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Training with a new Major Mitchell’s cockatoo

Hi everyone! My name’s Shae, and I’m lucky enough to intern here at Zoo Atlanta with the World of Wild Theater. We work with the birds in the Ambassador Animals program and present the free-flight bird presentation, “Come Fly with Me!” Just watching the theater presentation is spectacular – birds swoop over guests’ heads seemingly out of nowhere, talk, wave, catch food, and more – but seeing how it all comes together is even more amazing.

We have a new bird here, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo (Look them up. Seriously. They’re gorgeous!), named LC. LC is in the very beginning stages of his training and is starting with very basic behaviors.

I recently had the opportunity to watch a training session between LC and Lead Keeper Justin and realized that birds have a distinct personality just like humans! The trick with training is to work with the personality to make it as comfortable as can be for both the bird and human. During the training, Justin would give the cue, and if LC did the cued behavior, he would be rewarded with food; however, at one point, LC got frustrated and went to bite Justin when he was giving the food. So instead of continuing to hand-feed LC, Justin calmly started to put the treat in his food dish and allowed LC to go and get food himself.

After the training session, I asked Justin about it. This started a long conversation about training and behaviors, moods and teaching strategies. What it all came down to was respect. Justin respects LC’s temperament and adjusts his training approach to make it work for them both. Respect is the basis of all their interactions with the birds and is how we’re able to put on a fantastic presentation with the birds happy to participate. But isn’t respect the basis of all interactions in our lives? Just like respecting ourselves and respecting others, we should respect nature and the wonderful animals who inhabit it with us.

Well, I have to stop writing and go phone my parents and tell them about my new revelation. They’re going to be thrilled!

I hope you can all come out and see our beautiful birds with me this summer! 
Shae B.
Ambassador Animals Intern

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl