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Hawk Identification

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 25 February 2010.

Identifying hawk species can be tricky. It takes study and practice. I've included a link below to a good educational hawk identification presentation. It is a 42 Mb Power Point presentation so can take awhile to download. If you are like me, you will need to review this several times and fairly often. HMANA ID Presentation Download Link For more information here are some good books for learning to identify hawks: Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight by Jerry Liguori and David Sibley Hawks in Flight: The Flight Identification of North American Migrant Raptors by Sibley, Sutton, Dunne A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors by Brian Wheeler and William Clark
Parrots: more than pets, friends for life. Chris Biro

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

AFA convention “Importance of Flight and the Freeflying Lifestyle”

A Word About Information Sources

This page is intended to be a caution against relying on internet information available from internet marketers claiming to be professional trainers.

First off let me mention some legitimate trainers and information sources that we do endorse: Bob Bailey, Sid Price of Avian Ambassadors, Barbara Heidenreich of Good Bird Magazine, Steve Martin of NEI and Dr. Susan Friedman of Utah State University. We do not always agree with them or they us but we feel their overall level of knowledge and experience make them good resources for all parrot owners. Please read the information here before reading further. This is another link about the same group. I highly encourage you to look over these links. It is my opinion that is a similar internet marketing group. And based on the comments I have heard from other professional trainers and from numerous bird owners, they are well known in the bird community for copying information and presenting it as their own as well as engaging in other questionable marketing practices. Many people have expressed concern to me over the advice given in the DVDs they sell as educational material. Three articles from Sid Price you should read: Bird Tricks to Avoid and Best In Flock article, The Real Secrets of Training And Where To Find Them. I highly encourage you to read these articles. If you have read these articles you will know to carefully check any bird related website to see if the links to the recommended "bird training videos" lead you to a website with birdtricks or Chet Womach. If it does, it is my opinion the site is probably one of dozens of such websites owned and/or created by Chet Womach of birdtricks or is one of their paid affiliate websites, each designed to make it look like unbiased people think their worthless videos are worth spending money on. It is my recommendation that when you find such a website, immediately close the window and do not return to it again.

We made the mistake of allowing Dave and Jamie Womach of birdtricks to join us here in Moab Utah to help them fly their young African Grey in April of 2008. We picked them up and dropped them off at the airport, let them stay in our home and all for free. While here Dave and Jamie told us this was their first venture into freeflying parrots. 18 months later they have expanded their business to include selling their "expert advice" on freefight training. For $5000 they will provide personal instruction on flying parrots, including personal training with the person's bird here in Moab, at the very locations we took them. We recently ran into them at two of those locations. The first encounter we were polite and agreed to fly our birds with them. But after listening to their birds begging for food due to their hunger level we chose not to fly with them the next day when we encountered them again. Though we instead selected a spot to fly several hundred yards away from them, we could still hear their birds crying for food. It was painful to hear and really emphasized for us why we set up this website - because inexperienced bird owners like the birdtricks people should not be training others about freeflight.

I encourage you to also read what Sid Price said about the use of hunger in response to a blog article from Dave and Jamie Womach of birdtricks. Visit Sid's blog and search for the entry entitled "The Misuse of Weight Management, August 20th, 2009". The original blog post in question was entitled "Are Pet Shop Birds Trainable?" Posted by: Jamieleigh on: August 10, 2009. Read these two articles about our position on the use of hunger. Unfortunately because many professional trainers proclaim how difficult it is to train flight, the Womach videos of flying their parrots at locations in Moab make them look highly skilled. But the truth is that if you approach flight training correctly, as we outline on this website, nature's built in flight training system does most of the work for you and it is fairly simple to do.

Dave and Chet Womach are internet marketers and entertainers presenting themselves as professional bird trainers. At the time of writing this, they had very little actual experience training or flying parrots. I guess it should be no surprise they are known to have deceptive practices when you consider Dave makes his living as a magician, an occupation designed around becoming skilled at deceiving people (normally in a fun and harmless way). So what happens when you apply that mentality to internet marketing parrot training videos? You get birdtricks.


From an academic stand point a huge reason to avoid any birdtricks material is that they use non standard terminology. By doing this they can appear to create a new term or name and then claim they invented the idea. Their term "the power pause" is commonly known as a "time out". Many scientific terms of operant conditioning are also renamed and claimed as their new discovery. Beside the unethical nature of renaming known terms to claim them as their own invention, it also puts the student at a significant disadvantage when communicating with credible animal trainers, when learning from credible written papers, websites and textbooks.

Please be careful following information and instruction from such people who are so new to training and freeflight. Especially be careful of relying on information from ethically challenged people. The Freeflight concept is a great experience for both bird and owner. Freeflying in any style is great fun, but it is also very serious since birds can easily be lost or killed, especially when Sport Flying.

To be clear here, we do not endorse birdtricks or the Womachs and do not wish to be associated with them in any way. We recommend that you not purchase any training material or courses from birdtricks or anyone who in any way promotes or sells their materials.  

Another similar site is It is another one of those 'pay for training' websites run by a nice bird trainer who has owned birds for the past 12 years; her name is Nathalie Roberts or so they would have you think. Nathalie Roberts is Sumatra Roy, a 23 year old (when first set up) "internet entrepreneur" who lives in India; he doesn't even own birds nor has he ever. Read here for more info. or will bring people to this page. Please help new bird people avoid birdtricks by sending new bird owners a link to this page.


The Difference Age Makes

Why Age Can Be A Important Issue For Training Flight

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008.

Here are the main factors that make training a bird at the natural age of fledgling (prior to weaning) to your advantage:
  1. Highest Learning Rate
  2. Peak Physical Fitness
  3. Parental Bond
  4. Motivated to Fly
  5. Lack of Fear
  6. Fewer bad habits
Highest Learning Rate - As a baby parrot grows and develops it reaches a point in its life when nature has it ready to learn to fly. We call this time Fledging. At the natural age of fledging there are various physical and mental aspects to its life that are especially in its favor for quickly learning to fly. A bird that learns slowly in the wild is at greater risk of predation since most predators are keen to locate individuals that display signs of being handicapped by decreased skill or ability; usually the very young, the old or the ill. The fledgling aged birds that I have flight trained learned the vast majority of their flight skills in just a few days or weeks, as compared to many adult birds that take months or years to learn a similar set of skills. Peak Physical Fitness - The fledgling aged bird is primed by nature to be a peak athlete as soon as it leaves the nest. I have seen fledgling conures make first flights that were far longer than the flights I see from my physically fit adults who make frequent long flights out doors almost everyday. The fledging aged bird has a significant advantage if quickly allowed to fly outdoors and build on that high physical fitness level it starts out with at the natural fledging age. In contrast, adult birds living indoors simply lack the opportunity to be in good physical condition. I have yet to see an adult bird, even living in a 3000 sqr ft aviary have much stamina worth mentioning. Parental Bond - The baby bird at the fledging age is especially bonded to mom. The baby bird is naturally determined to stay close to parent/food source. Since flying away or getting lost is a big issue with new flyers, So anything that helps the bird stick close to you during this phase of learning is especially valuable and helpful. Some people misrepresent the value of the parental bond during flight training. So let me try to make this clear here. The primary goal at this stage is getting the bird to master its basic mechanical flight skills without it getting lost or facing some other critical problem. The faster the bird can master these skills, the safer it will be. The bird should already have mastered how to control its basic flight functions indoors and should already have good recall response indoors. Now it has a host of new basic skills to master once introduced to flying outdoors. It needs to learn how to cope with greater speeds, increased height issues, potential obstacles and factors that limit visibility to handler, land in swaying tree branches, select suitable landing sites, fly in wide open spaces, compensate for windy conditions, navigate around the immediate area without losing contact with the handler, do all this at the same time, etc. These each can cause the bird significant problems and can be factors to cause the bird to be stressed. A stressed bird will not respond predictably. Increasing any element that can reduce the negative effects of facing such new challenges is to your advantage. This is where learning at the natural age of fledging is so helpful since the parental bond helps keep the bird near you as the bird masters these various skills. It is important to note that the parental bond has characteristics that make it particularly helpful for flight training but this is not the same as the social bond or the bond with a mate. People should not be confused into thinking that the social bond they have with their adult bird will function for flight training the same as the parental bond developed with a hand feeding baby. Of course at some point that parental bond will fade and you will have to keep the bird close through the same methods someone would use if they had an adult bird. But if you have done this correctly, then all of these various skills have been mastered by the time the parental bond fades and all you have left to do is motivate the bird to do what it knows how to do, come when called and stay nearby. That is very different than trying to motivate the bird to come when called and stay nearby AT THE SAME TIME the bird is learning to master those outdoor flight skills. Add to this for older birds a decreased speed in learning these skills and it just becomes that much harder and more risky project. Motivated to Fly - Every baby parrot will reach a point that it really just wants to fly. Sometimes it can be difficult to prevent flight at this age. By contrast often the older bird will be reluctant to fly, at least in the beginning - a real bummer if it is being reluctant while sitting in a tree as you wait for it to come down to you. Training a bird that is eager to fly is a very different experience than training a reluctant flyer. Accepts Change - First time events are a normal thing for a fledging bird since at this stage so much of its life is about first time events. The older bird can more easily be overwhelmed with new things or at least react fearfully when exposed to new things. Of course this will not always be the case but it has been my experience that few adult birds easily accept new things. Fewer Bad Habits - The baby bird comes with a clear slate, ready to learn new things and ready to adapt to the life you will provide it. The adult bird comes with many previously learned ideas about what life is like, maybe not even the life style you will be providing it. Often these previously learned ideas result in troubling habits that must be broken before reliable flying outdoors is possible. That makes the fledgling aged bird a far easier bird to flight train. However, as helpful as this age factor is, it should be understood that this age advantage is not a substitute for good training. As the bird matures, the bond of the baby bird to "mom" will decline. That is normal and ok. But during the strong parental bond period, if those good behaviors are reinforced correctly, then they should continue even after the parental bond has diminished. The parental bond can give you a significant head start in training these behaviors. Someone on the Freeflight list asked "How do I train my 5 month old African Gray? Is there a difference between training a baby and an adult?" 5 months old is hardly what I would call an adult but it is also no longer at the natural age for fledging. The main difference will be the need to build a more solid behavior history for recall. The more the bird loses the parental bond, the more you have a bird that will be independent and willing to go take care of itself. To compensate for this greater independence, you need to establish rock solid recall responses and may need to use a bit more hunger to keep the motivation high to comply with cue requests. You still need to get the bird comfortable and calm being in the intended outdoor environment, you still need to practice flying the bird to and from a perch so the behavior you will ask the bird to do once outdoors will already be very familiar to the bird. And of course you do need to be able to easily handle the bird so a good relationship is still important. I should note though that it is possible to flight train parrots to fly outdoors that cannot be handled but I think that only makes the entire process just that much more difficult. I do not recommend pet owners attempt to flight train birds they cannot easily and comfortably handle. I am sure your 5 month old will be easy for you to handle. Hopefully the bird at 5 months old is already flying well indoors. There is a reason most of the articles here are about training a fledging aged bird and not about training older birds. The difference in the responses of the bird are quite extreme with the fledgling aged bird being very easy and quick and the older bird being much slower. A 6 month old macaw will still be fairly quick to pick up flight skills, much more so than a 6 year old. But I am uncomfortable coaching novice trainers through the internet on freeflight training any bird not at the fledgling age. The more the bird is out of that natural window of time in which they would learn to fly in the wild, the greater the risks. The process is essentially the same but the trainer will NOT be able to rely on the social bond as much with the older bird - the personal bond between trainer and bird will not prevent the bird from flying off accidentally. With an older bird the bond is not the key people often think it is, solid response history is the key. In other words, with the older bird you two should do hundreds of repetitions getting correct responses to get the bird into good physical shape and to solidify a solid recall response in each of a variety of locations indoors before going outdoors. So as a rule, I don't counsel people on line who want to flight train adult birds. The adult bird is possible to flight train, as many professional trainers have proven. I believe training an adult bird to fly outdoors is a fairly advanced endeavor that requires fairly advanced training skills and is not appropriately taught to novice trainers via on line coaching. Due to the ease and speed at which a fledgling aged bird will learn to fly, I am comfortable offering advice to new trainers who are ready to follow my instructions with a fledgling aged bird.
Parrots: more than pets, friends for life. Chris Biro

Weighing The Risks

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

A freeflight list member asked: "Would you agree there is always a risk factor when flying outdoors? Why do some people think at liberty flight is more risky? I guess you mean because of the 'Long' time exposed being outside?" I do not consider at liberty flying for a trained bird to be as dangerous as the time a new flyer is still in training. By that I mean, the risk per hour, is highest by a long shot for the bird that is still in training. And depending on how long this training process takes largely determines how risky the entire "being trained" event was. Also contributing to this is the aptitude of the bird and trainer. Of course once a bird is trained and is successfully flying outdoors and is no longer at risk of being lost, there still is the risk of predation or unexpected injury. These are present during training also and to some degree at an increased threat level due to lower skill levels. But once the bird is flying on a regular basis, the exposure to this lower threat is repeated far more often. So on any given day of flying, the threat is always about the same for the experienced flyers. And statistically if we look at risk by the hour, the risk is very very low. But if we look at the risk by the year, the risk appears much higher. These birds have flown without incident for thousands and thousands of hours so when an incident does occur it is a very rare occasion. However, if we look at the risks based on how many birds have been flown and how many of those have suffered incidents, then the risk looks much higher. It is important for people to remember that the risks are there and training can only mitigate so many of them. There will always be inherent risks to flying, be it indoors or outdoors. But no doubt the more frequent the exposure to the risky conditions, the greater the chance of having an incident. I consider my guys to have been hugely successful flyers. They have flown thousands of hours in amazing environments. And if we look at the number of incidents compared to the amount of flying time it is a very tiny percentage. And I fly more birds compared to most people. But at the same time, I have had my share of heart breaking accidents. For some people any accident or loss is unacceptable, regardless of how many hours or years of success there were. Some people feel life in a cage or in their home is superior to facing similar risks as wild birds face. I think it is often forgotten that every wild bird each day faces the threat of some predator actively seeking to end its life. We humans don't generally appreciate what that means since in our world we generally go our entire lives without facing such a threat even a single day. But in the animal world this is an every-day fact of life. Maybe this is why my birds seem so eager to face the day outdoors. They seem to take this risk element more comfortably than I do. Maybe they do not understand it and maybe they do. It is hard for me to believe they do not actually understand the threat potential. Each of them has certainly had a better taste of the actual risk than I have, since each has been actively chased by a hawk. And each maintains a constant stance of vigilance that suggests a keene awareness of ever present threat potential. Yet the thought of losing a bird to an accident or predator is gut wrenching. At the same time trying to keep them contained in the house or aviary is heart breaking for me. Their actions so clearly indicate their desire to face the day outdoors. Not just their efforts to get themselves out of the house but also the way they behave once outdoors. There is no mistaking their enthusiasm for the first flight of the day. And their playful encounters with me during the day indicate they are not just wanting absolute freedom at all costs. They obviously desire to be loose to enjoy the space around our property as well as enjoy a close relationship with their favorite people. There are some things we can do to help reduce the hawk threat. The most important are carefully selecting the safest species of bird being flown, selecting flying locations to match the skill level of the bird, allowing the bird to develop full skill and physical fitness, fly in flocks rather than single birds, and learn about the hawks themselves and their hunting patterns. See our Hawk Identification page for information on identifying hawks. There are very compelling arguments for both keeping pet parrots caged and letting them fly outdoors. In the end each of us must come to terms with this risk vs benefit issue.
Chris Biro