Knock, knock…Who's there?

Knock, knock…Who’s there? Taffy knocks before entering Kito’s enclosure, a behavior modification technique that the crane associates with a tasty treat!

By Taffy Bannon and Kim Boardman, ICF Aviculturists

Knock before entering… A common courtesy, for example, when visiting a friend or relative’s home.  Believe it or not, this simple concept can also be applied as a training tool to help calm nervous birds.  A ‘knock’ signals to a bird that an aviculturist will be entering to do something in their space. This ‘something’ can be any number of routine husbandry tasks: from checking food and water buckets, to entering the pen with a large bucket to clean.  Sometimes, a knock may just mean someone is coming to look in at you and toss you a treat.

To calm a nervous Kito (a young, recently acquired male Blue Crane), aviculture staff began knocking on his door, opening it, looking at him, and then tossing a peanut or a few kernels of corn.  This was done so he began to associate the knock with something good. Staff then began knocking every time before they entered (as long as we weren’t handling him, which is a negative association for many birds).  This made Kito’s reward schedule variable – an important concept when training behaviors. To this day, we continue to knock before entering.  Kito, and his new pen-mate, Veld, both look toward the door, but remain calm when they hear a knock because they now know what is going to happen. A reminder to us all that good manners go a long way.

We learned earlier this month that Veld, ICF’s female Blue Crane, will be moving to the San Diego Zoo. Veld’s transfer to San Diego is a recommendation of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Blue Cranes, a plan to maximize the health of captive populations. Veld’s new mate in San Diego is a good genetic match with her, and they are recommended to breed. In exchange, we will be receiving a new female Blue Crane from Miami Metro Zoo to pair with Kito. The new female is not currently a great genetic match with Kito, and as a result the SSP advises that we do not breed them. They will still be pen mates, and we hope to have the new pair on exhibit at our headquarters. As an AZA accredited institution, ICF supports the SSP recommendations as best we can for all of our crane species. Veld and Kito quickly formed a bond after they were introduced this winter. As a result, we are hopeful that because they were both so interested in companionship, their new pairings will also proceed just as smoothly (read our update on Kito’s arrival at ICF this fall).