Training Parrots to Freefly: A Little Background

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Moab, UT Spotting a hawk in the sky: Camelot macaw "Tusa" & Galah "Bondi"

Recently someone asked if we'd ever lost a bird freeflying. (Cue knocking on wood...) No, we haven't. We freefly our entire flock of parrots (and now one toucan) and though we've not lost any of our birds doing so, we have had "close calls" which I don't mind talking about...

Having a freeflighted parrot is more of a lifestyle than anything else. You plan your trips and days around your birds, and you can't necessarily be in a hurry because you're not sure what's in store for you or them. We've come to a location in Orlando before and saw a hawk go and land in a tree just before we were going to stop and freefly, so we left the area and it cut our day totally short. We're always driving and looking out the window asking ourselves, "Think we could freefly here? Is it safe? How would the pictures look? What's the wind like?"

While freeflying our galahs and african grey parrot in Florida we had a hawk drop down from a tree and go for our male galah, Bandit. It was a quick drop and the hawk decided it wasn't worth the energy he'd have to put forth and flew off leaving the location. But it was still scary enough to make my stomach drop and curse words spray out seeing the size of the hawk in comparison to the size of my parrot.

Photo by Dave Location: Moab, UT With me: Galah "Bondi"

While in Moab, Utah freeflying two blue and gold macaws and our african grey, Cressi, we had a 4 hour long scare of losing Cressi in the desert terrain. It was our fault as we panicked when she crashed and went silent. Instead of back tracking where she flew and stopped flying and finding her (which is what we did once we got our heads on straight) we got scared and let our imaginations run wild (ie: a hawk is hunting her and she's trying to get away! She's been nabbed by something in the bushes! She's watching us laughing...)

And she was actually just sitting there watching us. Our radios show where we've been and we did figure 8's around her. We literally almost STEPPED on her! That's how close - but panicked - we were at the time.

Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Moab, UT Pictured: Camelot macaw "Tusa"

In Palm Springs, CA we were freeflying our three macaws when a hawk came over the hill to see what the fuss was about. Our blue throated macaw literally flew UNDER the hawk... real clever... then banded together with our camelots and they flew far, far away together flocking until the hawk left the area. When Comet came in he practically fell right asleep from all the effort.

We've had ravens get a little territorial in the Utah terrain but they don't seem to phase our parrots, though I've seen some parrots get scared of them and fly pretty far til they're gone (the ravens are gone, not the parrots!)

Photo by Dave Location: Moab, UT Shown: Galah "Bondi"

We have free flown in tons of different states (Virginia, Florida, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Arizona are the most common ones) but we've also flown in New York, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, California, Nevada, The Carolinas, and more.

Freeflight isn't a very safe lifestyle for your parrot, but we view it as quality of life. There are tons of risks from weather changes to environment to people taking off with your bird if it lands on them to predators (this isn't just limited to hawks and eagles but dogs and other animals, even cars) and it is about LIMITING those risks as much as possible by learning what to avoid.

A few examples of things we teach in our freeflight course (called the Freestyle Flyer's Club) are:

  • Don't ever fly as the sun is going down; parrots naturally want to roost and will likely find a high point in a tree and go to sleep. So grab your tent and sleeping bag.
  • Don't ever fly a parrot at night, even if your area of flying is lit up. Owls can see at night, parrots can't.
  • Don't fly before or after storms; hawks and other predatory birds are "stocking up" on food as they feel the weather changes, and after a storm they're a lot more hungry and looking for a hunt.
Some of those may seem like common sense, others may not. But people have lost birds freeflying them at night and having them taken by an owl, people have had their birds fly and land on someone and have that person leave with the bird in their car, things can happen and so knowing how to live the lifestyle to limit the amount of risks you're taking is key to improving your parrot's quality of life.
Photo by Jamieleigh Location: Reno, NV On the car: Moluccan cockatoo "Pooh"
So even though we haven't lost a bird freeflying, it's important to share the mistakes you make along the way of your training so that others can learn and avoid making the same ones. We're constantly learning from our birds and updating and sharing new information.
If you're interested in teaching your parrot freeflight, email info@birdtricks.com for scheduling and pricing.
Some of our freeflight students have included:
  • 13 year old Moluccan Cockatoo "Pooh"
  • Tons of blue throated macaws ranging from 6 months of age to 4 years old
  • 20 year old blue and gold macaw "Tiko"
  • 6 year old rose breasted cockatoo "Bondi"
  • 1 year old blue and gold macaws "Merlin" & "Mika"
  • 35 year old blue fronted amazon "Storm"
  • 4 year old previously clipped military macaw "Crash"
  • 5 year old hyacinth macaw "Hymie"
  • Lots of birds from baby ages consisting of cockatoos and macaws (many hybrids)
If your bird is currently clipped you can still work on step ups, to short jumps to short flights your bird is capable of until the bird molts and new flight feathers grow in making it more able to flight train for this course. Don't take your clipped parrot outside... it can still fly outdoors, especially with a little help from a gust of wind!
Related article: Myth: Clipped Birds Can't Fly.
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.

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