Turner specialist works with owners to allow their feathered pets to flap free
CAROL MCALICE CURRIE
May 19, 2006
To clip or not to clip?
Most pet-bird owners wrestle with the decision about wing-clipping early in their birds' lives.
Salem veterinarian Dr. Madeline Rae said for most owners, the decision to clip is based on two simple thoughts: to keep the bird safe and to keep it from escaping.
But because of an increasing obesity problem among some pet birds, there is a small and growing number of bird owners who are opting to keep their bird flighted.
Chris Shank, a Turner resident, is one such bird owner.
She owns about 15 cockatoos and spends much of her day training them to be flighted pets. She recently hung out her shingle to teach other companion-parrot or cockatoo owners to train their own birds.
Six of Shank's cockatoos not only fly untethered in her home, but they also fly about in the open air outside her home. She said her birds are trained using positive reinforcement and a clicker.
"I hear all the time the different claims about why clipped birds are safer," Shank said. "But I can offer many counter-reasons why flighted birds can be equally safe and also regularly exercised."
Shank warns that she doesn't promote free flying for everybody.
She said the owners she works with need to be dedicated, because the training is highly regimented.
"It's definitely not for everyone, but it is such a huge enrichment for many pet-bird owners. Especially if they've owned a clipped bird before, they'll find flighted birds have a huge difference in personality."
Dr. Rae said that many veterinarians immediately will reject an owner's suggestion to keep a bird flighted.
She said it's often the vet's initial reaction because many owners don't realize that to let a bird to fly in a home means taking absolute responsibility over their environment.
"There are lots and lots of perils indoors. Birds will get into places you couldn't even imagine," Rae said.
"They peck at door frames, they nibble on electric cords, they can be attacked by the family dog. So for most, it's not a great idea. But for a small but dedicated segment of the bird-owning population, if they're using a supervised, enclosed flight space, it can work. But I mean like what they use for rehabilitating a hawk; it has to be a large space without hazards," she said.
Some of the dangers bird owners need to recognize if they're considering keeping a bird flighted are: open sources of water (such as toilets), ceiling fans, unobstructed windows and hot halogen lights.
Shank addresses all of these perils in her private training, which can be conducted at her home or at the bird owner's home. She also said that there are other bird behaviors that can be modified with training.
"We can teach them tricks, and we can also get rid of unwanted behaviors," Shank said. "It just takes practice and patience. Many times, a bird is more comfortable in its own environment, so I'm happy to come to them."
Shank has a bachelor's degree in English but received an additional two-year exotic-animal-training degree from a private program in California.
She has owned cockatoos and parrots for more than 25 years and also taught dolphins in the San Francisco Bay Area and Germany before moving to the Philippines.
"I finally grew tired of the show business of showing off trained animals, so I decided I wanted to come back and help other people train their pets," Shank said.
ccurrie@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6746
To learn more
To find out if your bird can be trained to fly indoors or out, contact Chris Shank at (503) 743-9195.
She has a two-day Fly About planned for this fall. One day will focus on indoor flight training, and the other will be dedicated to outdoor free flight. Bird owners can attend one day or both.
Shank said an initial phone consultation on flighted training is free.