You’ve already had a chance to meet Static in my earlier post about how positive reinforcement is in the eye of the beholder, but I thought it only fair that she get a proper introduction.
Meet Static. She is a 14-year-old Goffin’s Cockatoo, more formally known as a Tanimbar Corella. Her species is native to the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia, but Static was hatched somewhere in California. She came to us, in November of 2002, by way of an advertisement in the newspaper.
Although Static was most certainly a secondhand bird, she came from circumstances that were much better than those some of our other birds came from. Her first owner was caring and motivated, and did her best to make sure that Static had a good cage, plenty of interaction, and a decent diet. She had hand fed the bird herself, which is how Static ended up with her name. Apparently, she would make a hissing noise that sounded very much like an off-station radio when she was hungry. One day, when the woman was on the phone with her mother, the elder heard the bird’s racket and asked, “What’s that noise? It sounds like static.” The name apparently stuck.
I think Static is a good name for the bird, because not only is it descriptive of her raucous calls, it also describes her tendency to adhere herself to people that she knows like socks in the old Bounce dryer sheet commercials. Ah, that embarrassing Static cling!
Unfortunately, as seems to be very common in the parrot world, her owner developed health problems, and wasn’t able to give the bird the attention she needed. Static started to snip off her feathers, so her owner felt it was time to give her a new home.
Unlike many people trying to re-home a bird, this woman was motivated to obtain the best placement she could find. Instead of advertising in the paper and taking money from the first (or highest) bidder, she invited people to her home, queried them about avian care, and tried to gauge the bird’s reaction to them. Static was (and still is) incredibly shy around strangers. Oddly enough, I was the only person interviewed that the bird didn’t run away from, flapping and honking. When the woman put Static on my hand, she grabbed on with her talons so tightly that the end of my finger turned purple. She was scared of me, her feathers slicked down, and her body leaning away, but she didn’t try to escape as she had everyone else.
Not a perfect beginning, but it was a start. Static’s reaction to me was the one of the main reasons we were selected as her new family. She wouldn’t get near anyone else.
As you can see from the photo, she was barbering (snipping off) her feathers. She has a tendency to do this, though there are times when she’s better and times when she’s worse. It seems that some of the barbering is prompted by her feeling nesty, though sometimes stress or boredom will prompt it as well. We’ve found it especially challenging to get her to completely stop, because she likes to play with her own feathers, even though she has plenty of other toys available.
Her feather-destructive behavior ebbs and flows, and there are times when she’ll be in near-perfect feather. She had been doing pretty well prior to our African Grey passing away, but within a few days of his death, she’d managed to snip off most of the feathers on her chest, wings and tail.
Fortunately, they will grow back, and when she molts we will have the opportunity to start again.
As you should do with any feather-picking bird, Static has been to the vet to make sure her picking isn’t caused by some underlying medical problem. The vet has deemed her healthy, and regardless of the state of her feathers, we absolutely adore her.
We were very lucky with Static. Most bird experts suggest, and the MyToos.com site will confirm, that a cockatoo is not a good choice for a first bird. Although Static does pick her feathers, she doesn’t have some of the really terrible habits that cockatoos are known for. She isn’t a constant screamer, nor is she a biter. Although she does tend to be timid around new people and new situations, she responds to those feelings by running away, rather than trying to bite.
Now I’ll admit we were pretty dumb in the beginning. There were times when we wanted her to come out of her cage, but she wasn’t ready, so we’d slowly p-e-e-l her little feet off of the bars. If this had been any other bird, we would have gotten a good chomp for our trouble. Static, though, put up with our nonsense with incredible patience, and we learned to do better.
Now this isn’t to say that Static has never bitten anyone. A number of years ago, she jumped off my shoulder and gave my then-12-year-old a good hard bite on the top of her ear. The bite drew blood and made a small puncture wound that went just about all the way through. If we’d been thinking about it, we would have taken advantage of the free piercing and put in an earring, since the kid had been asking for one. Now in fairness to Static, the bite was richly deserved. My kid had been teasing her, and wouldn’t quit, even after being repeatedly asked to stop. Finally, the bird couldn’t stand it any longer, so she jumped on my kid, chomped her once, and immediately jumped back to me.
Given the circumstances, I thought Static’s response was pretty measured. In retrospect, I probably should have just removed the kid from our home office where all of this occurred, but I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time. I was distracted, sitting at my desk trying to get some work done, and the kid was being a pill. The natural consequence of getting bitten did have one benefit: it gave my kid a higher level of respect for Static.
We have a saying in our house: Beware the power of the beakie, for it is mighty.
But the truth is, don’t mess with the cockatoo.
Static was, and still is, a real sweetie. She’s generous with her affection to people that she knows well. She’s gentle (even carefully preening my eyelashes), smart, cuddly, mischievous and funny. She likes to play, and if you put her on the floor with her favorite toy, she’ll attack it and throw it, and roll around on the carpet like a puppy. I’ve even seen her do somersaults while chasing after it. Of all the birds I’ve owned, she is the most active, rambunctious and noisy. In many ways, she’s like a perpetual puppy on steroids with a bad case of ADHD, but she’s amazing and wonderful. Even though she’s 14 years old now, I don’t notice that she’s any less active than she was nearly a decade ago.
Static is incredibly special. She was our first parrot, and she patiently instructed us in many immensely valuable lessons. Even though we were unintentionally stupid when she first arrived. she taught us, with help from an avian behaviorist, how to do better. She’s an exceptional friend and companion, and our lives would be poorer without her.