Each of my birds has been instrumental in teaching me something, be it the importance of certain aspects of their lives, like training, or that persevering does pay off. But Mishka the cockatiel taught me nearly everything I know about birds. It was usually slow going. She was not the best teacher, true, but I was not always a fast-study, either.
I mentioned in my first post, here, that she – who is actually a he, by the way! – came to us from a pet shop. We were ignorant then in spite of the research I’d done. That pet shop background left her with some serious psychological trauma, which, to this day, she has not entirely shrugged off.
Lesson #1: First and foremost, Mishka taught us that not everything you read can be trusted. In this instance, simple species profiling! You never know what you’ll get from your bird. Parrots are individuals.
Lesson #2: I learnt the importance of body language – mine and hers. Better for everyone to avoid that bite!
Lesson #3: I learnt never to underestimate small birds. Mishka is fierce and intelligent. She is no less a parrot because of her size. She also has a wicked bite.
Lesson #4: I learnt to pay really good attention to nutrition. I’ve heard it said that most behavioural issues boil down to diet, and that’s held true for me. Fixing her diet improved many aspects of her life.
Lesson #5: I learnt about patience. You can’t necessarily rush taming.
Lesson #6: I learnt how to think differently about an obstacle in training. For instance, Mishka would not come out of her cage in the beginning. She had so much energy she desperately wanted to burn off – it contributed to her nervousness, and made training ever more difficult. Forcing her out did no good. Instead, we placed strategic perches all over the outside of her cage, sat back, and ignored her. Little by little, she learned how to maneuver around to the different perches. Eventually she gained the confidence to climb to the cage top, and, finally, to fly to the dining room table. That was apparently a safe place to interact with us.
Lesson #7: I learnt how to persevere. Even when it seemed like we had only regressed, I always said, ‘Tomorrow we’ll try again.’ And there were certainly many days when I felt like we’d done more bad than good.
Lesson #8: Finally, I learnt how to see what’s right in front of me. Our parrots often do things that we assume are normal, and give no meaning to. But many of the things Mishka was doing – like flinging her wings out whenever she was on the canary’s cage – were clues to the greater puzzle. The wing opening was a way of saying, ‘Look at me! I’m so SEXY.’ When she attacks us humans, it’s not because she’s crazy (although I’m convinced she is), it’s because she’s driving us away from her perceived mate, yes, the canary.
Even if Mishka’s early life with us was not as easy as we’d imagined, she taught me the most important thing of all: Lesson #9: we will always love them anyway. When they’re being nightmares, have chewed up something valuable, or scream until you wonder if your eardrums have burst, we still adore these creatures. They’re charming, addicting, beautiful animals. Buying her from that pet shop may not have been the ‘right’ thing to do, but I don’t regret it.
UPDATE: I am heartbroken to have to say that our cockatiel passed away on New Year’s Eve. Mishka was a very, very special bird, and her life was claimed by an accident that no one could have foreseen. I will write more about this soon, as it is very difficult to face. She did leave me with one more extremely important lesson – the most important one of all.
Sarah Stull is a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a photographer, violist, and violinist who has plans of opening her own avian sanctuary on the east coast of America.