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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

MNDNR Proposal on Non-Toxic Shot

Many of you are very familiar with the risks presented to wildlife, including eagles, ravens, trumpeter swans and doves, from spent lead ammunition. Recently the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) announced a proposed rule requiring hunters to use non-toxic shot on state wildlife management areas in Minnesota’s farmland zone beginning in 2018, an area covering about 600,000 acres. 

Although this ban may not impact bald eagles directly, the purpose of it is to reduce the amount of lead deposited into the environment on public lands, to protect wildlife and to support a healthy environment.

The MNDNR will be taking comments on this proposed ruling for 60 days. We encourage you to share your opinions with them at:
MNDNR Wildlife
Box 20
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
500 Lafayette Road
St. Paul MN   55155-4020

Or email 

More information on how banning lead shot will improve the image of hunters, safeguard hunting opportunities and preserve the hunting heritage on a StarTribune article. 

Here are some links to more information:

TRC website on lead poisoning

Peregrine Fund’s conference on ingestion of spent lead ammunition

USGS brochure on lead in wild birds

Friday, October 9, 2015

Care and Management of Captive Raptors Workshop 2015

TRC staff Dan Hnilicka demonstrated some
techniques for working safely with education
raptors, using a stuffed hawk for a model before working
directly with TRC's winged ambassadors.
This week, TRC hosted 24 participants from 13 states for our Care and Management of Captive Raptors workshop.   Behavioral training techniques for education, handling, enhance your organization's message through live education animals, and basic exam procedures were just a few of the topics covered with our world-renowned staff.
Monitoring the health of raptors in a facility
is not only paramount, but ongoing.  Participants
observed as TRC clinic staff veterinarian Dr. Michelle
Willette talked about foot care for a great
horned owl patient.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Nero the Turkey Vulture's Training Journal Entry #1

Handsome Nero!

This is Dan Hnilicka, Interpretive Naturalist at TRC.  I wanted to share a few entries from a training journal I started as I began working with Nero, TRC’s education turkey vulture.

Training accomplishes a lot of things; it helps our birds be comfortable with the different situations and environments in which they teach, and to become comfortable with the staff and volunteers they work with.  It also provides a framework for how to introduce new objects (like enrichment toys) and behaviors that we encourage for a safe and less stressful experience.  Once the birds know what to expect from a trainer and a situation, they have choices of how they want to react.  

I have several goals for Nero; one is to introduce myself to him as an ongoing trainer and human he will interact with; another is to create a series of behaviors in which he knows how to do, and then be able to introduce other new trainers to him. My plan is to target train him to touch his beak to a ball on the end of a pole. We'll begin by desensitizing him to the target pole with food reinforcement and then luring him to touch it with a piece of food on the ball. Then, we'll slowly fade out the lure once he knows that touching the ball results in food afterwards. That's the plan, but we'll find out what Nero thinks of it as we move forward!
You can see in the far left that Dan has placed a bit of food
on Nero's perch and he is flying to it.

Dan is introducing the target to Nero, using food as
a lure.

Dan is getting Nero used to associating food with
the target.

Dan has a bit of food in his hand.

Nero touched the target with this beak!