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Selecting The Species To Fly

Selecting The Species of Parrot To Fly

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 20 November 2010

Not all species of parrots are equally good flight candidates. Some have physical features that make them better (large, loud and colorful) and some have mental features that make them better (highly social with strong roosting site fidelity). No doubt other species that don’t have these qualities can also be flown, but I would consider them only for trainers with some experience. In my mind, Greys, Senegals Cockatiels fit into that class. That is why I have not spent money to buy and fly an African Grey. If someone gave me a baby Grey I would of course fly it. But I won’t spend money to buy a bird that does not match my criteria for best flight candidate.

There are two main factors I consider when selecting a parrot species to fly outdoors: recoverability and hawk avoidance.

Without any doubt a large, loud and colorful bird is easier to find in a tree or see or hear at a distance. That makes large macaws and large cockatoos good flyers from a recovery stand point.

The smaller parrots are more susceptible to hawk attack simply because there are more hawks around that eat smaller birds. Larger birds like macaws have fewer hawk species to worry about than does smaller or medium size bird like a conure or a grey. To fly these smaller birds we prefer to fly them in flocks for greater protection from hawks.

A Freeflight list member wrote: “I am amazed at how close he stays to me when flying. He never goes more than 100 yards out or 15 yards up even if he has miles of space. I imagine this is because Sun Conures are flock birds and don’t feel comfortable away from the trusted crowd. I have several questions:’

Your observations match ours in that sun conures do not appear to like to fly solo out in the open. If you think of them as little yellow targets, then it would make sense with such bright coloration, they must have some other method of protecting themselves. Such an alternate method may be numbers. Ours seem to be quite happy to fly out in the open, leaving the trees in a flash to fly out over the valley as a gyrating mass of up to 22 birds (11 of our flock are sun conures). With more birds, you have more eyes watching for predators, means earlier detection. Early detection is the key to evading a hunter that relies on surprise to catch its prey. Once up to speed and out in the open sky, most prey birds can actually out fly the larger predator birds. But that takes peak physical fitness and adequate warning to reach top speed prior to the predator making contact. Perches with good height and adequate space to take off in all directions is one element. But having a group of equally alert buddies is probably the most helpful.

“What birds do best?”

I am not quite sure what you are asking here. Do best at what? If you mean do best at being outdoor flyers, I would say we really do not have enough data to make such comparisons. But we can report what birds thus far have seemed to do well and which have shown some potential problems. Macaws, and conures seem to respond eagerly to flight training with positive reinforcement methods (as should most species) including from beginner level trainers. Large birds seem to do better against predators when flown solo. Colorful birds seem to be easier to spot in trees. Loud birds seem easier locate if lost. My usual recommendation for which species of parrot to select as a pet freeflyer involves large, loud and colorful birds since they are generally the safest to fly and the easiest to locate if things go wrong. Based on this criteria and our experience so far, large macaws and cockatoos are probably the most suited as pet flyers.

“Which are most difficult?”

I personally have found Indian Ringnecks to be less social and thus do not respond to social interaction as well as most other species of parrots. This means my reliance on social interaction is not effective as a training tool for young ringnecks. Makes flight training ringnecks dependent on weight management, which I don’t like using.

African Greys seem to be like really intelligent cats, smart but kind of aloof. Training dogs can be easier than training cats so maybe that would mean greys are not the easiest birds to train. Some will probably disagree or dislike this idea. Greys also look a lot like pigeons so some raptors may more easily “recognize” them as prey they are willing to go after.

Senegals are reported to have uncontrolled spook responses, though that has not been my experience with the Senegals I have raised. It may have something to do with how they are raised, I really do not know. But Senegals are small parrots that are not very noisy, that makes them difficult to locate.

Cockatiels are not large, loud or colorful, making them difficult to locate. They also are somewhat nomadic in the wild which means they may tend to wander as flighted pets. They are also “n” strategy survivors, rather than “k” strategy survivors. This means that the species relies more heavily on having lots of babies rather than being smart enough to deal with predators. “K” strategy birds rely more on intelligence and have few babies. This means that “n” strategy birds are probably not the smartest birds in the sky. That makes cockatiels and other “n” strategy birds less ideal flight students than other species of parrots.

I have known people who flew african greys, senegals and cockatiels so it is possible, just not ideal. These are birds I would recommend only for people with experience flying parrots already.

“Is there much difference in training methods between species?”

Most of our training methods are based on the principles of operant conditioning and developmental sequences. This means that for the most part the training is very similar between species. There are some differences between species so a study of ethology can help understand how a particular species might respond differently than another species. There are other factors though that can have far greater impact on the behavior of your bird than the species selection. Issues like the age it was first exposed to flying, its social interests in people or other birds, its comfort in facing new situations or locations, or how much of its natural developmental processes were completed, to name just a few.

“Has anyone trained a parakeet to free fly outdoors?”

I don’t think we have any one on the list currently but there are records of people who have. The Duke of Bedford is one such person; he flew a large flock. Anyone wanting to increase the safety of flying their current larger parrot outdoors but does not feel they have room for several more large birds might consider training up a flock of budgies to act as additional eyes. We are doing it with sun conures but I don’t see any reason it would not also work with budgies. There is of course the risk of sharp shined hawks to consider and each person would have to weigh the benefits and risks for themselves.

Parrots: more than pets, friends for life.
Chris Biro

70 Responses to “Selecting The Species To Fly”

  1. hi, i have been inspired by you to flight train my bird.
    i have started with indian ringneck and it is really difficult to train. unless i control his weight within range of 111-115 gram(without harness). if it goes 116, his respond is totally different already. he becomes very lazy and tend to ignore me.
    harness doesnt seem to affect his weight. shwich mean, as long as the weight is <115, he fly well, with or without harness. if the weight is 116, he will not do well with or without harness. i curently trian him with a long string attach to the harness.

    is there any posibility for me free fly him without harness one day?

  2. Indian Ringnecks are wonderful birds but are not a bird I recommend for a new trainer to train for outdoor flight. Yes there is the possibility for you to train him to fly outdoors, but there is also the possibility that you will lose him before he is fully trained. Considering the degree of difficulty in training an indian ringneck for outdoor flight due to their reduced social interests, I would discourage you from attempting to train him for outdoor flight. Go ahead and work on indoor flight, making sure to be extra careful he cannot get outdoors. If you can get good responses indoors, then maybe we could talk about going out doors.

    I personally do not like training birds for flight that need me to use weight management on them. That is another reason I would not flight train this bird. I would look for a more social species of parrot and approach it so that I have the greatest chances of success. Chris Biro

  3. what are your thoughts on free flighting an eclectus parrot? I understand they are smart parrots, though known to be less social than others. does this mean, flighting them is a poor decision?

  4. Miles,

    I know of a couple people that have flown Eclectus parrots and done great with them. They are not what I consider loud birds so finding them if they disappear in the trees could be challenging, especially the mail since he is green. But as to personality and flight abilities, they can be great flyers. Chris

  5. I really wanted a parakeet until I saw videos on youtube about people flying parrots outside. I was considering to get one parakeet first to learn how to train parrots, and then get a sun concour to train to fly outside with a flock of budgies, is a total flock number of 5 enough?

  6. 5 is a good number to fly from a flock perspective since that is several pairs of eyes watching the sky for danger. I would suggest though that you select an even number of birds since they usually want to fly in pairs. Flock flying is a more advanced form of flying so make sure you set your goal of flying a flock but don’t let it get ahead of your skills. Make sure each birds is individually trained and flying well as an individual in the environment you want to fly the flock before you consider letting any fly together with another bird. Let them each master flying with only one bird before letting them fly with two other birds. Flock dynamics can be a bit more tricky to predict so you need to be careful when flying more than one bird, especially when flying such small birds. I do not normally recommends flying such small birds but do know of people who have flown them. Chris

  7. Thanks Chris
    Does training Budgies work the same way as training bigger birds, or do you think that there is some other things to consider?

  8. Yorek,

    As to their ability to learn or their flying skills, a budgie should be very similar to the macaw. They will of course be much more difficult to see in a tree or to hear when you are searching for them and you will lose sight of them in much shorter distances than with a macaw. They are small so will get lots more out of flying in the house than will a macaw so more skills can be mastered indoors than with a macaw.

    Selecting treats to offer a budgie may be more challenging than with a large macaw. Just handling a tiny seed to offer it to the budgie will be more difficult than offering a macaw a single peanut or sunflower seed.

    So the answer to your question is that from a personality and learning stand point, I would consider a budgie to be similar to a macaw regarding training. But from a mechanical stand-point, actually doing the training, the budgie may be more difficult to work with than a macaw.

  9. I have to budgies that I’m training to freeflight I’m starting to take them outside in a carrier to get them used to the noises but is it safe to free flight also I may get 1 more budgie if needed I love them and I want the to have the feel of outdoor flight just would it be safe

  10. Hey Addison,
    Do you Buy the Parakeets from a breeder or do you breed them yourself? If you get them from a breeder aren’t they already weaned? Do you keep all of them in separate cages? How did you train them? What treats do you use? How many do you have? And finally could you post a video that shows them flying outside?

    I would really want a parakeet, but since I still go to High school and live with my parents I can’t get one till I live by myself. I will defenitly try to post a video on Youtube in 4 years about my budgies flying outside.

  11. I got my birds from a petstore breeder but I plan to breen them soon I would teach them the up up trick on my finger first then increase the distance until they came whenever I called them I use millet spray it is cheap to buy and they just love it I they all live together in one cage I have two

  12. Did they fly outside jet or do you still have to train them?

  13. I let them fly once but they didn’t want to fly I’m gonna wait a month to take them to a better place anyone can train a budgie easily my friend trained both his cockatiels to come on command

  14. Hie Chris,
    This Yashraj from India, the guy whose interested in freeflying is cockatiels,out their in free air(Here, India Specialy Where I Live We Dont Have Any Predators), So Would You Recomend Freestyle Flighting For My Pair Of Cockatiels…..??

  15. Hello Yashraj, I do not normally encourage people to flight train cockatiels. They sweet and adorable birds and make wonderful pets but they are not the best suited bird for outdoor flight training. They can be wonderful birds for indoor flying. First of all they are not large, loud or colorful which will make it harder to find them if they are “misplaced”. Cockatiels in the wild are somewhat nomadic so they could have more of a tendency to wander than most other parrots. They are “n”strategy survivors instead of “k” strategy birds. This means that they depend more on their reproduction numbers than knowledge, with large clutches rather than great brain power. This does not mean they cannot be flown but it does make them less than ideal compared to others species of parrot. But as indoor flyers they should be wonderful. I know of a few people have that have flown cockatiels outdoors successfully so it is possible. Just don’t go into this with false expectations. And though I do not encourage you to fly them outside, I do wish you the best of luck if you decide to do so. Chris

  16. can you train a green cheek conure to free flight i would love to train my bird to.

  17. Hello Brandon, Yes Green Cheeks can be flown out doors but they are not ideal. They are not large, loud or colorful birds so that makes them difficult to find if lost. They are plenty smart and are wonderful birds as pets. They would make great indoor flyers. If I were to fly them out doors, I would do so as a flock of 5-10 birds. Just know though that they will be hard to find any time they are outdoors. Chris

  18. i have a u. cockatoo but he is small one. we have hawks in our area. should i forget even trying to teach tiki to fly out doors. we live in mo. where there are alot of big birds such as hawks,vultures,even an eagle..

  19. The smaller cockatoos can be great flyers, very agile and quick. Goffins and Bare Eyes are really fun to fly. As to hawks in the area, I have yet to fly in a place that did not have hawks. Vultures are not a direct threat to the birds but can cause startle or spooked flights which can result in an untrained bird getting lost. Hawks are not the end of the discussion fear topic that most people think of them as being. I have flown parrots since 1993, personally witnessed over 30 hawk encounters, and lost none of my trained birds to hawk predation. Chris

  20. Hi Chris,
    I am thinking about training my pair of blue fronted amazons to flight outdoors.
    They are really well tamed but…They weren’t handfed.They’re 1 year old and they had chicks once.
    Is it possible to train parrots like them to fly outdoors?(they’re flying to me on demand indoors)

  21. Yes it is possible, especially since they are closely bonded. You can use one as an anchor bird in a cage while the other is loose flying. That could help keep them close. This is not to say you don’t follow the normal program, you would indeed follow the training plan like with any other bird. But the bond they share will make it safer as you go through the process. You would continue to fly only one at a time until each as fully mastered the area you are flying. They should completely familiar with the area and the routine before you ever consider flying them together. If it were me though I would try to get them to have babies again and those would be the birds I would flight train. Then you can use the young flyers to help teach the parents. Chris

  22. I read about hawks on this blog and am curious to how much of a threat they pose.
    Do hawk attacks happen frequently?

  23. The threat of a hawk attack is a very real danger when it happens but it does not happen nearly as often as many people think it does. I see a hawk encounter once or twice a year with our birds. So far we have lost non to predation. It is of course only a matter of time before we do. It may be that most birds killed by hawks are young or old, thus more vulnerable than the mid life physically fit bird. After all, few animals in the wild grow old. Most are eaten by someone once they start getting weak. But for us freeflyers, the hawk threat seems to be a problem that nature has given our birds adequate skills to deal with. That of course assumes the bird is up to speed in fitness, flight skills and has its full mental capabilities. Many pet parrots did not finish their mental development nor were their brains given appropriate stimulation levels as developing chicks to fully utilize their full mental potential so many are probably not as bright as they potentially could be. Raising them properly as fledglings is a very important part of freeflying a parrot if for no other reason than they retain their natural mental abilities for evading hawks. Chris

  24. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your reply. I live in The Netherlands and not so many birds of prey here. Because of the environment not being very suitable but also because they seem not to be very welcome here. Especially in my province. Fanatic pigeon breeders are suspected to kill birds of prey by poisoning them and destroying their nests.
    So, because I’ve never witnessed a hawk attack, I was curious about it since it is mentioned on several pages on this blog.

  25. Hi Beatman,

    Hawk encounters are something we learn to live with when flying pet parrots outdoors. There are two components to this as I see it. First is the severity of the danger of an actual hawk attack. If the hawk should succeed in grabbing the bird the situation could end in the death of your bird, either from being carried off and eaten or from injuries sustained during the encounter (punctured lung, infection from scratch of claws, broken bones from impact with the ground, etc). These are obviously really bad results for both the bird and the owner (though some injuries are more easily treated than others).

    The second issue is the likeliness of such an encounter. Though it is often believed by many pet parrot owners, and often promoted by falconers, that the pet parrot is in imminent danger ever time we fly it outdoors, the truth is that statistically (from my own personal experience anyway) the risks of having a hawk encounter are very low. I have been flying a variety of parrots at fairgrounds and at home since 1993 and have witnessed around 40 hawk attacks over that time frame. This is actually a fairly small number of attacks when one considers how much flying we do. Over the past 4 years I have increased the number of birds I fly here at Porcupine Ranch to about 25 birds and have increased my flying them to about 6-8 hours every day, all year long. Daily I see numerous alarm responses from our flock but only rarely see a hawk. I am hoping to begin training several more of our birds in the aviary to join our outdoor flock this season.

    Of the attacks I have witnessed, none have been successful, even when the hawk did manage to grab the bird. I have seen three times that a hawk was able to make contact with my parrot with its claws and bring the bird to the ground. I was nearby and able to assist in chasing the hawk off, with it letting the bird escape. Once I actually caught the hawk (and sun conure) under my leather cowboy hat. In each case the birds sustained only minor injuries and were fine with only minor medical attention. I am fully aware that we were lucky and the attacks could have each been fatal. But they were not. There is no doubt that hawks do kill birds. And pet parrots have been killed by hawks. But of the encounters I have witnessed and know of from other parrot flyers, the birds have almost all survived, even when grabbed.

    I cannot say the same for the untrained parrots. We have lost three untrained parrots that escaped from the aviary and I believe were predated. I witnessed one untrained Lessor Sulfur Crested Cockatoo be hit by a Great Horned Owl in the middle of the night after getting out of the aviary earlier in the day. It took flight after falling from a branch while climbing around as I stood below the tree trying to get it to come down. I heard it scream as if under attack and then I found it lying in the grass as it died of punctured lungs. While I was out of town and Susan was here with the birds, we lost a Red Fronted Macaw after the Blue Throat macaws opened several of the out door aviaries, allowing several birds to escape. Susan reported to me that he was not recovered before that evening like all the others that were loose. In the morning the other birds all sounded off with unusually loud alarm calls, suggesting a predator presence and possible attack. He was never heard from again so we suspect he was in fact predated that morning. We have had three other untrained birds disappear without a trace after getting loose but are not sure if they were predated or just lost.

    The point here is in comparison to the amount of time I have trained birds out flying, I see very few actual hawk attacks on our trained parrots. And of the attacks I have seen, so far none have been successful attacks. I cannot say the same for the rare instance where an untrained bird gets lose. Though I have not kept records of how many times birds have gotten lose that no hawk encounter was involved, I know the amount of time we have accidental escaped birds loose is only a tiny fraction of the amount of time we have our trained birds intentionally loose. There is no question our loss rate is significantly higher for the untrained escapee. It seems clear to me that our training is effective in helping prevent fatal hawk encounters. I am also clear that with the amount of birds we fly and the amount of time we fly at some point we probably will lose one or more of our trained birds to predation – in the wild almost no animal grows old, as they show weakness someone eats them. No doubt that will be a sad day.

    So to conclude it seems clear that there is a chance a hawk to take one of our birds but so far that has not happened. And the odds we have encountered so far suggest this is a rare thing to happen to a properly trained pet parrot. Though we recognize that in the end probably all of our birds will meet their end the same way most wild parrots do. We also know though that they will longer lives in our care as freeflying pets then they would in the wild. So for now I will continue to really enjoy the many wonderful days I get to watch my precious friends having the time of their lives tearing up the skies (and the trees, and the porch, and my jeep, etc.). Chris

  26. I am deciding on getting a sun conure or even 2 to hand feed and train. I have and odd question about the species. I know sun conures can be loud and wonder if some of their noise is abbated by them being flown . I realise allot of birds make noise out of boredom or their need for attention. But also realize that free flight can help psychologically and physically to elevate unwanted anxiety in a bird. Do you see a corrolation in the appropriate species behavior in your Sun Conures from free flight.( appropriate in that it is normal flock communication and roosting behavior) or is it worse because they are so bonded that cage time is hard time. Thanks for your response

  27. Hello Jeremy,

    Yes I do see a difference in how our flighted birds use their voices compared to how our caged birds use theirs. The flyers all use their voices to communicate important concepts such as distant danger or immediate danger. The caged birds have no clue about how this works and will often yell just for the sake of hearing themselves yell. It is kind of hard to describe the difference but once you are around flighted birds and learn to recognize their various calls then it is oh so obvious that the caged birds don’t get what their voice is really for or how to use their voices this way. Does flight help reduce their noise level? I would say no, flight only changes how they use their loud voices. Our sun conures are still quite noisy when in their cage (until it gets dark of course). Our macaws, conures, cockatoo and senegal are fairly quiet once they come inside at in the late afternoon or evening but I think only because they are ready to go to sleep. If kept indoors in their cages for very long, they are very loud, maybe even more so than the normal caged bird. Chris

  28. I’m hand raising a cockatiel, budgie, sun conure and a peach face love bird and also have two crimson bellied conures that I hand raised. What challenges might I have flying them as a flock?

  29. The main issue I see in creating a flock is the risk of all of the birds in the flock flying off as they follow one bird’s lead into unfamiliar territory. There is no one bird that is the flock leader. Instead, any one of them can lead the flock for a few moments at any given time. Even the newest flyer in the group can lead the bird until some other bird takes over that role for a few moments. The newest bird can keep control long enough to get some of or the entire group into trouble. Thus it is important that each bird have solid skills in the area of navigation and orientation and knows how to find its way back to the starting point. As the flock members become more familiar with being part of a flock, it seems they also catch on that though flying in a group they still need to be responsible for themselves. They seem to learn to break off from the flock and come back when things start to look like they are getting out of control. That is my impression. Until they learn this though, the birds are at risk of getting lost. This is especially true of there is an incident like a crow, seagull or hawk encounter. In avoiding the threat they may not keep track of where they are located or how to get back to you. This is a skill set they each must learn and master. Obviously there is not teaching this indoors so they must learn this without you losing them. I work on this by flying two at a time until they seem to do well in pairs. I rotate through my group of birds until all of them have each had enough time flying in pairs, usually one new bird flying with my best seasoned veteran. The behavior of handling themselves responsibly is what I am watching for, not some set amount of time flying. Then I will add another bird to make it three, and again rotating each of the birds through flying in threes before adding fourth. Once your core group gets really solid, then you can add new birds one at a time in carefully selected environments. At first you select your safest available environment, not the most challenging.

    Also remember that what creates a flock is not living together or simply flying together, like in an aviary. What creates a flock is the need for safety from perceived threats such as hawks, crows or seagulls. The ability of the flock to see and react to the threat more quickly makes it of great value to the individuals of the flock. Without some time exposed to such threats, there will be no real flock formed. Think of this like doing pushups, with practice the more you can do. Flocking is similar. The more practice reacting to threats, the stronger the flocking behaviors become since flocking is one of their main reactions to dealing with threats. And the flocking skills grow and improve with practice.

    I hope this helps. Chris

  30. Chris,
    That is really helpful. I saw what you are talking about in action when I tried to fly my single hand raised Fischer lovebird a year ago. I thought because my sun conures did so well flying in the yard and returning with a simple call, the lovebird would be a piece of cake to teach. Instead the little guy joined in with a flock of sparrows, flew off with them and I only saw him once more when the sparrows happen to came into the yard. The little guy is really missed and your advice is much appreciated!!

  31. Hi Chris. Any words on free flying an Eastern Rosella ?? This would be a chick hand-reared by myself ,and recall trained by myself ,aswell.

  32. I have no experience with Rosellas so cannot offer much advice about training them. I would suggest you try it indoors and see how the bird responds and then make an assessment from there about flying it outdoors. Sorry I cannot be of more help. Chris

  33. Chris,

    Absolutely fascinating!

    As a closet behaviorist with a background primarily in the canine world, I appreciate your honest, concise, and common sense approach to parrot behavior.

    Being new to the parrot world, I had NO idea that folks out there were training these birds to fly outdoors, and didn’t think it was a good idea. However, after thinking about it and doing a bit of further research, I see that there is indeed a “method to the madness”, and I fully agree that there are physical and mental benefits that can outweigh the risk, with the appropriate type of birds and good training. After all, Falconers have been free flying their birds for ages, so why not parrots?

    Thanks for your web site, and I wish you the best of luck.

  34. ok so i have a red front macaw are they good for outdoor flying?? they are one of the smaller macaws but would they fit into the category also how do i prevent it from flying away i dont have him yet but got him a huge cage and plan to treat him well he/she is 4 months old but the petstore clipped his wings so i am going to have to wait for him to be a one year old is that a hard age to train a macaw to fly?? thanks you inspired me to teach my macaw to fly

  35. i am also new to the parrot world and i am unexperienced with birds

  36. are there hawks in miami Fl

  37. Hi Chris & Susan ,
    Thank you for such a wonderful and informative website !
    I have clicker trained my dogs for years from basic obedience to agility .
    After aquiring my Goffins , I have used the clicker in his training and have been pleasantly surprised with our results. Finding your website and reading that you apply this type of training to your birds was so refreshing , I couldn’t stop reading !
    I love your articles and all the videos.

    Talk about “where have you been all my life” lolol
    I plan on taking one of your courses in the near future.

    Thanks again for wonderful reading and all the great things you do for the beautiful birds we share this planet with.

    All The Best,

  38. Hi Chris,

    I have a 1.5 year old eclectus male at the moment and I’ve had him since he was weaned and so far he’s doing great with recall indoors and I notice that in stressful situations he will always look for and fly to me. I think with enough training and dedication he might eventually be able to free fly (but that would be a while in the future).

    I was thinking of adding another parrot into the family. Do you think a Hahn Macaw or Amazon parrot would make a good candidate for free flight? It would be a dream for me to be able to free fly both birds one day.

    I wish you were based in Australia as I would have definately taken your flight training classes! But thanks for making such valuable information available to everyone!!

  39. We fly an Illigers Macaw as part of our group. The thing about flying smaller birds is that is especially important to fly several together for security purposes. Hawks like to hunt by sneaking up and dashing out to catch the bird in a moment of unpreparedness. With more birds flying there are more eyes watching for trouble. At minimum you want to fly two together. Parrots in the wild are always seen flying in pairs, sometimes with a third or fourth but those are usually offspring. Our domestically raised and prepared birds also fly in pairs. This is very important to them and I suspect is why we have not had fatal hawk encounters so far.

    I am sorry you cannot make it here to one of our classes. Maybe someday I can offer a seminar in Australia. All I need is someone there to help coordinate the program. I would love to visit Australia and present on freeflight training.


  40. Hi Chris,

    Your work is inspirational. I have two hand fed cockatiels, 7 months of age. All I am focusing on right now is training them to fly indoors. I had two questions and will be grateful for any pointers. Firstly, is it essential that I train them seperately? I face the problem of having to reward both of them when I click, although only one of them has performed the required action. The second question was, is it essential to use a clicker or is it ok if I simply double snap fingers or some unique sound like that?

    Thanks a lot in advance.


  41. I have never worried about clicking in front of a second or third bird. It seems they “get it” that who gets the goodie, earned the click. They learn from group training very well.

    Is a clicker required? No. But so far I have not found a better general purpose training tool than the clicker. A mouth click or finger snap both have their drawbacks. A little practice and you will find it is really not that difficult to juggle things in your hand and master using a clicker.

    I hope this is helpful. Chris

  42. Hi Chris.

    I’m looking into buying a Greater Vasa and Eclectus and flight training them both. The vasa is usually described as the missing link between raptors and parrots, so would my Eclectus be safe from other predators if it looked like something (vasa) was already after her?


  43. That is hard to say. You will have increased safety just by the fact that you are flying two good sized birds together. I would not worry too much about the raptor issue. Yes there is a risk but by comparison to all the other things that can go wrong, the raptor risk is fairly low. Giving the birds enough flight time at a young age so that they are in peak physical fitness and they get to learn about how to respond to scary birds such as crows, seagulls, red tailed hawks, etc. will give them most of what they need to deal with the raptor threat.

  44. Hi Chris,

    I’ve updated my flock. I’m going to start by adopting a baby blue and gold macaw, free flight-training him with help, then a few years later have a greater vasa, and then later my eclectus. Is this a good idea? The macaw would be the trial run for free-flight; the vasa has about the same social ties that the macaw does, and though smaller doesn’t look like food to a predator, and the eclectus would be flown with the other two to protect her.


  45. I highly encourage a new trainer to train a baby bird to fly before attempting to train an older bird to fly. I would encourage you to attend our flight training classes in May before training the new B&G. In the class we are going to go over an number of important concepts that you need to understand before getting, raising and training your new bird. This is especially true if you are considering not following any of the suggestions discussed in the articles of this website. In the class we go over these concepts in a much more thorough manner.

    Good luck with your new B&G. Hope to see you in May. Chris

  46. I’m a fifteen-year-old living in Ontario; I’m researching birds that I will adopt when I’m older and out of school. I might make a trip out to meet you if I can, but otherwise my only source of information is free-flight websites like this one. So you may see me in about ten, fifteen years, but now is only searching.


  47. I am currently planning on buying my first parrot and choosing between an Eclectus and Timneh African Grey (previously had cockatiels). Colour aside which is better for flight training. I am mainly concerned about the parrot not returning. I also live in Australia so hawks are a minor problem if at all.

  48. My preference would be the eclectus over the grey. The eclectus is much more like a macaw, conure or cockatoo in how they relate to humans. The grey is more like a cat, does things on its terms when it is ready. I find the eclectus easier to work with over the grey.

  49. Dear Chris My name is Onur and I am from Turkey.. I never saw a free flight trainer in my country and people don’t know that it is possible. I would probably the first..

    I need your help how to begin. I am in Love with Australian pale-headed Rosellas.. Colorful, noisy not so small.. What do you think?



  50. I have not worked with any Rosellas so cannot say anything about their temperament as flyers. I would presume they can fly well but cannot say how they respond to training as I approach it. I would guess they would do fine. Best of luck to you. Please let me know how things work out for you with this project. Chris

  51. Hi Chris,

    I would like to concur that releasing cockatiels is dangerous. The first bird I lost was a very tame female. Indoors, she came to me when called and also when not called. She always seemed to want to be on me and she would call me whenever I walked out of the room. I have a large cage on wheels (about 2 meters high and it only just fits through the door). When the weather is fine, we wheel the cage outside during the day for an hour or two. She used to cling to the door of the cage and to fly out the moment it was opened, but most of the time if I was not present she would just go to perch on top of it. Once she was clinging to the door when the cage was outside and my husband did not notice. This is how she escaped. I called and called for the rest of the day but I never heard her nor saw her again.

    My other escapees were two brothers. They were geeks. Whenever I was using the computer, if they were loose indoors they would come and perch on me, and watch what I was doing. They tried using the keyboard and they played with the mouse (ruining a few). Once someone managed to open the door of the cage, unfortunately it happened when it was outside, or I would have found a way of making it more secure. The two brothers were out before we realised what had happened. They perched in a tall and leafy tree and refused to come back. I could not see them but I could hear them. When I called they answered back. I tried to get them to come back until after sunset. The cage was left outside with the others in it, millet was placed outside in their usual dish, I even brought the computer outside and pretended to use it under the tree. When the night came they became quiet and I thought they must have gone to sleep. I was back under this tree at dawn but they were gone and I never saw them again, though sometimes I thought I heard them off in the distance.

    Now I have three adults and two babies in the cage. I plan on taming the babies but I won’t try free flight yet. They will have to get used to flying indoors only, I was too sad when I lost the others.

    I am considering sun conures because I would love a free flying bird. How would they get on with cockatiels? They would have to live in the same cage, I cannot get another one, this one take enough room as it is. (I did not separate the mating pair from the other bird, the parents use the nesting box which is inside the cage and the other one knows he must not go there). Would the cockatiels feel jealous if they see me free flying the sun conures? If they get on well, do you think it would then be possible to safely fly a cockatiel with a conure? Would the conure have more sense and lead the cockatiel back?

    Sometimes my birds want exercise and they fly round and round the room, close to the ceiling, usually following each other. I feel guilty about keeping them prisoners but I want them to be safe. I don’t know what to do.

  52. I have no idea how well a sun conure and cockatiels will get along in the same cage. That would certainly not be my first choice for housing a baby sun conure or a breeding pair of cockatiels. But I hope you will let me know how that works out for you. I would find a way to have a second cage for the sun conure, especially at first since you want a young bird for flight training. If you don’t have the space to provide a separate cage for the sun conure then I must wonder how you have space enough for the bird in the first place?

  53. I have currently have a Congo African Grey, Senegal, Hahn’s Macaw and a 5 month old Green Wing Macaw. I know that my first 3 are not the best suited for Free Flight, however they are flighted for in the house and will fly to me when called. I know that they are not trained enough to fly out doors even if they were a larger species. Having said that my Green Wing Macaw I brought home when he was 4 months old and I do plan on teaching him free flight outside. He is currently on 3-1/2 feedings a day and getting close to only 2 feedings a day. I know that I have a long way to go in training before he is ready for outside flight and I am reading all that I can find to fill my head full of what and ways that I need to teach. Long story short, my question is, what are your thoughts with only have 1 free flighted bird to fly outside, is that to dangerous? Should I be thinking about adding 1 more larger bird to my flock for free flight together? We do have hawks in my area as well as eagles, lots of them too, which is an amazing thing. Just wanted to get your thoughts on this. Thank you for your time.

  54. I would not hesitate to fly a Greenwing Macaw out doors as a solo bird. That said, I also usually prefer to fly my birds in pairs since that is how they are alway seen in the wild. From a social needs perspective I think it is best to keep them in pairs if possible. The trick to this is keeping yourself valuable by making sure the bird understands you are a source of something it wants. Usually this is in the form of favorite treats as a foraging opportunity but it could also include being a source of security, social interest as well as play opportunities.

  55. Hi,

    I have a 4 year old Quaker and I am wondering if it would be a good idea to start training him to free fly. I live in Texas and am hoping you have some tips for me.


  56. As a rule I do not encourage people to train adult birds to fly outdoors. But with Quakers, they seem to be quite hardy and very smart since so many do survive as feral parrots around cities. The fact that the Quaker is small means it can get lots more out of indoor flying than the larger bird. Still it needs to learn to be alert to local threats and dangers and that will go much slower with the adult bird than it does with the fledgling aged bird. This makes flying a single tiny bird like a Quaker a risky venture as an adult bird. I am sure it can be done but I think the risk factors are higher than I usually like to see.

  57. Hello,my name is david shanks,and I have an indian ringneck parakeet,and I was wondering if anyone has been successful in free flying their ringneck?

    If so please,e-mail me,and let me know how you went around doing so!


  58. Hello David,

    I have limited experience with Ringneck’s. I can say that ours were not social as fledglings but later became quite social as they matured. This could change how much food management you need to use to train the fledgling to fly outdoors, meaning you may need to rely more heavily on food motivation that I normally do.

  59. Hi Chris
    I was wondering in Rainbow lorikeets are good freeflight Birds and if it is smart to fly them where Rainbow Lorikeets are wild as I live in Queensland, Australia.
    You also are doing a good job at answering other peoples questions

  60. Sorry but I have not worked with any Lorikeets so cannot answer from direct experience. My guess is that they are trainable but finding a treat you can keep in your pocket might get tricky. I also have not yet worked with any species of parrot in their native land so cannot answer how they might respond to local wild similar species parrots. This is on my list and I hope to start working on this in the near future. Sorry I cannot offer more help with your questions.

  61. Great site! I saw that you mentioned you would love to come to Australia, I think you should! I live in Aus I have always been interested in free flight, but its difficult to get information, let alone have the change to speak personally/attend information seminars about it! You have mentioned several times that bigger, louder, brighter is better. I am interested in getting a parrot, but dont have the space/experience for a large bird like a Macaw. Ive grown up with cockatiels and recently adopted an adult ringneck (that was quite mean) but enjoyed working with him and eventually got him indoor flight trained (even got him to learn several tricks, like the dollar bill trick!). What is the most appropriate parrot you can think of thats on the smaller side of things? Preferably a social bird too, unlike my ring neck! 😛
    – Thanks

    PS have you ever worked with Australian cockatoos? What did you think of them?

  62. Yes I have flown Umbrella Cockatoos, Rosebreased Cockatoos and Sulfur Crested Cockatoos with great success – though they are very destructive, more so than the macaws and conures. As to smaller birds, I have flown many conures and Senegal parrots with great success. I prefer to fly the smaller birds in a flock. Having more eyes watching the sky for danger greatly increases their chances of seeing an attacking predator before it is too late.

  63. hi chris
    i have a 7month philippine blue nape parrot and i train him to fly to me and fly back to his perch and he is doing quite well so the first time i let him fly out side his also doing well and when he is about to land on my head he out balance him self and flew away and i when i thought he will not come back i heard him scream on our tree so i tried to call him with his favorite treat he flow down to. is this a good sign that he will be a good in an out door flight? and also our place has many homes and we have many pigeon and few trees is this a good location we don’t have birds of prey here.

  64. It is a good sign that he is smart enough to be able to learn how to come home. But you need to teach him a lot of skills indoors before you let him fly outdoors. He needs to learn to come to you when you call him indoors and to fly to and from a perch before you let him fly outdoors. If you just let him loose without doing this training first, then you are relying on chance to do the training for you. That is a good way to loose a bird. It is far safer to teach the bird as many skills as it can learn indoors, before you let it loose outdoors.

  65. Thanks how do I flight suit train a bird because I will try to free fly My Lorikeet in wild territory if she dosen’t try to fly away or escape from the leash which she refuses to get inside the leash.
    Thanks Again.

  66. Onur SOPACI,

    great to see you like Rosellas I actually live in Australia and we have pale headeds living in our backyard. Chris is right not the best trainers but good flyers. I have a friend in NSW who flys them all the time! (thats how I got this info)
    Hope it helped.

  67. Hi Chris! What an amazing thing you are doing for your birds, as well as birds and their humans. I live in north/central California, and plan on getting a hyacinth macaw (I also really love the greenwings and the catalinas too, so however it works out, though my dream bird is the hyacinth) in the next few years. Im hoping to find a breeder who will let me finish the handfeeding process, or at the very least be with the fledgling everyday to practic and get to know it. Of course I have a feeling this will be easier said than done! (Which is a good thing for baby birds out there, when you think about how many people are not equipped or prepared to devote everthing they have to the proper hand rearing of a bird). Anyways, my goal is to flight train, and of course attend your flight classes. What is your experience with the hyacinths? And have you ever flown on the beach? (What are your thoughts on beach flying? I think about the wind factor up here). Keep up the amazing work, and I look forward to reading all these awesome, information-packed articles!!

  68. I have not yet flown Hy but I have a student, Richard Harris, that is flying one. He came to our class with two young macaws, just ready to start flying out doors. They did great during the class and within a few weeks he was flying them at home on a regular basis. Then he ordered a young HY and trained her himself. They are doing wonderful. From I can tell from his experience the HY macaw responds to this training process similar to other macaws.

    I have done limited flying near the beach, mostly at fairgrounds that were located right next to the beach. But I do know Red Fronted Macaws that have been flown on the beach on a regular basis who did great. They interacted with seagulls just fine once they because accustomed to them. Hope this helps. Chris

  69. Hi chris, i have a M2 age 1y2mths old. Always wanted to free flight him but failed to do so. Tried to train him from point a to b when he was about 6mths old but failed. Had control his weight when we was training. We had bring him to vet for other issue and was told that he was malnutrition. After hearing that we decided to stop the training.

    Is it very hard to train M2? He doesnt seems to obey or listen. He will only fly to me if he feels like it.

    Because i saw bird park flying M2 thus giving me the push to train him again.

    Hope to hear from you soon.

  70. Weight management has its uses but is simply not needed for training most parrots to fly outdoors. And the risks, as you point out of potential malnutrition are simply not worth playing around with, especially when it is not needed. As to training an M2 to fly, the ones I have worked with were pretty easy. Cockatoos in general seem to be easier to get flying at an older age than macaws, amazons and conures. You are quite correct though, that no bird will fly to you unless they want to. That is kind of the key issue to all this, how do you get them to want to fly to you? Birds are not going “obey” you. They may do as you request but they always have the choice, especially while sitting on a perch far from your reach, to do or not do what you ask. So you must turn yourself into a partner worth listening to. One way you do that is by becoming a source of something the bird wants. This is generally why people resort to weight management to try to insure the animal wants the food they have to offer. But there are other ways to do this. Simply selecting a food item they like and making only available from you as a treat, is one such method. This will start out kind of weak but with practice, the bird will learn these are very special items, associated with attaboy power, thus become increasingly more desirable. I also feed pellets so things like peanuts and sunflower seeds are consider extra fun food, of higher value than the pellets. They get all the pellets they want but only get peanuts or sunflower seeds I hand out as treats. This helps make me more valuable as well. I feed pellets in the late afternoon, the time they naturally are wanting to go to roost. This way I am combining both the roosting instinct and their hunger to build a strong drive to want to be in their cages before sunset. During the day I do a few recalls to hand out peanuts.

    Good luck with your M2.