Parrots and Flight: Flight and the Companion Parrot


"Freak!" "Cowboy!" These are some of the names that I have been called because of my affinity for flying my parrots outdoors. I know, I know, danger upon danger lurks out there in the wild outdoors. So I will state clearly from the onset that flying your parrot outdoors is not something that the weak of heart should endeavor to do. In the shadows lurks hazard upon hazard which could end the life of your companion - so be forewarned. Everything that I state in this article regarding flight, fledging, and free-flight is just my experience. I am by no means an expert in the realms of this touchy subject.

Having said the above warning, I could never stop flying my parrots outdoors. As strong as the typical warnings are, "What ever you do, make sure your baby is clipped before taking him home!" and "Watch your baby's flights and make sure the new feathers are clipped as soon as they have grown in!" I couldn't clip. For me, there is nothing like watching Nick (Red-sided Eclectus) fly through the sky screaming his little head off and Sadie (Eleanora/Medium Sulfur-crested Cockatoo) doing her "widgy - widgy" call floating along on the breeze. It makes my day to have Nick fly to my shoulder and "help" me do the gardening (by eating my green tomatoes), "showering" on my head and shoulder while I mow the yard, or chewing on the roof of my aviary. The birds get so excited to drive out on the plateau near the town where I live because they get to fly in the sky doing figure eights, drops, loop-t-loops, and curves. However, it is true - danger is at every comer.

My Story

My introduction to flight came when I was just a child on a farm in Syracuse, Kansas. I have always loved birds and flight. Ducks, geese, chickens, and peacocks were the birds of that time in my life. To be able to see peacocks fly in the air with that enormous tail was amazing. Trying to make domestic ducks and geese fly, well that was a bit frustrating, but there were moments of flight and that was all the encouragement I needed. After leaving the farm at 16 and heading to "city life," my joy of the outdoors, birds, and flight was put on hiatus for a bit.

It wasn't until I was almost thirty that I finally had my dreams come true of owning a large companion parrot. I purchased a Red-sided Eclectus pair named Mickey and Molly. Not long after getting them I bought a pet Solomon Island Eclectus named Clover. I was blessed because the house that we lived in had a large room downstairs and I 

would fly the birds there for health. It was amazing seeing them fly to and fro in that "small" (remember small is relative now!) space. At this time I only dreamt of flying my birds outdoors, most likely in an outdoor aviary. Then came the day when I read of a "crazy lady" named Chris Shank in California who was flying her flock of cockatoos outdoors along with a lone Yellow-collared Macaw. I was hooked! Being somewhat of an internet junkie I happened upon a list for those who, like Chris Shank, were "crazy" and were attempting to fly their birds outdoors. The Yahoo! Group internet list is called the "Freeflight" group and has a sister group called the "Flightphoto" list to post photographs of flying birds. Both lists were started by Chris Biro - Dreams began floating in my head of someday owning a bird I could freefly outdoors.

I didn't think at the time that an Eclectus was the species that I could fly outside so I put my dreams on the backburner as I began breeding my two pairs of Eclectus. As anyone who has raised any animal can attest, there comes along that "one in a million" baby with whom I could not part - Nicholas James Moser. What was it about him? He was a fun loving, adventurous, and best bird in the whole wide world - in short, he was perfect. One day I was trying to get another baby out of the outdoor aviary and Nick got loose and flew two small circles around me and landed on my hand. Holy stinking cow! I had my freeflier! What an experience! I was in the clouds!

As with any dream, there has to be some reality to ground us and give us the full story. The next time out Nick didn't come when I called him. He circled around the house and probably lost his bearings/head and didn't come back around. After searching for him for close to 15 minutes I saw him fly down the street. Again he didn't come when I called him. I ran in the direction that he went to find that he had landed on the front of a house. I quickly ran close to the house and you could literally see the relief in his eyes as he promptly flew to my hand. Whew! What a relief!

With that close call came the other side of the coin for those of us who want to take the risk and fly our parrots outdoors - a question that has to be answered. What must we do to ensure that our parrots are ready to go outside and take the risks? I have put together my list of essentials with that in mind. I also am going to try and stretch breeders thinking on the "essential" element of flight in the babies that we raise. I realize that one of the most difficult realities is changing the thinking of someone who has "done it this 

way for years and if it ain't broke then don't fix it." I hope one can consider the perspective of someone who has only been breeding for a short five years.

Fledging and its Affects on Young Psittacines

It is my contention that flight is one of the most crucial building blocks to a young psittacines well being next to enough warm mushy food. I know this is a strong statement, but I truly believe it to be correct for multiple reasons.

The first reason comes from the differences that I have seen in the babies that I have fledged. (By fledged I mean this: a baby that has learned how to fly, by stopping, starting, landing where it chooses, and practices this often so it can do it well.) They have such a sense of adventure. I like how Tom Beard on the Freeflight list gives a taste of this. If Elliot, his Goffin's cockatoo, won't come when he is called, Tom will get on the ground and make it look like he is playing with something or looking at something that is very interesting. Sure enough, Elliot is there in a heartbeat because he has to see what Tom is so enthralled with. I have seen the same thing in my baby Eclectus. One night I was working on my brooder for the babies and one of the babies could not contain himself and had to fly over to see what it was that so fascinated me. Eventually, after the baby worked through his fear of the unknown, his curiosity got him and he landed on my shoulder to check out what it was and what I was doing. This kind of thing happens time and time again. One can literally see the babies go through their stages as they mature and "grow" up and the best part is that they never seem to grow out of it.

The second reason that I believe so strongly in fledging baby psittacines is one word: Volition. Trying to get a baby that was never fledged to "volitionally" fly to you can be very tough and sometimes impossible. There is something about the young babies brains when they are developing that I believe isn't much different than a human brain. They seem to be able to adapt and think for themselves. When a baby misses this "window of opportunity" they struggle being able to "think outside of the box" if you will. This is similar to what we see in elephants at circuses. As babies they are chained with large chains to a post that they could never get away from. They fight and fight and fight some more until they finally give up never to try again unless utter terror comes upon them. Many people are absolutely amazed that these monsters are tied up with only a small rope to a small post in the ground. Once the "leash" is attached, the elephant won't leave.

In the birds that I have seen that haven't been fledged, I see the same thing. Many on the Freeflight list have struggled with this reality. Many have ultimately given up trying to get their bird to fly of their own will.