Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Trainer Always In Training

In order for anyone to run a successful business it is very important to first show all the employees exactly what needs to be done for the business.
 Scoop the Pelican knows that by hitting his mark he will receive a reward
When the employees fully understand what needs to be done, or are fully trained, the business will usually compensate the employee for their time spent training and working for the company.  At WBS this concept is used not only for the staff, interns, and volunteers but also for the birds themselves.

Positive reinforcement is something that is utilized in day-to day life, many times unknowingly, and is a part of behavioral training in almost any possible situation.  It is also the most used method of the World Bird Sanctuary. 

When first becoming an intern, I was trained to clean and feed the correct way and was positively reinforced by being allowed more and more privileges with the birds as I understood more procedures.  Then, once I was a trainer in Boston, in order to train the stars of the show, I first needed to be coached on how to properly guide them to the correct behaviors, with everything revolving around positive reinforcement.
 How do you teach a Seriema to "slam" a rubber snake? steps!
Unfortunately, birds do not understand English so what speaks louder than words?  Food, of course!  Normally people would say, “Actions speak louder than words,” but when it comes to birds of prey (and many people) a sure way to the heart is through the stomach.  So for every behavior that needs to be achieved, a step-by-step (most of the time baby steps) process needs to slowly take place in order for the bird to catch on, or achieve the goal behavior.  Every time the bird completes one of the small steps, it should be immediately positively reinforced with food so that the bird understands that that exact action will get them food.
 This Barn Owl knows there is a tasty morsel waiting on this perch
The immediate and consistent reward is crucial for proper training to make sure that the correct behavior is reinforced.  While training one of the sanctuary’s newer Bald Eagles, Lina, to step to the leather glove that we wear, there is a fine line between stepping to the glove and footing the glove, or grabbing aggressively for food.  So, instead of rewarding her immediately for putting her foot on the glove (whether it be aggressive or not), she must be rewarded for stepping and only stepping on the glove, and not for footing the glove.  By doing this, we can minimize any confusion she might have about what gets her food, and will also help to keep her from accidentally learning that footing the glove is the behavior the trainer wants. 
 This American Kestrel knows there is a tasty morsel waiting for him in the other trainer's glove
Taking small steps to eventually accomplish the goal behavior and being careful to reinforce only the exact action desired are the two main pieces to the puzzle of training.

Submitted by Teresa Aldrich, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer ETC


Island Rambles Blog said...

Really enjoyed this blog. All the best for the New Year.Just found your blog and what a delight it is! We have had an exciting winter so far as we have a lot of pelicans visiting our inner harbour and have had several rare birds on our island so a busy birding season here.

Photog said...

So glad you are enjoying our blog. We hope you will be sure to visit us if you find yourself in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Our blog posts are contributed by a collection of staff, interns and volunteers so you will find many different perspectives here with one common thread--we all love the birds.