Parrots are getting free flight training courtesy of Aggie researchers

Researchers at Texas A&M University are harnessing a training technique that owners of parrots have used for training in their homes for decades. The goal of the training by Aggie researchers is to establish new flocks of birds in the wild. One key difference between the training being used at the university and the training typically used by parrot owners is that researchers aren't clipping the parrot's wings.

Typically clipping is done to reduce the flight capability of the bird to prevent it from escaping into the wild where it may not be equipped to live. Researchers train the birds to follow basic commands, including coming when called, recognizing natural dangers, and flying safely in open areas. The training regime used by the University researchers was developed by Chris Biro, who is globally recognized as a free-flight trainer.

University researchers have step-by-step documents allowing conservationists to use the methods they used to release birds into the wild. The goal of the research project is to improve macaw and parrot conservation science. Researchers spent several years training three flocks of parrots comprised of multiple species using techniques learned from Biro.

The flocks they trained consisted of 37 birds that spent a cumulative 500 months in pre-flight training. The birds were raised from chicks to bond with their trainer and were later taught new commands. Over time, the complexity of the commands and training environments taught the birds the skills necessary to fly in open and uncontrolled areas.

The training teaches the birds to recognize, evade, and intimidate predators. They were also taught to forage for food and recognize the difference between safe and unsafe options. Training also involved teaching the birds to fly in flocks, navigate, and mentally map the environment while avoiding unsafe situations, including dogs and cars. During training, no birds were lost to predators, and none left the training area.