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Parrot Chronicles Article

Introducing New Flyers

Moab April 2008

Written By Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

Here are some of the details of what we did on our April 2008 trip to Moab. Mostly this is what happened: We picked up Dave and Jamie from the Moab airport about 3:30 p.m. on the 4th of April though by the time we finished stopping to eat, do a little grocery shopping, and drive back to the Ranch, the day was pretty much done. On the 5th of April we went to Fisher Towers and flew our macaws and their grey Cressi (Sorry if I am spelling the name different then Dave and Jamie do). Cressi did just grand. We went to Red Cliffs Lodge for lunch. Then went to the base camp under Castle Rock to do our favorite short hike up this small canyon. But after we got all the birds out of the truck and before we could actually get started on the hike a raven flew over and spooked the macaws. All seven took flight and circled high then split into two groups. The raven kept circling in the area, seeming to be checking out these punk rock colored birds. But this did not make the macaws happy and soon they were all out of sight either behind the mountain or off in the distance. Dave and I headed to the top of the mountain, not a long hike but for the sea level creatures Dave and I both are, such a hike at 5000 feet is still a good hike <grin>. Before we reached the top of the hill six of the macaws had returned to the girls at the pickup. Siren (Calico) was nowhere to be seen or heard. It was near dark before we finally found Siren again. We had stayed in the area we had last seen her up to this point. But at some point needed to change our tactics. We went home to get different vehicles and to get ready for me spending the night there at the base camp with the birds in the motor-home. But I managed to break an air line on the motor-home by driving over a large rock as I pulled the motor-home onto the driveway - it is not designed for off road use <grin>. And Susan and Dave had already driven our pickup and jeep to the base camp and were waiting for me. I grabbed a bicycle and headed their way - our 2.5 mile drive way is quite the bike ride but the paved road to the base camp is all down hill. Before I reached them, I heard what might have been a macaw call. I stopped and listened and yes it was. About this time Susan in the pickup met me on the road and here comes Siren. It is hard to say if it was her intention to fly back to the ranch but she might have been. You never know when a wild bird will come along and give your bird the hairy eyeball look. I believe how you train for this is simply by exposure to such birds in normal conditions and good recovery practices for those experiences that push them beyond their skill level. Good physical fitness and good navigation skills are very helpful for such events. With practice they learn to deal with such events as our other birds demonstrated by returning to us after their scare. Siren has not been flying outside as long as the others and is simply not as advanced in her skill level as the others are so, to some degree, such responses are not unexpected. A very strong, to the point of automatic response, recall MIGHT bring the bird back to you before the scare takes their minds over. However, it probably won't because of how dangerous they perceive the situation so you'll need to have plan B (recovery) ready. It was awesome to stand on that mountain and watch them fly below us. One thing that was clear from this experience was how well they can see the area. It seems hard to imagine them actually getting lost with such a view of the terrain. I am willing to bet that had we not found Siren that evening, she would have shown up at the house in the morning. This experience has changed how I look at their likeliness to get lost and has firmed up my view that they will likely find their way back to the last place you both saw each other. In this case she could easily have found her way to either the base camp again or to our ranch. On the 6th of April we went back and flew Fisher Towers again and Cressi did great again. This time we added a small canyon to fly over and Cressi handled it like it was no big deal, flying mostly over the canyon area but not down into it. Cressi also flew with our macaws a little. We then headed back to Red Cliffs Lodge for lunch - discovered a wonderful Sunday brunch buffet. The next stop was Fisher Overlook, which is at the top end of the valley that Fisher Towers is at the bottom end of. There was a lot more snow this trip than I expected with areas of the road still covered in places. It was fun showing Dave and Jamie some of the dinosaur tracks here. It was pretty windy but it was doable, i.e. well within our macaw's wind and vertical skill range. The birds did a fairly large amount of flying before we got to the intended location and at first seemed reluctant to fly over the edge of the cliff like they have done before. But it is an awesome view and we did get to see them do some flying over the edge, over course usually when we did not have cameras ready. It seemed they were on their schedule, not ours this time. The next destination was back to the Castle Rock area and flew at an overlook with a large expanse of canyon area - Janet's birds flew here after the Moab Seminar last year. We decided it was a bit too windy for Cressi so only flew the macaws, who loved it. We then returned to our property and flew the birds on a ridge top, with short trees everywhere. Cressi flew nicely and even did some mild diving down, flying out of sight, and returning very nicely. We then attempted to drive the 2.5 mile driveway home with the macaws flying along with us. Instead they all took off together and went straight home, except Siren who broke off and landed on a far off ridge. We continued home to verify the group had gone home, which they had. Then we returned to round up Siren. Some of the birds went with us to help contact call with Siren (I cannot actually remember who went and who stayed). We quickly found Siren who came and joined us while we were still driving back up the driveway. This was not a big deal though I would have preferred her to stay with the group rather than wait behind us. She is still new at doing the driveway thing since this is only her second time flying here with us. She followed along very nicely as we drove back toward the house. As we approached the house some of the birds that were hanging out in the trees near the house came out to meet us on the driveway and to help escort Siren back. So we did wind up getting to do the driveway with Dave and me standing on the tail gate of the pickup and the birds following along with us. The birds learn to do this fly along game by doing it. We start slow and build up speed and distance according to their responses. If they stray or delay it has not been a big deal and we simply back up and round them up again. Siren's ridge detour was pretty normal for her level of experience doing this. It would be fun to see this turn into a cross country event where maybe teams of owner and bird are timed cross country between points, stopping at various check points to perform some task at that location along the way to the end destination. This could happen on foot, bicycle, on ATV or via Jeep. How cool would a two or five mile cross country race be with owner traveling on bicycle or ATV with bird flying along over head, stopping to fly through a hoop at a way point, continuing to the next way point where they fly/carry an object from one perch to another perch (noted by an independent observer), etc. Seems fun to me. On the 7th of April we returned to the overlook/bowl below Castle Rock, where it had previously been too windy for Cressi. This time Cressi handled the light breeze like a pro. She flew down into the canyon area, flew with the macaws, sort of anyway, flew solo well and seemed to be having a great time of it, again an increase in her skill and everyone's confidence level. We walked to a couple different vantage points in the same area and that was really fun. The macaws did some really long flights, becoming tiny specks, too small to track with the naked eye. It was quite amazing to see how far and how long they can fly, even when I know they are not yet in truly good shape. They also are not used to 5000 ft elevation but do some serious flying anyway. We finished the day by going into town to eat at the Moab Brewery. On the 8th of April we had a slow start. We started out going to lunch at Red Cliffs Lodge again - discovered a wonderful barbecue buffet this time. When we did go flying, we were joined by Kristi and Denny from Omaha NE. We returned to do the hike from the base camp below Castle Rock. This time all went as planned. The birds hiked the trail with us, flew from the cliffs, flew down to the pickup area where I had returned to call them down to, and then flew back to the top of the hill to Susan, Dave, Jamie, Kristi and Denny. When everyone returned to the truck, Cressi did some nice flying around the area. On the way back, we did the driveway thing again with Dave, Denny and myself on the tailgate and the birds following us home. This time all of them followed along as planned except for Ariel (Scarlet) who soon took off toward home and was waiting for us there. It was a lot of fun and Dave and Denny were able to see the macaws fly and make landings on me as we drove. It is a very "live" kind of experience. The following are the learning progressions we noted: Cressi started out flying at beginner skill level at Fisher Towers. This is a very flat location with no trees, good visibility and easy access in all directions. Skill Level II was approached by flying in gentle wind and gentle canyon, also at Fisher Towers area. Skill Level III was approached by flying off ridge and out of sight at times, with trees. This was off our driveway and recovery efforts were possible but would have been slightly more difficult. Skill Level IV was approached in gusting wind over larger canyon bowl area, near Castle Rock. This is a little higher with fairly long sloping drops and large open area. The Castle Rock overlook/Bowl area. The next Skill Level would involve higher winds, or higher cliffs, out of view flying and returning, or dealing with non lethal birds such as crows or seagulls. Each of these skills should be developed to a high degree of competency. Coming here with us with a bird already making some flights outdoors and in a two week period I think we could have most such flight students to a similar skill level as our own birds. This is said with the assumption that the bird learned to fly as a baby and is not a hesitant adult learning to fly. Our evenings were spent talking about the days events, how the parrots responded, why we did things the way we did things, what we might have done differently, reviewing photos and video - Dave the magician did not even have to do a single card trick <grin>. We were for several days totally focused on what is involved with flying birds in a variety of environments. During the Moab Seminar we had a more broad based expectation of what we could show the group - we hoped to attract people here with Dr. Susan Friedman and then show the group what amazing fun could be had with flight trained parrots. Which did not really produce the results we expected. This time we focused mostly on what Cressi, Dave and Jamie needed to advance Cressi' flight skills. I think this worked out better for several reasons and in the end I think we accomplished more even though we did not fly in many of the cool places we love to fly our birds. This leaves Dave and Jamie the potential back to continue with the next level of locations and conditions, which I think is good, especially since this is exactly how we learned this ourselves, two weeks a trip, twice a year. I think this could be done faster but the time at home working the bird with what has been learned and developing additional physical fitness is probably a good thing. There were not enough hours in the day so hopefully more video reviewing of this time will get done and you will all get to see more of what we did in the days and weeks to come as videos get made and uploaded to youtube. It was a wonderful time for Susan and me and we truly hope to do this again. We hope Dave, Jamie, Kristi and Denny, will each come join us again, the sooner the better 🙂 . Watch the flightphoto list for more photos soon. And I will be working on more videos again as I get the chance. Dave is also working on more video.
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

Parrot Flight Skill Levels

Written by Chris Biro, Copyright 2008

A Freeflight list member wrote: "When our Rosina (grey) was teaching Arina (B&G) to fly, she had problems to turn the big bird in the right direction. So she was flying around her [head] in such manner that Arina had to change the direction of her flight in order to avoid the impact. Such a herding bird 😀 " We sometimes see our young flyers bump each other. They don't seem to care that much about contact with each other when flying. This is really interesting to me because I know what amazing control they actually have when flying. When Cosmo (B&G) was first flying outdoors there were some days where she was flying back and forth to me from the stage perches. They all loved this game but not as much as I did. I loved watching Cosmo fly at the Pierce County Fair about 3 ft above the ground, down the isle way between the benches and timing her wing beats so that they always flapped between the benches. It never looked like she was trying to do this but you could tell she was because even when people were standing in the isle she still effortlessly missed them with her wings. She would also do this low flying between people standing further back from the stage away from the benches. It was so graceful and smooth that it was one of the most wonderful displays of skill I had ever seen. Then she bumped her chest on the corner of one of the benches and flew to a tree to pout - that was her first time flying to a tree at a fair. If she had not hit it so hard, it would have been kind of funny. But she stopped playing that game after this incident. The mitreds used to circle the yard and house at full speed and occasionally fly past me standing in the yard watching and gently graze my cheek or nose with the tip of their wings. Many times they did this at full speed, sometimes one would fly in front of my face and the other would fly right behind my head. The sound of the wind through their feathers was such a delightful sound as they zipped past. So they can have amazing control if they want to. Why they bump into each other in flight is a mystery to me.
Parrots: more than pets, friends for life. Chris Biro