Mike Simmons of A World of Wings talks about his passion for bird training, and the benefits that flying brings to Parrots and other birds.
More than a decade has passed since I began my journey as a professional Parrot trainer. Every day I remind myself how lucky I am to have such a great job. The profession chose me at the beginning and I chose to train and work with birds because I am fascinated by their ability to fly!
The different species that I have trained and worked with has given me a wealth of experience, but one thing that all my birds share and have in common is they can all really fly!
Apart from getting personal satisfaction from training free flighted birds, it seriously helps promote the birds in my demonstrations. Whether a small Parrot or a dinosaur of bird like a Hornbill, they can’t look better then when their wings are out stretched and they are airborne.
Ambassadors for their kind, lots of conservation messages can be put forward. But it’s also about making sure the stars of the displays are happy and healthy in every way possible and flight training is a good way of doing this.
The benefits of flying are amazing!
One thing that most people will not know, is when a Parrot flies, it releases lots of chemicals. These chemicals within their body help their system to function properly and helps keep a very healthy minded Parrot.
I guess it’s the same as humans exercise, it's hard work, but the results of regular exercise gives us a sense of wellbeing. Many traits such as screaming and self-mutilation in Parrots can be overcome easily, not always by the lengthy treatments I have read so much of in books, but just by introducing fun natural exercise like climbing and flying sessions.
You can keep a big Parrot well exercised in a small room too; you don’t need the ability to train flighed birds outside to get the results. One thing that I do indoors with our Parrots is ask them to go on the floor and then ask them to fly at a steep angle to me. This really builds their muscles and keeps their hearts nice and strong.
I push the birds fairly hard sometimes, but keep it fun and always offer rewards. It’s always good to vary the flight training and what you are doing, so it doesn’t lose appeal to the bird.
One person in the past commented and said this kind of flying for a Parrot is dangerous. If they do it on their own and can also be found doing it in the wild then I think the word they was looking for instead of dangerous was natural!
A flight technique that lots of pet birds don’t seem to have is the ability to fly against themselves. What I mean by this is when a bird comes in to land, especially heavy birds like swans and a lot of Parrot species, they have to flap their wings and create a thrust of air that goes against them in order to slow down.
Jet planes also use the same principle. If you place your Parrot at an elevated level, and call them down a short distance and increase the distance and angle slowly over time, you will be amazed how well this skill helps them when manoeuvring around the home.
Harnesses can teach your Parrot to fly safely.
I think young Parrots don’t always develop this skill because climbing down is so much easier. Stick with it though as this flying style is what can really help get a bird out of a tree. Parrots fly up instinctively to the top of the tallest trees for safety, but flying back down is a whole different operation and doesn’t happen naturally unless it has been practised.
Two young Amazon Parrots that I have been training recently really needed to learn how to descend from heights, as they are very heavy birds with tiny tails and short wings. After some practice they are now starting to amaze me at the speed they fly at but with real precision.
When our birds are learning, we carry them outside in their training crates, even the shortest distances. When they get more confident and they can grasp the manners needed to stay on your hand when asked, they are carried around without a training crate.
On the first occasion that one was carried without a training crate, a pigeon took flight in front of me and made us both jump. The young Amazon took to the air and found himself at the top of a big tree.
After a quick look around and not even a minute in the tree he was ready to make his descent back to me. Without being called, he jumped into the air and glided down through gaps in the branches from about 45ft high and landed like a butterfly precisely on my hand which I placed out!
The first part, taking flight, was instinctive; the second part with his return was learnt skills and fitness that allowed him to fly like this so quickly. This mixture of instinct and practised skills makes an extremely confident bird! It’s a joy to watch such birds as they can’t really be distinguished from wild birds flying skills.
It should be taken seriously as free flying is not without risks.
In the past I have been confronted by bird owners alarmed by the risks of free flighted birds and the dangers that can arise by working with them outside. It is not scary for the bird to be outside flying, more so the owner’s fears take over in these cases.
My answer usually consists of something like, I do this for a living and at the same time my birds have a very enriching and natural lifestyle. The dangers of working with birds outside really need to be respected before you learn the best ways of getting started with free flight training.
One element of the birds exercise sessions that some people may not realise is the birds are only free flying for very short controlled exercise sessions. We don’t leave the birds to explore the world on their own; we stay together and focus on different games and flight styles.
This alone helps to eliminate many risks. A good comparison would be if you have a dog. Instead of letting him out the front door in hope that it finds the local park, you lead him to the park and offer him some freedom off a lead at safe and appropriate place.
Common sense and assessing the risks is the best start to any activity including training your Parrot. There are different devices such as harnesses, which can help take birds outside for short flights. I have never used a harness, so I couldn’t comment on their functionality, but it is a good way to avoid wing clipping by using the harness to do what it says and harness your bird's flying ability.
Whether you choose to learn how to fly your Parrot outside or just start to encourage more controlled flight indoors, the more flying you can get them to do the better your bird will be in so many ways.
Many miles a day are travelled by wild Parrots, taking over hours of their day. That is why we choose to use flying to correct unwanted behaviours as it is one of the most important daily activities that a Parrot or bird can do.
Find lots of exciting harnesses here.
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