Parrots are weird. They are. No matter how long we may have lived with a particular bird, there are days that they will do things to confound us. Many of a bird’s activities, and the reasoning behind them, are a mystery to we humans; but the waters of understanding get even muddier when you factor in your bird’s own personality and all of the delightful individual traits that set your sun conure, or your African grey apart from the rest of his species. We call these behaviors “quirks” – a light-hearted term that we use when we have no idea what our birds are doing or why.
Calling something a quirk is just our human way of coping with things we don’t understand and it is linked into the notion that we must keep our sense of humor if we are to keep our sanity…because, well, parrots are weird.
Calling something a quirk allows us to accept odd behaviors because we are supposed to let our birds be birds and love them as is. When we assume a quirk is a mystery we will never solve, we can move on without concern. We release ourselves from worry and any responsibility to change the behavior because it is what it is. “It is just Kiwi doing the weird little things that Kiwi does. “
However, just like we have the tendency to blame many unwanted behaviors on hormones during much of the year, we might be inclined let other preventable problems slip through our fingers by calling them “quirks”.
I will use my two cockatoos to make this point:
My umbrella cockatoo, Linus, gets upset when I sit on the floor. It doesn’t matter whether he is in his cage or not. He lets me know that my sitting on the floor makes him uncomfortable both vocally and with aggressive body language. This is a quirk I have accepted. Since there are very few tasks that might require me sitting on the floor, I don’t get on the floor when he is around. The solution is a simple one. He has had a multitude of different homes in his life and discovering the origin of this behavior will never happen. I considered the impact that this quirk might have on his future, and mine, and decided it did not need pursuing.
However, Theo, my goffins cockatoo, presents worrisome quirks. Several years ago, shortly after she came to live with me, I bought a pair of cheap, purple flip flops that caused Theo to have a melt-down that was so ridiculously over the top I threw them away that day. Problem solved? Not exactly.
A few months later, after Theo had been with us for a while, I came home to find her puffed out to twice her size. Her wings were extended and she was shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She was staring off into a corner of the room. Her voice was so raspy and hoarse and it sounded as though she had been screaming for hours.
I eventually found the source of her distress: some wooden toys on a shelf. Curiously, they had been in that exact location since the day she arrived and up to this day, they were inoffensive room décor. Suddenly, Theo acted as though her life was in danger and her behavior was affecting all of the birds. I had a dream that night that when I was away, items in the house would come to life and torment my animals.
While Linus is pretty fearless, Theo is the opposite. The things she chooses to freak out over are so random and unconnected that her behavior is easy to call quirky. But the one common denominator in all of it is fear and I am not willing to allow fear to be a part of her life. It will negatively impact her future by robbing her of her security. These quirks needed to be sorted out. I mostly look away from her countless other oddities, as long as they are harmless in the long run.
The next time your bird displays a head-scratchingly strange behavior, don’t immediately dismiss it as okay because it is your bird’s way of asserting his individualism. Try to project into the future and predict what this behavior might look like in five years. It might not be as cute.
If you have a bird that shows disinterest in toys, don’t just accept it as your bird’s quirky personality. Your bird’s future may hold nothing but very long and dull days full of nothing to do. Do whatever you can now to change that future. Sometimes our birds need a little help getting past their issues.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.