When you visit the National Aviary and participate in a feeding or watch a bird show, you’ll see birds flying on cue, taking food from the hand, or being handled. Training those behaviors requires patience and persistence, and one of the most frequent questions we hear is, “How did you get the birds to do that?” or, “Why don’t they fly away instead of coming to you?” The answer has to do with the way we train them.
The most important aspect of this kind of training is that it’s positive. We work hard to build trusting relationships with our birds so that they look forward to interacting with us.
Training makes it possible for our staff to directly handle the birds, and this in turn makes it possible for us to take better care of them. We are able to get accurate daily weights, we can monitor and assess them more easily because they allow us to get close, and the regular interaction with humans makes the birds more relaxed when we move through their exhibit areas.
Training is also enriching for our birds! It keeps them active by requiring them to think and react to the cues and reinforcements that they are being offered. It encourages them to try new things and builds their confidence through positive human interaction.
It is also important to gain early experience working with animals. Many of our trainers started out in teenage volunteer programs at zoos while in high school, and completed multiple internships while in college. In fact, many of our hardest working interns are now full-time employees at the National Aviary.
The most important aspect of becoming an animal trainer is to have experienced mentors. Experienced National Aviary trainers spend time working with and guiding less experienced trainers. Most of our trainers have attended professional animal training conferences, seminars and workshops.
To learn more about training animals:1. Come to our indoor free-flight bird show in cooler months or our outdoor free-flight bird show in warmer months. See our birds performing their trained natural behaviors and stick around after to talk to our training staff.
2. Children, teens and adults age 12 and up can sign up for a special program to experience what it is like to be a trainer at the National Aviary.