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.
Although the results from many parrot training sessions come from deliberate, conscious effort, some behaviors simply evolve in a much more organic way. Birds can learn to do things, simply by being in, and interacting with, their environment.
A great example of this is how the game of puff evolved with my cockatoo. I didn’t set out to specifically teach Static to enjoy having puffs of air blown in her face. Rather, the game was something of a lucky accident.
We are finding this to be true as we are teaching Static to play the game of fetch.
I know it’s been almost a week since my last post here on Birdie School, and for that I apologize. We’ve had a pretty tough few days around here, and avian education has had to take a back seat. The birds have been getting plenty of attention, just we haven’t done any proper schooling in almost a week.
Things first got tough around here because everyone in the house (except the feathered ones) caught a nasty cold. When I say nasty, I mean nasty. This one drug on for more than a week and left me feeling tired, fuzzy-headed and unmotivated. Although I did sit down at my computer and do at least some work that week, I couldn’t put in full days. I was in that crummy state where I felt too lousy to be productive, but not lousy enough to where I could just crawl into bed and sleep the germs off.
Then, just about the time I started to feel better, Luna had a couple of seizures.
This is just going to be a short post today because I am still suffering from a very bad head and chest cold that started last weekend. For the past couple of days, I’ve been feeling like hammered dog poo, so I haven’t been giving my birds nearly the amount of attention they usually get or deserve. My wife is sick, too, which has only compounded the problem.
I’ve been reminded of the fact that bored birds tend to be naughty birds.
The girls have been bored because I haven’t spent as much time interacting with them as I usually would. I’m sick, my head hurts and I feel dizzy when I stand up, so birdie school has been out of the question on the days that I’ve felt especially rotten. Although I’ve spent probably more time than usual sitting there, vegging on the sofa with someone velcroed to my chest or shoulder, I haven’t done much in the way of intellectual enrichment.
Static is bored and Luna is bored. Both girls are getting grumpy. Both girls are expressing their dissatisfaction by being noisier than I would like. It’s clear they miss the daily mental challenge of Birdie School. Static keeps wanting to stick her beak up my nose, and Luna is getting cross and pinchy.
Fortunately, we don’t get sick very often, so this won’t be an ongoing problem around our house. Still, it makes me realize that I need to have a better plan in place for days when we can’t be as interactive with the feathered ones as they would like.
I’ll write more when I’m over this nasty cold.
Yesterday afternoon, Barbara Heidenreich posted the following status on her Facebook page:
Oh my. I think my parrot Delbert has said “That’s a Poo Poo” 400 times today. Ah yes, positive reinforcement does work : )
If one of my birds started repeating that phrase, I would surely have to stab myself.
Granted, the behavior is cute, once. You can see for yourself in the video Barbara posted on her YouTube channel:
So what do you think? Adorable or annoying?
If you are thinking of adding a companion parrot to your home, there are lots of so-called “experts” out there who will give you all sorts of advice. Some of it is good, some of it very bad, and some of it will be in the middle. Although people have a tendency to say “free advice is worth what you pay for it,” I disagree that you need to pay tons of money for good companion parrot advice.
Of course it’s very hard to sort out the good advice from the bad, especially if you are inexperienced. My advice on that score is to read and study a bunch before you jump in and get your first bird. If there’s a bird owner’s club in your area, go talk to people there, first, before you make your visit to the pet store. Once you hit that store, the sales people will be looking at you with dollar signs in their eyes. If you want a parrot, especially a larger bird, they are going to expect that you are going to be spending a pretty significant chunk of change, not only for the bird, but for the cage itself.
Be knowledgeable before you walk in the door.
One piece of advice that I see consistently bandied about is that you should, whenever possible, start with a baby bird. I’m going to argue against that piece of advice, especially if you are getting your first bird.
According to Static, we have a new bird-eating monster in our house. It is what is now being known as the hated and feared postage scale of doom. Static fears the scale, and we have the problem of trying to convince her that it’s entirely benign, because we want to use it to track her weight.
For those new to living with companion parrots, one way to keep track of your bird’s health is to weigh her on a weekly basis. If you see a sudden unexplained change in weight, it might be a sign that your feathered buddy needs a quick trip to your avian vet for a check-up.
Of course the trick is convincing your bird that this is a brilliant and necessary idea.
As I mentioned earlier this week, we’ve figured out that we have a definite need to train medical behaviors. Our last visit to the avian vet wasn’t exactly what I would call fun.
Well, unless chasing your bird around the exam room and listening to her scream is your idea of a good time.
No? Not so much for us, either.
Although there are quite a few medical behaviors that are useful for regular maintenance, such as weighing, toenail clipping and wing trims, there are others that are important in the event your bird becomes ill. If your bird is comfortable taking liquid from a syringe, it becomes a whole lot easier to give her mediation.
Among the many behaviors we are working on at the moment, we are trying to get Static, our Goffin’s Cockatoo, to reduce the number of unwanted vocalizations.
Or, as my mother would say, “Make that darn bird stop screaming!”
In Static’s defense, she’s not a constant screamer. In fact, the amount of noise she makes rarely bothers me. She hollers a couple of times day, and usually for not very long, so it’s not all that obnoxious. For others, like my mother, who isn’t a bird lover, even the small amount of racket is pretty unpleasant.
Now I’ll admit that there are some noises that Static makes that I like more than others. Our family goal is to encourage her to make more of the sounds we like and fewer of the ones we dislike.
One of the sounds I don’t like so much is the noise she makes when I’m out of the room and she wants me to come pick her up. It’s this loud screeching/hissing sound, and I think her name is very descriptive of the racket. It’s certainly not a pleasant sound at all, and it’s even less nice if she decides to make it while I am on the phone in the living room.
I view a certain amount of noise is as part of life with companion parrots, but I do agree that in this case, less is more.
So, how are we encouraging Static to make more of the nice noises and fewer of the unpleasant ones?
In less than a week, I have been told about several parrots who need, or are going to need, new homes.
It started last Saturday, when my wife and I took all our cages and perches outside for a deep cleaning. We had some incredible weather that day, so we decided to get started on our Spring cleaning a bit early.
We were outside all day. Now I’ll admit that the job would have been a lot less work if we still owned a pressure washer, but our last one died and we haven’t gotten around to replacing it. It was a nice day, so once we had the girls’ travel/sleeping cages spotless, we popped the birds in them and placed them on the lawn while we scrubbed everything else.
That afternoon, two people came by and asked if I would be willing to take a total of three birds. I was offered a 25-year-old male African Grey, a 14-year-old Amazon, and a positively ancient 22-year-old Cockatiel.
I was rather surprised to get so many offers in one day.