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Step by step with Rose the red-tailed hawk

Last time you heard from Ambassador Animals, it was all about Hawkmoth the Harris hawk’s training and how he recently made his first appearance on the glove in one of our animal presentations. This week, we may see him make his first free flights!

The care of all animals at Zoo Atlanta is based on trust, respect, and positive reinforcement, meaning that if a new behavior is being learned, we always go at the pace and comfort level of the individual animal in question. All positive reinforcement training activities are voluntary for the animals, so if an animal chooses not to participate, that’s okay and we respect that choice.

Along those same lines, I have been hard at work with Rose, our red-tailed hawk. She came to us a few years ago with a permanent eye injury that deemed her not releasable into the wild. Working with Rose has been challenging in that her eye injury was likely the outward signs of head trauma, and so she doesn’t quite learn as quickly as some other birds and gets frightened a bit more easily. We have been taking it nice and slow to keep her super comfy. The first step was approaching Rose and giving her a tasty treat. Previously she had been trained to fly to care team members, but she didn’t always land softly when she got to us. I started teaching her that she didn’t need to approach us, and we would approach her. Initially, she would take some food and then jump away, but slowly began to take food and sit calmly.

The next step was teaching her to eat from long metal tongs. These were, of course, scary, at first, but she quickly learned that tongs = food and learned to gently take food from them with her beak. The step after that was having her jump about one foot to the glove. Any further away and she would hit the glove, and any closer she didn’t seem to see it was available for her to step onto. Once she was hopping gently to the glove, I began walking around her area with her and giving her lots of yummy reinforcers for stepping off the glove onto a perch. She had previously been trained that all the food was given on the glove, so if you asked her to step off, she would clamp her feet down hard and not go anywhere. Once she was comfortable going to the perch, I re-introduced the scale to her. She would step nicely form the glove to the scale, and now we weigh her every morning. The most recent step of her positive reinforcement training was attaching her jesses to a leash to bring her outdoors. Initially, if I tried to attach the leash she would pull her foot away. I had to slowly introduce the leash and then walk around her area with her. After months of slow work, she finally did her first Animal Encounter out front of the World of Wild Theater presented by Georgia Natural Gas, and she was a rockstar. Stop by on Mondays and Tuesdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to see a bird encounter, or Wednesdays through Sundays at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. for flight demonstrations! You might even get a chance to see Rose.

(photo: McKenzie B.)

Becky Y.
Curator, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl