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Conditioning Raptors

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by C.squamulosus, 2 Jan 2011.

  1. C.squamulosus

    C.squamulosus Member

    Joined:
    27 Mar 2009
    Posts:
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    Location:
    Albion Park,NSW,Australia
    Hello my Name is Anthony and i'm seeking out other Australian Bird of Prey Keepers for Mentor-ship and guidance.
    I'm currently a Volunteer at Nowra Wildlife Park and have set it upon myself to care for the needs and requirements for the Birds of Prey in the Park.
    I've almost completed my Cert 3 in Captives animals(TAFE) But need much more direct training and advice on areas like conditioning and species specific sexual dimorphic attributes of the currently 3 species i care for: The Nankeen Kestrel, The Southern Boobook and An injured Wedged-tailed Eagle, i also provide enrichment for as many other animals in the park as i can.:rolleyes:
    If anyone can help it would be greatly appreciated:D but i'm really looking for a long-time "mentor" in this field.;)
     
  2. kc7gr

    kc7gr Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Kent, WA, USA
    I may not be in Australia, and I'm not a keeper by profession. However, my wife and I are learning the ropes of falconry, and I've just been through the raptor care and management course at the University of Minnesota's Gabbert Raptor Center. This is a complex way of saying I can offer some advice. :)

    Conditioning: Raptors, like most other critters, respond well to positive-reinforcement training. The trick is to catch them when they're hungry. You absolutely do NOT want to 'starve' them (such can be fatal to a bird, especially one as weight-sensitive as the kestrel), nor do you want to overfeed (worse). Work your training into the normal routine of feeding, such that the bird gets their normal allowance in a day, but also such that parts of that allowance (tidbits) are a reward for desired behavior.

    You also need to be aware that food, while primary, is not their sole motivation. Many raptors are curious, and they will experiment with their environment. As one example, a red-tail I've worked with loved to fiddle with nearby plant fronds. We made sure he was never put down near anything toxic. A hybrid falcon (gyr/saker) I know enjoys tackling a small bright-red ball (it's squishy, which I think he gets a kick out of). As mentioned below, observation and (careful) experimentation are the keys to success along these lines.

    Dimorphism: My experience has been the vast majority of raptors have 'reverse' dimorphism (females are larger). This makes sense to me, considering females are the ones who develop, carry and lay the eggs. Exceptions are not unknown, however. As one example, our falconry mentor just got in a six-month old male red-tail hawk, and he's enormous even at this age. We were half-joking about whether we'd need an eagle gauntlet for safe handling, once he grows up.

    Only a veterinarian can tell for certain if a bird is male or female (it takes genotyping of their DNA, from a blood sample).

    Enrichment: Raptors are, as one might expect, very food-oriented. This doesn't mean they won't enjoy things like manning time with a favored handler (I could tell you some stories), or a novel way to get a bath (I know of one American kestrel who absolutely adores mist-baths), but food is most definitely a primary motivator for them. You could try creative touches, such as placing a treat inside a toy which can be easily dissected by a bird, or perhaps setting up a mist nozzle during a hot day.

    The real trick with enrichment is observation experimentation. See what the bird does in the normal course of their day, experiment with them when you've got them on your glove (one peregrine I know likes her feet played with), and just see what works and what doesn't. Trust me, they'll let you know in a big hurry if you do something they don't like! ;-)

    Keep an eye on your private message box as well. I'm going to forward you our mentor's E-mail. It may take her a while to answer, but she's far more knowledgeable than I in these matters.

    Happy flying.
     
    Last edited: 2 Jan 2011
  3. Secret Squirrel

    Secret Squirrel Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    11 Sep 2010
    Posts:
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    Location:
    West Lothian, Scotland
    Hi Anthony! If you're looking at conditioning for training raptors (or anything else for that matter) there's a book I've been working my way through that may be of use or interest to you too.

    I've found the link to it on Amazon Australia website, it says temporarily out of stock but you could look it up in a local bookstore once you have the title and details, if you're interested that is. :)

    [ame=http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Shoot-Dog-Teaching-Training/dp/1860542387/ref=sr_ob_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1293989613&sr=1-3]Amazon.com: Don't Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training (9781860542381): Karen Pryor: Books[/ame]


    There's a whole bunch of reprints of this book but the most up to date one has a chapter on 'clicker' training, which seems to be the one most places are interested in right now. (I know I'm going to start using it this year, got myself a clicker for xmas).

    I gave the details of the book to the Curator of Birds at Chester Zoo recently, and will be interested to hear what he makes of it and whether he implements any of it too.

    On the subject of Dimorphism in raptors, along with the size goes temperament. Females are larger than males for a number of reasons, firstly they have to be able to afford the potential weight loss during egg incubation and brood rearing whilst relying on the male hunting for the family, and also being larger helps defend the nest from would-be predators - this is where the temperament comes in, females are more aggressive! (aren't they always? ;) ) So if you are training raptors it is useful to bear in mind that a male of the species will be more laid back and receptive, while the female is likely to be more willful and aggressive. This can potentially lead to errors in training and handling, and naturally potentially nasty injuries to yourself and any public in the vacinity! In my experience females of buzzard species, goshawk, and the larger owls make the more challenging, shall we say, trainees. Some people like this challenge, but for anyone starting out I'd always advise on working with a male.

    - No offence but not always true. Some species do show plumage differences between the sexes. For example Snowy Owls have a different number of dark barring on their tail feathers depending on whether they are male or female. Harris Hawks also often show general variation in plumage coloration depending on gender, as do Common Buzzard and Barn Owls - but I do have to say that in many species even these colour differences can be more or less apparent depending on the individual bird.

    - I have also known laboratory DNA testing get it wrong! Birds confirmed and certified by DNA as definite males have in fact been female (we could tell by their size and aggression!), laid eggs and gone on to become good mothers! :rolleyes:

    Age and the history of the individual and how it has been handled are also important factors in how they respond to conditioning and training. An ex-wild bird may very well be highly strung and very challenging if not impossible to 'tame', but taking small steps with positive reinforcement conditioning - along with a bucketful of patience - may well bring the individual round given time. While some of the established falconry practice says that raptors, and especially owls, are only open to conditioning in the first year of life (or until sexual maturity at least), I find that this is only partly true. They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks but that ain't true, the old dog just takes a little longer and may need smaller steps. ;)

    I'd be happy to try help however I can, send me a Private Message, if you like. If I can't help on any topic myself, I can always put you in correspondence with any of my experienced falconry contacts (here in the UK).

    I'd say check out that book and you may well have all you need right there! :D

    Oh, one more tip; female Boobook aim for the eyes. ;)
     
  4. kc7gr

    kc7gr Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Kent, WA, USA
    Oh, no offense taken, I assure you. Far from it! I was unaware of the plumage differences, but that also makes sense in retrospect.

    Now, if you'll pardon me a moment, I need to go look up exactly what a 'Boobook' is...

    Happy travels.
     
  5. Secret Squirrel

    Secret Squirrel Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    11 Sep 2010
    Posts:
    74
    Location:
    West Lothian, Scotland
    Good stuff :)

    Oh I got ahead of myself too;
    - that's in owlet/juveniles. :eek:

    Obviously the adults have different amounts of black in the white plumage (as a ground nesting species on tundra type habitat the female gains better camoflage with the black flecks through the white. The male has more ability to move away from predators throughout the year and his almost complete white plumage helps with hunting).
     
  6. C.squamulosus

    C.squamulosus Member

    Joined:
    27 Mar 2009
    Posts:
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    Location:
    Albion Park,NSW,Australia
    Thanks for the replies guys, i'd love any info big or small here or in the inbox :), quick question i have the Kestrel coming to my gloved fist when i call, i'll reward her but she won't stay and eat from the glove. Any way i can keep her feeding and generally on the glove for longer periods???
     
    Last edited: 6 Jan 2011