Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Nero the Turkey Vulture's Training Journal Entry #2

Dan has a bit of food on the ball, and asks Nero to
touch the tip of his beak there.

 (Dan Hnilicka, Interpretive Naturalist at TRC, shares a couple of entries for a training journal with Nero the turkey vulture.  See Entry #1 here.)

Well, our first sessions seemed to go well!  Our first goal of getting Nero comfortable with the rubber-tipped target pole did not take long at all.  Nero's steps were to first recognize the bits of food on the ball right away, and then he would touch the ball to retrieve the food.  This made it easy for Nero to continue touching the tip of his beak to the rubber ball, and then be rewarded with food right afterward.   
Dan and Nero progressed to asking Nero to touch
his beak to the ball, with no food on it . . .

Nero gets a food bit reward from Dan for touching his
beak to the ball!

Dan is now working with Nero to perform the
same actions, but in a different place in his
Once Nero was preforming the desired behavior without hesitation, it was time to slowly increase the criteria of his behavior. My plan was to generalize his beak targeting behavior to new settings. The next steps I worked on included having more people (staff, public and volunteers) nearby to watch as Nero and I worked together, and we also practiced our beak-to-ball in different areas of Nero’s enclosure.  

The training went so well, that I decided to use this as a way to gain momentum with him when I come to get him in the mornings.  We get weights on all of our education birds daily, and often take the opportunity when the birds are out of their enclosures to ask volunteers to clean the areas.  Nero transitioned very readily from having the ball on the longer stick as a cue, to just recognizing the ball itself.  He gets a food reward for touching his beak to the ball, then another as steps up to the glove.  

This training will be important, too, as a way to introduce new handlers to Nero.  Familiar activities, even from different handlers, will help to provide a foundation for Nero as he builds a relationship with new handlers.

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