Food Management and Motivation

There are many individuals out there whom are under the impression that anyone who free flies their birds are starving them. Considering free flight is still fairly new to the pet world and weight management is often used in zoos to encourage a desired response it is no surprise people create this conclusion. However, I am here to inform you that it is just not true.

People that free fly their parrots are guilty of using food management, which is very different to weight management. Food management by definition is ‘a broad process that involves the proper oversight of food selection, preparation, presentation and preservation.’

In other words, we don’t manage how much an animal eats. We manage what that animal eats, how and when. Using my own macaws as an example, we don’t feed nuts freely. My birds have to work for them via training or foraging. This doesn’t mean they don’t get any veggies, pellets or seeds. They are willing to work for the nuts because it is a type of food they love and don’t get often. My birds are motivated to get the treat because they not only view training as a fun activity but by nature they find it exciting to work for their food.

When training for free flight you are wanting to use food management. Whatever treat is your birds high value treat, you do not want to just give this out and allow your birds free access to it. For my cockatiels, their high value treat is millet. By only giving millet during a training session you are managing their food. On top of this, you must consider the times that you train. If you have a training session straight after dinner, then there is a high chance your bird will not want to participate or may even lose focus very quickly due to a lack of motivation. So, training at the correct times is crucial! Best times for your bird could be different to the best times for my birds, but the general rule of thumb is to train before meal times. We will discuss all of this in further detail in our online video chats.

There are still trainers out there that believe motivation is created by hunger. However, I will very quickly break that statement with a simple question:

‘Do overweight individuals still feel hunger?’

The answer to the above is obviously yes. Hunger is not well defined, but it is considered a negative state as the bird does not want to feel hungry and therefore will want to get rid of that feeling. Motivation is different. So why then do some trainers still feel the need to use weight management in order to create a response from their bird? Because weight management has been used for years. Weight management isn’t about starving your animal, despite the common misconception. If your bird is reverting to baby begging, you are most certainly doing something wrong. Weight management is about keeping the animal in ‘a weight range that corresponds to acceptable behavioural responses to food’.

I highly encourage you to watch this lecture by Barbara Heidenreich on weight management as it is a real eye opener:

Weight Management in Animal Training: Pitfalls, Ethical Considerations and Alternative Options