Usually, the sight of a beautiful blue-and-gold macaw flying through the open air is one reserved for those in South America, where the macaws are native. But for those attending a demonstration by the East Wings Freeflight Club, this experience is recreated here in the US. On August 16th, residents of Williamsburg, Virginia flocked to The Feathered Nest, a local parrot supply store, to see the club’s macaws in action. I attended the event and interviewed the leader of the club.
Buddy Waskey (pictured) and his wife Judy started the East Wings Freeflight Club in May 2013.
The club was started by Buddy Waskey and his wife Judy in May of 2013. The majority of the club’s communication and organization is done through their Facebook page. "We are not a formal club. We just get together and help each other learn about free-flying macaws,” Waskey said.
They are also not the only freeflight club around. According to Waskey, "West Wings Freeflight Club started on Facebook before East Wings Freeflight Club by Raymond Varella. With Raymond Varella’s permission we started East Wings Freeflight Club on Facebook. West Wings Freeflight Club and East Wings Freeflight Club members use the same concepts and training taught by Chris Biro. The newest club is ‘Arctic Wings Freeflight Club’ started by Carina Rockhammar in Svelvik, Norway.”
To see these birds soaring in an open field is an impressive sight, and one that takes a lot of work and dedication. ” Freeflight is a lifestyle not a hobby and the decision to freefly outside should not be taken lightly. When you start to prepare your bird for freeflying your bird needs to spend time outside to get familiar with the sights and sounds of the outdoors. So this requires an outside cage or aviary,” Waskey said.
It’s also important that training for freeflight starts early. This is an activity that requires a good deal of trust between bird and human — something that is only reached through dedicated training. "It is recommended that you start with a bird that is in pin feathers. A young bird needs to be exposed to the environment that it will be living in and be allowed to fully fledge in your home. Our best flyers are those that developed their flight skills the earliest. When these skills are learned inside, and recall has been mastered the bird is taken outside for the first time,” Waskey said.
The East Wings Freeflight Club stresses that bird owners properly train their birds and themselves.
Of course, it can be easy to misunderstand freeflight for those who don’t have much experience with it. Waskey often has to quell concerns from first-time viewers. "There are many misconceptions about freeflight, such as the new bird will fly away and never be seen again and freeflyers are losing large numbers of birds," he said. "With the proper training of the bird’s owner and exposing the bird to correct environments at the proper age, freeflight can be very successful.”
At the demonstration, Waskey explained how the club is equipped to handle the situation if birds do happen to fly off, which is not a common occurrence. The macaws are microchipped, and typically do not fly far from the area. The club works as a team to keep the bird monitored and recovered.
Club members are experienced and are very aware of the dangers of freeflight. "The real dangers are very different than people who have not been trained to freefly may think. The most commonly heard concern is raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons, ospreys). Young inexperienced macaws are often frightened by raptors, but seldom do they attack large, fully-flighted macaws that have been properly trained. We have had more problems with kites that are being flown nearby than raptors,” said Waskey, who assured the group gathered at the demonstration that he has never heard of a free-flighted macaw being attacked and killed by predatory birds.
Waskey recommends Chris Biro’s classes for those who would like to try freeflight for themselves. He warns that, "Short cuts or trying to do it on your own often end in a lost bird.” If you’d like to join the East Wings Freeflight Club, it is a simple process. "Just contact us through Facebook and come join us.”