I’m fairly certain that nature never meant for humans and birds to come together. I don’t think we could be less alike. There are the obvious physical differences which cause us to have to perform certain tasks in different ways, but there really big differences aren’t the physical ones.
We think nothing alike. Their concerns and goals are entirely different than ours. They communicate through body language, we use speech. With their body language they are precise and to the point. We ramble on endlessly, sometimes not stopping in time to prevent something embarrassing from escaping our mouths.
Honestly, I often wonder what they think of us. If there is an avian equivalent of rolling eyes, I am certain we would all recognize it in our birds. They must think we are crazy yet, somehow, we have managed to have THEM caged in OUR living rooms. Mother Nature has a strange sense of humor – talk about the Odd Couple.
Even though we continually blow it with our birds, they forgive us and continue to show us signs that they want to keep us around. I think we should consider it our duty to at least TRY to get some of it right.
Doing things our way, the way humans do things, doesn’t work well. We’ve established that much. So what gives us the best chance for success when caring for something that we barely understand?
Think Like A Bird
If we can lose the idea that we are the superior species, and that our thinking, therefore, is the only “right” thinking, we might eventually be able to get the job done. In order to understand our birds, we have to look at the world from their vantage point. It’s not so hard.
Let me show you some examples where thinking like a bird is valuable:
1) How to keep egg laying under control
I have a friend whose budgie loves to run back and forth through an empty paper towel tube. One day last spring, she ran to the center and didn’t come out. My friend eventually had to tip the tube until it was completely upright to slide her budgie out. Following that unusual behavior, her budgie became testy and irritable and later in the week laid her first of clutch of eggs. She laid clutch after clutch until June. Later in the summer, a heavy landing on the kitchen table resulted in a broken leg. Her vet said her calcium levels were severely depleted from the excessive egg laying.
If my friend were thinking like a bird, she would have realized that her bird was in breeding mode with the paper towel tube incident. Reproductive hormones will cause a bird to look for any dark, small space suitable for nesting. From a budgies point of view, the paper towel roll is dimly lit, narrow and secluded – perfect! If she had recognized this sign, she would have made necessary changes to keep her bird from acting on her hormones which produced all the eggs which caused the calcium problem which would have spared her the broken leg.
2) How to keep your house a safer place for a bird
Whenever you allow you bird to have access to any room in your house, you need to bird-proof to make it safe. Birds make a safety check a bit challenging because they are small and they can fly which means they can get to (and into) places and spaces that the baby cannot. Thinking like a bird is a must.
The electrical outlets in the house are a targeted area for anyone safety-proofing their house. But while a child will go after the plug in the wall, a bird has no interest in that. The cord that lies on the floor, calling its name, is made of a soft and pliable rubber that is perfect chewing fodder for any bird. Unlike a child whose faces the danger of electrocution, the biggest danger for a bird is blockage in the digestive tract from swallowed rubber and metal toxicity from the copper filaments inside the cord.
I bet it isn’t often that you get down on the floor to examine the lining on the underside of your furniture. These are made of very flimsy fabric because they are not visible and during moving they are often damaged leaving holes that will invite your bird to crawl inside the couch. I don’t wish to discuss what might happen should someone sit down while you bird is inside.
Both of these behaviors are related to nesting. Inside of the furniture is certainly a well-chosen private and dark “nesting” spot when you think like a bird. Chewing is an innate parrot behavior. Almost all parrot species are tree cavity dwellers which are always under repair and/or needing lining. Chewing stuff is a way of life, and if you ask a parrot, an art form.
3) How to keep them safe from themselves
This is an unusual, but valuable, example. When my cockatiel, Tinky, was very young, he walked right up to a candle and stuck his beak into the flame. True story.
While this is well before I learned about the air quality dangers of candles with parrots, any moron can work out that open flame is dangerous. I was an idiot to leave a candle burning near my bird but I never in million years would have thought my bird stupid enough to actually interact with the flame. However, I was not thinking much like a bird back then.
After a lot of reflection about the incident, it occurred to me that Tinky would have no understanding that fire was dangerous. When in his life had he ever experienced it? That would be true of most birds, wild or otherwise. They are inquisitive creatures and we all know what curiosity does to cats. Consider which things in your bird’s environment are the most attractive from a bird’s perspective. If I had been thinking like a bird, I would have expected Tinky to investigate the fire and would never have let it happen.
For those of you wondering, Tinky got lucky. There was some pain when it happened because there are nerve endings in the beak tissue and he felt the heat, but there was only minor scorching to the beak and that was eventually sloughed off. He looked a little silly until he molted out the crest feathers that were singed off, though. The incident left me with my jaw on the floor and a whole lot to think about and rethink.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.
That’s not true. The majority of human/human interaction is non-verbal. Body language is a huge part of how we interact with each other and largely goes unnoticed. Parrots also have a very large vocabulary and communicate with each other verbally all the time. We humans just don’t bother to learn their language, we expect them to learn English and many of them do. I think a big problem between human and pet interactions is that we spend a lot of time telling ourselves that they are not human, but animals. We are animals too. We are emotional, use body language that is often threatening, don’t pay attention to our verbal cues, and disregard the needs of others living in our home: two legged, four legged, or winged.
Why was she burning a candle around her bird?
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