Saturday, January 10, 2015

ETC Experiences: Stork Training

One of the most interesting experiences working at World Bird Sanctuary’s ETC (Education and Training Center) over the summer was participating in the initial training of a couple of different birds, which I never really got to do before. 

Azizi the young Abdim's Stork (photo: Gay Schroer)

The bird I had the most interactions with was a young Abdim's, or White-Bellied Stork, named Azizi.  I'm not sure if it's because he's still young or if it's just the way he is, but he's a skittish bird, so the first part of his training was one that I didn't realize I was doing — just being around.  Any bird or animal that is in training needs to first get used to people in general, and then the specific people who will be doing said training.  Even though I wasn't one of the initial people training him, just walking past Azizi every now and then on my way to do something else, he slowly got used to seeing me around.

If you do an internship with the World Bird Sanctuary, one of the things you get is an intern project, which could entail just about anything.  For a couple of the interns this summer it happened to be beginning Azizi's training; but once their internships were done, the training still needed to continue.  My supervisor suggested that since I'd been around all summer, I should give it a shot and see how Azizi responded to me. 

To my surprise, he responded relatively well, eating out of my hand with no aggression, and going to his stump when cued.  After debating what the next step should be, my supervisor decided crate training should be the next step.  Getting birds accustomed to being in crates is very important, because that's how we transport them, so the more comfortable the birds are inside the crates, the better.

Azizi took quite well to initial training--now for the next step (photo: Gay Schroer)

For Azizi, crate training meant first getting him accustomed to a carpet square that eventually ended up being put inside the crate.  Once he became accustomed to the carpet I began throwing food onto the carpet for him to eat.  Once he became accustomed to eating his treats on the carpet I began slowly moving the carpet farther and farther back inside the crate to try and convince Azizi to go farther and farther into the crate.  Since he's skittish and fearful of strange things this part took time.  For a while, he'd stretch his long, skinny neck as far inside the crate as it would go, so he could avoid stepping inside the crate.  Eventually he became more accustomed to the crate and started stepping inside to get the food that was thrown inside.  After a good deal more time, he finally started going fully inside the crate, which meant it was time for the next couple of steps.

At first Azizi would stretch his long skinny neck as far as it would go to get his treat (photo: Gay Schroer)

The next step was putting a feeding hole in the back of the crate and putting the crate door back on.  This way, food could be slipped in through the back of the crate to keep Azizi inside for longer periods of time (we’re talking seconds here).  The food also provided positive reinforcement for the fact that the door was being closed, and all other parts of the training.  After leaving it closed for around 10 seconds, I would open the door, Azizi would leave the crate, and then a couple seconds later I would throw food in the crate to get him to go back inside, close the door, wait a few seconds longer, and then repeat.

So far, he's taking well to the training, which hopefully means that in a couple years, if you happen to be at a zoo where the World Bird Sanctuary presents shows over the summer, you just might see an Abdim's Stork named Azizi running across the stage while you learn all about his kind!

Submitted by Matt Levin, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer  

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