Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Freedom the Bald Eagle's Training Journal - Entry #1

Freedom waits for Dan's cues to begin working together.

My name is Dan Hnilicka, and I am Freedom the bald eagle’s lead trainer.  As most of you know, Freedom is not able to be returned to the wild because of permanent injuries to his talons.  Eagles need feet, toes and talons fully functional for survival in the wild. As with all the education ambassadors, TRC monitors their health closely.

The first thing I did before Freedom joined the Education Department was develop a training plan. This way I know what step is next, and where I can easily make adjustments if he jumps ahead in his understanding or needs a little extra help here or there in his training.  Every bird is different so you have to be ready to adjust. It is all a study of one. As his lead trainer, I also keep a detailed account of his training. That way I can mark his progress along his training plan.
This is the scale that Dan and Freedom worked with.
We would like to share some of Freedom’s training journal entries with you and how we are preparing him for his new career as a winged ambassador.
Freedom is curious and looking to engage with his trainer, and his
training.  Dan is at the left, and you can see his "food pouch"
where the rat treats will be placed on the scale. 

TRC sees approximately 150,000 people each year.  Freedom, when he is fully integrated into the Education program, will see many of those people. We need to take the time now for him to be very successful later as an ambassador for his species. We always want to set the birds up for success. 
Small, successful steps that build Freedom’s confidence and trust in his trainer/handler are how we begin preparing Freedom for the different settings and people this would involve.  (See this past blog on an education winged ambassador “job description”.)

Training helps our birds be comfortable with the different situations and environments in which they teach, and to become comfortable with the staff and volunteers.  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. 
We want Freedom to be engaged in his training, and feel empowered to make decisions how he interacts.  This first entry we are sharing in his training journal has to do with “target training” to a scale.  Monitoring our education birds’ weights is a critical piece in their care.  I introduced the scale to Freedom by putting small pieces of rat as a lure on it. A lure is always followed by a reward. In this case a lure helps Freedom have a more clear idea of what I am asking him to do.  He cautiously took food off the scale at first, but is now confidently walking right up to it for his reward.  This is a great behavior to learn to build his confidence and trust as he is in total control of his environment.


  1. Oh this is magic stuff!!!!!! Hail FREEDOM and his wonderful trainer!!!!!!!!

  2. Thank you Mr.Trainer and I just know Freedom will do alright! Thank you for giving him another chance at life! God Bless you all!

  3. Thanks so much for giving us this view into eagle ambassador training.

  4. Replies
    1. From my understanding, they have brown heads and plumage from juvenile to young adult. It's not until they fully reach maturity that their heads turn white.

    2. He was a fledgling when he was rescued so at least 3 months old then.

  5. Thank you Dan for keeping us informed on the progress of Freedom. He is a beautiful eagle. Thanks for all that the raptor center does.

  6. Wonderful to know you use targeting and food reinforcement to train Freedom! Do you subscribe to Karen Pryor's methods?

  7. Thank you for your love of eagles.. for giving of your time to make freedoms quality of life extra special while sacrificing your own. Your plan is wonderfully thought out and can only benefit you as well as Freedom! I applaud you both for taking these courageous steps together and wait patiently till we hear from you again! God bless you both!!

  8. Freedom is so beautiful. Thank you for giving this beautiful eagle a life. God bless you and yours.

  9. Thank you for giving this eagle another chance to have a meaningful life. I do not know what the circumstances are that brought Freedom to you. People that help wild animals are truly amazing people. I look forward to following his progress. Thanks again, Kaye