat. All of them. Not necessarily a bad thing, but response will be a bit slow until the weights sort themselves out.
  • New birds incoming: Two owls arriving next week, another RTHA possibly coming later in the month. I may need to cut down sessions with these guys (transfer them to other staff) to start with the new crew. We’ll have to see.

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Filed under Big Girl, One-eye, Twitch, Wee One