From a Bird’s Eye View - As our Blue and Gold Macaw, Moche, Would Say: Hi Guys!
I hope everyone has been enjoying the odd weather this summer! I firmly believe, though, that SD always has odd/ever-changing weather, so I suppose you could call it normal weather this summer. I shouldn’t complain. It is nice to have variety, sometimes, I guess; unless you are a bird trainer in the bird department here at Reptile Gardens.
Performing a free flight outdoor bird show can be a lot of fun! I thoroughly enjoy seeing the birds do their natural and unique behaviors and see our Guests’ reactions to them! It is quite amazing to get the opportunity to train animals to voluntarily perform outdoors and NOT fly away. However, bird shows are not always sunshine and lollipops. Sometimes it is hurricane-like winds and golf ball sized hail. It can be extremely difficult if (or should I say “when”) the weather does not cooperate.
Since South Dakota is so unpredictable, we have to be extremely good at thinking on our feet. High winds mean that the birds that fly in the show might not be able to complete their usual patterns before blowing away. Rain can mean that some of our birds might just sit on stage and do nothing while others might take baths on stage, which can get boring to watch pretty quickly. We have developed many different ways to work around each type of weather.
If we know before the show that wind or rain will strike, we will rearrange which birds are used in that show. Sounds easy enough, however, most of the time we don’t know what the sky has in store for us, so we also have to create signals the trainers and speaker use to communicate with each other. If we come right out and say that we don’t want the next bird on stage then it would be disappointing for our Guests to hear that they missed seeing a particular bird. So for example, if the winds pick up a lot during the show and the speaker feel Ricco, our African Augur Buzzard, should not be released (because his ability to handle flying steadily through huge gusts of wind in such a small arena is extremely low) the speaker will simply wave at the bird/volunteer before Ricco as they exit stage saying “Wow, it is quite windy! Don’t blow away!”. That signals the other trainers that the speaker does not want to risk sending out Ricco and have him fly off into the wilderness, which does happen at times in spite of our efforts.
Of course most of the time, no matter how much we attempt to pre-plan and change birds in a show, what will happen in the bird show is a complete mystery to not only the Guests, but also us, the trainers. We use positive reinforcement with all of our birds, meaning every time a bird does what we want it to do, it gets a reward. That form of training definitely seems to be the best approach when working with these animals. However, no matter how much our birds seem to understand each of their individual routines, they still have complete control of whether or not they wish do said routines. Never a dull moment in the bird department! Although, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Enjoy the rest of this hot July and be sure to keep your eyes to the skies for more accounts from a Bird’s Eye View.