Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Whoo’s that? Reese!

It’s true dear readers, there is a new man in my life.  He’s handsome, talkative, about a foot tall and nocturnal.
Reese learning to stand on the glove
Okay, so he’s not a man, he’s a Great Horned Owl.  Yes, this girl, who arrived at World Bird Sanctuary with an odd fear of Great Horned Owls from the movie Rock-a-Doodle is thrilled to be working with one.

I overcame my bizarre issues with Great Horned Owls with the help of Carmelita, a beautiful female Great Horned Owl I worked with when I started as a staff member.  My issues with Great Horned Owls aside, I still had issues. 

Then I met Reese, a young male Great Horned Owl that came to us from another facility.  When I picked him up from the airport he was very quiet, sitting a little warily in his crate.  Then on the ride back to the Sanctuary I coughed.  Suddenly there was an explosion of hooting from the back of my car!  I coughed again, and more hoots burst forth.  We hooted back and forth the whole ride back, and as he came out of the crate he sat on a perch and hooted right in front of me.  Clearly the fear of people was not going to be an issue for this bird.

Although Reese was very comfortable around people, he was not a glove bird.  He was never on equipment (the anklets and jesses we use to secure our birds), and had never sat on the glove.  The first time we put him on the glove he did well, sitting for stretches of time even transferring from one glove to another.  Imagine that you are standing on the glove of a giant, which despite the best efforts of the giant may move like a fun house floor.  Sounds a little scary, but Reese was a champ! 
Reese in his training stall
Next we tethered him in a training stall where the perch parallels and is close to the wall, rather than perpendicular it.  This allows him to make the decision whether or not to come to, or at least toward us for food.  When we first put him in the stall, he was great about eating in front of us when we were in the room and right in front of him.  What he wasn’t good about was the glove; he was wary of it at first.  To help him we put a spare glove in his stall, out of the way so that he couldn’t get tangled or hit it if he got scared.  This way he could see the glove in a non-threatening way.  We also made sure to put his food on the glove so he would associate the glove with food.  Over time he began to take food from our glove.

Getting him to step up onto the glove was a little tricky.  In most cases a piece of food is held firmly on top of the glove and a bird will put its foot up to get the leverage to tear or pull food from the glove.  Reese however grabbed the piece in his beak, planted his feet firmly on the ground and pulled as hard as he could, which usually resulted in him scooting backwards and ripping his treat into pieces (Reese’s pieces!).  After some careful maneuvering of the glove and his food we finally got Reese to step up and not over.  Now Reese goes on walks on the glove. 
Reese learning to step to the scale
He is now learning to step up onto the scale and soon he will go outside on a perch.
 Several years ago I never would have dreamed I would be so excited to be training a Great Horned Owl (seriously, watch the movie, that owl is disturbing).  Since that first moment in my car to his patented butt scooting to snag food, everything Reese does reminds me how every training experience is different.  No matter how many birds you have helped to train, there is always something new to learn and see.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer


Alexandra Echenberg said...

I'm so excited to see that Reese is doing well! I'm the one who raised him down in TX. Thanks for taking care of my baby who will always be dear to my heart. :-)

Photog said...

We're so glad we could update you on Reese's progress. As you can tell from the article, he's captured a few hearts here as well.