Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Crow is Afoot!

Following is a blog post submitted by World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer, Leah Tyndall while she and the birds were performing in a Wild West show in Silver Dollar City in October.

As I sit here in Branson, I am both excited and sad.

I’m excited because for September and October 2014 I am part of an incredible Wild West show at Silver Dollar City, surrounded by amazingly talented people and working with an awesome Bald Eagle named Beauford.  WBS was hired to fly Beauford for this show.  I am sad however because I miss the other birds that I usually work with during this time, especially one little guy in particular; a three month old African Pied Crow named Sherlock.
Sherlock, fresh out of his shipping crate (photo: Leah Tyndall)

Sherlock came to us from a breeder in Arkansas and instead of going to World Bird Sanctuary headquarters in Valley Park, he came straight to me at WBS’s Milwaukee County Zoo bird show so that the bird show staff and I could get him used to life as a zoo show bird as soon as possible.

Sherlock’s trip from Arkansas to Wisconsin was not an easy one. The plane he was supposed to travel on needed mechanical repairs and he missed his connecting flight, so he had to take a later one.  After picking him up from the airport a little after nine pm, I took him to the zoo.  I peeked carefully into the crate to check on him and was met by an adorable blue eye followed immediately by a begging call--someone was hungry! I gave him some soaked dog food and tucked him in for the night, making sure to arrive early the next day.

Since Sherlock was hand raised he is very social and loves being around humans.  He stepped right to my hand and after a few tries, treats and some creative body blocking I was able to weigh him. 
Sherlock proved to be a very quick learner (photo: Leah Tyndall)

From that first day Sherlock (named because he figures things out so quickly) excelled at all training.  Stepping to the hand led to flying to the arm on command, perching on command, waiting on a perch (his least favorite behavior), sitting nicely on the scale (which became challenging in its own right since he always wants to sit on the scale, even before you put it down), object retrieval, object placing and of course, crating.

Crate training the little crow was tricky, not because he was afraid of the crate, but because he apparently wants to limbo. When I first started crate training, I had a perch in the crate to help him stay balanced and protect his tail.  In Sherlock’s mind I must have meant this perch to be a limbo pole, because every time I put food in the back of the crate, he went under the perch, which was only a few inches above the floor of the crate.  I had to remove the perch so that he could physically get all of the way into the crate to get his reward. 

Once the perch was gone he started running into the crate all the time, and that was when he made the grand discovery that the carpet on the crate floor could move if he pulled on it.  Being an insanely curious young crow he spent several sessions tugging on the carpet, until he realized tugging carpets did not get him treats, and even worse it meant no object retrieval, his favorite behavior.  He also enjoyed playing tug of war with my Kalem glove tassel and sticking his whole head in my glove when it was clipped to my belt.
Sherlock's first "selfie" (photo: Sherlock the Pied Crow)

Being such a clever and social bird, he discovered that leaping onto the trainer’s shoulder or head prevented the human from leaving and this quickly became his favorite game. We discovered socializing with him in a non-training situation and rewarding him for waiting while we exited curbed this behavior. It also led to hilarious moments such as Sherlock texting (“4”) and taking a selfie while I was trying to get his picture.

Sherlock is a clever, young, social crow able to learn at an incredible rate.  Crows, as a species, are extremely intelligent and staying one step ahead of them can be a real challenge for any trainer.

Even while I am typing this he is continuing his donation box training. Soon he will take dollar bills and place them into a donation box to help our animals and the World Bird Sanctuary’s conservation efforts.  Soon…but for now he believes his task is to twist them or shove them back into my hand.  However, I have no doubt that this extremely intelligent young crow will quickly learn the desired behavior.  Can’t wait to get back to WBS HQ to continue his training! 

Be sure to keep an eye out for Sherlock--coming soon to a bird show near you.  He will be the one accepting your donation dollars at the end of the show.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

No comments: