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For one of several military contracts with the U.S. military, ABE developed a training program for birds that taught them to search for downed pilots.  These birds were trained to search at a minimum distance of one mile and in most cases much farther.  They did not fly away, although it would have been possible for them to do so.  They also worked many hours in conditions that ranged from fair to stormy.  Their training began when they were mere fledglings - ABE recognized in the 1950s the importance of incorporating the field of ethology into its work.  Therefore, these birds had been imprinted onto humans at an early age, which might explain their reluctance to fly away and their dedication to the task. 

Trained birds would search the ocean for downed pilots.  The flyers had small wooden rings attached to their life vests.  Upon locating a downed flyer, the bird would return with the ring, indicating that it had found someone in the water.  Much of this work was conducted in Lake Hamilton at Hot Springs, Arkansas, although some of the pictures indicate that the project was demonstrated to the military at San Diego Bay.  Some of this work is described in the American Psychologist article by the Bailey's, "Outside the Skinner Box."

Photo Gallery (click on each photo to enlarge)


Video Clips

The process of training rescue birds [Fast DL: 1.5MB]