Note from Karen Pryor: This paper reveals a fascinating piece of scientific detective work by Gail Peterson, Ph.D., a professor of behavior analysis at the University of Minnesota. During World War II, Skinner and some of his graduate students conducted classified research on pigeon-controlled guidance systems, at a secret laboratory in Minneapolis. One day, while waiting for government approval on their next steps, they decided to pass the time by trying to train a pigeon to "bowl."
Back in 1979 I taught a training course for keepers at the National Zoo. The zoo had a display full of abandoned cockatoos, some of which had been relinquished for behavior problems, others simply because they had outlived their owners. They were so hungry for attention and stimulation that one of my students taught a bird several tricks (hanging upside down from a branch, for instance) with the 'click' being a tap on the glass with her class ring, and the primary reinforcer nothing more than a chance to pretend to nibble her ring through the glass. Ever since, I have been touched and saddened by the loneliness and impoverished environment of many captive parrots and their relatives.
Join this great online list and find out how to clicker train your parrot or other bird. Here's a message from Melinda Johnson, the author of our book on clicking birds, Clicker Training for Birds. Yes! Clicker training works for birds too. Birds were among the first animals ever to be trained by B.F. Skinner and his assistants.
"Tell me this," said the Old Falconer, rocking back on his heels a little. "I want my bird to come back to me when she's too far away; but I want her to come back AND to stay up in the air. If I give her your click signal for coming back, she's got to come down to me to get her reward, right? So how can I do that and still get her to stay overhead?" And he glared at me with "Gotcha!" in his eyes.
In the last five years, since training thousands of people, mostly dog owners, to use operant conditioning creatively, I've come to be aware that the conditioned reinforcer is much more important and useful than I knew, and that it has many functions besides telling the animal it's earned a treat. All of these functions can apply in falconry to make your life easier, your bird happier, your control more reliable, and your hunting and other interactions more successful and enjoyable.