Orion the Barred Owl

I have trained all the things! Or rather, all the animals! Well, more like lots of animals. Ok, seven animals. Except that I only observed while Anaka, a professional trainer, worked with a Red Tailed Hawk, Barred Owl, and Bobcat. But I really did train a chicken named Sophie to identify the color green. Why teach a hen to recognize the color green? The same reason to climb Mt. Everest: because it’s there and you can. (In case you were wondering, you can’t with a rooster. Hens will take food as reinforcement and keep at the task; roosters want to show off their treat to the hens and can’t keep focus.)

This morning I target trained a black vulture named Magnolia, persuading her to get on a scale to be weighed. And I was part of an otter training team. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team to train an otter. I held a target against the tank and Louis had to touch it, whereupon another trainer standing above the pool would throw him a treat.

Louis the Otter looking up for a treat after correctly targeting a yellow circle in my hand

All of this happened during the two days I spent at Maymont Nature Center in Richmond, where I am receiving instruction in animal training. ┬áMy main partner is Ginny the Pied Crow, Daughter of Gwen & Stephen, and Crow Extraordinaire. At 500 grams, she inherited her Dad’s physique, but she got her Mom’s personality and brains. The Director of the Nature Center better watch out or Ginny will have his job by the time she’s two.

Our Girl can now step on a scale and fly to and from a perch on command. She even flew round-robin between me, Anaka (my teacher), and a stationary perch. Ginny will also will go into a vari-kennel (crate) voluntarily and, well, eventually. Her paper shredding skills are prodigious. Her caws put a parrot’s shrieks to shame. Once she matures a bit, she’s to make a great education bird.

Virginia (Ginny) the Crow checking out one of the classrooms at Maymont.