There is a growing interest in the companion parrot world in keeping birds fully flighted, i.e. not clipping wings. As someone who keeps fully flighted birds and flies them in many varied locations for the public there is a part of me that really thinks this is the only way to go. However, I also know from experience how much time and effort it takes training my birds to fly in strange locations, almost every show we do is in a different venue. I am speaking not only about initial training but also the maintenance of the behaviors trained. During the show season these birds are worked every day, regardless of there being a show or not. The thought of someone who has the pressures of a full time job and perhaps a spouse and family to be engaged with undertaking this quite honestly scares me.
It is probably worthwhile making clear exactly what free flight is. Free flight, also called “at liberty” flying, involves releasing the birds outdoors and allowing them complete choice as to where they go and how long they fly. This is quite different to what most professional bird trainers, including myself, typically do with their birds. The requirements of most shows preclude this particular form of flying in order to be able to keep the shows with some pace and direction. Having said that several professional trainers I know do fly small flocks of birds in a similar manner for show opening and closing sequences. They have five to ten birds fly out and circle the audience until the birds are ready to land on the stage or return to their housing. In fact I am presently working with a facility that will fly a flock of Macaws around their grounds, not part of a scripted show.
It is my contention that if the bird is not to be placed at risk this style of flight demands a much higher level of training for the bird and skill from the trainer. It is also my position that the typical, i.e. majority, of companion parrot owners do not have the knowledge, time, or focus required to achieve this level of training. Further I feel it unethical and professionally irresponsible for professional trainers to promote free flying companion parrots without making the demands of this pursuit clear to all.
This is not to suggest that I am opposed to keeping fully flighted birds, quite the opposite as I wrote in my blog article about clipping.
There are individuals who have proven that a companion bird can be flown free; they may have begun doing this through trial and error rather than formal training knowledge; however they were all dedicated to it, spending large amounts of time and effort on the venture. Most have had scary hours/days when birds have flown away, beyond the recall distance. Some have lost birds.
My position is simple I do not think that flying parrots outdoors is an activity that the majority of companion parrot owners should undertake.