Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Manning A Bird

When you attend a World Bird Sanctuary Program, you may have noticed how well all the birds sit on the trainer’s glove. They seem unfazed by the small children who run up to them and by the adults who crowd around for pictures. How do birds become such great “Education Ambassadors?”
Skinner, one of our older, more experienced birds, entertaining a school group of about 200 children
Most birds WBS utilizes for education are hatched and raised here, and this is a big advantage for getting them ready for life as ambassadors for us. Almost all birds do not hatch naturally well-mannered on the glove. In fact, some of the World Bird Sanctuary birds were hatched in the wild and cannot be released again due to injury. It takes more patience with wild birds, and they learn to interact with humans through a training process called “manning.”

When a wild bird first arrives at WBS, they don’t know how to interact with humans at all. In fact, they see humans as something that can cause them harm. In the training process called manning, a wild bird learns how to stand on the trainer’s glove and how to react to the common situations they might encounter while at WBS or at a program. First, the bird receives their equipment: anklets, jesses, swivel, and leash. The anklets and jesses are just light strips of soft leather that go loosely around the bird’s ankles. The swivel allows the leash to attach to the jesses, and keeps the jesses and leash from becoming tangled. The leash keeps the bird safe from accidental release.
Our new young Turkey Vulture, Kinsey, sporting his new equipment and learning to stand on the glove
A large portion of the manning process involves sitting with the bird on the glove for a long time. Even before the bird is placed on the glove, the bird becomes accustomed to having a trainer close to it through positive reinforcement. As the trainer works his/her way closer and closer to the bird, the bird is rewarded with food. Through this technique the bird learns that the trainer is safe, and the bird becomes comfortable around him/her.

Next, the bird slowly learns that the trainer’s glove is a steady, safe, comfortable perch, and because of the positive reinforcement work done beforehand, the bird learns that the human under the glove will not hurt them. When the bird finally becomes comfortable standing on the glove, the trainer can try slowly walking around. This helps the trainer learn how to keep the bird perfectly balanced on the glove, which helps in the manning process, and introduces the bird to the things they might see in their everyday lives at WBS or at a program.
One of our veteran performers being walked up and down stairs and through the crowd--possible only because he has learned to trust his handlers.
As you can see, the manning process requires patience, time, positive reinforcement and good handling techniques. As a result, we are rewarded with a calm bird ready for a life as an education ambassador.

Submitted by Leah Sainz, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalists

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