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Uploaded:2020-10-08
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Sunny the red crested turaco is being trained to be an ambassador, Jessi is trying something she's never done with a turaco before, will it work?

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Hi, everyone!

Welcome back to Animal Wonders! I’m Jessi, and this is Sunny the red crested turaco.

There’s always something new happening here and it’s so fun to share updates, but when an animal has a breakthrough in training, I get especially excited. So today I’m excited to show you what I’ve been working on with Sunny in order for her to become an ambassador for her species in public presentations! [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC]. Just so you know, we have Cheeks the rabbit  hanging out over here in his very favorite spot.

Cheeks is very old. He’s in palliative care,  and we’re just keeping him comfortable. And back to Sunny here!

She is actually  an amazingly calm and friendly turaco. Her original owner loved her dearly and spent  a good amount of time with her as a baby. So even though she’s now an adult, she’s  retained this super interactive personality,   which is really special but not  normally how turacos behave.  So I want to be clear and let you know  that turacos don’t make good pets   because their care isn’t easy to manage in a  human home and they tend to be very flighty.  Also they eat a lot of soft foods, so their poop is also very soft and liquidy, and it’s just really gross to clean  the splatter off the floor and walls.  Also I want to mention that this is Sunny’s cold weather enclosure.

She has a larger outdoor aviary space when the weather is warm enough. Okay, I met Sunny about 3 months ago, and she’s been happy to jump onto my arm or shoulder and she’ll even let me pet her a bit.  But she’s not like a parrot where they just  chill on your hand while you walk around.  As soon as I start moving,  Sunny jumps and flies off.  Which means I have a lot of work to do if my goal is to get her to the point where she’s comfortable traveling to schools for our educational outreach. So my first couple months with Sunny, I really just wanted to get to know her better and see what she tolerated and what her level of interest in training would be.

The first thing I wanted to establish was a simple “come here” cue, so I could communicate that I wanted her to jump onto my arm.  I chose this because she was already doing the behavior and it was an easy way to get her thinking about receiving a reward for an action. Sort of a soft opening for positive reinforcement training that would get more structured as time went on.  The next thing I wanted to establish was a  scale behavior so I could monitor her weight.  Weighing a bird is one of the best  ways to assess their overall health   since they tend to hide any illness and the  only sign of that illness is weight loss, which you’ll only know if you’re regularly weighing  them and know what their normal weight is.  So I simply transferred the “come here” cue  to the scale perch, and we were good to go.  These behaviors were established in her outdoor  aviary so I was fully in her enclosure with her,   which made things much easier because I never felt the need to be cautious of her flying away from me. But now that she’s moved indoors into this space, I’m changing things up a bit so my communication with her can get more precise.  I’ve chosen to start her formal training,  and that starts with a target behavior.  Targeting is when the trainee touches a specific  part of their body to a designated object.  Often with a dog or horse you’ll have them  target their nose to a closed fist like that,   and with elephants, zookeepers can have them target their foot to a station for stress free nail trims.

So target training is incredibly useful for any species. Instead of just being able to communicate   where I want her to hop to, I want to be able to  ask her to turn around, stay still, go in a crate,   or any number of other movements that I wouldn’t  be able to explain with just a “come here” cue.  So my goal is to target train Sunny to the point  where I can use the target to establish a flighted recall, which is just like asking your dog to  “come” and they run to you from a distance.  Alright, first things first! I chose my tools: a target stick with an easily identifiable ball at the end, a clicker, and her favorite treats, which are blueberries.  Here’s what happened on our very  first target training session!  Sunny’s first reaction was an enthusiastic  bite, which I thought was promising.  But then her following behavior  told me she was not happy about it.  It seemed to frustrate her that the ball wasn’t  food, and she didn’t make the connection that   biting the target ball resulted in  her getting a blueberry right after.  Also the clicker was very startling for her and didn’t help the situation, so I decided to ditch it and just go with a verbal marker. “Good!”  So this first attempt was not what I expected, and it definitely was not what I was hoping for. But I didn't give up!

Our second target training attempt was just as confusing and frustrating for her. So you can see that her first response is to bite the target ball, but then you can see that frustration right after.  I was concerned that she wasn’t making  any connection between doing an action   and getting a reward, and she was beginning  to actively move away from the target ball.  I needed to reassess my attempts at communicating  because what I was doing wasn't working.  So on our third target training session,  I changed things up and instead of using   a target stick and ball, I decided to switch to a  smaller target that didn’t resemble a large berry,   which seemed to just really frustrate her. The porcupine quill target was much better.   She wasn’t scared of it, but she still  wasn’t making the connection between,   “Touch this thing and you’ll get a treat.” So I ended up trying to do some baiting   by showing her the blueberry in hopes that she would touch the target by accident or eagerness and I could reinforce that behavior.

And it kind of worked, but I still wasn’t seeing   that she had made the connection between  touching the target and getting the treat.  Our fourth target training session  is where things got interesting! It’s not an unusual occurrence in the  animal training world that sometimes   you think an animal just doesn’t get what you’re  trying to communicate and you end the session,   and the next day you come back and it’s like they  magically understood it after a night’s sleep.  Sometimes it takes a little time for the brain to recognize the pattern of reward and then you’ll see the change in behavior. So watch what Sunny does when I present the target in our fourth target training session. [GASP] She nibbles it!

I was surprised, so of course I had  to confirm that she would do it again,   and… she does it again! And again and again! Even perched on my arm, she targets.

Okay, so now I have to make sure she’s actually understanding that she has to touch the target wherever it is, and to do that I position it so she has to move her head in a different position than just right in front of her.  And you can see she turns to touch it and then  bends down to touch it in a different position.  So, Sunny had a breakthrough training session! She had me worried there for a bit.  And now I’d like to do another training session on camera to see if she still remembers from the last time. I’m also interested to see how well she can focus with the camera, tripod, and lights in the room.

Remember: my goal is to get her traveling to new locations with new sights and sounds at each place.  So continuing to expose her to unfamiliar objects is a good way to desensitize her to things she may encounter in the future. Alright, here we go Sunny! Are you so excited?

Look at you! Alright, I’ve got my target stick and a blueberry ready to go! And Sunny's definitely ready to go.  Hi, sweetheart!

Can we do  a quick little target here?  Good girl! You wanna come on up? Good girl!

You can get your  blueberry for that. Nice!  And let’s get her… Good! Alright, that was awesome. I’m gonna see if I can get her to turn a little bit further this way.  Good girl!

She’s very distracted by other things, but I’d like to see if I can get her up onto my other arm here.  Good girl! Thank you. I’ll try and get her to turn around this target.

Do you see the target?  Good! Nice job. Alright, we’re gonna go back in her enclosure.

You wanna hop on there? Good. And we’re gonna try to target from here.  I’m gonna see if I can get her to move   a little bit more with this target this  time because she obviously remembers it.  So let’s see if she’ll go away from me.

Good!  And back toward me a little bit? Oh, she’s stepping toward it! Yes!

Oh my gosh, I’m so excited. You know what, I’m going to end it right on that one. She gets one last treat for being awesome.

And short and sweet. Oh, that was so good! Sunny, you’re amazing!

Yes you are! What was most exciting is that, not only did she remember to target and how that worked, but she was moving her head around.   She moved away from me, which meant that she  understood that the food wasn’t coming from   only me, that she had to  go touch the target first,   and then she would get the reinforcement  from me. And then, she took steps toward it,   which is the next step, which is awesome!

Training is always such a unique experience with each individual because no two animals train exactly the same, so it's always exciting!  And though I've worked with several turacos in my  career, I've never had one target trained before.  Turacos are just such stunning birds! Sunny, you’re amazing. Thank you for being so awesome!

And thank you for watching Animal Wonders, which is produced by Complexly. If you want to keep imagining the world complexly with us, check out Bizarre Beasts. Once a month, hosts Hank Green and Sarah Suta introduce you to a new bizarre beast and  explore what makes these animals so weird to us.  From birds whose babies have claws on  their wings, to lizards with glowing bones,   the show examines the how and why of some of  the world's most amazingly strange critters.  And if you want to take a bizarre beast home, check out the Bizarre Beasts pin club!

The links for the channel and the  pin club are in the description below!  I hope you enjoyed watching Sunny, our  very own, very sweet Bizarre Beast.  Thanks, and I'll see you next week! Bye! [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC].