Our kid has a friend named Sarah.
Luna is terrified of her. Whenever Sarah comes around, Luna immediately responds by making loud distress calls. If Sarah stands too close to her perch, she’ll start snapping at the air, in the hopes that she’ll be able to give Sarah an ugly bite.
Now it’s not that Sarah is a bad kid. She’s not. She’s actually a very nice girl, though she’s definitely not your typical teen. Where most girls her age are worried about fashion, style, and Justin Bieber, Sarah is just different. She’s incredibly smart and sweet, but when she comes into a room you know she’s there. She’s certainly the kid who stands out as being different.
For whatever reason, Luna finds her extremely alarming. She is so frightened of Sarah that when we once had a different visitor with the same name, Luna started making her hard-to-ignore cries of distress. She wouldn’t stop screeching until someone picked her up and quietly explained that the Sarah we had visiting that day was not the same Sarah who scared her so.
Frankly, I find Luna’s fear of Sarah to be rather strange. Sarah has never done anything mean, upsetting, or nasty to Luna. The truth is, she’s never had the chance to try. The first time she came to the house, Luna started making distress calls, and that habit has persisted for all the years our kid has been friends with her.
This situation is distressing for a couple of reasons. First off, I don’t like seeing Luna that upset over a person simply walking in the door. Secondly, Sarah really wants to make friends with Luna. Even though she knows that Luna would like nothing more than to make her bleed, she feels badly about it. Sarah wants to make friends, even if Luna isn’t so keen on the prospect.
Now I don’t expect that Sarah and Luna will ever be best buddies. I don’t even expect that Sarah will ever be able to touch Luna safely. What I do want to do, though, is call some sort of truce. Sarah likes to hang out with her friend, my kid, and it’s not very nice to come visit when someone’s macaw cries out in horror each time.
We had a similar problem with our African Grey, Coco. For some reason, he absolutely hated the Schwan’s frozen food delivery guy. Whenever Judd would show up, Coco would start by making sounds that resembled a gurgling coffee percolator. The longer Judd stayed, the louder the bubbling sound would become, until it would evolve into a full-on squeal. The noise was so bad that it sounded like a pig was being slaughtered in our living room.
We solved that problem with corn.
It turned out that Coco’s favorite vegetable was corn. It just so happened that Judd carried an almost-inexhaustible supply of it in his truck. To cure Coco’s unhappy squealing, we started buying bags of corn from Judd every time he came to the house. We’d make a big deal of announcing, “Oh look! It’s the corn man!” as we’d buy our stuff. We’d make a big deal of showing Coco the bags of corn as they came in the door (they were partially transparent) and then, we’d immediately heat up and serve a few niblets.
It didn’t take too long for Coco to realize that Judd was the source of all things corn, and he stopped growling at him.
But even better, when Judd was promoted and our new driver Oscar came on the scene, Coco was able to generalize that Oscar was the new corn man. He never growled at Oscar, not even once. One day, when we were standing around like unprepared idiots asking each other what we should order, Coco loudly answered, “Corn!”
Poor Oscar nearly dropped his hand-held computer. “Who said that?” he demanded.
“The bird,” I answered non-nonchalantly.
Oscar hesitated. “So what do I do?” he asked, uncertain.
“The bird wants corn,” I explained. “Give him corn.”
Since Judd and Oscar, we’ve had several drivers. Coco never growled at any of them, as he realized that they were the purveyors of the most delicious vegetable in the world.
What a good boy he was. I sure miss him. Ah, I best be careful. Otherwise, I’m bound to get all teary-eyed over my lost buddy. Heart disease sucks.
So after years of Luna crying out her distress every time Sarah visited, I figured it was time to see if we could put this behavior to an end. Since we started Birdie School, we’ve noticed that Luna has been in a better mood than usual. She can be something of a grump at times, but she’s been a lot more social and a lot more cooperative of late.
My kid spent the night over at Sarah’s this past weekend, so when she and her mother showed up to give my kid a ride, I decided to try an experiment. I intercepted Sarah at the door, and asked her to be quiet, as I handed her a big slice of apple.
I stuck a piece of apple in Luna’s beak. Immediately, I had her attention, as she loves sour green apples.
“Speak to her softly,” I instructed, “and then immediately put the apple in her beak.” I demonstrated the correct way to hold the apple, so that there was no chance of Sarah being bitten.
“Hi Luna,” Sarah said obediently as she stuck the apple in Luna’s beak.
Luna ate the apple.
We repeated this a couple of times. Luna did make a few small, almost experimental, distress calls, but she continued to eat the fruit, which is huge. When Luna is really upset, she won’t eat even her most favorite of treats. The fact that she kept eating was a great sign. Sarah was equally thrilled, as our seemingly-vicious macaw was now eating from her hand.
We’ll keep doing this and hopefully, someday, Sarah will be able to come over without sending our poor blind macaw into fits.
Oh, and before I go, it’s probably worth pointing out that the above picture is not an unlucky photo of Luna biting Sarah’s finger. Luna was actually putting her beak on my finger (not biting) but the picture looked like a pretty nice illustration of what she, at least until now, has wanted to do to poor Sarah.