If Benni is to have the freedom of the skies, recall training is essential. During our evening sessions, Benni has mastered the recall. He’ll fly from my arm and back to a designated perch. The reward is a silver of nut. His feeding bowls never contain nuts.
He has two other tricks taught by capturing, the first is spectacular (see below.)
Capturing is waiting for a behaviour that a bird does spontaneously and then rewarding it and putting it on cue.
The trick is Benni flies to the ropes across the ceiling and swings on one leg. Once I caught him doing that and praised him by yelling wow and clapping. He’ll now perform that behaviour if I point him to the ropes and say, ‘One leg, Benni.’
The second behaviour behaviour is a wave. I say Ha and lift a finger and Benni responds by lifting a claw.
Benni makes it clear when he has done enough recalls by flying to the picture rail. That’s my signal to bring out the cloth to cover the carpet and his toy basket. This contains products from the charity shop and chewables I get from Northern Parrots. He plays by himself or with me for up to an hour.
From my notes Benni at 20 weeks
Milestone in training tonight
First time Benni flew from one perch to another on command. Distances about 4 metres. Then just a few reps between me and a perch. He soon got tired of concentrating and we played together. Then a long cuddle. One of the people whose opinion I cherish advised me that cuddles won’t make a baby Macaw too dependent. Anyway Benni was put to bed as usual at 6pm.
At 7.30 he arrived back in the sitting room. His cage top is permanently open and dozy Dot had forgotten to close the conservatory door and turn off room lights. So Benni negotiated a room and two corridors in the dark to socialise. So we had a second cuddle for thirty minutes and I took him back.
Trips on harness
Some experts claim that Parrots taken outdoors suffer stress. My answer is that in the wild they’d experience varied vistas every day so why are captive birds condemned to the same four walls? If you take out young birds regularly, they grow to love their outings. All my pet birds enjoy outings.
Benni has been to the fruit shop several times. The first visit was a disaster. A lady customer had a bird phobia and ran out screaming. We apologised profusely as she gained the safety of her car.
She was an exception, as most people are delighted to meet a baby Macaw.
Benni’s first country walk was also tricky; I fell down twice in the mud, managed to keep hold of the harness leash but Benni had a nasty fright and acted quite subdued indoors for a while. The next walk was fine. We kept to dry ground and went along a road as well. Apart from my slight worry as drivers craned their necks passing us, Benni remained calmly on my wrist or shoulder. He didn’t spook when tractors trundled or fast cars whizzed past. I claim no credit for this as I believe he has an inherently calm nature.
Safe flight outside
We haven’t attempted anything outside yet, although I’ve been told of Macaws flying outside at 5 to 6 months. A kind local farmer has allowed us to use his enormous barn stacked with straw, tractors and two alpacas in a loose box. We have been visiting that a couple of times a week for 6 weeks.
The first visits worried Benni. He flew to the top of a loose box and would not recall. Then after a few more visits he began to explore the straw stacks and the barn itself. He did not recall readily to my hand. On one occasion, my 11 year old granddaughter climbed up the straw stack at least ten metres high and brought down the recalcitrant Macaw.
Asking for advice from other free fliers, their views were not unanimous. Two experts said the barn visits should cease as I was teaching Benni latency. That is a bad habit – the bird doesn’t respond to the cue or responds too late. Only a couple of friends said that Benni was having fun exploring and what was the harm? That was how I felt.
After a few more visits, Benni would fly a few times to my arm or to the arm of anyone I had with me, then he would fly to the top of a straw stack and play. He had to be cajoled or even coerced. I showed him a long stick that he did not like the look of and he flew down lower and then would step up.
I know well that for training, the bird should be eager for food treats. It’s very hard to achieve in our set up where the birds have free feeding. So I shut Benni in the cage after breakfast before barn visits at midday. Last week, Megan, a young Parrot lover who knows Benni, came with us to the barn. She enchanted Benni, who flew many times between us before he decamped to the top of his favourite stack. Then we hid and he came to find us.
On our latest visit, Megan’s boyfriend came too. Benni was overcome with delight; the young man had a tiny preenable beard and a woolly hat.
When he would not fly down to us we hid and he came to find us.
If I were brave, I might try this strategy in the garden, letting Benni fly into a tree and then calling him.
But I intend to carry on with the barn and the indoor recalls for a while longer and until the weather is warmer.
Read about more of Benni’s progress here.