If you’ve been lucky enough to join us on an experience day, you’ll know the breathtaking feeling of a silent owl or majestic Bald Eagle landing on your fist – there’s nothing quite like it! Our Bird Team work closely with our amazing birds to build strong and trusting relationships. We caught up with Bird Team Apprentice Jennie, who has been working alongside Foxtrot the Black Kite over recent months, getting her ready to meet our visitors on experience days this year.
“Last year, as part of my apprenticeship, I was set the task to create a training plan for a bird here at the Trust. With guidance from fellow Bird Team member Katy we created a plan for Echo, one of our Black Kites, to re-join the flying team after a rest period.
Working on this plan helped me gain confidence working closely with a bird and training using positive reinforcement, as Echo has now successfully re-joined the rest of the Black Kite team in flying displays.
Since working with Echo, I have now had the chance to work closely with another Black Kite called Foxtrot. I am currently working with Ben from the Bird Team to ready Foxtrot for joining in with experience days in 2023.
To begin earning her trust, I started out by being the Bird Team member to feed her every day. I then slowly built the relationship up to going outside her aviary and giving her the chance to hop from a post to my glove for some food. We then worked with her to do some longer, circuiting flights before coming back to my glove for her dinner. Once she was confident doing this, we started introducing strangers in to the mix (i.e our lovely volunteers).
Every day she would have the opportunity to meet someone new and fly to their glove in Reg’s Wildflower Meadow. Our aim at the Trust is to inspire those visiting and taking part in experiences to care about and support our mission to conserve birds of prey, and providing an opportunity for people to be close to our birds is an excellent way to do this. We began flying her with groups of volunteers at a time. She is now a pro at this!
The next step in her plan was to see how she felt flying to some members of the public, but she decided not to land with any of them – we can only assume that she prefers the dark green volunteer uniform!
We’re taking things at Foxtrot’s pace, so will see how she feels about meeting one member of the public at a time. If she is ok with this, we will then move on to introduce her to people wearing different clothes, hats and sunglasses as a new experience for her. It is on her terms and if she decides this is something she is confident with, she may one day be a star of our experience days.
The Bird Team had a training day recently where we shared different ways of working with our birds. I wanted to put some of the new things I had learnt to good use and began learning how to use hand signals with Foxtrot as a way of communication. I wasn’t sure where to start, so Ben and I worked together to come up with a routine for us to begin that would incorporate this into our work together. This has been a learning process for both Foxtrot and I; it’s been a very enjoyable experience and helps me to create a positive relationship with Foxtrot. She and I are both learning a new skill too.
When I fly Foxtrot she almost constantly calls to me – this is called Contact Calling, and is her way of making sure I know she’s there and reminding me she wants her food! It is the call they would normally make to their parents when they are young.
Working with Foxtrot has been a very beneficial experience. I’ve enjoyed the learning process, especially working alongside Katy and Ben as they were previously apprentices so they have an insight into what I needed to learn and the best way to go about it, so a big thanks to them!”