Linette Bernard, Communications Director
What does it take for a non-releasable raptor to become an education bird? There is much adjustment. Everything for the bird is new. There is much for the handler to learn as well, as each education bird is unique with their own tolerances. Most education birds have a permanent injury, often to a wing or an eye. The ability of each bird is taken into consideration as training is planned.
Any interaction between a handler and the education raptor (you could substitute owner and their dog, owner and horse or mule, 4-H or FFA member and their livestock project, you get the idea) is a time when training takes place. Every interaction is a moment for training. We strive for these interactions to always be positive. This training continues for as long as the bird is on the education team.
I know horses and eagles are very different critters, starting with one being a prey animal and the other predator. However, I think the words of renowned horseman Ray Hunt speak volumes: “Fix it up and let it work.”
Break down the end goal into steps that are achievable, build in successes – ‘fix it up and let it work.’ That means you can’t expect a new education bird to be program-ready as soon as the jesses are on. Education bird training at SOAR builds on experiences. Repetition and consistency are key in training – not just for ambassadors-in-training, but for our mule and horses.
Education birds and training require equipment… gloves, jesses, bracelets, swivels, leashes, jesse extenders, safe perches, bathing pools, weathering area, carry crate or travel crate, perches in the travel crate, spray bottles, shade tent, and let’s not forget a high-quality diet! Oh… and time! Thank you to everyone that has purchased equipment from our Amazon Wish List needed for our ambassador team!
There are a couple birds that are in early stages of training to join a SOAR educator at programs. Our peregrine falcon, Pearl, recently passed – she was quite up in years. A retired falconry peregrine will be joining the education team, but she is just starting her training.
Juvenile eagle, Decorah, continues to be exposed to new experiences. Every day possible, Decorah is in a weathering area. That means practice being on the fist, transferring to the bow perch, and more! Decorah is learning to balance with only one moveable wing. While on the bow perch, Decorah is gaining experience with distractions of people walking about, vehicles coming and going, wild birds flying past, and even people stopping to sit and visit. More than once, family and friends visiting Kay’s family sat near the weathering area where Decorah was sitting on a bow perch, and were treated to an impromptu program from Kay.
Riding in a travel crate in the vehicle is another skill to be learned.
All these experiences will build Decorah’s confidence so that new and different experiences can be introduced – different locations, different sizes of audience, different times of the year, and different ages of the audience. Being in these different situations also gives Kay an understanding of Decorah’s current comfort level with different settings.
SOAR tries to match the best education bird for the requested programs – knowing that some ambassadors do better in certain situations. We also work with the organizations that invite SOAR to get the right setting for the ambassadors. We consider the temperature and bugs, indoors versus outdoors, room arrangement, and potential distractions while working on program details. The audience may need to be flexible and almost everyone attending learns how to applaud in sign language.
Decorah continues his work toward becoming a SOAR education ambassador, he’s doing great and showing signs of being a wonderful addition to the “team.” As noted, each of our education ambassadors have their own unique responses to training. Those will become more and more apparent with Decorah in the weeks and months to come. We really watch each bird to read what s/he is comfortable with and remove the uncomfortable things!