Training birds to free-fly takes off among enthusiasts

It is one thing to train your dog to fetch - it is another to train your pet bird to fly back to you. Mr Arman Mastan, 44, is a founding member of an enthusiast group that trains birds to free-fly, which is a growing hobby in Singapore.

SINGAPORE - It is one thing to train your dog to fetch - it is another to train your pet bird to fly back to you.

Mr Arman Mastan, 44, relishes the moment when his pet macaws take flight and return to land on his arm.

"To train them to free-fly is not easy," says the married father of two. "They tend to fly whichever direction they like."

"It takes months for them to come back to you... it's a great achievement for me."

The civil servant has nine birds which are trained to free-fly - they are taught to return after a short flight session.

Mr Arman started free-flying bird training four years ago, when he saw a friend doing it.

"I thought that you could only train dogs or cats to come back to you," he says. " I didn't realise that you could train your pet birds to come back to you."

To do so, a bond must be established between the bird and the owner. A short leash is put on during the early stages of training and removed when the owner is confident that the bird will return.

There are risks, of course. Birds that are spooked by other birds or loud noises may fly away and not return, and birds of prey, such as eagles, may attack.

To keep an eye on the birds, Mr Arman and his fellow bird enthusiast friends choose to fly their pets at open fields. Larger parrots, such as macaws and African greys, are preferred as they are easier to spot from a distance.

Mr Arman, who is one of the founding members of the two-year-old bird enthusiast group Birdies, Buddies, Kakis, says free-flying is a hobby that is growing in Singapore.

During the weekends, almost all of its 30 members gather. Weekday sessions have a smaller turnout of about 10 members.

Mr Arman says: "There are gatherings happening all over Singapore every week... where parrot owners congregate to fly their birds."