Playing games with Kai.To get through this dispersal period with Kai, I have been playing games to strengthen our relationship and redirect any aggression that might pop up. This behavior took about 40 minutes to teach, and it got a little messy along the way, but he has it down well now and it’s fun to watch!
I trained him to realize that when I hold food up in my hand, he has to fly away from the food in order to get it. This will allow me to handle food in front of him in the future without worrying about him flying at my hand or trying to intimidate me into giving it to him. I began by holding the food up with my right hand. If he bated at it, I just held the jesses and didn’t allow him to reach it. The second he looked away from the food, I CR’d (Conditioned Reinforcer – ie: whistle) and tossed a tidbit to the floor. I would then call him back to the glove and repeat. Every time he looked at the food, I would pull it farther away. He quickly learned to look away to get the food. Then I upped the criteria. He now had to lean away in order to get the food. At this point his behavior was amusing to watch. He would snap his head back and forth (look at the food, look away, look at the food, look away). He wanted to lunge for the food, but he knew he couldn’t. Finally, in frustration, he turned and flew off the glove. When he did this, I CR’d and put the food in my glove, calling him back up. He got a jackpot. After a few bites, I would slip the food out from the glove and repeat.
Now, I can pull a huge juicy piece of meat out of my pocket, and he’ll immediately turn from me, fly to the ground, then hop back to the glove. Sometimes I put the food in the glove when he flies to the ground, sometimes I don’t. This way he has to repeat the behavior several times. It’s great mental and physical exercise. It also keeps him from trying to drive me out of his territory (dispersal behavior), because I am no longer a threat, I am a partner that he is working with. This behavior is also useful because it keeps him from bating at me if I’m handling food around him while he’s perched. I was able to approach him the other day while he was perched out. I pulled out a pigeon wing for him to pick at. The second I pulled it out, he leaned forward and opened his wings like he was going to fly at me (his initial instinct). Then I saw him stop, think for a second, turn around, and fly away from the food. Perfect. I CR’d and tossed him the wing.
This is just one of several mental exercises I can play with Kai. Goshawks need to exercise and they need to think. A bored goshawk can be a recipe for disaster. I may not be able to fly Kai every day, but that doesn’t mean he has to sit around bored. Playing tidbit games at home can provide just as much mental stimulation as the hunt – sometimes more! In their minds, it’s just another form of hunting. When we’re in the field, they’re hunting rabbits, ducks, etc. When they’re at home, they’re “hunting” tidbits. Both require them to figure out the situation, think, and exert themselves.
Sidenote: I did not come up with these ideas myself. I am being mentored by another falconer and trying my best to articulately explain what he has taught me and document the process along the way.