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Tools for Training

IAATE Conference 2011: Innovation and Inspiration

By Nicki Dardinger

Once a year, avian trainers and educators from all over the world gather for the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (IAATE) conference. This year’s conference was hosted by the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from February 16-19. And what a fabulous conference it was! This meeting of professional bird trainers is always full of creative ideas and information on best practices in animal training and education – and this year was no exception.

First up this year was Dr. Todd Katzner from West Virginia University. Dr. Katzner is a well respected scientist studying the ecology and conservation of eagles. He gave a fabulous presentation on the use of feathers to estimate population size of eagles in Kazakhstan, and also talked about the current research being conducted on the effect of wind farms on raptor migration (final verdict still unknown!) His web page is definitely worth checking out: http://katznerlab.com/todd-katzner.


Spider Bite in Squirrel Great Blue Heron Parasitism Symposium 2011 Review

Tools for Training: IAATE Conference 2011 In the Spotlight Beginner Basics Tales from the Field Call of the Wild Trophic Feeding Categories Pearl of Wisdom Creature Feature

There was also a talk regarding the Animal Welfare Act and the current work on the regulations regarding the change in this law to include birds (previously birds were excluded). Additionally, Eliza Savage hosted a Q & A session regarding the proposed permit regulation changes for raptors.

Several members of the bird training community gave presentations – and there were a few highlights that really stood out and had an impact on me.

First, Leanne Chadwick from Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan gave a presentation on her work using raptors in Animal Assisted Therapy programs. Leanne has reached out to hospitals, veterans centers, and mental health facilities in her area, and has developed programs that allow her to bring raptors into these facilities. While I had heard about the great work done with dogs and cats as therapy animals – it was really exciting to hear about the benefits that non-releasable raptors could provide to people. Check out the Leslie Science and Nature Center’s web page: http://www.lesliesnc.org/.

I also really appreciated a talk given by Shelley Raynor frm Zoo Atlanta. Jasper is a black vulture that had flown in their free flight program for years. But after some staff changes, their black vulture stopped performing his behaviors and started displaying aggression towards his trainers and keepers. They thought they may have to retire him from the free flight show, but instead, after a conversation with another trainer – they realized – he was BORED. After ten years of performing the exact same behavior on a daily basis – this extremely smart black vulture was bored. He needed something new to do. So that is exactly what the trainers decided to do. They trained him to do new behaviors – and they anticipate that he will be able to return to their flight show this summer. This talk served as a good reminder that we need to be mindful of our birds’ behaviors – and remember that they can get bored too!

Finally – I was very excited to hear a talk by Cathy Schlott from the National Aviary. So often, we train our animals to perform in education programs, but we forget that we can also provide training to help with routine husbandry. Cathy worked with one of their bald eagles who needed daily bandage changes on one of his feet. Rather than grabbing him daily, she trained him to allow her to change his bandage while he sat on her glove. Wow - WAY less stress than grabbing and restraining him daily!

During the open board meeting, incoming president Steve Martin of Natural Encounters, announced a new plan – to create a certification program for avian trainers and educators. The planning is still in its infancy – but look for more details to come out over the coming year.

And perhaps the most fantastic part of the trip – a behind the scenes look at the National Aviary. With over 200 species of birds represented – including my personal favorite – a pair of Steller’s sea eagles! – this was a site to see. They have recently renovated their facility to include an indoor amphitheater designed for free flight shows. And they didn’t just fly raptors and parrots – they also flew a group of gulls!

Next year, the IAATE conference will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of IAATE in Minneapolis, MN. Between the Minnesota Zoo and the Raptor Center – that conference should definitely be a fantastic time. Check the IAATE website: www.iaate.org for more details.

Steller's Sea Eagle, National Aviary

Andean condor, National Aviary