Hi, bird trainer Brendan here, the one on the exchange program in Canada. Working over seas gives me so many opportunities to work with animals I have never trained before, from skunks, to yak, to raccoons and … Violet Turacos!? Never heard of the word turaco before? I don’t blame you, neither did I until I came here. The species I am working with is also called a Violaceous Plantain-eater, but I suppose that doesn’t help you either.
Violet Turacos are related to singing birds and found in the forests of tropical West Africa. They love to eat other fruits and as I’m fast discovering fig and banana are some of their favourites. More exciting for me though is one individual, her name is ‘Tendaji’ and it means ‘one that makes things happen’. She came to the division I am working on, Outreach and Discovery, when she was six weeks old and has been a project ever since.
As she was very young she had a special diet. To be honest it looked like yellow vomit, luckily it didn’t smell like it. The first thing we did when we got her though was just getting her used to her new environment and us. She had to be fed four times a day and this helped form our initial relationship. Every time I would come by she would drop her body low to the perch, put her wings out to the side and start to call for food. It was like I was dad!
During these stages we were able to take small training steps to get ‘Tendaji’ to step and then later jump onto hand. Holding out my left hand I could easily get her to dawdle onto it by showing some of her diet in my right. This became easier, and less messy, as she became older and started to eat solids; fruit pieces are so much easier and cleaner to manage.
Eventually though ‘Teni’ became very good at this and soon learnt that when my left hand was offered if she stepped onto it something good would come. I don’t even have to show the food anymore, but as a reward I still give her a piece after she’s done it. This helps to keep the behaviour reoccurring and worth ‘Teni’s’ while.
When stepping onto my hand was trained I started to present my left hand further and further away. At first only an inch, and then two inches, and then three. Each time ‘Teni’ would then jump rather than hop. To make things more interesting we then started to increase the distances from inches to feet and now she will fly meters to me!
Currently the turaco training team and myself are getting ‘Tendaji’ used to different environments and distractions. Outside can be very scary for a young bird and, as ‘Teni’ will be used for animal encounters, we want her to be very confident in any scenario. This is to make sure ‘Teni’ always feels comfortable. She’s an amazing bird to work with. I’m very much enjoying my exchange!