I wonder how many hours of my life I have dedicated to staring at my birds. To a non-parrot owner, that might seem like time wasted, but we all know better.
It blows my mind whenever I read something about “new discoveries” regarding parrot intelligence in some science journal. A bird’s foraging skill is hardly a new development. It is how they have fed themselves for millions of years.
But to a non-bird owner, or to a scientist who is just getting around to noticing, it is front page news that such simple beings could work out complex strategies to find food. Can you imagine the fainting that will go on when they realize birds can disassemble their cages to get out or open a combination lock?
I understand that the scientific process is necessary, and that they can’t trust our biased, unscientific minds to relay fact. But c’mon! We, the parrot owners of the world, have been doing research for as long as we have had our birds.
When you share your home with a creature that can’t tell you what he is thinking, you have to rely on your eyes for clues. Observing your bird can give you some crucial information.
I know that my quaker, Libby, will make a complete circle around her food bowl every morning before eating, and that my Goffin's cockatoo, Theo, will fall asleep in the shower. While the cute factor is pretty high, this information doesn’t give me any valuable insight into their world.
What is more beneficial is noticing the way my birds look at each other. I know that when one bird is overly focused on the activities of another that they are up to no good, and they should be kept apart from the bird that has caught their interest.
I know from observation which birds are most likely to get into something while they are out of the cage and what that something might be.
I know which bird is most likely to head for an open door or to follow me from room to room. I know from the sound of their flapping wings which bird is approaching me from behind.
I know which birds need more frequent water changes because they are food dunkers or bowl bathers.
We get questions often about the safety of certain bird products. A common one is the use of plastic in toys. The beaks of medium and large birds can easily and thoroughly destroy a toy made of plastic leaving behind small bite-sized pieces. Does this make that toy dangerous?
The same question is asked of toys with fabric or rope, particles of which are sometimes surgically removed from the crops of birds that eat non-food items. It happens.
However, the thought of unnecessarily denying a bird a favorite toy disturbs me because they are so lacking in things to do in captivity. I instruct to people to make a decision based on their observations about their bird. It is a situation where you need to know your bird and what its habits are. Being observant can help you keep your bird safe, healthy and happy.
However, as pertinent as information gathered from observation is, it is just as important that you understand that there is a side to your bird you will never come to know.
Part of knowing your bird is factoring in the reality that you don’t understand everything. Parrots, which are still rather new to us as pets, are not yet domesticated through breeding and are still in possession of their wild ways. We see evidence of this every day from what appears to be irrational fears to strange breeding behaviors. We accept the behaviors and try to work with them, but we don’t really understand them. As humans, we can never pretend to understand the instincts of an animal.
Acknowledging this gray area should help you to keep from becoming complacent and remind you that you never really know what your bird is thinking. If you expect the unexpected, you will be less likely to let your guard down.
How well do you feel you know your bird?
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.