We’ve all got one of those people in our lives. Who hasn’t got a lovely person who has a knack for calling you at the worst possible moment? Like when you’re elbow deep is dirty dishwater, like when you’re watching a movie and it reaches the important bit, like when you’re trying to convince your parrot that it wants a syringe full of medication (without being bitten) or when you’ve just sat down to a meal you’ve spent hours preparing.
I’m related to one of those people. Gran has interrupted dinner so many times in the last fortnight that I’m becoming pretty sure that she’s doing it on purpose. I’ve asked her not to call at a certain time, told her I’ll call her but I’m wasting my breath. She calls anyway. I can’t call her earlier (she won’t answer). I can’t ignore her call because the call could be important, she has a tendency to end up in hospital. (She is pretty frail nowadays.) So every time it happens I groan and the meal I’ve cooked goes cold. I have to admit, when the phone rings and it’s not easy to get to it, I may vent and say words that I shouldn’t just before I pick it up to say a polite “Hello”. Yeah anyone reading this is cringing about now. Parrot people aren’t allowed to vent out loud.
So you guessed it right? Now every time the phone rings, I’ve got a parrot that yells “BUG OFF!” while I’m trying to say “Hello”. I mean every time. It doesn’t matter who is calling, if they ring all they can hear is a string of parrot abuse. My macaw Fid has this fantastic ability to make absolutely everything he says sound angry or sarcastic. He says “Thanks” in a way that drips sarcasm and gives the impression that he’s thanking you for ruining his life. “Hey!” is a greeting at our house, but a reprimand if Fid yells it his way. Don’t get me started on him asking if you’re alright? He has a way of doing it that makes it sound like he thinks you’re either crazy or just very very stupid and he’s trying to work out why?
Fid isn’t the only one who has been giving me a hard time verbally lately. My Eclectus Pepi has been paying very close attention to what is going on around him. He is the reason my dogs no longer come when called. He calls them constantly (using my voice) and they have finally worked out that if they hear me call them, it will be a false alarm. Consequently I’ve had to develop a new call for the dogs, where I add a sense of extreme panic/urgency to my voice and say their name over and over very quickly with the clear implication that the world is going to end if they don’t come. That works. They come. FAST. Pepi noticed this.
Meanwhile, I’ve had some new glass sliding doors added to the house. Where there once was an open wall leading to the rear of the house, there now is a door. Pepi also noticed this. He waited until Amber (not the brightest puppy on the planet) was doing whatever she was doing at the rear of the house; then he called her with my new method of calling. Amber came running full pelt because the world was ending. SMACK. Apparently she was running too fast for her brain cells to cope with remembering the new doors. Pepi laughed. I did not. The impact has no doubt killed a few brain cells which may explain why she has been stupid enough to fall for this at least 3 times that I’ve seen.
It occurred to me to take advantage of the sudden increase in my flock’s vocabulary. They’re almost picking up words before I can say them. They’re in the mood to learn new things. Maybe just maybe I could try and get Fid to say something nice in a nice way, instead of something nice in a sarcastic way. I decided that I was over his sarcastic “thanks” (for ruining my life) when I give him something to eat. I decided I’d prefer it if he actually appreciated the efforts of my slavedom with an encouraging “YUM!” when he sees his breakfast.
So I showed him his breakfast, looked him right in the eye and said “YUM!” His eyes pinned, so I knew he was listening and that it was a sound he was interested in. I repeated it a couple of times. His eyes were pinning repeatedly as he looked from his food to me and I could tell he was going to say something. I held my breath. “It’s alright!” he said. His tone said that I’d given him the most boring food ever, it was barely tolerable and just alright. I glared at him. This was worse than “Thanks” (for ruining my life).
It stuck. Now every time I walk up to him with food, I say “Yum!” but he looks at the food appraisingly then looks at me and says: “It’s alright”. You can almost hear him sigh in resignation. Poor bird. His human just makes the most average meals. “Yum!” has become the cue for “It’s alright”. Worse than that though, it’s sometimes the cue for “It’s alright” followed by his sarcastic “Thanks” (for ruining my life).
I’m going nuts. I’ve got a lorikeet that adores the sound of the hacking cough I had when I last had the flu, 2 more lorikeets that prefer exaggerated sneezing, a couple of galahs that won’t stop meowing, other galahs that think a quacking duck should live with us, combine all of that with a sarcastic macaw and a vindictive Eclectus who is desperately trying to kill my dogs… Considering that most of them have learned to sing (off-key of course) – I’m never going to be lonely or bored.
On the bright side, once they’ve learnt something I can add a cue to it. There’s nothing funnier than having a visitor try to tell you a story but every time they open their mouth your galah meows at them. It works better than a censoring sound effect bleep. Oh and telemarketers? I don’t have to tell them to “Bug Off” myself anymore. Fid has that covered for me.
If any of you need help with getting your birds to talk, check out “Flock Talk’’. If you want to get your birds talking on cue, check out the “Talk On Cue” course. Be warned though – no secret is safe around a talking bird!
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.