The three fluffy call ducks at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo’s Indiana Family Farm have a busy life. When they’re not swimming, socializing, eating, or partaking in enrichment activities, our ducks participate in training sessions with their zoo keeper.
Why do we train our ducks?
“Target training gives the animals more choice and control, which reduces stress on them,” says zoo keeper Maggie Sipe. Sipe trains the call ducks by rewarding them for choosing to target specific objects or stand in designated spots. “Call ducks can see color very well,” says Sipe, “and our training teaches them to move toward a specific color. This is useful when the animals must move indoors due to weather or for medical checkups. The ducks can choose to move into a crate and would not need to be chased or handled.”
The three male ducks, named Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard after a popular T.V. show, eagerly waddle toward their zoo keeper when it’s time for a training session. “I’m proud of how well these three boys are doing,” says Sipe of the trio’s training efforts, “they are very good at targeting their own colors.”
The zoo employs positive reinforcement when training animals. With positive reinforcement, zoo keepers offer a reward when an animal performs a desired behavior. The call ducks receive a reward when they move to a desired location or target their assigned color with their beaks.
Their reward is simple but effective. “I give them one green pea or a piece of corn when they perform a desired behavior,” says Sipe, “Those are the treats that motivate them.”
This video shows Sipe training Sheldon, Leonard, and Howard in their exhibit while zoo guests observed from the path:
The following photo set is from a recent indoor training session. (The ducks live indoors when the weather gets cold.) Click on the photos to enlarge: