Is hand feeding necessary for free flight training?

BioHack

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Hello everyone!
I am new to the forum, and am contemplating getting either a baby GW or BG macaw within the next year.
I am incredibly interested in being able to enjoy free flight training with my bird, but I have heard that raising a baby from hatch to weening is absolutely necessary in order to have a baby which reliable recalls when called.

I am wondering, is this true in everyone's experience?
Is hand feeding your baby yourself necessary or even helpful to the free flight trainer?

thank you for your responses everyone :)
 

JerseyWendy

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Jul 20, 2012
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I am not experienced in free flight training, however, I am certain that it is NOT necessary to handfeed a baby yourself in order to train him/her effectively.

Once the 'bond' between you and your future macaw has been established, and it's a strong bond, you can start with training.

I'd highly suggest starting with a harness though (and flight line). :)
 

Mekaisto

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No way! If a bird is well trained, it's well-trained.

I used to fly a falcon that came to us at 2 years old from the wild (she had been injured), and she came back every time.

Parrots are a little different, especially if you've never trained a bird for free-flight before, but as long as you are bonded and the bird understand that you = food, that's it.

(I will add a slight edit - I have made this sound simple, when it is NOT. Flight training is difficult, and should definitely not be taken lightly.)
 
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Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
I am incredibly interested in being able to enjoy free flight training with my bird, but I have heard that raising a baby from hatch to weening is absolutely necessary in order to have a baby which reliable recalls when called.

Is hand feeding your baby yourself necessary or even helpful to the free flight trainer?

thank you for your responses everyone :)

THAT IS ABSOLUTE HORSE PUCKY!!!

NONSENSE. WORSE THAN NONSENSE BECAUSE INEXPERIENCED PEOPLE HEAR THIS CRAP AND THEN ATTEMPT TO HAND FEED, AND KILL OR MAIM THEIR BABIES CUZ THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING...

What is necessary for recall training is the skills necessary to train a flighted bird.

Bonding is part of it, but that doesn't necessarily come from hand feeding. I have three (including two macaws) that are free flight trained and recalled, but I only got one as a baby, JUST OFF HAND FEEDING. The others were 2, and as I recall 12 years old, respectively, when I got them... and they were rescues. I didn't hand feed any of them.

So I call BS on this myth!!!

However, there is A LOT to learn, and a LOT TO recall training. If you do it wrong, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR BIRD!!! Find a mentor that knows what he or she is doing. Don't try to learn this one yourself over the internet.

And never take a flighted bird outside unharnessed, until and unless it it trained to stay put, startled trained, and recalled...

STARTLE TRAINING IS AN ESSENTIAL ELEMENT OF RECALL. A STARTLED BIRD FLIES OFF IN A PANIC, AND THEN FINDS HIMSELF LOST... SO, THAT IS NOT A PART OF THIS TRAINING YOU WANT TO SKIP!!!

I worked with people who knew what they were doing, before I EVER attempted this with any of my own birds...

Hand feeding a bird is no guarantee that it won't go flying off and go exploring (THEY WILL! COUNT ON IT!) and get lost the first time you take him outside unharnessed...

And recall is an inexact science. I know many people who had bonded recalled birds, whose birds went out flying one day, and just never came back... so there's also that!

YOU'VE BEEN WARNED BY SOMEONE WITH 15+ YEARS EXPERIENCE WITH THIS STUFF... So, do your homework first!!!!
 
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Kiwibird

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Jul 12, 2012
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1 BFA- Kiwi. Hatch circa 98', forever home with us Dec. 08'
Firstly, it doesn't matter how you raise or train them, some individuals will never be suited to recall/free flight because they just aren't good learners/distract easily. Remember EVERY parrot is an INDIVIDUAL and with that comes individual strengths and weaknesses. You can't tell with a baby (or even a older bird) if he or she is suited to outdoor free flight until you have worked with the bird indoors/on a flight line for some time. Moreso, you can't make a bird good at recall. In nature, those who aren't so good with staying with the flock get picked off by predators. In a domestic situation, they become the "lost parrot" on the little poster taped to the phone poles around the neighborhood OR the owner recognizes that recall isn't a strong suit and harness and/or does not take them outdoors to protect them. Those who are suited to recall/free flight can take years to become competent/bonded enough to take outdoors, and even then, theres always a risk of loss.

Please do not buy a bird who will come home with expectations to meet before you ever get to know him/her! And leave the hand feeding to a experienced breeder or the parent birds.
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
WHAT SHE SAID!!!

The bond has to be there.
Startle training helps keep them from flying off in a panic.
But recall birds have to be internally disciplined birds...
Pair bond birds generally work best for this,
so a macaw is a good prospect for this. BUT... don't count on it.

My greenwing is as close to a 100% certainty as you will ever find. She's an out and about bird that's super bonded to me. I don't free fly anymore. But she is one of the birds I keep flighted. She has NEVER ONCE flown off on me. (But if she ever did, I'd probably die from heartache!) In fact, I set her down in a tree, she tends to fly back to me...

My red lored is close, though she has gotten stuck at the top of a 50 foot tree, because some nesting crows didn't appreciate her flying around their nests, and they massed and attacked her. (Guess who had to climb the tree?!) She also flew from our tree once due to a predator going after her. She hid out for about two hours before I found her. I was afraid the predator had gotten her. Turns out she had circled back and was hiding in a neighbors tree the whole time.) I've had that one for around 15 years... so losing her would have be painful, to say the least...

I have twice had situations where my red fronted macaw had flown off and I had to go find her. Once she was stuck on a three story roof, and too chicken to come down... (That took about two very tense hours of my life!) Another time she ended up in a tree at the school about a mile or so from my house. (Sitting there with her foot up in the air, calling for me to come and find her and pick her up.)

POINT BEING, RECALL IS NOT FOOLPROOF. And if you mess up, your bird can be gone for good. Sometimes you never even know what happens to them...

Even the Uber trained free flight show birds at SeaWorld occasionally fly off on them. So, that's just something you need to understand.

And there's also the issue of predator identification, and evasion tactics. Parent birds, and others in the flock, ACTIVELY TEACH THEIR CHICKS how to evade and avoid the things that eat them, including ways they can take advantage of things like the ability to turn tighter than a hawk that is pursuing them. So what happens to the PET BIRD that doesn't know to do that, sees the hawk, and tries to fly back to you in a straight line. Can he fly faster than the hawk diving in on him?! Or is he purina hawk chow at that point?!

Recognition is instictive. Avoidance and evasion is part instinctive, but mostly learned. You and I cannot teach them that. Only another bird of the same species can teach them that.

The do all have their own personalities. It's like talking ability. Some never learn to talk. Some never shut up! But if you're looking to recall a bird, then the first thing you need to find is a confident bird who doesn't tend to panic. You want the outgoing one that gets into everything. And you also need to choose the one, like that, who chooses you. THOSE tend to be the birds most pre-disposed for recall...

And incidentally recall training is a 2-3 hour a day job.

And if you don't keep up the training? If they haven't done it in awhile...

Well, that's how my Red Fronted Macaw wound up in a tree by the school... they forget, or lose their discipline, or get distracted. Then you just hope you can find them again, before someone else does, before something eats them, or before they die from hunger or thirst....

IF I MAKE THIS SOUND LIKE A BIG DEAL, IT'S BECAUSE IT IS!!!
 
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Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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San Antonio, TX
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
I'd highly suggest starting with a harness though (and flight line). :)

ALL recall training starts with a harness and flight line... preferably indoors or in an outdoor flight.

And that starts AFTER the bird has bonded to you, and AFTER the bird is well versed in the basics. STAY PUT is way more important than fly to me. FLY TO ME is easier to teach than NO FLYING. And AFTER the bird has been startle trained to the Nth degree. (Startle a flighted bird, and he will fly off every single time!!!) If he flies off in a panic there is a strong chance he gets lost and doesn't come back.
 
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Kiwibird

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And if you're looking to recall a bird, then the first thing you need to find is a confident bird who doesn't tend to panic. You want the outgoing one that gets into everything. THOSE tend to be the birds most pre-disposed for recall...

This kind of personality is why my bird can come outside (though he is not flighted). He doesn't spook and he's super bold. Far from being fearful, he taunts animals that are bigger than him! Still, I know the possibility for loss is ever present whenever he's outdoors freely. I'm UBER diligent about "scoping out" situations where he needs to be safely in the bird backpack (i.e. busy/crowded areas, areas with children or dogs, areas with loud noises ext..) vs. situations that are "safe" enough for him to be free (the backyard, the quiet little park down the road, a wide-open area with little activity ext...) . I watch him like a hawk too (while watching for the actual hawks!).

The first time Kiwi was free outdoors my stomach was in knots. It was so hard to set him down unrestrained in the big bad world. I don't know if everyone feels that way, but I think it's very easy to see well trained, highly bonded birds and think "thats so easy and so natural for the bird" and the actual reality of working with an animal for several years and that first time you let them go with the understanding they may just keep on going and never come back. It's not just the bird who gets bonded, you get bonded to your bird. The bond an owner and a parrot have is indescribable. It would be like your kid flying away. I think your first priority would just to be working on that bond and learning who your bird is and what kind of personality he/she has. You may have a very different opinion on free flighting your bird 2/3 years down the line.
 

Doublete

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RIP "pineapple" lovebird
Nope I don't think I could ever let my pet bird outside unrestrained no matter how bonded. I know how the world works and they are captive birds no matter what. Yes it would be "cool", but I'll settle for taking a stroll with my guys in a harness on my person.
Domesticated animals don't know any different.
Just like I won't let my 20 year old horse that I've had for 18 years stroll the property without me...
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
Nope I don't think I could ever let my pet bird outside unrestrained no matter how bonded. I know how the world works and they are captive birds no matter what. Yes it would be "cool", but I'll settle for taking a stroll with my guys in a harness on my person.
Domesticated animals don't know any different.
Just like I won't let my 20 year old horse that I've had for 18 years stroll the property without me...

I don't free fly any more, though I do allow two of my birds to remain fully flighted, and they do go outside almost every nice day.

I've had all manner of things happen with my greenwing out in public and fully flighted. She just doesn't spook...

My amazon has been to the Carnaval parade, in San Francisco. Floats, loud drums, almost half a million strangers, firecrackers going off... never flinched. Never flew off...

Those two I trust out and about flighted, regardless. (Though, as I said in my post, it isn't foolproof.) The rest I keep clipped.

I had another bird back when I did freefly my birds every day.... He was also 110% uber bonded, startle trained, recalled, etc. Papaya, the little bird that lived inside my shirt...

We were out freeflying at the park, and he flew back to me low across the parking lot... It was like watching your kid chase a ball in front of a speeding car. Nothing I could do but watch in horror as he got hit by the car...

Yeah. This little guy... Possibly the sweetest conure who ever lived.







That, and a couple of friends who lost birds to predators, was what convinced me not to do it anymore. My recalled birds don't seem to miss it, as long as they get their tree time. And it's A LOT safer for them... in an urban setting.

I don't freefly my birds anymore... and if anyone asks, I advise against it.

I'm biased... It STILL hurts!!!
 

Taw5106

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I'm new to parrot ownership I concure, bonding is so critical. Buddy, my 25 yo GCA joined us last year and he bonded to me quick but I believe that was due to the circumstances in his life, both of his owners passed away. Feeding a bird at any age will not complete a bond, and a bond is important.
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
No way! If a bird is well trained, it's well-trained.

I used to fly a falcon that came to us at 2 years old from the wild (she had been injured), and she came back every time.

Parrots are a little different, especially if you've never trained a bird for free-flight before, but as long as you are bonded and the bird understand that you = food, that's it.

That works for training raptors. Raptors are predator species. They're easier to recall on some levels.

Parrots are prey. Prey species have that "sometimes I get spooked and fly off" component that you also have to deal with. So, that part can be tricky.

Being a source of food, alone, doesn't get it for a parrot.
 
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Mekaisto

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That works for training raptors. Raptors are predator species. They're easier to recall on some levels.

Parrots are prey. Prey species have that "sometimes I get spooked and fly off" component that you also have to deal with. So, that part can be tricky.

I agree, although raptors get spooked too if they're not used to cars and lights and people :)

Parrots are FAR more difficult to free fly, and I'm always more nervous about flying my parrots.
 

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
Parrots are FAR more difficult to free fly, and I'm always more nervous about flying my parrots.

I concur. Raptors are much more confident on some levels... I think that confidence factor is a big part of the pre-disposition for recall training.

Parrots that are not used to being "out there" are much more prone to working themselves into a panic if they encounter something unexpected... and all the training in the world doesn't necessarily get them back if that happens.

I still very occasionally allow Sally, my amazon, to free fly. But in her case, it's a bonding thing with me. She does not like to be away from me in public places. So she will not leave far enough so that she can't see me... I am her security blanket when free flying.

Maggie will occasionally fly TO me unexpectedly. (The door was left open at the laundrymat the other day. She knows she's not allowed in. I was folding. She wanted a shoulder. SURPRIZE!) Then put her back where she goes, to reinforce the stay put training, with the "no flying" command.

She doesn't even seem to have the desire to free fly anymore. Mostly she wants a lap or a shoulder... and attention.
 

Birdman666

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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
One of my funniest recall stories with Sally...

I used to free fly them at this park in Orinda. That was my daughter's favorite place to play when she was little. We'd take the birds, and a picnic lunch. She'd play all day. The birds would play in the trees... and free fly. Then we'd go get ice cream...

The guy that owned the local Baskin Robbins had a spoiled rotten CAG, so each of the birds would get little taster spoons of orange sherbert. We'd line them up on the back of the chairs outside... and they'd each get a little spoon.

Oddly enough, that turned out to be a good business decision on his part, because that would draw a crowd, and that, in turn, ended up selling more ice cream...

But I digress.

So, I am sitting under the tree, and Sally always went striaght to the top of her favorite birch tree... like 25 feet up or so. I didn't care. She always came when she was called.

So one day this smug, loudmouthed @$$%&#* came up to me, and actually started taunting me. He just assumed my bird had gotten out and was now stuck in the tree... blah! blah! blah! He actually seemed delighted at my perceived misfortune because people shouldn't keep them as pets anyway... blah! blah! blah! "I'd like to see how you're gonna get him down from there..."

By that point I'd pretty much had it. I got up from under the tree, and just started walking away with my back to the tree. SALLY does her "panic" scream at the sight of me walking away. I called her, and gave the recall signal with the target being my shoulder. A split second later, she had dive bombed to the target...

I made a fuss about what a good bird she was, gave her some food, water and treats... and put her back up in her tree.

The guy shut up!

Sally still has "special tree privileges." If she isn't ready to come in, I don't make her. She can be out in the yard on her own until sunset. And she's been out there for 8-9 hours straight before, just periodically going out to check on her. I've been doing that with her for almost 12 years now. I trust her.

She's a special bird!
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
Well, I guess I hijacked another one... sorry.

I can't stay on topic.

Or can't shut up on topic.

I think we've beaten recall training to death...

Sorry if I've rambled on.
 

Christinenc2000

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You provided a lot of information and I for one enjoy your stories. Sharing your experience helps more than you know. Same with everyone on this forum.
 
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BioHack

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Thank you everyone for your replies!

They were very informative and really answered this question quite definitively for me.
I definitely was a little suspicious about the claim that you needed to hand feed your bird in order to make it good at recall, but I wanted to ask others who were experienced on this topic to tell me what they thought about it - and you did!

Thanks again!

:blue1:
 

Doublete

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RIP "pineapple" lovebird
Yea see that story watching your conure get hit... Or losing one to a predator.. Nope. I couldn't do it.

Chicky and I will have to settle on a harness and just enjoying the sun. And the little bugger better have a secure harness :)
 

Birdman666

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Sep 18, 2013
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San Antonio, TX
Parrots
Presently have six Greenwing Macaw (17 yo), Red Fronted Macaw (12 yo), Red Lored Amazon (17 y.o.), Lilac Crowned Amazon (about 43 y.o.) and a Congo African Grey (11 y.o.)
Panama Amazon (1 Y.O.)
Yea see that story watching your conure get hit... Or losing one to a predator.. Nope. I couldn't do it.

Chicky and I will have to settle on a harness and just enjoying the sun. And the little bugger better have a secure harness :)

Yeah. Mine play in the tree in the front yard.

My amazon and my macaws get to come out and run errands with me.

Every once in awhile I let my red lored amazon freefly around the neighborhood. (It used to be an every night occurrence.) She doesn't seem to miss it. She's perfectly content sitting in her spot in the top of the tree...

And it's night and day safer for her.

Two of the FIVE times I lost Tusk were when I was trying to free fly and recall him. He just SPOOKS way too easily, that survival instinct kicks in, and he's gone... So he stays clipped. Anywhere he goes, that little green wild caught amazon is sure to follow. So she stays clipped.

My Red Fronted macaw is "long clipped." She's flighted, but her flight distances are limited. She's in the area, I'll find her if she does something naughty.

My red lored, and my greenwing are fully flighted, even outside every day. I trust them completely. (But I'm advising everyone else not to try this at home. I know MY birds. Results may vary as they say in most disclaimers.)
 

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