About Us

From the early days of falconry on the Eastern steppe to the dolphins assisting Brazilian fishermen, the honeyguides whistling at Masaai tribesmen to the first fabled wolves sharing food with our ancestors, cooperation between humans and animals has helped shape the course of civilization since the beginnings of written record. While the connection between people and the natural world is a tenuous balance between survival and exploitation, our fascination with animals has never ceased to pique our curiosity, soften our hearts, and provide us with experiences unparalleled.

Avian Behavior International was created to to build pathways with a wide variety of audiences through experiencing nature in its most liberated expression: the free-flying bird. An animal with the ability to exist in three dimensional space like no other creature has much to teach us about building relationships through communication, trust, and confidence. Using the idea of cooperation as a backdrop, we can reach beyond the one dimensional experiences of traditional animal-human interactions to achieve innovative levels of creativity to preserve our connection to the natural world. We are dedicated to be a part of an exciting force in the animal community committed to using progressive technology in behavior science and ethics in animal training.

Getting Here
Our facility is open by appointment only. ABI’s twenty-acre training ranch is tucked away near Lake Wohlford, between Escondido and Valley Center, California. With views of the ocean and orange blossoms perfuming the air each spring in this agrarian community, the countryside is also home to native deer, bobcats, fox, falcons, turkeys, and even bald and golden eagles have been spotted soaring overhead.

In addition to registering for our on-site adventures here where visitors can witness some of the most incredible aerial displays of explosive enthusiasm from a variety of species in our free flying collection and learn about their role in nature and conservation programs around the world, we also provide customized off-site programs, workshops, and seminars where others can learn from our techniques and the rewards that come inherent with changing the world around us with positive reinforcement.

Hillary Hankey

Hillary Hankey

Owner 

Growing up with animals, Hillary’s enthusiasm for animal behavior knew no bounds. After finding her grandparents’ collection of National Geographic magazines, she logged the daily habits of the domestic tabby cat for research practice – including a few hours of cat naps – on the family camcorder, erasing cherished family memories in the process.

You could probably credit Hillary’s four companion cockatoos for helping her ditch the plan to go to veterinary school after graduating from Colorado State University and following the less conventional path to exotic animal training. Training her birds inspired her to achieve personal goals of the endless pursuit of self-mastery and authenticity, leading Hillary to seek some of the best minds in the field from which to learn. This in turn provided incredible opportunities in zoo animal training. The founding of Avian Behavior International in 2013 is an extension of the dogged pursuit to build an environment led by integrity, a commitment to ethical standards of behavior management, and a passion for helping others achieve results with positive reinforcement.

Hillary’s enthusiasm for the preservation and success of birds in the wild and in our homes is a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week endeavor. With commitments as various and sundry from her consulting practice, Learning Parrots, to her position on the Board of Directors of the Indonesian Parrot Project, she aims to cultivate the joy of learning and sharing in order to exact change in the lives of birds around the world.

Andre Mondin

Andre Mondin

Curator of Husbandry

Andre Mondin’s love for animals was fostered from an early age alongside his father, a biologist with a government environmental agency in Brazil. Many an after school hour was spent at his facility learning about the natural behavior and husbandry of South American species such as bats, spiders, rodents, caimans, and primates, including the rare golden lion tamarin. Vacations found Andre the farms and ranches of friends and family, helping out with livestock and poultry and searching for wildlife. Andre left Brazil and moved to the United States and began taking veterinary assistant classes and helping out at the Humane Society. He began a five-year stint volunteering at Wild Wonders in Bonsall, California, spending almost all of his free time working with animals various and sundry, including alligators, wallabies, and exotic cats. With Wild Wonders, Andre fulfilled a lifelong dream of travelling to Africa’s wild animals.

In 2007, Andre reached another enviable goal when he began working as a veterinary hospital keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This experience has afforded him the opportunity to work side by side with some of the best minds in the zoological community providing special care for each unique case that the Park sees.

Andre’s sincere passion for animals met its match when he and Hillary found each other. His beloved reptiles have rapidly taken over the house, and he has developed a reputation as a stray cat charmer. In addition to traveling across the planet to see wildlife, evenings and weekends will find Andre turning over rocks in the desert looking for reptiles or hiking the trails with his beloved dogs.

Nyree Curran

Nyree Curran

Project Trainer

Growing up in Kingscliff, Australia, Nyree’s early start with animals came from following around her father, who was the local veterinarian and kept his practice just next door to the family home. This also made it really easy for her to keep a large array of cats, dogs, rats, and budgerigars while growing up as well as pursue her passion for horseback riding, through which she competes regularly in dressage classes still.

Upon finishing high school, Nyree packed up her gear – including the horse – and headed off to the university, where she majored in Wildlife Sciences. After graduating and working in veterinary clinics and doing behavioral analysis with the humane society for cat and dog adoptions, it was her time spent volunteering at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary where Nyree began spending more time around birds. There, she was able to observe some incredible breeding projects in action, such as those for the Coxen’s and Double Eyed Fig parrots. This proved to be an entrance suitable only for a life less ordinary, as Nyree became an intern with ABI and its project in Brazil in 2013. She believes the Brazil Amazon trip with ABI would have to be one of the highlights of her life.

Nyree enjoys working with birds because of the multi-layered aspects of avian behavior and also the intelligence of many species, particularly parrots. She believes there is always something new to learn about avian behavior and enjoys developing a trusting relationship with the birds at ABI.

Luke Chigwidden

Luke Chigwidden

Project Trainer

From Sydney, Australia, Luke was fortunate to grow up with the Royal National Park practically as his backyard, where his passion for animals flourished. He would spend his weekends in the park looking for water dragons, skinks, and birds, forever shaping the path that Luke would take through life. Living in a community with deep-rooted protections for the fragile populations of native wildlife like koalas as well as having a family that allowed for his own collection of birds and reptiles fostered Luke’s appreciation for the educational value of animals for conservation and their natural behaviors.

Once he finished school, he started volunteering at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Within six months he was working full time in the presentations department, learning the skills needed for snake shows and free flight bird shows. He had found his calling working not only with birds and reptiles, but also being able to train many different behaviors throughout various species. Luke also helped with the rehabilitation and release of the various species of Australian raptors. He worked at Currumbin for over six years before heading off to see the world.

The highlight of Luke’s career and life would be having the opportunity to work with ABI in Brazil for three months training parrots and toucans for a photo shoot in the Amazon. Not many people can say they free-flew trained macaws, conures and toucans in the middle of the jungle.

An avid surfer with salt water in his veins, as long as Luke has either a bird on his hand or a board under his arm he is a happy man.

Kathryne Thorpe

Kathryne Thorpe

Assistant Trainer

While being a mammal lover her entire life, Kathryne has only been involved with parrots for 20 years. Her parrot love affair began when she bought Pearl, an Umbrella Cockatoo. Who could ever imagine the impact one little fluffy white bird would have? Pearl is responsible for capturing Kathryne and her husband Rich and for bringing their hearts and minds into aviculture, into avian medicine, conservation, advocacy, and behavioral science. Idgie the Moluccan cockatoo joined the family more than 14 years ago when his original owner passed away. They have since added young palm cockatoo Rosie to the household and are enjoying the training opportunities that she brings.

Kathryne spent her entire business career as a Capitol Hill staffer, and then a lobbyist, and the cockatoos helped her keep a proper perspective on life.   She finally realized she did not want to interact with one more Congressperson so she and Rich decided to retire to San Diego, as far from DC as possible. Tragically, Pearl died unexpectedly of a heart attack a month before the move West.

Kathryne’s journey into training has taken her to numerous workshops including with Steve Martin at Natural Encounters Inc., Dr. Susan Friedman, Barbara Heindenreich, and Cockatoo Downs. Despite Pearl’s health issues, she was an amazing student and loved to learn.

Moving to San Diego turned out to be even better than expected as the move coincided with the formation of ABI. It was love at first sight. And now, ABI can’t get rid of her. Kathryne brings with her experience training birds, mammals, and even goldfish.

She has been involved with wildlife rehabilitation for years. She is a member of the IAATE, World Parrot Trust, Parrots International, Indonesian Parrot Project, and strongly supports parrot conservation efforts around the world.