Let’s face it. Being the self-appointed guardian of a non-human loved one is a big responsibility which requires us to keep continuously educated with current information so that we can properly provide for their every need and keep them healthy and safe. That is, after all, the job we signed on for.
It is daunting when you think about. The internet is filled with warnings and scary possibilities. There seems to be no end to the barrage of things that could harm our birds. I am sure that some things aren’t even on our radar yet and will, in 20 years, make us cringe and say: I can’t believe I did that with my bird!”
Attention to safety is crucial, but it can be stifling when it is overdone. You also have a responsibility to your bird’s mental health and well-being and sometimes we can go too far in our quest to protect them.
I posted a video on our Facebook page recently that got me thinking about the ways we might be holding our birds back. It featured an umbrella cockatoo trying to grasp the little red dot coming from a laser pointer. Obviously, this is impossible to accomplish but the bird continued to try.
There were a surprising amount of comments saying that this was frustrating to the bird.
People were saying that the bird couldn’t ever “win” and that this would be viewed as a bad experience in the end.
Could their concerns be an example of going too far? The assumption that “winning” is important to a bird or that not accomplishing this task would be perceived as a failure are based on human experience. Do we, perhaps, invent concerns that aren’t valid in a bird’s world?
Consider a wild bird trying and trying to get a nut that had fallen out of their reach. There would eventually be the realization that it was futile to continue trying and being the practical animals that natured created, they would abandon further attempts and move on to something that was within their reach. I don’t see frustration having a big role in the lives of wild birds.
Isn’t it possible that the bird with the laser dot was thinking: “Wow. This is trippy. I can see it, but I can’t touch it!!” This is what I observed.
Play can definitely cross over into frustration if overdone. But is it the best idea to avoid the dot game altogether? Or should we learn our bird’s threshold of tolerance and stop before overdoing it? We have an obligation to be sure we don’t rob our birds of having an interesting life in our effort to be the perfect avian guardian. Allowing ourselves to live in a state of constant worry will prevent us from enjoying our birds.
I saw a video back several years ago of a teenager who snuck up on his galah and said “boo!”. The bird took to their air screeching, made a complete loop around the room and landed on the boy’s shoulder. The comments were mercilessly condemning siting cruelty on the part of the teenager and irresponsibility on the parent’s part.
But I loved the video and found it very telling that the bird, even with many options for landing places, chose the shoulder of the “offender”. It was clearly play to this bird and it made me smile because I knew this bird was having a good life as part of this family and felt safe among humans. The video made me recall events in my childhood where my father or brothers would chase me pretending to be a monster. I screamed and ran away, but knew all the while I was never in any danger. They are happy memories.
It is necessary to point out that the “boo” game is not a good idea in homes where trust has not been nurtured between the bird and the humans. It could easily cause further mistrust. But in those homes where mutual trust does exist and safety is always being evaluated, I wonder how many of us are still holding back on our birds. Your thoughts?
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.