Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Finally, I am getting around to answering Pamela's question of a few days ago:

Do you have suggestions, or can you point me to some of your blog posts about having a flighted bird? Harley has most of his wing feathers back, and I love the idea of having a flighted bird. But he needs some practice landing. And I haven't had a flighted bird since Peanut the parrotlet - he was so small, that his flying was a very different thing than Harley. No territorial issues so far, just a bigger, flying, clumsy bird.


First, congratulations to Harley on growing his wing feathers! I am a huge proponent of flight, as long as it can be done safely. I believe that it's an individual decision that depends on the bird as well as the living conditions of the bird, but it always makes me happy when another parrot can safely be allowed to fly!

Max was the first of our birds to fly, and it brought out parts of her personality that we'd only glimpsed previously. It made her so much more fun and enjoyable to be around as she gained confidence in her skills.

As I mentioned here, two of our unfledged parrots have become great flyers (Beeps & Stella), two are acceptable flyers (Calypso & Daphne; they never choose to fly but can safely make it to their cage or stand if we launch them into the air), and one has no flight skills (Rocky). Max was fledged and is an excellent flyer.

As with most parrot-training subjects, I don't believe there's a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching an adult parrot to fly. I believe you have to observe your parrot and work out a system that will work for them. That being said, of course I will outline what we did with our birds.

1. Before they had their flight feathers back, we worked with them on flapping exercises. Birds who don't fly have atrophied flight muscles. Below is a video of Stella from June 2008 when her wings were clipped. We got her to start flapping by saying "flap" every time she flapped on her own so that she'd start to associate the word "flap" with her motions. And praise her! Then, I'd have her perch on my hand, like in the video, and move my hand up and down, which will often produce a flapping in parrots to help them become more stable. Some parrots might be uncomfortable with this, so watch their body language and don't make them go too fast! Stella loved it.

2. In my mind, there are three main components to flying: the take-off, the flight, and the landing. The take-off seems to be mostly mental -- does the parrot think to fly to get where she wants to go? We don't work too much on that; however, we do work a lot with the flight and the landing, always working at the parrot's pace.

We try to work on landings first, since I imagine that must be pretty scary for a new flyer! I think the flight part is pretty instinctual, but it's the taking off, maneuvering, and landing that are skills they normally would have learned from their parrot parents.

What we normally do is Thomas and I stand close to each other, and launch the parrot back and forth, having them land on our arm. Our arms are wider than their perches, and this seems to work well.

"Launch" is a rather extreme word to explain what we do, though. It's more of a gentle motion, along with "Go to Thomas/Mary!" or "Go to your perch/cage!" and the other person presenting their arm and encouraging, "Come here!"

In this video, I launch Max to the treadmill:

As the parrot gets comfortable with landing, I'll move on to launching them to a perch or to their cage, as Thomas tends to get tired of working on this much more quickly than I do. I usually start pretty close to the intended landing point, and slowly go further away so that they fly a longer distance before landing.

As always, work at the pace of the parrot. This may take a day, or it may take weeks.

3. After the parrot seems to be able to land well, we work on flight skills. Once again, in my experience, parrots tend to be able to fly straight and up fairly well (as long as they have developed muscles). It's getting around unexpected obstacles, turning corners, and going down that we work on.

Unexpected obstacles can be dangerous. If a parrot is flying quickly and a door that they expect to be open is closed, they could crash into the door and cause problems. From my experience, it's not as dangerous when they crash as they're learning because their muscles are not fully developed and they're flying more slowly than normal, so a crash has less of an impact. Therefore, I feel it's important to try to teach them important flight skills before their muscles get too developed.

What we do is work on going around corners first. I'll place the intended landing perch (human or otherwise) around a corner, but still in sight of the parrot, then gently launch the parrot and praise when they go on the perch. Once that's easy, we go a little further back, until they can't see their intended landing perch when I launch them. Again, depending on the parrot, this might happen in one training session, or it may take many.

For U-turns, I'll launch the parrot in the opposite direction of their favorite perch; all of them quickly learned to turn around.

Flying down is also important, as if something unforeseen happens and the parrot gets outside, being able to fly down might save their life. We work on this by putting the parrot on a high perch and calling them to us. Then squatting down and calling them to us. Sometimes we put them at the top of the stairs for them to fly down. This has taken us longer than any other step!

4. Once the parrot has a pretty good grasp on these basic concepts, we start working on things like flighted recall and flighted retrieve. Flighted recall is calling the bird to you, and may also be key in retrieving a bird that accidentally gets outside. Flighted retrieve is having the bird bring an object to you -- it's a fun way of working on flight skills and exercising your parrot's body and brain at the same time.

As for actually living with flighted parrots, once we got used to it and more or less had them trained on what perches were acceptable, I find it easier to live with them flighted. Instead of making multiple trips from the living room to kitchen in order to have them in the same room with us, I can launch them into the living room and tell them to go to their cage, or they automatically follow us into the kitchen.

We do have to be careful about certain things, but these have become almost second nature over the years. For example, we are very strict about our double door policy. We usually go in and out through our attached garage. When I'm coming home in the car, I don't open the door from the garage to the kitchen until the garage door is completely shut. If someone knocks on our front door, I either don't answer, or I exit through the garage door and surprise them by coming from the side. Our next house will definitely have an enclosed porch! This is one of the main reasons we don't have a dog -- there is no safe and easy way for us to let the dog outside while maintaining the safety of the birds.

We only have one ceiling fan, in our bedroom upstairs, a room the parrots are not supposed to enter, though they sometimes sneak in. If the fan is on, the bedroom door is shut. We don't close any doors in the house without first checking to make sure no one is perched on top (I almost smashed Max's toes once when she landed on our basement door while I was in the basement. After I got back upstairs, I closed the door and was surprised to hear Max screech in pain and fly away. Luckily, she was not injured, but we are now very careful!)

In addition, there are some of the less important, and rather funny things, like not ever having any unsupervised cheese out or knowing that unsupervised bananas might be destroyed at any time.

I feel as though I've been going on and on and I'm not even sure if I answered your question properly, so please let me know if I have been unclear, or if you have additional questions! A s always, I'm not an expert -- it's just what's worked for us in our house! I can't wait to read Harley flying updates on your blog!

1 comment:

Jonathan - MS said...

I'm glad you addressed that. My Grey has just gotten (somewhat) comfortable with flying but it's generally in the same paths. She flies from her perch down to a soft sofa. Other times I'll hear the flapping and turn around just in time to catch her after a rip through the hallway. Thanks to you I've got something to practice starting tonight.