Lesson 3: Early Training with Your Ambassador Owl


Establishing early patterns of positive reinforcement with our spectacled owl, including using a variety of reinforcers and working within her comfort zone during socializaiton

At ABI, our big focus when raising any bird, but especially owls, is early socialization. We recognize that this may be different than other facilities. However, for some species of bird of prey, such acceptors and owls, these early beginnings can make a huge impact on the training paradigm that we use throughout their lives. We have learned this the hard way.

When we started out with owls, we asked so many of our colleagues for advice and got some great tips and ideas. One thing that many trainers took for granted is that they trained their birds in the space the bird would always be. They didn’t do outreach as much, so the owl would be used to crowds from the beginning. Or maybe they had different theories on weight management than we do.

We found out very quickly that if we didn't consistently expose our owls to the kinds of stimuli that they would encounter as part of their jobs as adults regularly, whether it was through regular husbandry or as part of their work as an ambassador, then they would rehearse a fear pattern that more weight control would be needed to maintain focus. Since this was contrary to our goals and philosophies, we put extra effort into early socialization and found it built much more confident birds. A reference for this is listed below.

Lesson 4 will include a much more in-depth look at our socialization process, but this provides a good skeleton for the concepts we look at, including the green-yellow-red theory.

We also don't do a lot, if any manning, which is very common in education and falconry and is seen as part of the relationship-building process.

Lesson 5 will show more of the glove training process when the bird reaches that point. In the early nestling stages, you can see is all about making sure the bird is putting on weight steadily and feeding frequently. Some birds lend themselves better to glove training earlier than others. We found that the spectacled owl took a little bit longer than the other owls we have worked with.

The Imprint Accipter. Michael McDermott 2009 Western Sporting