Each year, the training schedule of all new birds is divided among the Bird Team. To get the most out of each bird, we know from experience that it is best to have a one or two people assigned to each bird, at least initially, to build confidence. This summer, Kat Ralph has been working with a young Black Kite and we’ve been catching up with her to find out more about what this process involves:
‘I was given a very special opportunity to train my first bird here at the Hawk Conservancy Trust back in June this year – a young Black Kite who I named ‘Mamushi’ to fit with this years naming theme of snakes! A ‘Mamushi’ is a Japanese Pit Viper and, as you find Black Kites across most of the world, including Japan, I thought it was a fitting name.
‘So, the first step with starting to train Mamushi was to build up a relationship with him, beginning with something called ‘manning’. This means you sit with the bird – sometimes for hours on end – so that it starts to feel more comfortable with your presence, voice, movement, and realises you aren’t a threat and are in fact OK – it can be a lengthy and tender process of building up trust and takes a lot of patience.
‘At first I passed him bits of food from my hand in order to start building more of a relationship through positive reinforcement. Then the next step was to get him to step onto my glove so I started presenting food on my glove instead of from my hand and we gradually built up from him taking food from the glove to stepping towards the glove to stepping up onto the glove – it was such an incredible feeling the first time he stepped up. This whole process was new to me, I had trained various other species but not a young, nervous kite!
‘With stepping onto the glove mastered, next I started to move around whilst he was sat on my glove, constantly reinforcing the positive behaviour with food. Next, I started to move further from him so that he had to jump to my glove and finally flying to it.
‘The process so far had been very much one-on-one but on my days off, Katy and Ria would feed him for me and help with his socialising. Mamushi was going to another collection and would therefore be working with other people so it was important that he was comfortable around as many new faces as possible.
‘Once he was really confident working with me in the aviary, we started to go for short walks outside and start using the creance – a long, lightweight cord which you attach to the birds enabling you to do flights to and from your glove.
‘He had a lot of character which helped to make sure I didn’t push him too much with each training session, allowing for steady progression. I knew when he was comfortable with a new person as he would start to call to them for food as he did with me.
‘Mamushi went on to his new home in November and has been settling in really well and I hope the initial training work I have done has helped Mamushi along the way to becoming a display bird! He was a great little character and I thoroughly enjoyed working with him! Now I’m keen to do more training with the birds!’