New training ideas

Dan (naturalist at The Raptor Center) practices targeting in a training session with “Strix” the Barred Owl.

At The Raptor Center two weeks ago, Aldo and I learned about more than beak trimming. I had the opportunity to talk with naturalists Gail and Dan about raptor training. It is always good to brainstorm with people that might have new ideas and different backgrounds. Gail and Dan proposed lots of ideas for our birds, like target training. “Targeting” is a common behavior used in zoos where the animal learns to touch its nose to an object, usually a tennis ball at the end of a dowel. It is useful to guide the animal around the enclosure or to teach new behaviors. I have targeted with monkeys, rabbits, and tigers, but hadn’t thought to try it with raptors. When we returned to the museum, I used a stretch of Vetrap to transform an ordinary wooden dowel into a target stick modeled after the one The Raptor Center uses. I introduced the new target to Carson (Red-tailed Hawk) and within one week she was eagerly taking food held next to the target. Soon she will learn to touch her beak to the end of the dowel to earn her treat. New behaviors like this keep training interesting and fun for trainer and animal alike.


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